by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be .spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God. for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. - Romans 8: 5-8
It can be argued, as I have suggested in a previous volume, that the message of this great and most eloquent chapter really begins at verse 5. The first four verses sum up the argument of chapter 7; and here we have a new section which runs from the 5th verse to the end of the 13th verse.
Let us remind ourselves that the object of the entire chapter, and therefore the object of every subsidiary section, is really to prove the contention of verse 1 namely, that `There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus'. That is the fundamental proposition. The Apostle's purpose is to show the absolute certainty and finality of the full and complete salvation of all who are `in Christ Jesus' - in other words, of all :who are in the realm of the Spirit, and in whom the Holy Spirit of God dwells. Of course this has its negative side - that this salvation only applies to such people as have been set free from `the law of sin and death' by `the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus'. They are the only people for whom there is no condemnation and to whom, therefore, this certainty of final and compete salvation applies. The Apostle has been reminding us in verses 3 and 4 of the way in which believers have been put into that position and thereby set free from the Law and all its demands, and all that it does to those who are unregenerate and `in the flesh'.
Having done that, Paul can proceed to prove that it is essential that we should be `in Christ', and in the realm of the Spirit, before this can possibly happen to us. He has made his great asseveration in verses 1 and 2; then in verses 3 and 4 he shows us how we get into that position. Now he wants to establish the fact that it is only to such people that this full and final salvation is guaranteed and is absolutely certain. We can put it in this way, that the object of verses 5 to 13 is to prove the contention of verse 4 in particular, and especially its second statement. He has told us that the object of salvation is `that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us'. But, he says, `the righteousness of the law' is only fulfilled in those `who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit'. Now he proceeds to show why he speaks in this way, why it is that only in those who walk `after the Spirit' and not `after the flesh' can `the righteousness of the law' be fulfilled.
A general analysis of this sub-section, verses 5 to 13, I suggest, is the following: Verses 5 to 8 give us a picture of the contrast between the Christian and the non-Christian, with the special object of showing that `the righteousness of the law' cannot possibly be fulfilled in the non-Christian but only in the Christian. In verses 9 to 11 Paul applies this to the Roman Christians. He says: `But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his' - that is to say, he is not a Christian at all. As far as they are concerned he knows that they are `in the Spirit' and not `in the flesh'. So he shows them what their present position is in the light of that fact, and what their future glory is going to be as its outcome. Then in verses i z and 13 he gives them a practical exhortation because of all that is true of them. `Therefore, brethren, we' - of whom all this is true - `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.'
Two things, therefore, stand out very clearly here. The first is that in verses 1 to 4, as I have been careful to stress all along, the Apostle is describing and writing about all Christians, not merely some Christians. He gives no indication whatsoever that there are two classes of Christians. A popular teaching says that there are (2) `carnal' Christians and `spiritual' Christians, and that here Paul is talking only about the `spiritual' Christians. This section will confirm and prove to the hilt our contention that in verses 1 to 4 the Apostle has been talking about all Christians, not certain special Christians only, not only Christians who have received some second experience. That `there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus' is true of every Christian. This is quite basic because it determines, as we have seen, our view of sanctification. Verses 5 to 13 will prove that to us quite clearly and put it beyond any doubt whatsoever.
The second principle that verses 5 to 13 bring out clearly is that a complete change in us is absolutely essential to salvation. If a man does not undergo a radical change, if he does not enter into the realm of the Spirit, `the righteousness of the law' can never be fulfilled in him. Christianity, as the Apostle has told us so often, involves a complete, a radical change in the nature of the human being.
These, then, are the two great principles on which we must keep our eyes. They stand out very clearly in the first sub-section of this section, verses 5 to 8. It is quite clear, I repeat, that here the Apostle is comparing and contrasting not two types of Christians but the non-Christian with the Christian. They that are `after the flesh' are the non-Christians; they that are `after the Spirit' are the Christians. It is a wrong interpretation to say that `they that are after the flesh' are the so-called `carnal' Christians; for we shall see that the Apostle says something about them which makes it impossible that they should be Christians at all. We must keep this particularly in view because the Apostle's whole object is to show how utterly impossible it is to say of any man as he is by nature that to him there is `no condemnation' or that `the righteousness of the law' will be fulfilled in him. On the other hand, the moment a man is delivered from the condemnation of the law, and is changed, and in this new realm, his hope is certain, and nothing can ever rob him of it.
