I started this series reflecting on the tree of life versus the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I also noted it is an ongoing choice. We walk in life when we are led by the Holy Spirit in our spirit. The Romans passage below is a more detailed description of this process.
8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 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. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Romans 8:8-17 (NKJV)
This is written to the born again. Notice in verses 8-9 that post conversion we are ‘in the Spirit’ rather than in the ‘flesh.’ What Paul is presenting is an identity issue. The problem that comes in for many is that the NIV translates ‘flesh’ as ‘sinful nature.’ This begs the question, what happened at conversion? Once we are born again do we still possess a sinful nature, isn’t that contrary to the NT? After all the NT says that once we are born again we are a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17).
In my view this is a major issue with this translation because it identifies the born again as still possessing a sinful nature. After all, if we are at all consistent our behaviours flow from our beliefs, which is why what we believe is so important and one term used for Christians is ‘believers.’ If we believe that our nature is sinful after conversion what kind of salvation do we have? What confidence do we have in our ability to live a holy life?
While we can still follow our flesh rather than the Spirit, a way I have described it over the years is that once converted we are no longer in the flesh but there is still flesh in us. There is something in us still vulnerable to sin and with a propensity toward it, but as Paul notes, we don’t have to follow it. We can follow the Holy Spirit because our nature was changed at conversion.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
This leads us into Romans 8:14-16. While I use the NKJV as my primary bible the NASB renders Romans 8:14 more accurately.
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14 (NASB)
The idea conveyed here of ‘being led,’ is that of an active present tense submission to the Spirit. This is consistent with what Paul stated earlier in this passage. We can choose to follow our flesh or we can choose to submit to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of our body. Being led by the Holy Spirit requires a heart attentive to His voice and choosing to submit.
There is a distinction between ‘sons’ and ‘children’ in Romans 8:14, 16. The distinction is that children refers more to the immature or helpless so the message Paul is conveying is that even if we fall and follow our flesh the Holy Spirit we still affirm He is with us and in us. At the same time, Paul’s lead up to the ‘sons’ reference is talking about how to walk in victory in our lives and carries more of a connotation of walking in maturity.
So what is my point? When we submit to the Spirit we are partaking of the tree of life planted within us, deepening our relationship with Jesus and spiritually maturing. If we chose the flesh we are partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and releasing death in our lives.
Which direction are we moving?