March 17, 2024


Passage: Romans 8:2-11

2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
— Romans 8:2-11, ESV

In the year of my birth, 1961, a bizarre sociological experiment unfolded in New York City.  Under the direction of Dr. Peter Neubauer and the Louise Wise Adoption Agency, newborn triplet boys were separated at birth and given up for adoption to three different families.  One family was wealthy, one middle-class, one poor.

As the boys grew up, they were studied by stealth and with meticulousness by Dr. Neubauer’s team.  The goal was to determine how their common nature was affected by their different nurture.  The hope was to answer an age old question.  What is the strongest determinant in the quality of a person’s life, is it nature or is it nurture?

The experiment exploded when the three boys became young men.  Through a series of peculiar providences, they wound up meeting each other, tracing their common birth dates and circumstances, and discovering the truth.  As depicted in the excellent documentary, “Three Identical Strangers,” they became overnight celebrities and were paraded in newspapers, magazines, and television shows.

Their nature was eerily similar.  They had the same looks, same characteristics, same preferences.  Their genes were inherited from a smart and attractive birth mother who became pregnant on prom night.  As she progressed through life, she suffered from bi-polar disorder and alcoholism.  Both of these traits would follow the boys throughout life.

Their nurture, however, produced different outcomes.  Bobby Shafran, adopted by a medical doctor and an attorney, became a successful attorney himself.  David Kellman, adopted by the middle-class family, carved out a decent middle-class life, with a bit of a bonus from their burst of fame.  Eddy Galland, raised by a working poor and domineering father, overwhelmed by the celebrity of the fraternity, committed suicide when he was 33.

Though Dr. Neubauer was excoriated and his findings never published, it is clear that nature binds us, to a certain degree.  But, nurture can set us free to rise above.  Nature is strong, but nurture is stronger.  Praise the Lord, for this is especially true in the Christian life.

Free From Nature

In verse two, two laws, or irrefutable principles, like the law of gravity, are at work in a human being who becomes a born again Christian.  One is nurture, “the law of the Spirit of life,” and the other is nature, “the law of sin and death.”  One will “set you free” from the other, the nurture of the Holy Spirit overcoming the nature of sin and death.

All Christians are subject to both laws.  If you are a Christian, you will still sin and you will one day die.  This law cannot be broken, except the latter part by Enoch, Elijah, and the generation of believers who are alive at the Parousia.

If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God has nurtured you by regenerating your heart and enabling you to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit continues to nurture you, in spite of your nature, to live for God now, so you can live with God forever.  Paul has much more to say on this subject in verses 9-11.

But for now, let us discuss the non-Christian, the person who lives according to their nature but never yields to the nurture afforded by the Spirit, never commits to Christ, never enters into the family of God.  How do they live their lives?  How will their lives end?  Verses 5-8 describe the life of nature, without nurture.

A lost person lives “according to the flesh.”  They “set their minds on the things of the flesh.”  This is not as bad as it sounds.  It’s actually much worse.

“Flesh” here means human, human nature, sinful nature.  Lost people live like humans.  They need food, shelter, and clothing.  They need love, acceptance, companionship.  They often feel the need to do good and help others.  They can give to charity.  They join churches or religious organizations.  But, they do it all for the almighty self, not the almighty God.

When God calls them to repent, they are “hostile to God.”  When God gives His word to obey, they “do not submit.”  Their minds are set on their way instead of God’s way.  They never come to full commitment, to true faith in Christ; therefore, without faith they “cannot please God.”

The end of the life of a lost person is “Thanatos.”  There are two Greek words for death in the  New Testament.  One speaks of the act of death, the other of the state of death.  One means end, the other means eternity.  “Thanatos” is the latter, eternal death, separated from God, from all that is gracious and good, forever.

Free For Nurture

Now consider the good news that comes from the nurture of the gospel of Christ, the word of God, and the nurture of the Holy Spirit.

To be “set … free” from “the law of sin and death” is to have your sin forgiven and your death cancelled.  Verses 3-4 declare this as something “God has done” for you, not you for God.  This is Christ on the cross.  This is substitutionary atonement.  This is eternal life.  This is for all who by grace through faith in the gospel become genuine, Spirit-filled, followers of Jesus Christ.

So how can you tell someone is a true Christian?  Their spiritual nurture overcomes their human nature.  When God says repent, they oblige.  When God says believe, they are able to fully commit.  When choosing between what is right in their own eyes, and what is right according to God’s word, they will generally make the hard choice to obey God rather than man, even their own man.  And though you cannot actually see this happening right now, when they die, they don’t.  The Holy Spirit, who nurtures them, never leaves them, and eventually transports them to Heaven.

The Holy Spirit is the nurture of God that overcomes your nature.  He regenerates you and enables you to believe in Christ (ref. Titus 3:5).  He indwells you, from the moment you are conceived to become a child of God (vs. 9).  He is the baptism that saves you (ref. Ephesians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:21).  He is not some second blessing (vs. 9).  The Holy Spirit makes you belong to God (vs. 9), He makes you right with God (vs. 10), and He will one day bring you to your home with God, forever (vs. 11).

Free Forever

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
— Mark 8:34-36, ESV

Human nature wants the world.  It wants to be cuddled, coddled, and comforted with the best the world has to offer.  It can be kind and it can be cruel, whatever it takes to get what it wants.  It can be religious, very religious.  But it does not think it needs the cross, ignores or finds superficial existence in the church, and uses the Bible only to gain some advantage, not for repentance,  obedient faith, and spiritual disciplines.  Human nature takes some to the ghettos and the gutters, while escorting others to the best schools, top jobs, and a mansion on a hill.  But, human nature, without the nurture of God, sucks the soul right out of you and spits it out in Hell, forever condemned, forever separated from God, forever lost.

God’s nurture comes to you in the truth of the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  In justification, you take up the cross.  In sanctification, you are led by the Spirit.  In glorification, you are forever free from the penalty, power, and presence of sin, free to live with God, the angels, and the saints, forever and ever.  Praise be to God, His nurture rises above our nature!

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