Romans 8, Part 2
Nov 16, 2010
Romans 8:12-14 says,
(12) So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--(13) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.
Paul says that as believers, we are "under obligation" to live by the Spirit and to put to death "the deeds of the body." Many like to think that being a Christian means the freedom of having no obligations at all, for any obligation is, to them, a form of slavery. But as we have already seen from the Law of Redemption, being redeemed means only that we change masters (slave owners). We are still bondslaves of Jesus Christ.
Further, to live "according to the flesh" is to live a lawless life, for the flesh "does not subject itself to the law of God" (8:7).
Paul goes further by saying in verse 13 that "if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." That appears to tell us that Sanctification is a requirement for immortal Life. If that is what it appears to be, then Pentecost has taken the place of Passover, and justification is no more by faith alone, but by works also--that is, obedience to the Spirit of God.
That view, however, contradicts Paul's earlier foundation in Romans 4, where he showed clearly that justification was by faith alone and not by works. After such careful foundations in Romans 4, shall we now interpret Paul's statement in Romans 8 in a contradictory manner? How can we reconcile these statements?
There are two main possibilities, as I see it. First, Paul may be telling us that if we become sufficiently sanctified by putting to death the flesh and by the leading of the Spirit we may walk right into immortality and cease to age and die. The other possibility is that Paul may be referring to sanctification as a pre-requisite to achieving life in the first resurrection.
A third possibility--which I believe--is that there may be some truth in BOTH of the above viewpoints, since the two are not mutually exclusive.
So let us consider the first option. Is it possible to achieve perfect sanctification if given enough time under Pentecost? Is it necessary to be fully sanctified in order to achieve immortality, or can immortality be attained by just 90-99% sanctification?
The simple answer is that God has already imputed righteousness to us by faith. Having our sins covered has already given us a positional justification and sanctification as far as the Law is concerned. This is the provision of God for the church between Egypt and the Promised Land. Israel started their journey on Passover, Abib 15, from a place called Succoth (Ex. 13:20). Succoth means "booths," and it represents the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles.
Likewise, Israel was supposed to dwell in booths (tents) during their entire time in the wilderness, as a lesson to the NT church that they were not to build denominational houses in the wilderness. They were to understand that they were in a time of movement and temporary dwellings, because they were to continue to learn and grow spiritually throughout their wilderness experience. A denomination tends to establish a fixed doctrinal house, where people settle permanently and are never able to learn the lessons of the next oasis in the desert where the pillar of fire may lead.
So the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) was designed to teach Israel this. We read this in Lev. 23:42-44,
(42) You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, (43) so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (44) So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the Lord.
I believe that this was why Israel started their journey from Succoth, which was their first encampment (after leaving Rameses). It teaches us that we ought to have the goal in mind, even as we leave the house of bondage and begin our journey to the Promised Land. It teaches us also that we may enjoy an imputed righteousness throughout our journey, and, in that sense, we may live the Kingdom Life even while we are still in the wilderness.
It is plain, however, that the Israelites did not reckon themselves to be living in the Kingdom. They grumbled and complained much of the time, showing that they did not have the ability to see beyond their circumstances. When they ran out of food, they saw only the empty bread basket. When they ran out of water, they saw only the empty canteen. They had a difficult time seeing the presence of God in times of shortage and adversity. They did not understand that they had the authority--even as Moses did--to command water out of the rock.
Moses came the closest to living the Kingdom Life as it was supposed to be lived. But even he fell short in the end, though Caleb and Joshua inherited the promise.
Caleb and Joshua are types of the overcomers who manifested that third level of Faith that comes by "living in booths" in the wilderness. Even so, they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land apart from the body (nation) itself. They had to wait for the appointed times, because this is not only an individual matter, but also a body work.
Likewise, there have been many overcomers throughout the past ages, including those listed in Hebrews 11. But they all died not having received the promises, though they gained God's approval (Heb. 11:39). Why?
(40) because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us, they should not be made perfect.
Caleb and Joshua discovered this as well. The overcomers from all past ages could not be perfected in their own life time apart from us. We have to enter the Promised Land together at an appointed time known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
Though we are subject to time ("the appointed times of the Lord"), we are also individuals who are learning to put to death the old man and to follow the Spirit. Can we obtain perfection? I cannot say for sure, for going beyond an imputed righteousness and sanctification is still beyond my experience. But yet I know that I dwell in booths even in the wilderness, and I have at my disposal the authority of the Kingdom as if I were already perfected. (I am still learning to utilize it by faith.)
It is difficult to teach that which is beyond my own experience. Unfortunately, my experience is yet limited, so I do not know the full extent to which our authority can be exercised. I continually learn to master new areas, but there is much more yet to come.
At this point, I do not think that immortality can be achieved by progressing into perfection. I think it is more beneficial for us to accept by faith the imputed righteousness and sanctification that we now possess and to live accordingly. Whether or not this will result in an individual transformation of the mortal body into immortality is a question that I cannot answer by personal experience.
Beyond that, I do believe that God has established "appointed times" that apply to historic fulfillments to us as a many-membered body. This New Creation Man is a body of people, and it cannot be complete until each has had his or her opportunity to live and mature as individuals. So we are to live the resurrected life here and now by the power of imputed righteousness, but there is also an appointed time in history for a group resurrection.
This is the second part of a series titled "Romans 8." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones