Coming to Romans 8 we may first summarize the argument of our second section of the letter from chapter 5. 12 to chapter 8. 39 in two phrases, each containing a contrast and each marking an aspect of Christian experience. They are: Romans 5.12 to 6.23: In Adam’ and ‘in Christ’. Romans 7.1 to 8. 39: ‘In the flesh’ and ‘in the spirit’.
We need to understand the relationship of these four things. The former two are ‘objective’ and set forth our position, firstly as we were by nature and secondly as we now are by faith in the redemptive work of Christ. The latter two are ‘subjective’ and relate to our walk as a matter of practical experience. Scripture makes it clear that the first two give us only a part of the picture and that the second two are required to complete it. We think it enough to be ” in Christ “, but we learn now that we must also walk ” in the spirit ” (Rom. 8.9). The frequent occurrence of ” the Spirit ” in the early part of Romans 8 serves to emphasize this further important lesson of the Christian life.
THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT
The flesh is linked with Adam; the Spirit with Christ. Leaving aside now as settled the question of whether we are in Adam or in Christ, we must ask ourselves: Am I living in the flesh or in the Spirit? To live in the flesh is to do something ‘out from’* myself as in Adam. It is to derive strength from the old natural source of life that I inherited from him, so that I enjoy in experience all Adam’s very complete provision for sinning which all of us have found so effective. Now the samis true of what is in Christ. To enjoy in experience what is true of me as in Him, I must learn what it is to walk in the Spirit. It is a historic fact that in Christ my old man was crucified, and it is a present fact that I am blessed ” with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ ” (Eph. 1. 3) ; but if I do not live in the Spirit, then my life may be quite a contradiction of the fact that I am in Christ, for what is true of me in Him is not expressed in me. I may recognize that I am in Christ, but I may also have to face the fact that my old temper is very much in evidence. What is the trouble? It is that I am holding the truth merely objectively, whereas what is true objectively must be made true subjectively; and that is brought about as I live in the Spirit.
Not only am I in Christ, but Christ is in me. And just as physically a man cannot live and work in water but only in air, so spiritually Christ dwells and manifests Himself not in ‘flesh’ but in ‘spirit’. Therefore if I live ” after the flesh ” I find that what is mine in Christ is, so to say, held in suspense in me. Though in fact I am in Christ, yet if I live in the flesh-that is, in my own strength and under my own direction-then in experience I find to my dismay that it is what is in Adam that manifests itself in me. If I would know in experience all that is in Christ, then I must learn to live in the Spirit.
* The author has in mind the Greek preposition ek, the sense of which is not easily conveyed by any single English word.-ED.
Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This life is completely different from the life I would naturally live of myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to Him to do in me what He requires of me. It is not a case of trying but of trusting ; not of struggling but of resting in Him. If I have a hasty temper, impure thoughts, a quick tongue or a critical spirit, I shall not set out with a determined effort to change myself, but, reckoning myself dead in Christ to these things, I shall look to the Spirit of God to produce in me the needed purity or humility or meekness. This is what it means to ” stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you ” (Exod. 14. 13).