Living After the Spirit
Rev. Cornelius Hanko (12 June, 1955)
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the
flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall
die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye
shall live (Rom. 8:12-13).
This "therefore" that introduces our text is very
emphatic. We could possibly better translate it as "therefore then," or
It refers back, first of all, to the entire foregoing
section, verses 1-11, when the apostle broadens out on that jubilant
confession of the believer: There is no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus. This is no mere statement of fact, but the confident
confession of those who are in Christ Jesus, based on the fact that the
law of the Spirit of life has made us free from the love of sin and death.
We possess the Spirit of Christ, and with that Spirit the life of Christ,
which has dominion over all sin and death in us. We live by the Spirit,
and we know that we shall live forevermore.
Therefore the immediate context is the hope of eternal
glory. In verse 11 Paul states that the Spirit who raised Christ and
quickens us with the life of Christ is the Spirit who will also raise our
mortal bodies to everlasting glory. From this hope and confidence the
apostle concludes, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors."
This is a powerful practical conclusion to all the
foregoing. That is evident already from the fact that he addresses us as
"brethren." He reminds us of our unity in Christ, as members of the body
of which He is the head. He also reminds us of our fellowship with all the
brethren, our place in the church by that same bond of unity.
But it is also significant that the apostle actually
implies more than he states. We would expect him to say, "Brethren, we are
debtors to live after the Spirit." This is undoubtedly the implication.
But, for greater emphasis, he expresses it negatively. We are debtors
not to the flesh to live after the flesh. The idea is we live after
the Spirit and we mortify the flesh.
That word "debtors" is also significant. It implies a
debt, an obligation! And we cannot help but ask ourselves, In what sense
is there an obligation; in what sense are we debtors? But finally the text
sounds like an anomaly, or paradox. Actually the apostle states that if
you live you die, and if you die you live. Living according to the flesh,
you die. You know that. But you also know that dying, mortifying the deeds
of the body, you live. Thus, our attention is called to
Living After the Spirit
I. The Significance
II. The Necessity
III. The Fruit
I. The Significance
As has already been stated, living after the Spirit is
the implied contrast to living after the flesh. "Flesh" has various
connotations in Scripture. Flesh may refer to the soft part of the body in
distinction from the bone. It may also refer to the body itself, or even
to the human race or to our kindred. But it is very often used in an
sense, as our depraved nature. John speaks of the lusts of the flesh, the
lust of the eyes and the pride of life, evidently with reference to the
same thing. It is undoubtedly in this last sense that the word is used
here—our sinful flesh.
To live after the flesh means to live according to and
in harmony with the desires of the flesh. To live after the flesh is
definitely a stronger expression than the more common one, to walk
after the flesh. To live after the flesh is to allow our flesh to have
dominion over us, and to let it dictate over our lives.
When we do that, our whole lives are conformed to the
flesh. Our thinking and willing, our words and actions and deeds, even our
seeing and hearing are according to the lusts and desires of the flesh. We
can see and hear, speak and act, think and will nothing but evil
continually. We cannot sleep unless we have sinned.
The opposite of that is to live after the Spirit. By
the Spirit is meant the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts as the Spirit
of Christ. In passing, it may be well to remark, that there is no middle
course, but strictly an either/or. There is no compromise between God and
Belial, between the Spirit and the flesh, even though we often seek a
Living after the Spirit, we are also "led by the
Spirit" (Rom. 8:14). There the apostle assures us that those who are led
by the Spirit are the sons of God. Now it is evident that the Spirit does
not lead us as a prisoner is led in handcuffs from place to place. Nor
does He lead us as a blind man is led by a guide, nor even as a traveller
along a strange road, who follows with little idea of where he is going.
Those who are led by the Spirit live after the
Spirit. The leading of the Spirit is within us, for the Spirit dwells
within our hearts. It is a powerful and efficacious leading, for the
Spirit renews the heart, governs our will, has dominion over our thoughts,
and even over our words and deeds. As a result, we live according to, in
harmony with, and by, the dictates of the Spirit.
Yet we possess that Spirit in a sinful body. And
therefore, as the text also expresses, to live after the Spirit includes
mortifying by the Spirit the deeds of the body. The deeds of the body are
the deeds accomplished through the instrumentality of the body. These are
deeds performed in this body as a body of sin.
The apostle uses a word that actually means "practices"
or "doings." He has in mind those sinful practices which arise out of our
depraved natures and are, therefore, so much a part of us. They are not
the result of evil influences or bad company, but the natural, spontaneous
eruption of our depraved natures.
Now those who live after the Spirit mortify those
deeds. Notice, we do not merely check, restrain or bridle them. They are,
and they must be, mortified or put to death.
We die to live, in every sense of the word. In
Galatians 5:24, Paul declares that they who are Christ’s have crucified
the flesh with the affections and lusts. In I Corinthians 9:27, he speaks
of keeping under the body and bringing it into subjection.
This is a combat that goes on all our lives. Scripture
refers to it often as conversation and sanctification. It is the daily
mortification of the old man and the quickening of the new. But it is a
mortal combat, even unto death. The old man must be subdued more and more.
Sin’s dominion must be broken more and more.
