The Dividing Line

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There are so many ways the world wants us to divide humanity. We can do it along political lines (conservative or liberal), socio-economic lines (“the 1 percent” or “the 99 percent”), or ethnic lines (white or black). Yet we are called to have the mind of Christ in how we view ourselves, which leads to how we are to view and serve our neighbors.

In Romans 8, Paul makes a stark contrast between unbelievers and believers, dividing them with the word however (v. 9). The identity of those outside of Christ is that they live “according to the flesh” (v. 5), meaning that unbelievers are controlled by their sinful natures. This leads to a lifestyle that is described as walking “according to the flesh” (v. 4). The core of their hearts is to “set their minds on the things of the flesh” (v. 5). This means the unbeliever is “hostile to God” because he “does not” and “cannot” willingly “submit to God’s law” (v. 7) and is in a state of not being able to “please God” (v. 8). The ultimate end of this person is eternal “death” (v. 6).

When speaking of the unbeliever, Paul speaks in the third person: “the mind” (v. 5), “it” (v. 7), and “those” (for example, v. 5). But when he transitions in verse 9 to describe the believer, he returns to the second person plural: “you,” that is, “you the believers.” Your identity is that you live “according to the Spirit” (v. 5), meaning that the Holy Spirit controls you. This leads to a lifestyle that is described as walking “according to the Spirit” (v. 4). The core of your heart is to “set [your] minds on the things of the Spirit” (v. 5). The implied contrast Paul makes in verses 7–8 is that you are reconciled to God because you have been made to submit willingly to God’s law (v. 7), and you are in a state of being pleasing to God (v. 8). Your ultimate end is eternal “life and peace” (v. 6).

What makes this difference? Certainly, the love of God the Father inspired it: “For God has done what the law … could not do … by sending his own Son” (v. 3), and in this “God shows his love for us” (5:8). Certainly, the accomplished work of Jesus Christ—who came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” in order to condemn “sin in the flesh” upon the cross (8:3)—purchased our new hearts.

Most specifically, though, Paul says the dividing line is the Holy Spirit. Why? As verse 9 says, “The Spirit of God dwells in you.” His indwelling is the sine qua non of being changed from unbeliever to believer—the essential reality needed to experience no condemnation (v. 1) and no separation (v. 39). Because the Spirit indwells us, He brings us into communion with the Father (He is “the Spirit of God,” v. 9) and with Christ (He is “the Spirit of Christ,” v. 9). This is our identity. This is our longing for the world. 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.