The Blessing of Liberty - Part 1 (series: Lessons on Romans)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

The Blessing of Liberty

Romans 8:12-17

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.


The topic of verses 12-17 is Christian Liberty. We are no longer following a list of “Do’s and Don’ts,” in order to obtain God’s approval. Now, we are members of the family of God and have all the privileges of a son, including being joint heirs with Jesus. We enter God’s family by the new birth, not by adoption (John 3); but adoption gives us an adult standing in His family. He deals with us as mature sons and daughters and not as “little children.” We can talk, walk, and use our inheritance right now. We are free, but we are still debtors to the Lord (v. 12).

The Blessing of Liberty

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

Now when we see the stark contrast between the flesh and the Spirit, what conclusion do we draw? We owe nothing to the flesh, to live according to its dictates. The old, evil, corrupt nature has been nothing but a drag. It has never done us a bit of good. All we derive from it is death. If Christ had not saved us, the flesh would have dragged us down to the deepest, darkest, hottest places in hell. Why should we feel obligated to such an enemy?

Each Christian must refuse to follow the inclinations and desires of his sin nature. Paul said that we are not to live according to the flesh. We must deny the efforts of that nature to impose its lifestyle on us—“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Our initial response to God’s grace must be denying ungodliness. Some very blindly accuse those who believe salvation is exclusively by the grace of turning grace into a license to sin. That is not so, for grace teaches that we are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. While in the world, the believer is not of the world and his desires are not to be set on this world system and its values. Rather, we should live soberly. We are to also live righteously, or in simple terms, just do right no matter what others may do!

Godly means in a godly manner, not “holier than thou,” but with true piety. The gospel is not a pie in the sky, but it is for the here and now, and it teaches how to really live in this present world, and not just exist, as the world does.

My friends, the flesh—and we all have it—is a low-down, dirty rascal. In addition, we don’t owe it anything.

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.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die;--Those who live according to the flesh must die, not only physically but also eternally. To live according to the flesh refers to those who are unsaved. This is made clear in 1Romans 8:4, 5. However, why does Paul address this to those who were already Christians? Does he mean to imply that some of them might eventually be lost? No, but the apostle often includes words of warning and self-examination in his letters, realizing that in every congregation there may be some people who have never been genuinely born again.

The unsaved person cannot have fellowship with God. In that sense, they are dead to Him. I am not talking about theory; if you are a child of God, you know this from experience. If you are a child of God, and you have unconfessed sin in your life, do you want to go to church? Do you want to read your Bible? Do you want to pray? Of course, you don’t. You are separated from God.

but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.—The “Spirit” in this case is the Holy Spirit, not the

human spirit. God acted to put to death the selfish acts of the body through the death of Christ. This verse states the responsibility of the believer—to die to worldly desires. The power for this is not his own but must come from the Holy Spirit.

In Colossians 3:9, the believer is said to have “put off the old man with his doings.” That is the initial act of the new life that begins when a person is saved. It describes what is characteristically true of genuine believers. By the enablement of the Holy Spirit, they put to death the deeds of the body. They enjoy eternal life now and will enter into life in its fullness when they leave this earth.

Here the body is regarded as the instrument of the flesh (the old nature), which tends to animate feelings that lead to committing sinful acts. If we continually serve the flesh, our life is characterized by a state of death. However, if by the Spirit you 2put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. The deeds of the body are those fleshly activities, which characterize one who is not alive in Christ Jesus. Paul exhorts us to 2mortify or reckon as dead 3(see 6:11) these deeds and no longer engage in them. When that is the case, and our thoughts and deeds are energized by the presence of the Spirit of God, we will truly have a born-again attitude and pattern for our life. Because of the fruit borne by our life, men shall know that the Spirit of God resides in us.

In this verse, Paul is saying, “Brethren, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live after the flesh (or, to crave the things of the flesh); but we have within us the Holy Spirit, who leads us into spiritual thinking, spiritual living, and into living a spiritual life. He gives us the energy and power to continually and gradually be killing our sins, which is a process that is never completed in this life. He accomplishes this process through our faithful obedience to the simple commands of scripture.

If we live after the flesh, we die; if we love the world, the love of God is not in us. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and taking pride in the things of life, are not of the Father but are of the world. The world will pass away, and the lust of the world will pass away, but we who do the will of God will abide forever. However, the only way a person can do the will of God is to be possessed by God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
1Romans 8:4-5 (NKJV) "that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit."

For they that are after the flesh—And here is the great distinction between Jews and genuine Christians: the former are after the flesh—are under the power of the carnal, rebellious principle; and consequently mind, προνουσιν, relish, the things of the flesh—the things which appertain merely to the present life; having no relish for spiritual and eternal things.

But they that are after the Spirit—They who are regenerated, who are born of the Spirit, being redeemed from the influence and law of the carnal mind; these relish the things of the Spirit—they are spiritually minded, and pass through things temporal, so as not to lose the things which are eternal. And this, which in these apostolic times distinguished between the carnal Jew and the spiritual believer in Christ, is the grand mark of distinction between the nominal and the real Christian now. The former is earthly minded, and lives for this world; the latter is spiritually minded, and lives for the world to come.—Adam Clarke's Commentary

2Mortify and the phrase put to death is one-in-the-same. They mean to discipline one’s body and physical appetites through self-denial. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5 KJV). The New Testament calls believers to be “crucified with Christ” by mortifying or putting to death, such as sinful deeds, and thoughts as those listed here.

3Romans 6.11; NKJV: "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead—Die as truly unto sin, as he died for sin. Live as truly unto God, as he lives with God. This seems to be the spirit of the apostle's meaning.—Adam Clarke's Commentary

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