Archives for category: Theological

Consequently, “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”  Once again, this is a statement of an absolute fact.  As long as a man remains “in the flesh,” which describes a man who has not been saved by the grace of God in Christ, it is impossible for him to please God.  He may ever so religious, he may sell all his goods to feed the poor, he may do this, that, and the other thing which men admire, but as long as he is in the flesh nothing he does pleases God.

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The man in the flesh does even his good works to please himself or to please his fellow men, and not to please God; therefore, he falls short of what the law requires of him.  It is only the blessing of the New Covenant, wrought in us by the Spirit of God, which engraves the law of God upon our hearts, so that we can please our God, and offer to him a truly acceptable spiritual service through the grace of Jesus Christ.

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Why the Reformation? Human Tradition

Although other issues, such as Justification or the Mass, may perhaps be considered more important from the standpoint of soteriology, the ultimate issue that drove the Reformers to separate from Rome was the issue of authority.  Martin Luther summed it up at the Diet of Worms when he rejected the demand of Church and State to recant his writings.  Insisting that he could not bind his faith to councils and popes, who had often erred and contradicted one another, he boldly proclaimed, “My conscience is captive to the word of God!”  This may be justly considered as the great watchword of Protestantism.

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Luther and the Reformers, along with their children, stand on the side of Jesus Christ, Who rejected the authority of tradition as imposed by the scribes and Pharisees, and subjected all human doctrine to the judgment of holy scripture.  The Roman Catholic Church proved itself the spiritual heir of old Judaism, insisting upon their authoritative tradition, as well as their own infallible ability to define the meaning of scripture, thus making the Church the supreme authority.

This message shows that the central issue of the Reformation was a return to the authority of scripture, and insists that this is a position we must continue to hold to this very day if we would be faithful to Christ in these challenging times.

Paul further expands upon the concept of the carnal mind, and in so doing makes clear to us that the Holy Spirit wishes us to know what the marks of this carnal mind are, and why it is so opposed to the gospel.  This carnal mind is enmity against God, and can be nothing else than enmity.  This carnal mind is the mind, the outlook, the world view, with which each person is born into the world.  We are carnal by nature, carnal in our affections, carnal in everything about us, until divine grace intervenes.

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The mark of this carnal mind is that it is not subject to the law of God.  God’s law seems harsh, onerous, strict, and unbearable to the carnal mind, because it is all the time forbidding that which is attractive to it, and commanding that which it has no desire to do.  The carnal mind would rather worship and serve itself or some other creature than render devotion to God alone; it prefers to blaspheme, murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet, whenever it pleases, and to whatever degree it pleases, and does not like the fact that God’s law forbids all these acts.  Therefore, it inevitably remains in a state of hostility to the law of God, and thus to the God Who gave the law.

This is all very bad, but Paul makes it even worse by telling us that, not only is the carnal mind enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, but that it cannot be.  This is an absolute statement, which admits of no exceptions.  As long as man is in a state of nature, unaffected by the sanctifying operations of the Holy Ghost, there is no chance in the world that he can ever become subject to the law of God.  He may conform to some of its outward principles, but he will never have the heart’s affection and obedience to the law that it requires.  This statement shows plainly the fallacy of that doctrine which teaches that man can, by an act of his own will, without the intervention of divine mercy, turn from sin unto God.  Paul would have us to know this Pelagian doctrine is utterly false.  The carnal mind cannot, even if it so desired, make itself subject to the law of God, but must without exception remain in a state of enmity to that holy law until it is changed by sovereign grace.

Honor From the Father

This is the next sermon in my continuing exposition of the gospel of John, and deals with Christ’s response to the sneer of the Jews, “Whom makest Thou Thyself?”  They thought it ludicrous that He should present Himself as being greater than Abraham or the prophets, but Jesus is greater than the greatest of saints.  He protests that His honor comes not from self-seeking, but from the Father.  He lived His life according to the principle, “Before honor is humility,” and trusted that in His own good time the Father would bestow upon Him the honor that was due.  In this patience and humility, Christ was, as He is in all things, the perfect Example for us.

This distinction is so important to Paul that he continues to expound upon it as he proceeds.  Most straightforward and sobering is the word of verse 6, that “to be carnally minded is death.”  Those who are what we described above, operating according to fleshly principles, seeking after the things that please self and putting them above obedience to God, remain in a state of spiritual death.  It is not that they are alive, but will perish if they die in their lost state, but it is that they are already dead.  The Spirit of God is not present in them, and therefore they abide in a state of spiritual death.  Needless to say, they cannot deliver themselves from that condition, for what dead man can put life back into himself?

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On the other hand, “to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”  Here, once more, is the great, eternal contrast.  While the carnally minded man lives according to the flesh, because the spiritually dead can do nothing else, the spiritually minded man, by contrast, lives in a condition of life and peace.  This is most glorious and comforting for the children of God.  To remain in a state of spiritual death is to be under the wrath of God, and facing the terrible consequence of eternity in the lake of fire.  But to be spiritually minded means that we presently enjoy the divine gift of spiritual life, and live in hope and expectation of eternal life in the world to come.  It is interesting that Paul only mentions “death” for the carnally minded man, but mentions both life and peace for the spiritually minded.  I think this is because peace is the natural fruit of a spiritual mind.  He taught us in the first verse of chapter 5 that we who are justified by faith have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  To be spiritually minded is evidence that we truly have obtained that justification, and therefore we ought to enjoy the great blessing of peace in our conscience and soul, regardless of our outward circumstances.  The believer who dwells in a constant state of turmoil  and trouble is living below the level where he ought to be.

Having for the second time in four verses described real Christians as those who walk after the Spirit rather than after the flesh, Paul proceeds to describe exactly what he means in practical terms.  This is a most powerful and important passage of scripture, one which greatly enables us in examining ourselves or others to be able to separate the sheep from the goats.

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Paul tells us that those who after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; in other words, you can distinguish those who have not been saved, by the simple fact that they walk after the flesh.  They do not operate according to spiritual principles, their lives are guided along a course of self-seeking, they always choose to do those things which are most pleasing to the flesh instead of that which pleases God.  By contrast, those who are of the Spirit, or as Jesus put it to Nicodemus, those “born of water and of the Spirit,” do mind the things of the Spirit.  Obedience to God, self-denial, biblical principles, are what form and direct the course of their lives.  This only happens where the Spirit of God is present.  Men may be religious without the Spirit of God, but they cannot apart from the Spirit live by anything other than carnal principles.

 

All this was done for us by Christ, in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in those believers who, as they were described in verse 1, “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

There is some question as to whether the fulfilling of the righteousness of the law in God’s people refers to Christ’s righteousness which is imputed unto us and received by faith, or else the practical righteousness wrought out in the life of every true child of God.  Since the verse is certainly connected with verse 3, where the saving work of the Lord Jesus on our behalf is so beautifully described, a plausible case can certainly be made that the apostle is going on with that thought to emphasize that righteousness is also provided for the chosen of God through Jesus Christ.

However, I rather incline to think he is stating that the life of the believer is a constant pursuit of obedience to the law of God, which is the result of our walking after the Spirit rather than after the flesh.  The general tenor of this entire section of Romans seems to militate in that direction, since the apostle has, in the main, left off the subject of imputed righteousness after having proven it so conclusively in the last portion of chapter 5.