For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.A line is drawn in this passage between life and death. "Life" refers to eternal life, beginning in the present and lasting throughout eternity, for those who are the spiritual children of God. "Death" refers to the spiritual death of those who refuse to give up the "deeds of the body" and live by the Spirit of God.
Romans 8:13-14 ESV
An unfortunate modern philosophy has taken root, even within the church, which says that all of humanity are children of God by virtue of creation. Indeed, God is the Creator of all that is. While this is true in the general sense of physical creation, it is not true in the spiritual sense.
Sin has separated us from God in our natural state, a condition we inherited from the first man and woman whom God created after they fell to temptation in the garden. Our nature is to do what we want to do, regardless of what God has commanded. The Bible is clear about our natural condition--spiritual death--as Paul states several times in Ephesians:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world...among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Humanity is afforded a great opportunity to be once and forever restored to our Creator through Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to this as adoption. Continuing the lead passage from Romans 8:
Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"The unfortunate mistake of modern Christians is that many are relying upon a false belief that simply because they have been baptized, or have at some point in their lives made a one-time declaration that they believe in Jesus Christ, that they have a right to expect the privileges of adoption and eternal life. Many, many Christians are relying on the mistaken theologies of preachers who have sold them this bill of goods without expounding upon the rest of the story.
Romans 8:15 ESV
It is clear in many places in the scriptures that authentic Christian faith is that faith which results in obedience and a life in pursuit of holiness, or the process of sanctification. It does not mean that a Christian is a person who lives a perfect life--far from it--what it does mean is that a true Christian is one whose faith is more than a one-time public declaration, or baptism, and his/her life is marked by denial of the "deeds of the body," sincere repentance for sins committed, and an earnest lifelong attempt to worship God and to obey him.
While the scripture is clear that our works of obedience do not save us, it is just as clear that the faith that saves is a faith that proves itself in good works.
My interest is not in theological argument, or to win debate points, but it is to help those like me who lived too much of his life holding naively to an inadequate faith, not fully understanding the importance of living one's faith.
What I see now is that I was taught this hard doctrine correctly, but it was too complicated in light of what the pressures of growing up and the philosophies of modern life were teaching me. I recall hearing this doctrine taught correctly from pastors and Sunday school teachers I had while growing up, but because I didn't have the longer view in mind of what sanctification really involves, I chose instead to believe what was simple.
My hope is that those who have shared this inadequate view of faith, like I have had most of my life, will spend some time in earnest consideration of how convincing their faith really is to those with whom they share their lives. Is it a convincing faith? Is it growing in holiness? Does it render sincere worship of God? And, does it identify you accurately as a child of God?