Looking at this passage at first glance, I wondered if verses 5 to 8 is referring to the non-Christian or a carnal Christian. Is it referring to the person who doesn’t know God at all and follows after his sinful nature, or is it referring to the person who who is a Christian, but is still following after the patterns his sinful nature had laid down in his life before he was saved.
Looking at verse 9, though, I think it’s pretty clear that he is talking about the non-Christian. Because he tells us,
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. (ESV)
Paul tells us in verses 5-8 that a person controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God, he is in fact hostile to God, and his path leads to death.
But in verse 9, he makes a very clear distinction between us and the kind of people he was talking about. He says, by definition, you don’t belong to Christ if the Spirit of God is not in you. In other words, you are not a Christian if you the Holy Spirit isn’t living inside of you.
But if the Spirit is indeed living inside of you, that is, if you are a Christian, then you are living in the Spirit now, and he is working in your life and is transforming you day by day into the image of Christ. You are no longer in slavery to the sinful nature like the people he talked about in verses 5-8.
He then says in verse 10,
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Paul is saying here we’re all doomed to die physically because of our sin. But because Christ is in us, our spirit is alive because of his righteousness imparted to us. It’s important to remember, though, that God not only proclaims us “Not Guilty,” but through the Holy Spirit, he is making us righteous in fact.
Paul goes on to say in verse 11,
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
I think there’s two points of hope here. First, through his Spirit, though our body dies, we will be raised again in new bodies that will never die. But also, in our mortal bodies that we’re living in now, he gives us life. He transforms us day by day to become more like Christ, and because of this, we find the kind of life God intended us to have when he created Adam and Eve in the Garden.
So what does this mean for us practically? Paul tells us in verses 12-14,
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
In short, we have no obligation to something that’s dead. We don’t need to set a shrine up to our sinful nature in our lives and work to “keep its memory alive” in us. The destiny it had been leading us to before it died was our death. Why remember and celebrate that?
But now, if by the Spirit’s power and leading we put to death the residual effects of sin in our minds and bodies, we find life. And according to Paul, that’s what all sons (and daughters) of God do.
How are you living? Are you living as though you have some obligation to your old sinful nature? Or are you living as a child of God, led by his Spirit day by day?