Westminster Assembly

Westminster Assembly

Acts 6:4

"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word."



1 Timothy 4:6-16

" If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." 1 Tim 4:6-16 (KJV)

"Living After the Spirit" Rev. Cornelius Hanko (12 June, 1955)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"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 “accordingly therefore.”

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 ethical 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 compromise.

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 must.

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 impending.

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 Rev. Cornelius Hanko was born to Herman and Jennie (nee Burmania) Hanko on May 19, 1907 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He received his heartfelt desire when the Lord in His mercy took him to glory on Monday, March 14, in the year of our Lord 2005. 


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