Romans 8:9 Cultural Background

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Romans 8:1 – 17

Flesh and Spirit

The OT describes people and other breathing animals as “flesh,” by which it meant bodily, finite, mortal creatures. On two occasions it contrasts “flesh” and “Spirit” (Ge 6:3Isa 31:3). The more relevant of these is Ge 6:3, where God’s Spirit will not contend with flesh (NIV “humans”) forever.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, written close to the era of the NT, show that some Jewish people further developed the implications of “flesh” as the finite and mortal state of people in contrast to God. Sometimes in these documents “flesh” connotes not only mortality but moral weakness — susceptibility to sin. The thought was not that the body was an evil part of a person; rather, it was that humans as limited, physical beings were weak.

By contrast, Greek thinkers (especially in the Platonic tradition) often viewed the soul as pure, immortal, and heavenly, but tied down to a body whose interests were mortal. The body would die; philosophy needed to free the soul from dependence on it, often by subduing passions. For followers of Aristotle, this meant controlling passions and keeping them moderate; for Stoics, it meant destroying emotion, or at least negative emotion, altogether (though some excepted initial emotional reflexes as merely “pre-emotion,” before cognition could react). Diaspora Jews often embraced some of the intellectual ideas in their milieu, and believed that the mind, informed by the law, could subdue negative bodily passions.

Paul recognizes the mortality and weakness of the flesh; he also sees the connection between passions and bodily existence. But far from believing that the informed mind can necessarily subdue all passions, he recognizes that the mind too can be governed by the flesh (Ro 7:23,258:6 – 7). For Paul the power to live a life that pleases God comes not from humans’ finite ability in isolation from God, but by the power of the Spirit. God had promised to provide the Spirit so that his people could fulfill the moral purpose of his law (Eze 36:27; cf. Jer 31:33).

When Paul contrasts Spirit and flesh in Ro 8:4 – 9, he is not contrasting two parts or aspects of the human personality; rather, he is contrasting dependence on God’s Spirit (and on Christ’s justification that provides the Spirit) with humanity left to its own devices. Nor does Paul assume that only those continuously submitted to the Spirit may belong to the “in the Spirit” category versus the “in the flesh” category. Ancient writers often contrasted groups with ideal types: thus, e.g., Stoics and the book of Proverbs contrasted the wise and the foolish, even though few would be considered infallibly wise. Likewise, Proverbs and the Dead Sea Scrolls contrast the righteous and the wicked, even though no one was assumed virtuous in every respect without exception. The point is that one either belongs to the people who have the Spirit, and therefore their hearts are being transformed by God, or to those who are left to merely the best (or worst) of human effort without dependence on God’s gift of the Spirit through faith in Christ. ◆


8:8 – 13 Writers sometimes sustained a contrast between two opposites — here “realm of the flesh” (v. 8) and “realm of the Spirit” (v. 9), as also in vv. 5 – 7. See the article “Flesh and Spirit.” Apart from the Qumran community, few Jewish people seem to have spoken of the Spirit as a present reality available in their communities; this was a blessing the prophets had promised for the period of restoration that Paul’s contemporaries understood as the end time (e.g., Joel 2:28 – 29).

Day By Day By Grace

January 23
Living as Servants of the New Covenant
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Co_3:5-6)
We who follow the Lord Jesus Christ are “ministers of the new covenant.” The term “minister” means servant. The phrase “new covenant” speaks of relating to God by grace. Thus, we are those who serve God by the resources of His grace. Our day by day lives, lived in service of the Lord God Almighty, are to be developed by the grace of God at work in us. What is involved in this biblical, heavenly approach to life here on earth?
The first issue pertains to our own inadequacy. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves.” So often we overlook our personal insufficiency or try to convince ourselves that we can become sufficient, with just a little more time, effort, or preparation. This approach is in direct disagreement with the Lord. God wants us to agree with Him.
Even when we begin to face our spiritual inability to produce the kind of life God is looking for, we easily underestimate the extent of our deficiency. We may think that we are just not able to produce as much as God desires to see in our lives. The Lord has a more radical viewpoint. He says that we are not able to supply “anything” that He wants to see. Again, God wants us to agree with Him.
The second issue pertains to God’s adequacy. “Our sufficiency is from God.” The sufficient resources for living the Christian life are to be found in God alone. We are to be the recipients of God’s grace, that is, His fully adequate supply. We are not to think we are the manufacturers of that grace. God is our source of all that is needed for godly living. Once more, God wants us to agree with Him.
The difference between living by God’s supply or by our own resources is a “life and death” matter. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Living the Christian life by our own capabilities will spiritually kill us. It will eventually leave us exhausted, discouraged, condemned. Whereas, depending upon the Spirit of God to supply the abundant grace of God leaves us strengthened, encouraged, and comforted.
Lord God of all Grace, I humbly admit that I have often held a perspective so different from You on this subject of sufficiency. I have repeatedly behaved as though the Christian life depended upon what I thought I could do from my own resources, and, Lord, as You have declared, it has brought forth spiritual deadness. Please teach me to trust in Your Holy Spirit to bring forth into my experience the full sufficiency of Your immeasurable grace, in Jesus name, Amen.

Our Daily Walk

January 23
“In the place where He was crucified, there was a Garden.” — Joh_19:41.
IT WAS in a Garden that Paradise was lost, and in a Garden it was regained! The sweet flowers of spring waved their incense-cups around the Cross, on which their Creator, to whose thought they owed their beauty, was dying for man’s redemption.
Amid all the anguish of this human world, nature pursues her unbroken routine. Spring with its green, summer with its glory, autumn with its gold—these in perennial beauty carry on their unbroken succession through all the days of human sorrow. Sometimes her unchanging order almost drives men to madness. It seems as though she has no sympathy with man in his stern battle for existence! Yet surely it is better so! Our tears and strife and storm are transient, whilst the order of creation will be the basis of that “new heaven and earth” for which we wait. Yes, there were flowers at the foot of the Saviour’s Cross, and they have blossomed at the foot of every cross since His!
Where there is a Cross, there will be a garden. Of course, the cross must be properly borne. We must suffer for others, not careful about ourselves. We must take the cup from the hands of the Father, even though it is presented by the hands of a Judas! We must suffer silently. No man or woman, who really suffers deeply for another’s salvation, talks about it, save to God. Suffer for others in your Gethsemane-garden, and when you have been crucified after that fashion, then look for a garden in bloom. Set up a Calvary in your own heart! Let the cross there be a splint from the Cross of your Saviour! Bring thither your self-love, your ambitions, your moods and vagrant, selfish thoughts. Fasten your self-life, vain and proud as it is, to the Cross of Jesus, and let it remain there. Then in the garden of your character will arise a profusion of the rarest and sweetest flowers. If the world shuns your company, if you go lonely and unappreciated through life, yet you may find that the Lord Jesus will walk in the glades of your garden in the cool of the day, as He did in Paradise.
Your heart’s a garden God has sown
To give your life the work it needed.
Some day He’ll come to pluck His flowers,
So mind you keep your garden weeded.