Have you ever been walking and come to a fork on a trail? You now have two trails and you may not know which one to take. Of course, you could take one to see where it leads and then backtrack to take the other one, but that will only work if you have time.
Sometimes, the paths stay somewhat close together and you can see the other path or at least see the people on the other path (and may even be able to hear them) for a while. But eventually the paths diverge enough that hearing and seeing them become difficult. Then, you find yourself wrapped up in the interests of the path you have taken, and you may even forget the other path exists.
Well, the idea of two paths is in focus for the message this week. Paul speaks about two different walks that people can take. But interestingly the topic is not just about the walk, it is about the person taking the walk. Even more to the point, it is about how we are guided on our walk. It is about how the path we take actually directs the thoughts we have.
Now, at another time, in another message, we can address the challenge of staying true to the path that we are on. That is, we may take one path and have experiences that are more reflective of the other path. What I mean is if we simply state that one path is good and the other is bad, then we must understand that those people on the good path will experience the bad and those on the bad path may experience good. But the overall path has been set. And it is set because the path represents more than a walk – it represents a way of life.
Let’s look at what Paul wrote to the church at Rome in this next section of Scripture. Turn to Romans 8.5-11.
As I mentioned last week, Romans 8.1 is important for us to understand if we are to make sense out of this great chapter. The verse says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Something I did not mention last week, that I will mention here, is that this verse and all of Romans 8 is in the indicative tense (or, in English, mood). That means that it is merely indicating something as a fact. What is amazing is that in this chapter, Paul never uses the imperative mood (commanding us to do something), he only uses the indicative mood (stating what is and isn’t true as a fact). In other words, Paul does not give any commands for us to do in Romans 8; he simply states the reality of the situation. Thus, nothing in this chapter requires anyone to do anything; instead it reflects the truth about us and God as we already are (for the bad or the good).
That truth is important as we move to Romans 8.5 this week because Paul is sharing facts, even when it looks like he may be asking a question. In verse 4, Paul stated that the righteous requirement of the law has been filled by Jesus, which allows those who walk according to the Spirit to be righteous as well. Upon reading that verse, you might think that means that you either choose each day to walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.
Many English translations do not capture the essence of Paul’s writing here as well as they could. Romans 8.5 is actually meant to clarify the issue of walking or living for us. In the Greek, Paul’s words were not, “for those who live according to the flesh…or according to the Spirit.” Instead, Paul’s words were “For those who are according to the flesh…or are according to the Spirit.”
That is, it is not a matter of if we choose to live a certain way, or if we set our minds on certain things, it is a matter of who, or what, we are. And that answer ultimately boils down to whether or not we are in Christ or not. Of course, if we are according to the Spirit, then we are to live and set our minds accordingly, but we do so out of who we are, not in trying to become something we aren’t. In fact, in Romans 8.5-11, Paul says it is impossible for us to become something else (apart from God). So, verse 4 describes the two types of walk, whereas verse 5 describes the nature of the person walking.
Let’s briefly look at these two natures.
Living According to the Flesh
Paul shared some harsh words for those who live according to the flesh. Summarizing those words just from Romans 8.5-11, we find that those who are in the flesh:
- set their minds on things of the flesh (v. 5).
- will find death at the end (v. 6).
- are hostile to God (v. 7).
- cannot please God (v. 8).
I have tried to explain Paul’s idea of flesh over the last few messages on Romans, but let me try to clarify once again. The flesh does not mean skin. As Paul wrote about the flesh here (and all the way back to Romans 7), it means more than flesh. He is talking about the desires of the body. In Galatians 5, we see the term “works of the flesh” (v. 19). This is the idea Paul has in mind. The desires (or works) of the flesh, which include sexual immorality, impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, envy, drunkenness, etc.
A person who lives in the flesh, sets their mind on things of the flesh – that is, they think about such things and those thoughts give birth to action. And those actions lead away from God, and eventually to full separation from God (which is the essence of true death). These thoughts and actions are opposed to God. Indeed, Paul uses the term hostile. People who set their minds on these ideas are openly hostile to God, and therefore, can never please God. My explanation is almost identical to what Paul said, but I removed the back and forth nature of Paul’s argument for clarity purposes.
Essentially, what Paul is saying is that if someone focuses their attention on things that are apart from God, they will find themselves moving further from God. That will lead to open hostility against God. Please understand, this group of people is capable of doing good things, and some will even do it for the benefit of others (i.e. not for selfish reasons), but they will never do anything for God. And even if they did do something they think would be for God, it would not please Him (Hebrews 11.6).
