“According to the flesh”- Romans 8:1-4

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“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 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.”
 Romans 8:1-4

According to the Flesh

What do you typically associate with walking “according to the flesh”?

Do you primarily think of external sin and temptation?  Fleshly desires?  Bad theology? Morally corrupt allurements?

Sins that “other people” commit?

It is certainly clear that we are to fight sin:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world…For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

Romans 8, however, causes us to ponder a sinister way in which we succumb to fleshly error.

As part of our order of worship at my local church, we have a confession of sin each week during the service (our pastor prays for all of us corporately).  Immediately following this confession of sin, our pastor gloriously pronounces an assurance of pardon, reading one of the many promises God gives in the Scripture that if we “confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This past Sunday, he used Romans 8 as our assurance of pardon.  His accompanying words struck me to the heart, and led me to think even further on the topic of thinking according to the flesh.

Thinking According to the Flesh

I am walking in the flesh just as much when I attempt to please God by my own works as when I succumb to any other external fleshly temptation.  It is indeed because I could not do good enough…know enough…believe enough…that Christ had to die.  More than that, it is because He Himself did fulfill the law…we might even say that He is God’s Law incarnate…that we are now under “no condemnation.”

Friends, how are we walking in the flesh in our thinking each day?  Do we not know that the law was unable to accomplish righteousness?!  Having been justified by faith, are we now being sanctified by the flesh?!

When we have reverted to such fleshly thinking, we may end up in despair.  For who among us really gets to the end of the day without realizing how, once again, we let down our children, our families, ourselves…and our God?

An even more insidious result of fleshly thinking is pride, which easily grows when we don’t even realize how far short we fall of the glory of God. We compare ourselves to others in order to build ourselves up.  We point fingers and condemn our brothers and sisters in order to elevate our own holiness.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Portrait of a young woman with Bible, Jan Braet von Überfeld

Danger of Thinking According to the Flesh

This fleshly thinking is bondage.  It is slavery.  It is dangerous.

Hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, and envy are all included in the works of the flesh in Galatians 5.

Fleshly thinking will work itself out in fleshly behavior, and this doesn’t mean you’re going to start hosting dissolute orgies in your living room.  If we reduce walking in the flesh to such simple externally-degenerate examples, we’ve missed the point.

A self-centered focus on pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps – working hard enough and believing well enough and being good enough to please God, impress your neighbor, and increase your self-confidence – will always end up with us vacillating wildly between discouragement and arrogance, jealousy and condemnation.

Freedom and Hope in Christ’s Righteousness

Freedom comes in and through Christ alone, who not only fulfilled the law but fulfills it in us through our union with Him.  Rather than walking (thinking) in the flesh, we are enabled to walk (and think) in the Spirit (Romans 8:4).

The fruit of the Spirit, that precious gift of God, flows from our union with Christ: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

And the fruit of the Spirit that grows in our heart by the grace of God will be accompanied by assurance of God’s love, love for our neighbor, and encouragement in our immeasurable value as children of God.

Be encouraged, my friends!

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. 

“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.”

If you’ve been around for a while, you may have realized that theology is not a separate category for me, but is intrinsically linked to how I view my callings as wife, friend, homeschool mom, etc.  What we believe about God has direct, daily, practical implications.  If this post makes you want to ponder more deeply, you may also enjoy my posts on humility and doxology in identity, family devotions, the book of Acts, encouragement to those who feel like they’re falling, Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness”, and my book review of Is the Bible Good for Women.

For daily glimpses of our family’s life, follow Humility and Doxology on Instagram.  For book recommendations, live video, and silly memes like our page on Facebook.  I look forward to discussing more with you there!


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2 thoughts on ““According to the flesh”- Romans 8:1-4”

  1. Douglas Withington

    This post should appear as an example in The Pictorial Dictionary of Metaphors (to be published someday) under “hitting the nail on the head.”

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