That, then, is the theme we are going to consider. But instead of taking the passage verse by verse, and drawing out the contrast between the two types of persons verse by verse, it seems to me to be more advantageous to consider first of all what the Apostle tells us about the non-Christian; and afterwards to look at the Christian positively as a whole. This method will help us to follow the Apostle's argument.
We take first what Paul says here about the man who is not a Christian. His general description of him is that he is `after the flesh'. What does he mean by this? We have earlier explained that the word `flesh' means fallen human nature, human nature as it is before the Spirit of God begins His work in a person. It is man left to himself, man born, developing and growing in life in this world outside the activity of God upon him. The non-Christian is `after the flesh'. The word `after' is interesting. Some would translate it as `according to the flesh', but the best translation is `under the flesh'. The word the Apostle uses carries the idea of being `under' something else, under authority in particular. So we are told that the non-Christian is one who is habitually dominated by the nature with which he was born. Chapter 5 has already told us in a most amazing manner - and Paul has worked it out in detail in chapters 6 and 7 - that we are born like this because of our connection with Adam and because of Adam's sin. Everyone born subsequent to Adam has been born `after the flesh'; we are born under the power, the domination of this fallen human nature which we inherit. The Apostle adds that it is something that is continuous - `they are after the flesh'. They are born in sin, they exist in sin, in sin they go on living.
How does that show itself, and to what does it lead- The first thing is that such a man `minds' certain things. `They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh.' That is a most interesting expression. In the Epistle to the Philippians the Apostle uses exactly the same expression several times. He says `Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you' (3:15). Verse 16 has the same word: `Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.' Then Paul introduces it negatively in verse 19, where he is talking about people `whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things'. 'To mind' is a term with which we are familiar, an expression that is quite commonly used. If a man is a busybody and puts too many questions to you and shows too great an interest in your affairs, you say to him ,`Mind your own business'. The expression means, therefore, the deliberate action of your mind on certain objects. That is why you say to the busybody, `Do not train your mind on me and on my affairs, switch it to your own affairs, mind your own business'.
But the term includes not only thought and understanding, it includes the affections, the emotions, the desires and the objects of pursuit. In other words, it is a comprehensive term. `To mind earthly things' not only means that non-Christians think about them occasionally, but that these are the things which they think of most of all; these are the things of which they think habitually, the trend or the bent of their thinking is toward them. `Earthly things' are the things that please them most of all, the things that give them greatest satisfaction; and therefore the things which they seek after most of all. The term is comprehensive, and we must not limit it merely to the intellectual aspect. It is much wider than the interests of the mind, and takes in the whole personality. The Apostle John, in his First Epistle (chapter 2, verses 15 to 17) has the same idea though he uses a different term. He says: `Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.' He might equally well have said, `Mind not the world, neither the things that are in the world'.
The first thing about the non-Christian, therefore, is that because he is dominated by his fallen human nature, he is a man who is deliberately interested in, and concerned about `the things of the flesh'. Once more we have to be careful that our understanding of this expression is sufficiently comprehensive. What are `the things of the flesh'? The danger is to limit the term to sensual pleasures and to the sins that belong only to the body. The term `the flesh' tends to make us think immediately of physical sins, sins which belong primarily to the realm of our animal being. They are certainly included, but it is important for us to realize that the term is very much more comprehensive in its use, as we find when we turn to the Epistle to the Galatians chapter 5, verses 19 to 2 1. `Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness'. Yes, but also `Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like'. We see that the notion is indeed a very wide one. Or go back again to the First Epistle of John, chapter 2, verses 15 to 17: `Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world'. What are they? The Apostle lists them as `the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life'. `The flesh' is a big term, a widely inclusive one.
What then does `the flesh' mean? In a word it means `worldly mindedness'. That is a term which John Bunyan uses, and it is the term that some people would use here. 'Worldly-mindedness'! It includes everything which is opposed to `the mind' and `the life' of the Holy Spirit. Another way of putting it is to say that `the things of the flesh' means every aspect of life without God, everything in life from which God is excluded. It refers, in other words, to the life of this world only; it denotes a complete severance from all that is spiritual. It concentrates on the visible, the seen, and has nothing at all to do with the unseen. Or again, we can say that it means the temporal only, this world of time only; it has nothing to do with the eternal. Its reference is to life in this world only, to life bounded by the body and the various qualities and attributes of the fleshly mind, but to the exclusion of the spiritual element.
