Romans 8:5-13 focuses on how the Holy Spirit helps Christians deal with their sin natures.
5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.
6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.
8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)
10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God (saved).
11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.
13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
In verse 5 Paul makes a contrast between believers and unbelievers.
He says unbelievers are dominated by their sin nature, so they think about sinful things. In contrast Paul says people who are controlled by the Holy Spirit are believers — and they want to please God.
This verse is often misunderstood. Many people think Paul is talking about Christians — who let their sin natures control them. They call these types of Christians – “carnal Christians”. However, the term “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron. It’s actually a combination of mutually exclusive terms. A person can’t be carnal (that means he follows his sin nature) and be a Christian at the same time.
Now it’s true that Christians will follow the suggestions of their sin natures from time to time, and they will commit sin. Paul himself experienced that – as he described in chapter 7 of Romans. But Christians also have the Holy Spirit of God living within them — and their sin nature is no match for Him. The Holy Spirit is working in each Christian — with the goal of making them perfect, and He promises to complete the work. This is in Philippians 1:6.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you (Holy Spirit), will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 NLT
OK, so — if this is true – and it is – Christians can’t be controlled by their sin natures. If they were, the Holy Spirit couldn’t complete His work.
In verses 6-10 Paul continues discussing the contrast between believers and unbelievers.
He says, since unbelievers let the sin nature control their minds — that leads to death – which is separation from God forever in hell. On the other hand — believers have the Holy Spirit. He can control their minds which leads to life and peace with God.
However, believers are still human beings and they still have a sin nature, and it continues to exert its evil influence – as it’s always done. In Galatians 5:16-17 Paul talked about this.
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives (that means we can choose to do this). Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.
17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
This means Christians don’t have to meet the Law to be righteous – they can follow the Holy Spirit instead. So, Christians have a choice — which unbelievers do not. They can choose to follow the Holy Spirit.
In verses 7-8 Paul says unbelievers can never please God.
That’s because unbelievers have not been changed by God – either spiritually or physically. They are still the same. They still have their sin natures, and they DO NOT have the Holy Spirit. So, they don’t have the necessary resources to live godly lives.
In verses 9-11 Paul says believers are not controlled by their sin natures.
Verse 9 they have the Holy Spirit, and He controls them. Paul adds parenthetically that if they didn’t have the Holy Spirit they wouldn’t be Christians.
However — in spite of what Paul says – many Christians wonder if they do have the Holy Spirit — and if He really controls them — because they still sin.
Well, the best evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence is change He makes in Christians. One of the most significant changes is the growing love Christians have for other people. 1 John 4:19 says, “we love each other because he loved us first”.
In verse 10 Paul says the physical bodies of Christians will die, but God gives them life anyway. Paul is talking about spiritual life. He says, even though the physical body of each Christian will die – their spirits will never die, because they are right with God. The penalty for their sins has been paid. Their sins are completely removed and forgotten by God. And they have the Holy Spirit living within them. So, God gives them life eternal.
In then in verse 11Paul says that the Holy Spirit will give Christians new bodies which will replace the ones that died. These new bodies will be just like the body Jesus received when He was raised from the dead. It will not have a sin nature. It will be perfect. And it will last for all eternity.
In verses 12-13 Paul emphasizes the believer’s responsibility to eliminate sin through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He says believers are no longer under any obligation to follow their sin natures. They have the Holy Spirit living in them, and they can choose to follow Him.
However, in verse 13 Paul says if they continue to follow their sin natures – they will die.
Paul is not warning Christians that they can lose their salvation and end up in hell. He said earlier in Romans 1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. What Paul is saying — is that a person who overtly and regularly follows his sin nature — is not really a Christian. This is true no matter what his religious affiliations or activities may be. In Matthew 7:16-20 Jesus told us that His true disciples would be known by their fruit.
16 You can identify them (Christians) by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.
18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.
19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.
20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Matthew 7:16-20 NLT
In verse 13 Paul also says Christians have the resources of the Holy Spirit to resist and put to death the deeds of their sinful nature. THAT IS A PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY FOR ALL CHRISTIANS.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 Paul said,
3 We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do.
4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.
The best weapon we have is in the Person of Holy Spirit.