R. C. Sproul On Romans 8:4–5

Why? in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (verse 4). Christ did not only come to set us free from the penalty of sin, he also came to set us free from the power of sin. With the Holy Spirit residing in us, we may fulfil righteousness by the way we live. The law is not simply set aside as Antinomians would have us believe, but in the cross we have been set free for righteousness.

Paul continues on this contrast between the Spirit and the sinful nature: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (verse 5). Those who are in the Spirit are delighted by the things of God and follow after the things of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives within such, and when he comes into their lives, he does something to each human spirit. Their human spirit is changed and they have a new delight, a new appetite, a new sense of longing and yearning for spiritual things.

—R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 132.

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  1. Romans 8:4 does not separate the “fulfillment of the law” from Christians described as believing the gospel, ie, walking according to the Spirit, not walking in self-righteousness. But Christian believing and behavior is NOT how the law is fulfilled. That’s what substitution and imputation are all about.

    Calvin on Romans 8:4— “the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just.”

  2. Some thoughts of mine as I read the quote from R.C. Sproul:

    The Holy Spirit lives within such, and when he comes into their lives, he does something to each human spirit. Their human spirit is changed and they have a new delight, a new appetite, a new sense of longing and yearning for spiritual things.

    This is indeed true for believers. But is that the point Paul is making in verses 4 & 5? It seems that the flow of Paul’s thought is in keeping not only with verses 1-3, but also the previous section in chapter seven and so speaks to our justification and the new state of being in Christ. Those in Christ, no longer condemned, now through him have the righteousness of the law fulfilled both in Christ’s meeting the demand for the penalty-payment of their sin and his perfect law-obedience imputed to them. Those ‘after the flesh’ mind the things (focus on their own deeds, works-righteousness) of the flesh which results in death. Those ‘after the Spirit’ mind the things (look in faith to Christ’s deeds, works of righteousness) which results in life.

    So that in verse 8 and following, Paul states that those of the flesh (not trusting in Christ) cannot please God. And he contrasts the unbelieving person with those who are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, i.e. those who trust in Christ. And the result of being in the Spirit and having the Spirit of God dwelling within is life because of righteousness – a reference to the imputed righteousness of Christ, I would think, because life certainly doesn’t result from my righteousness.

    It is then in verse 12 that Paul brings in the imperative of how we are to live, i.e. debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh (its passions and works). But being debtors to the Spirit, we by the Spirit put to death the deeds (our sinful deeds as well as any trust in our own works of righteousness) of the body.

    So do we, “with the Holy Spirit residing in us… fulfil righteousness by the way we live” or is the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us by virtue of whom we are trusting in?

    • Thank you for the clarification. Yes, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us by virtue of Him in whom we are trusting.

    • Brian,
      And thank you for correcting my grammar!

      Thank you for the clarification. Yes, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us by virtue of Him in whom we are trusting.

  3. Robert Haldane on the last phrase in Romans 8:4 —The expression, walking not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, in the verse before us, is generally interpreted as referring exclusively to the practice of good or of wicked works. It is supposed that the Apostle is here guarding his doctrine of gratuitous justification from abuse, by excluding all claim to union with Christ, and to exemption from
    condemnation, where there is not purity of conduct… This is undoubtedly a highly important truth, which is to be constantly affirmed and insisted on…

    There are, however, many different paths in the broad way; that is, many ways of walking after the flesh, all of which lead to destruction. Among these, that of seeking acceptance with God by works of righteousness, either moral or ceremonial, is equally incompatible with union to Christ and freedom from condemnation, as living in the grosser indulgence of wicked works.

    This way of going about to establish their own righteousness, by those who profess to have received the Gospel, and who have even a zeal of God, is probably that by which the greater number of them are
    deceived. There is the greatest danger lest the fleshly wisdom, under the notion of a zeal for God and of regard for the interests of virtue, should set men on the painful endeavor of working out their salvation, in part at least, by keeping the law as a covenant, thus attending to its requirements for justification.

