Life in the Spirit Continued (Romans 8:12-17)

Life in the Spirit Continued (Romans 8:12-17)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16, 2021

In 1904 William Borden graduated from high school. He was the heir to the great Borden milk fortune. For his graduation gift, his parents sent him on a trip around the world, hoping it would stimulate his global business interests. Instead, for the first time he realized how many had never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and he committed himself to becoming a missionary. When one of his closest friends heard this news he was outraged and confronted William Borden telling him that he was throwing his life away. Borden made a note of the date and wrote these two words in his bible: No Reserves.

He then went to Yale University and was a top student, the President of the honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. Upon graduation he was offered several high paying, influential jobs. He turned them all down, saying he was committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He made a note of the date in his Bible and wrote the two words: No Retreat.

He eventually set off for China to work with Muslims there. He decided it would be best to learn Arabic before he arrived, so he stopped in Cairo, Egypt, to do language study. It was while he was in Egypt that he contracted spinal meningitis and within a month he was dead, still in his twenties, never having even arrived in China. The news of his tragic death was carried by newspapers across the country. Eventually his belongings were shipped back to the US and his parents opened his Bible to find a date written just weeks before he died with two words: No Regrets.[1]

Today,I wish to continue our trek through Romans as we look at a passage encouraging us with our close relationship with God and challenging us to walk by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body. This passage is about perseverance in the Christian life, but not on our own, no the Holy Spirit is within us.  

My theme is:

The Christian life is a life of living by the Spirit persevering to conquer sin and make Jesus Lord of our lives.

  • Live by the Spirit (verses 12-14).
    • Let’s read verse 12: So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
    • Paul begins with “so then…”
    • There is a double connective here that cannot be easily preserved in English: “consequently therefore,” emphasizing the conclusion of what he has been arguing.[2]
    • Let’s put this in context. In the previous verses Paul wrote about our life in the Spirit. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us. Wow! He will also give us life through His Spirit. That is a powerful section. This is a powerful chapter.
    • This brings us to these verses.
    • We are debtors…
    • Debtors to what? Paul will answer this.
    • We are not debtors to the flesh; Paul even clarifies more. We are not debtors to live according to the flesh.
    • In the New Testament “flesh” usually means the sinful state, the fallen state, the depraved state that we are in without Christ.
    • In Greek Paul is using the word σάρξ transliterated sárx literally it means Flesh of a living creature in distinction from that of a dead one, which is kréas (2907), meat.[3]
    • Metonymically meaning flesh as used for the body, the corpus, the material nature as distinguished from the spiritual and intangible (pneúma [4151], the spirit). This usage of sárx is far more frequent in the NT than in classical writers.[4]
    • Paul had been writing about how the flesh can’t get us to Heaven. The way of the flesh leads to death (Romans 6:16). The way of the flesh leads to sin now and eternal death later on. Remember in Romans 7:13-24 how Paul wrote about not being able to do the right things. I said that I think he was writing about his fleshly state. Living as a non-believer he just could not do the right thing. He might have also been writing as an objective non-believer, not as himself. Either way, the flesh cannot help us do the right thing. The flesh cannot take care of our sin problem. Paul is saying that we are not debtors to this way. 
    • In verse 13 he continues his thought: For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
    • If you live according to the flesh you will die. This is consistent to what he has already written. Again, this is because “flesh” represents our sinful state.
    • For if you live according to the flesh you will die…Paul is about to show contrast, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
    • Now, this is interesting. So, someone is saved, they are a Christian, they have the Holy Spirit (verse 9 of this chapter), but they still need to make a conscious effort to NOT “in the flesh,” BUT “by the Spirit” put to death the deeds of the body. Then they will live.
    • Listen, as Christians we must walk by the Spirit.
    • As Christians we must put to death the deeds of the body.
    • C. H. Spurgeon said, “The believer, like a man on shipboard, may fall again and again on the deck, but he will never fall overboard,” quoted in A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson, 1907), 885.[5] We must persevere.
    • The Greek verb (translated “put to death”) suggests continuing action.
    • Being a Christian is NOT simply saying a prayer and then living however you want. No, that would be living by the flesh. We still must live John 15, that is “abide” in Jesus (John 15:4).
    • I like what Piper writes:

When Paul says to put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13), I take him to mean that we should use the one weapon in the Spirit’s armor that is used to kill; namely, the sword, “which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

So, when the body is about to be led into a sinful action by some fear or craving, we are to take the sword of the Spirit and kill that fear and that craving. In my experience, that means mainly severing the root of sin’s promise by the power of a superior promise.

For example, when I begin to crave some illicit sexual pleasure, the sword-swing that has often severed the root of this promised pleasure is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). I recall the pleasures I have tasted of seeing God more clearly from an undefiled conscience; and I recall the brevity and superficiality and oppressive aftertaste of sin’s pleasures, and with that, God has killed the conquering power of sin.

Having promises at hand that suit the temptation of the hour is one key to successful warfare against sin.