The tragedy of the matter is that many people think that this description - `they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh' - applies only to open, obvious, profligate sinners, on the streets and in the public houses of great cities; the fact being that it includes also very highly intellectual people, very moral people, and people whom the world would describe as very noble. To `mind the things of the flesh' includes political interests without God, social interests without God, cultural interests without God. That is what the expression means. Paul has in mind man's highest pursuits, his philosophy, his art, his culture, his music, that never get beyond the flesh. God is outside it all, He is excluded from it; there is nothing spiritual about it. Men may write very cleverly, and in a very learned and interesting and entertaining manner about social conditions; they can tell us how to ameliorate bad conditions, how to improve them; they can write eloquently about forming some sort of Utopia, they can produce masterpieces of art and of literature and of music; but there is no soul there, there is no God there, no Spirit there. It is all `after the flesh'.
How important it is to realize the truth of this matter! That is why that list in Galatians 5 is so important. Paul does not stop at drunkenness and adultery and murder and things of that type. He goes to the realm of the inner man; and there you find that his list is all-inclusive. So what the Apostle is really saying about the non-Christian is that it does not matter where he fits in this gamut of possible interests and behavior and conduct, he is still only minding `the things of the flesh.' It is because the world does not understand this that it is not interested in the Gospel. The world's good, moral people are admired so much today; and yet the Apostle's words describe exactly where they stand. They are as much `after the flesh' and they as much `mind the things of the flesh' as does the man who falls into drunkenness or gives rein to his passions and lusts. It is purely a difference of degree. There is no essential difference at all.
The good, cultured well-spoken moral man is as devoid of the Spirit as the most obvious and profligate sinner; he is outside the life of God as much as the other. He hates to be told this, of course; that is why he is the typical Pharisee. And that is why the Pharisees crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. He convinced them of being `after the flesh' and `minding' only the things of the flesh. What a terrible state this is and how alarming it is to realize that people can be in it without ever imagining it! They draw many distinctions and divisions; but there are none in reality. The only difference between the obvious so-called `sinner' and the highly cultured good moral man is purely a social difference, a superficial one. Let me go a little further; it is perhaps a difference in the skin; the second man keeps his skin a little cleaner than does the first man. The first man has mud and filth and mire about him in abundance, the other takes baths very frequently, so his skin looks very white. But the difference is skin-deep only. In their inner beings, as men, and in their relationship to God, there is not the slightest difference between them; they both together mind the things of the flesh. All their thinking, all their interests, all their pursuits are entirely outside the realm of the spiritual and of God. That is what the Apostle tells us about them.
The next thing the Apostle says about them is found in verse 6, where we find the words, `To be carnally minded is death'. The translation in the Authorized Version is most unfortunate; the expression should not have been changed. It should read, `The mind of the flesh is death' or, `To have the mind of the flesh is death'. He has already said that non-Christians mind the things of the flesh; now he is saying that the people who do mind the things of the flesh, and have the sort of mind that does that, are dead.
Here Paul is describing the quality, or the state of mind of people who only mind the things of the flesh. It is, he says, nothing else but sheer death.
Our Lord gives us the best understanding of this in what He said to Peter on that occasion at Caesarea Philippi when the Apostle made his great confession in reply to our Lord's question `Who do ye say that I am?' Matthew records the matter in his 16th chapter. Peter said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'. But a few minutes later, when our Lord began to tell the disciples about His approaching death, Peter said, `Be it far from thee, Lord'. Our Lord rebuked him severely and said, `Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men'. The word translated `savourest', really means `to think' - `thou thinkest not the things that be of God'. Indeed, it is the very word which is used in this sixth verse of Romans 8. `The trouble with you, Peter,' said our Lord in effect, `is that your whole mentality is wrong, your whole way of thinking is wrong; you are not thinking the things of God, you are thinking the things of man: `Peter', He seems to say, `what is the matter with you? You have just made your great confession, and I told you that "flesh and blood had not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven". Now you are proving that I was right, because when I go on to make a great spiritual statement to you, you turn and say "That be far from thee, Lord". Peter, the trouble with you is that you are now thinking, not after God, but after men; your whole outlook, your whole mentality, your whole process of thinking is sadly astray.' That is the idea in the phrase `The mind of the flesh is death'.