    In this self-righteous way of the flesh Paul himself walked before his
    conversion, and it was this same way of walking according to the flesh which he so strenuously opposes in his Epistle to the churches of Galatia….Paul, then, appears to be here prosecuting his main design, which is to prove that believers are to be justified, not by works of righteousness which they have done, of whatever description, but solely by faith in Jesus Christ, in whom their reconciliation with God is complete.

    In the sense here ascribed to it, the word flesh is employed in the beginning of the fourth chapter of this Epistle. Flesh, in that place, cannot, it is evident, signify immoral conduct; for that Abraham was justified by wicked works could never be supposed. It must there signify works, moral or ceremonial, as is proved by the rest
    of that chapter.

    In the Epistle to the Galatians, the terms flesh and spirit are likewise used in this acceptation. ‘Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?’ ‘Having begun your
    Christian course by receiving the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, are ye seeking to be made perfect by legal works of any kind?’

    In this Romans 8:4 passage the word flesh cannot be taken for immorality, any more than in the fourth chapter of the Romans. It must be understood in the sense of working for life, or self-justification, in opposition to the way of salvation according to the Gospel. In the same manner, the terms flesh and Spirit are employed,
    in Philippians 3:3, ‘For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ Here the word flesh, opposed to Spirit, just as in the passage before us, cannot signify immoral conduct, in which it would be absurd to suppose that the Apostle placed confidence.

    In the sequel, Paul furnishes a practical commentary on these words, by referring to his own conduct, as having formerly walked according to the flesh, resting in external privileges, and observances, and his obedience to the law; but afterwards as renouncing them all, and relying solely on ‘the righteousness which is of God by faith.’

    All men, without exception, have the work of the law written in their
    hearts, and if ignorant of the only Savior of sinners, they attempt to
    satisfy their conscience by means of some religious observances or moral works, — the idolater, by his sacrifices; the Roman Catholic, by his masses and penances; the Socinian, by his vaunted philanthropy; the nominal Christian, by his assiduous attendance at the Lord’s Supper and other religious services: and all, in some way or other, by their works, moral or ceremonial, seek to obtain their acquittal from sin before God, and a favorable sentence at His tribunal. All of them are going about to establish their own righteousness, being ignorant of the righteousness of God.

  4. In contrast to Calvin and Haldane, there is John Piper on Romans 8:2-4–—-Now I want to stop and make sure that you are hearing what I believe the Scripture is saying, because it is not commonly said, but our lives hang on it. There is a real sense in which our justification depends on our sanctification. There is a sense in which whether we are acquitted before God depends on whether the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death.

    Piper: But how can this be? The sentence of “not guilty” has already been given, and it was given to those who have faith. How then can I say that the past sentence of “not guilty” is dependent on the present process of sanctification? And how can I say that to experience justification one must not only have faith but also be freed by the Spirit from the power of sin?

    Piper—1) The faith to which justification is promised is not merely a single decision to acknowledge Christ’s lordship and accept him as Savior. The faith by which we are justified is an ongoing life of faith. ….The illustrations of this faith in Romans 4 and James 2 are not merely its first act in Genesis 12 that caused Abraham to leave the land of Ur and follow God to Canaan, but also Abraham’s faith in God’s later promise in Genesis 15 to make his own son his heir, and the faith in Genesis 22 that enabled him to almost sacrifice his only son, Isaac.

    Piper—2) It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith that the Spirit works within us. To live by faith and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit are the same thing, viewed from two different angles…..On the one hand Romans 5:1 says we have been justified by faith. . Freedom from condemnation is made conditional upon the work of the Holy Spirit freeing me from sin.

    Piper—May no one react and say, O, that cannot be. All you have to do is believe in Christ as Savior; you don’t have to overcome sin by the power of the Spirit….You don’t want to believe in a Christ who makes no difference in your life, do you? Who wants a Jesus who is so nothing that all he can produce is a people who think, feel, and act just like the world? We don’t want that.


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