We do not live after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
In that confidence we must fight.
II. The Necessity
We are debtors, the apostle declares, not to the flesh
to live after the flesh, but to the Spirit to live after the Spirit. A
debtor, of course, is one who owes a debt, and therefore has an obligation
to fulfil. We owe someone something.
Now this is, of course, never true of the believer in
the mere external sense of the word. To do anything out of mere external
duty or obligation already makes it wrong. It is also remarkable how
rarely Scripture uses the term duty. It speaks much more freely of
obedience, which is a matter of the heart.
That is undoubtedly also what Paul refers to when he
says that we are debtors. Ours is not an external necessity or obligation,
that we can fulfil in a formal sense and then feel that we have done our
duty. Our obligation is an internal compulsion of the heart wrought by the
Holy Spirit. Ours is an obedience of love.
That is the thought that is predominant in the whole
chapter. In verse 2, we confess, "For the law of the Spirit of life in
Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Again in
verse 5, "They that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." Again
in verse 10, "And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin;
but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." In verse 14, "For as
many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Later, we
read that we are sons, heirs and co-heirs!
Thus it is our privilege to have that sense of
obligation to live after the Spirit. We can and may, and therefore we
But note, it is not without purpose that Paul expresses
this negatively: "We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the
flesh" (Rom. 8:12). The flesh, that is, our sinful flesh, still makes its
demands upon us. Our old nature is not destroyed by regeneration. Sin
still wars in our members. In fact, that old nature is still very much a
part of us. Paul says that he finds a law in him, that when he could do
the good, evil is present with him. Though he delights in the law of God
according to the inward man, yet there is another law in his members,
warring against the law of his mind and bringing him into captivity to the
law of sin which is in his members. There is that old power, that old
dominion of sin, that always and again rises up and comes to the fore in
his life. That is his present wretchedness.
But now the apostle adds that we are not debtors to
that flesh to obey it and follow its dictates. We say, "Flesh, I owe you
nothing. Once I was your slave. But now I am free!" This is the case from
a twofold point of view. From and spiritual-ethical point of view, "Your
power is broken. I hate you. And I refuse to serve you." How shall we who
are dead to sin yet walk in it? And from a juridical point of view, "Sin
has no more right to rule over me." There is no condemnation in Jesus
Christ. The power of sin is fully broken.
From which it follows that we are debtors to the Spirit
to live after the Spirit. Again we can look at it from a two-fold point of
view. From the spiritual-ethical aspect, the Spirit is a new master, a new
power within me. He has delivered me from the bondage of sin and death. He
rules in my heart. He is not a Spirit of bondage again to fear. I serve
Him willingly. I commit myself to His guidance. By His power I am able to
mortify the deeds of the body.
But from a juridical aspect, the Spirit is the Spirit
of adoption. That is my comfort in life and death that I belong to my
faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
Therefore my privilege is also my obligation, my debt,
an obligation I gladly, willingly meet. For it spells life, joy and peace.
III. The Fruit
Those who live after the Spirit shall live, now and
forevermore. The text places that in contrast to the wages of sin, which
are always death. For if ye live after the flesh, the apostle says, ye
shall die. The emphasis is on the certainty of it. It is imminent, even
The apostle does not suggest that there might be a
falling away of saints. He does not even suggest that this possibility
might live before our consciousness. The argument is not that if you want
to keep this life and attain to eternal life, then you must put to death
what would destroy your life. Death does not hang over our heads like a
Diocletian sword. That would be contrary to all that we have said, to all
that is taught in this chapter and in all of Scripture.
The appeal is rather to our own experience that to live
apart from God is always death. That is true of the world around about us.
That is the only natural and necessary result of sin. Sin breeds sin unto
death. Sin is nothing less than the process of death working in us,
destroying us. That is also the result of God’s cause. God makes the
sinner wretched. For the soul that sins must die.
That is also our own experience. Sin grieves the Holy
Spirit. Because He will have no fellowship with sin, He withdraws His
favour. Our prayers are hindered, because we cannot look God in the face.
His ear is not inclined to us. Then all peace is gone, for guilt weights
heavily upon us. Our bones wax old with groaning. All that we can ever say
to sin is, "Get away, depart from me—all you have ever given me is grief."
Doing that, mortifying the deeds of the body, we shall
live. That is also sure, absolutely certain. For those who mortify the
deeds of the body thereby prove that the law of the Spirit of life in
Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death. They live
already in the Spirit.
They enjoy that life in fellowship with God from day to
day. The more that the deeds of the body are killed, the more growth there
is in spiritual life. The mortifying of the old man always includes the
quickening of the new. When we crucify our old nature, it results in a
walk in a new and holy life.
It is a mortal battle to the finish. But the victory is
sure. At death we lay off this body of sin, fully delivered from it. And
in the day of Christ Jesus, this body will be renewed in the likeness of
His glorious body.
Even as we have tasted of the gifts of the Spirit
today, as we possess the Spirit, let us live in the Spirit and mortify the
deeds of the body. Amen.
The life of Rev. Cornelius Hanko, the author of these
devotional sermons on Romans 8, is covered in his memoirs,
Less Than the Least.