Let me illustrate this further, by what the Apostle tells us in the twelfth chapter of this Epistle in the second verse: `Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed.' How? `By the renewing of your mind.' It is absolutely essential that the mind be renewed. In the absence of a renewal of the mind man is entirely hopeless. You will find the same in Ephesians 4, verses 17 to z4, and also in the second chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians: `The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.' Why not? `Because they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them.' Why not? `Because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man' 1 Corinthians 2: 14, is The statement that `The mind of the flesh is death' means that the natural man is in a state of spiritual death. That is what the Apostle says everywhere about the unbeliever, about the man who is not a Christian. We find it mentioned at the beginning of the second chapter of Ephesians: `You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.' 'Dead' l He repeats it again in verse 5 : `Even when we were dead in sins, he hath quickened us together with Christ.' The Apostle is saying the same thing here. The man who is `under the flesh', and governed and controlled by his fallen human nature, not only minds the things of the flesh -those worldly things out of which God is shut - but he does so because he is spiritually dead. He is alive physically, he exists, but spiritually he is a dead man.
The Apostle's statement means that the man is dead to God, he lives as if there were no God. Some of your greatest moral men, some of your most cultured men in the world are in that position. They are very able, very cultured, very much interested in life, they never get drunk, they are not guilty of adultery .... `Ah', you say, `you cannot say that such a man "minds the things of the flesh".' I do just that! God is not in all his thoughts, he is completely dead to God, he is living as if there were no God. That is what is meant by spiritual death. Spiritual death is to be outside the life of God. Our Lord has settled the matter for us. In John's Gospel, chapter 17, verse 3, we read: `And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.' The man who has not got eternal life does not know God, he is outside the life of God; and that means that he is dead. The spiritual realm does not exist for him, he scoffs at it; spiritual realities mean nothing whatsoever to him; he is dead to them all. Ask him to read the New Testament, and he says that it is `nonsense'; draw his attention to spiritual things and he does not know what you are talking about.
There is a well-known story which seems to me to supply a perfect illustration of this point. It concerns two great men, William Wilberforce the leader in the movement for the abolition of slavery, and William Pitt the Younger, one time Prime Minister of Britain. They were both brilliant men, they were both politicians, and they were very great friends. But William Wilberforce was converted and became a Christian, while William Pitt, like so many others, was but a formal Christian. William Wilberforce was very much concerned about his friend. He loved him as a man and was greatly concerned about his soul. He was most anxious therefore that Pitt should go with him to listen to a certain preacher, a London clergyman of the Church of England named Richard Cecil. Cecil was a great evangelical preacher, and Wilberforce delighted in his ministry, so he was ever trying to persuade Pitt to go with him to listen to Cecil. At long last Pitt agreed to do so. Wilberforce was delighted and they went together to a service. Richard Cecil was at his best, preaching in his most spiritual and elevated and exalted manner. Wilberforce was enjoying himself, and feeling lifted up into the very heavens. He could not imagine anything better, anything more enjoyable, anything more wonderful; and he was wondering what was happening to his friend William Pitt, the Prime Minister. Well, he was not left long in a state of uncertainty as to what had been happening, because, before they were even out of the building Pitt turned to Wilberforce and said, `You know, Wilberforce, I have not the slightest idea what that man has been talking about'. And he hadn't, of course. As a man can be tone deaf to music, all who are not Christians are tone deaf to the spiritual. That which was ravishing the mind and the heart of Wilberforce conveyed nothing to Pitt. He was bored, he could not follow it, he could not understand it, he did not know what it was about. A man of great brilliance, a man of great culture, a man of great intellectual ability, but all that does not help l `The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned' (I Corinthians 2: I4). Richard Cecil might as well have been preaching to a dead man. The dead cannot appreciate these things, neither could William Pitt. He himself confessed it. It is not what Wilberforce says about him; it is what he said about himself.