Living According to the Spirit
On the other path are the people who are in the Spirit. Paul provides a set of characteristics about this group as well. This group:
- sets their minds on the things of the Spirit (on the things of God, v5; cf. Colossians 3.2).
- finds life and peace.
- has the Spirit of God within them – He lives (dwells) in them…it is not a visit (vacation) for Him.
- is righteous before God and thus alive in Him.
- will be raised from the dead.
Again, this list is straightforward and is directly from Paul’s words in Romans 8.5-11. But it does not mean that those who “are according to the Spirit” (v. 5) or who “walk according to the Spirit” do so perfectly. It simply means that their flesh pulls them away from where their mind is set. If the Spirit of God is within us, we have been declared righteous. We have the righteousness of God fully, but the righteousness of God does not yet fully have us.
Thus, we still sin and we still stumble. To compare the attributes from Galatians 5, in place of anger, we find peace growing with us. Instead of enmity and strife we find ourselves becoming more loving. Instead of jealousy, we find ourselves becoming more kind and gentle. In place of drunkenness, we have more self-control. Etc.
Again, we are not perfect, but we are on a path towards righteousness. Instead of being hostile towards God, we take offense at our old way of life. That does not mean we condemn ourselves, because remember, “there is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God will not condemn us. Others cannot condemn us. And so we should not condemn ourselves.
The path for us is one that leads us closer to God. And that path will ultimately lead us into direct communion with God who, after we have physically died, will raise us from the dead to be with Him. What a glorious promise and prize that is.
So, we all have a path to take. One path leads away from God. Along the way are stops like hatred, lack of peace, hostility towards God, and eventually a true dead end. That path leads to nowhere. The end is death. The end is separation – from God, and from others. On this earth, that life may have some moments of pleasure, but in the end, nothing remains.
The other path leads toward God. This path is not all flowers and streams. Challenges arise and pain is real. But the final destination is one that never ends. The end of the path gives way to something beyond comprehension. The end of the path includes joy (Matthew 25.21), and it is filled with love that is beyond expression (1 John 3.1). It is filled with light and with life.
But the two paths do not meet except for one reason. Jesus.
Usually when you come to a fork in the road, you make your choice and your stick with it. Sometimes, further down the path, you will come to another fork, and you have another decision to make. But you never get another chance to take that first fork again – at least not for the first time.
Well, here is the truth about life. We are not promised a second, or third, or whatever number of opportunities to take that fork again. We can always think that we have another chance to make things right – with ourselves, with other people, or even with God. But we don’t know. Our next breath could be our last so we need to take the correct fork when the opportunity presents itself.
However, the wonderful nature of God’s grace is that it does not matter how far we have gone down the wrong path. Whether it is one step or a million, whether it is one year or a hundred, God can make a one-way bridge between the paths to allow everyone who is on a path away from Him, to find the right path – even when they are hostile to Him. That bridge was built with a couple of pieces of wood and a few nails. It was built in the shape of a cross. And that bridge, that cross, held God’s Son in place to make it possible for even the worst of sinners (like Paul, 1 Timothy 1.15) to become a great leader in, and for, the church. If God can do that for Paul, and if God can do that for me, then He can certainly do it for you as well.
That is the good news of the gospel. That is the super-abundant grace of God (Romans 5.20). And that grace can not only change the direction of our walk, it will change everything about us if we just submit ourselves to God.
If you do not know God…or if you do know Him and don’t like Him (or are even hostile toward Him), please know that He loves you. God not only loves us, but He wanted us to know it so He demonstrated that love for us. As Romans 5.8, “But God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And because of Jesus death, and because of God’s love, for anyone who gives themselves to Christ, the condemnation ceases. Remember, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).”
If you want to know God, contact the church or seek out someone (maybe a friend or a coworker or a family member) who can share this message of Good News – the best news – and the only news that can move anyone from the path leading to destruction to the path that leads to God. Ask God to reveal Himself to you – even if it is through that person. And be open to seeing what He will do for you.
To help us consider our walk, and the path we are taking, I have created a handout based upon Galatians 5.19-23 (really verses 16-26 in full). I encourage you to complete the handout and pray about the results following the instructions at the bottom of the page.
You can download the handout by going to our webpage – http://fairfaxbaptistchurch.org/handouts.