But there are times when we don’t have a perfectly suited word from God in our minds. And there is no time to look through the Bible for a tailor-made promise. So, we all need to have a small arsenal of general promises ready to use whenever fear or craving threaten to lead us astray.

Here are four of my most oft-used promises in fighting against sin:

Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

And the promise implicit in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

And, of course, Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Be constantly adding to your arsenal of promises. But never lose sight of the chosen few that God has blessed in your life. Do both. Be ever-ready with the old. And every morning look for a new one to take with you through the day.[6]

  1. Paul concludes this thought in verse 14: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
    • One writes: This may be the most succinct and specific answer in Scripture to the question, Who is a child of God? While doctrinal correctness is important, no amount of theological acuity can substitute for the guiding presence of the Spirit.[7]
    • Are you led by the Spirit of God? That brings us to the next section:
  2. Adopted into God’s family (verses 15-17).
    • Verse 15: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
    • We see that we have intimacy with the Father (verses 15-16).
    • You did not receive the spirit of slavery, No, that was the old way. Paul is now contrasting the way of a non-adopted son in the Greco-Roman world versus the way of an adopted son. A non-adopted son in the Greco-Roman world was just like a slave.
    • The spirit of slavery would give us more fear.
    • No, we have the Spirit of adoption. We have the Holy Spirit Who seals us as children of the Most High God (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
    • One writes: The Holy Spirit is not an agent of bondage but is instead the means of our adoption into God’s family. By the Spirit we have a consciousness that God is our Father.[8]
    • One source: Roman adoption—which could take place at any age—canceled all previous debts and relationships, defining the new son wholly in terms of his new relationship to his father, whose heir he thus became.[9]
    • This means that we can cry “Abba! Father!”
    • “Abba” means “father” and is transliterated from the Aramaic. Paul writes it in Greek but it is an Aramaic word. To transliterate means to take the word and put it in the corresponding letters of another alphabet, in this case the Aramaic to the Greek.
    • Paul put two words for father next to each other in order to add emphasis.
    • “Abba” means “father.” Then, the second word is “pater.” Pater can mean father, or grandfather, or forefather.
    • ἀββᾶ abbá; In the NT, it is always used to address God and is followed immediately by the translation (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). This double expression was common in the early church.[10]
    • Paul seems to be conveying the intimacy that we can have with God being adopted into His family.
    • In Mark 14:36 during Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane He addressed God as Abba Father. We can pray to God the same way that Jesus prayed to His Father!
    • Paul builds on this in verse 16: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…
    • The Holy Spirit bears witness with our internal spirit, that would be spirit with a lower case “s.” The Holy Spirit tells us that we are children of God.
    • MacArthur: In Roman culture, for an adoption to be legally binding, 7 reputable witnesses had to be present, attesting to its validity. God’s Holy Spirit confirms the validity of our adoption, not by some inner, mystical voice, but by the fruit He produces in us (Gal 5:22, 23) and the power He provides for spiritual service (Ac 1:8).[11]
    • This is powerful, how important this is that we are grafted into God’s family.
    • We have an inheritance from the Father (verses 17).
    • Verse 17 wraps this up: and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
    • We are fellow heirs with Christ!
    • God has appointed His Son to be heir of all things (Heb 1:2). Every adopted child will receive by divine grace the full inheritance Christ receives by divine right (cf. Mt 25:21; Jn 17:22; 2Co 8:9).[12]
    • However, we do have to suffer in this Christian life, but we will also be glorified with Him.
  3. Applications:
    • We need to allow the Word of God to do the Work of God to put to death things of the flesh (verse 13).
    • We need to use the Word of God to put to death deeds of the body. We need to use the Word of God to put to death: lust, envy, greed, idols, lies, pride, and so much more.
    • We must be encouraged of the close relationship we have with God as Christians (verses 15-16).
    • We must remember that the Christian life will include suffering (verse 17).

John newton illustration from John Piper:

I’m going to close with a story from John Newton. I come back to it over and over to convict myself of my murmuring. Paul said in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without murmuring.” Is there any more condemning verse in the Bible? All things without murmuring?

This is John Newton, writing in the eighteenth century. There are no cars; there are only carriages. So, picture a horse-drawn carriage. A man is on the way to New York to get his inheritance. Here’s what happens:

Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate [let’s just say it’s worth $5 million], and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way [this is where we are in our walkway toward heaven]; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him wringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!”

He’s on the way to an inheritance worth millions of dollars. He can fix the carriage.[13]

We as Christian have an inheritance in Heaven that is more than we can ever imagine. Part of that inheritance we have received, we have received the Holy Spirit and life with Him. We will have bumps along the way of this life. We will have struggles with sin and persecution and suffering, but after persevering through this life, by the power of the Holy Spirit persevering through this life, we will be in glory in Heaven.

Let’s pray.


[2] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ro 8:12.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

NT (New Testament)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995).


[7] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 181–182.

[8] Paige Patterson, “Salvation in the Old Testament,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1793.

[9] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ro 8:15.

NT (New Testament)

[10] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[11] John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Ro 8:16.

[12] John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Ro 8:17.


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