There are such people. They come to a place of worship, they listen to things that ravish the hearts of believers, but they see nothing in it at all. There are many such people in the churches now, as there always have been. They want whist drives and dances, entertainments and socials, and to meet one another socially. That is because they are not alive to spiritual things. They are dead, dead to God, dead to the Lord Jesus Christ, dead to the realm of the spiritual and all spiritual realities, dead to their own soul and spirit and their everlasting and eternal interests. They never think about such matters at all. That is their trouble. That is what the Apostle says here about them. This mind of the flesh shuts them out from the life of God and from all the interests that emanate from the life of God. The trouble with the unbeliever, the non-Christian, is that he is in a living death, he is merely existing. He is shut out from the life of God; and if he dies in that condition he will continue to all eternity shut out from the life of God. Nothing more terrible can be contemplated. That is the meaning of spiritual death.
The Apostle then goes on to say another thing about the non-Christian in verse 7: `Because the carnal mind is enmity against God.' Here, again, it is unfortunate that we have this translation in the Authorized Version, for in the original it still is, `the mind of the flesh'. `Because the mind of the flesh is at enmity against God.' This explains why `the mind of the flesh' is death. If a man is at enmity against God he is obviously outside the life of God; and that means that he is dead. Here we have one of our striking proofs that the Apostle is not comparing and contrasting two types of Christians, but is comparing and contrasting the non-Christian and the Christian. You cannot say of any. man who is a Christian that he is at enmity against God; it is impossible. A man cannot be at enmity against God and be a Christian at the same time. Why is he a Christian at all? Because he wants to be right with God. Why does he believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Because he believes that the Lord Jesus Christ puts him right with God. Why did he ever want that blessing? Because he sees the consequences of being an enemy of God. So here the Apostle depicts a man who is at enmity against God. This is not a so-called `carnal' Christian; there is no such thing. This is the non-Christian, this is a man who is not a Christian in any true sense, and this is the man Paul has been describing all along. He is contrasting the non-Christian with the Christian, any Christian.
The Apostle says the same thing in many other places. In Colossians 1 : 2 1, for instance, we have: `You that were sometime' ? once upon a time - `alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works.' They were once in that condition, but now it is no longer the case. Why so? Because they have become Christians. In other words, the contrast is between the non-Christian and the Christian. But let me emphasize once more that this state of enmity is that of every person who is not a Christian. `Ah but,' you say, `I know certain people who say, "I would not like to say that I am a Christian, but I believe in God"; what about them?' The simple truth about them is this, that they are at enmity against God. `But,' you say, `they are interested in God, they believe in God, they read books about God, and they talk and argue about God. 'No, they do not!`But how can you say that so dogmatically?' I do so for this reason: they think they are interested in God, but their interest is not in God, it is in some figment of their own imagination, it is some product of their own philosophy and their own thoughts. `But why do you say even that?' asks someone. I answer, the way to prove that such persons are not true Christians is quite simple. Say to them, `Do you believe in God?' They reply, `Of course we believe in God; we have always believed in God'. Next confront them with the God of the Bible, who is not only love but also justice and righteousness; confront them with the God who not only shows mercy and compassion but also wrath; and you will find that they snarl their teeth at you. They will say that they do not believe in such a God! Of course they do not; they have never truly believed in God. What they believe in is a god whom they have constructed for themselves. They have made a god of their own, and for this they have no authority whatsoever, except that it fits in with their thoughts. They say, `The God I believe in is a God who is entirely a God of love'. Wrath? Of course not! Impossible ! But what is their authority for speaking in this fashion? They have none at all. It is simply that they, and people like them, agree in saying these things.
The only true knowledge that we have of God is to be found in the Bible. God has revealed Himself. No man can know God of himself - `no man can see God, or has seen God, at any time'. If a man could understand God with his own mind he would be equal to God, if not greater. By definition God is absolute and infinite and eternal in all His attributes and qualities. We cannot arrive at Him of ourselves; He must reveal Himself. He has done so, in the Scriptures and in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Lord Jesus Christ has taught us about the wrath of God, about the judgment of God, and about hell. Yes, but the moment these people who say they believe in God hear such things, they become furious and remonstrate against it; they hate it. Indeed, they hate God; as Paul tells us, this `mind of the flesh is enmity against God'. It wants a god after its own image, and it hates the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord. Jesus Christ, the God preached by this Apostle Paul and all the other apostles. This is the all-too-common state of things today; alas, you find it in so-called Christian pulpits and churches. In the name of God and of Christ men are showing their enmity and their hatred of God, the living God, `the only true God'. Let us not therefore be misled or deluded by people who say that they believe in God; the question is, Do they believe in the God who has revealed Himself, who is the only God? All natural men, all who are not Christians, are `at enmity against God'.
The fifth thing Paul tells us about non-Christians is that `they are not subject to the law of God'. What he means is that they do not submit themselves to it. How can they? If they hate Him why should they subject themselves to Him? Instead of submitting themselves as a soldier does to his commanding officer, to the General set over him, they rebel, they are antagonistic. They do not care what God has said; they do what they want to do. They are not taking orders, they are following out their own minds, and their own likes and dislikes, and their own understanding. Man by nature is an enemy of God, he is a rebel against God, he flouts the commandments of God. `All we like sheep have gone astray, we have all gone after our own devices.' That is true of all men who are not Christians. They are trampling and spitting upon the Ten Commandments, and the moral law, and all the sanctities. .Of course they are! They are haters of God, and they hate His law; they abominate it; `they are not subject to the law of God'.
Next the Apostle adds, `Neither indeed can be.' `This mind', he says, `is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.' Here we have a basic statement about the unbeliever. The unbeliever, says Paul, is not only like that, but he cannot do anything about it. `His mind is not subject to the law of God, neither -indeed can be.' We find exactly the same idea in 1Corinthians 2: 14: `The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them.' He cannot know them. Why? `Because they are spiritually discerned.' A man who is tone deaf to music cannot create a ,delight in music in himself. He may desire it, but he cannot Attain to it; it is impossible. What the Apostle is saying is that this natural man, this non-Christian, not only hates God, and is not subject to the law of God; but he cannot desire to love God, he cannot desire to obey Him. He cannot choose to do so, he is totally incapable of any spiritual effort. I am not saying this; it is the Apostle Paul who says it. The popular teaching which says that we have to preach the Gospel to the natural man as he is, and that he, as he is, decides to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and that then, because he has believed, he is given new life, is regenerated, this, I say, is a complete denial of what the Apostle teaches here. The natural man, this man after the flesh, this unbeliever, cannot believe in God; he cannot believe in and on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is `at enmity' against Him; he hates Him, he is altogether opposed to Him. He is shut out from His life, he lacks a spiritual faculty, he is incapable of spiritual good `neither indeed can be'. He is completely helpless; he cannot choose to love God. You cannot love God and hate Him at the same time. Why should a man who is at enmity to, and a hater of God, decide suddenly to love Him? There is no reason; his whole nature is against Him, his whole bias, his whole bent, everything in him is opposed to God; he is in complete and entire helplessness; he is dead. And there is nothing more final than that
The man who is spiritually dead hates God, rebels against Him, and can do no other, for `the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned'. And if you have not got the spiritual faculty you cannot discern them. If that is lacking in a man, and he is completely dead, how can he discern them - He cannot; and, of course, the world is proving that very thing today. Total inability !
What is the result of all this? It is stated in the eighth verse, `So then' here is the conclusion, the thing the Apostle was really setting out to prove `so then, they that are in the flesh' they are the same people, they are `after the flesh', they are governed by `the mind of the flesh' `so then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God'. His displeasure is upon them; they can do nothing at all about pleasing Him. They cannot bring forth any fruit unto God. As Paul has already said in chapter 7, verse 5, the righteous demands of the law cannot be fulfilled in them. `In the flesh', `after the flesh', governed by `the mind of flesh', they are entirely and altogether outside God and His life; and there is nothing in them or about them that recommends them to God. Such are the unbelievers.
How then does anyone become a believer? The answer has already been given in verse 2, and we shall proceed to work it out. `The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath set me free.' I have not done it; it has been done to me. It is God's action. `By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.' `We are His workmanship' (Ephesians 2: 8-10). We can do nothing, it is all of God. And let us thank God that it is so, for it is because it is all of God that it is certain, it is safe, it is sure. We are not just believers, we have been `made anew', born again; we are in the realm of the spiritual, we have been put there, we are `in Christ', the Spirit of God has incorporated us into Him. It is His action.
Thus far we have been looking at the negatives; and how important it is that we should do so! We shall never realize what we are as Christians until we first realize what we were as non-Christians, and what was absolutely essential before we could ever become Christians. If God had not quickened us we should still be dead. A dead man cannot give himself life. God quickened us, and because God has put life into us we are alive in Christ Jesus, and in the realm of the Spirit.
From An Exposition of Romans by Martyn Lloyd-Jones