More Than Conquerors! A Study of Romans 8 #4 “The Spiritual Mind” Romans 8:5-8

09 Sep

(Romans 8:5-8 NIV)  “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. {6} The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; {7} the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. {8} Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV) 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] 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.

The spiritual richness, both theological and practical, of this chapter is beyond calculation and surpasses adequate comment. When read by a believer with an open mind and an obedient heart, it is incredibly enriching.

It is one of the supreme life-changing chapters in Scripture. It moves along in an ever-ascending course, concluding in the marvelous paean of praise and assurance: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned but once in the first seven chapters of Romans, but is referred to nearly twenty times in chapter 8. The Spirit is to a believer what God the Creator is to the physical world. Without God, the physical world would not exist. It has been created and is continually sustained by the omnipotent power of God.

So the Holy Spirit—who also, of course, participated in the creation of the world—is to the Christian. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent who creates, sustains, and preserves spiritual life in those who place their trust in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who ultimately will bring every believer into the full consummation of his salvation by granting him eternal glory in the presence of God.

It should be made clear that the Holy Spirit is not merely an influence or an impersonal power emanating from God. He is a person, the third member of the Trinity, equal in every way to God the Father and God the Son. The doctrine of God’s being one essence, yet existing in three persons, is one of the most certain truths in Scripture. Yet the Holy Spirit is often not respected as every bit as much a divine person as the Father and the Son.

Among the many characteristics of personhood that the Holy Spirit possesses and manifests are: He functions with mind, emotion, and will; He loves the saints, He communicates with them, teaches, guides, comforts, and chastises them; He can be grieved, quenched, lied to, tested, resisted, and blasphemed.

The Bible speaks of His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, and His divine glory and holiness. He is called God, Lord, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Yahweh (or Jehovah), the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Jesus, and the Comforter and Advocate for believers.

Scripture reveals that the Holy Spirit was fully active with the Father and Son in the creation and that He has been with believers and enabled and empowered them since Pentecost (since suggest even before though not in the same indwelling way). He has always been convicting men of sin, giving salvation to those who truly believed, and teaching them to worship, obey and serve God rightly.

The Holy Spirit has been the divine agent who uniquely came upon God’s servants and inspired God’s sovereignly-chosen men to pen God’s Word. True believers have always served God not by human might or power but by the Holy Spirit (cf. Zech. 4:6). The Spirit was involved in Jesus’ conception as a human being and in Jesus’ baptism, anointing, temptation, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection.

Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has indwelt all believers, illuminating their understanding and application of God’s Word as well as empowering them for sanctification in a greater way than had every occurred before. He fills them, seals them, communes with them, fellowships with them, intercedes for them, comforts them, admonishes them, sanctifies them, and enables them to resist sin and to serve God.

In the present passage (Rom. 8:5-13), Paul continues to disclose the innumerable results of justification, specifically the marvelous, Spirit-wrought benefits of freedom from condemnation.

Paul is drawing a contrast between two kinds of life.

(i) There is the life which is dominated by sinful human nature; whose focus and centre is self; whose only law is its own desires; which takes what it likes where it likes. In different people that life will be differently described. It may be passion-controlled, or lust-controlled, or pride-controlled, or ambition-controlled. Its characteristic is its absorption in the things that human nature without Christ sets its heart upon.

(ii) There is the life that is dominated by the Spirit of God. As a man lives in the air, he lives in Christ, never separated from him. As he breathes in the air and the air fills him, so Christ fills him. He has no mind of his own; Christ is his mind. He has no desires of his own; the will of Christ is his only law. He is Spirit-controlled, Christ-controlled, God-focused.

These two lives are going in diametrically opposite directions. The life that is dominated by the desires and activities of sinful human nature is on the way to death. In the most literal sense, there is no future in it—because it is getting further and further away from God. To allow the things of the world completely to dominate life is self extinction; it is spiritual suicide. By living it, a man is making himself totally unfit ever to stand in the presence of God. He is hostile to him, resentful of his law and his control. God is not his friend but his enemy, and no man ever won the last battle against him.

The Spirit-controlled life, the Christ-centred life, the God-focused life is daily coming nearer heaven even when it is still on earth. It is a life which is such a steady progress to God that the final transition of death is only a natural and inevitable stage on the way. It is like Enoch who walked with God and God took him. As the child said: “Enoch was a man who went on walks with God—and one day he didn’t come back.”

No sooner has Paul said this than an inevitable objection strikes him. Someone may object: “You say that the Spirit-controlled man is on the way to life; but in point of fact every man must die. Just what do you mean?” Paul’s answer is this. All men die because they are involved in the human situation. Sin came into this world and with sin came death, the consequence of sin. Inevitably, therefore, all men die; but the man who is Spirit-controlled and whose heart is Christ-occupied, dies only to rise again. Paul’s basic thought is that the Christian is indissolubly one with Christ. Now Christ died and rose again; and the man who is one with Christ is one with death’s conqueror and shares in that victory. The Spirit controlled, Christ-possessed man is on the way to life; death is but an inevitable interlude that has to be passed through on the way.

In verses 2-3 he has discussed the Spirit’s freeing us from sin and death, and in verse 4 His enabling us to fulfill God’s law. In verses 5-13 Paul reveals that the Spirit also changes our nature and grants us strength for victory over the unredeemed flesh.

8:5 Live according to the sinful nature.NIV We will struggle constantly with sin and its temptations until the resurrection. People who decide to follow their sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.NIV But believers do not need to live in sin because they can now live in accordance with the Spirit, setting their mind on what the Spirit desires.NIV We must follow Christ daily in every area of our life, in our choices and moral decisions. Will you follow your former sinful nature or the Spirit’s leading?

8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death.NRSV The mind refers to our mind-set, our goals. Choosing to follow our flesh (which is translated “sinful nature’ in the niv) will result in death, both spiritual and physical.

To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.NRSV Choosing to follow the Spirit’s leading brings us full life on earth, eternal life, and peace with God. Paul is not specific about how the Spirit controls because his emphasis here is in comparing the results of the two possible mind-sets. The phrases Paul uses are, literally, “the mind belonging to the flesh” and “the mind belonging to the Spirit.” Paul forces an uncompromising choice and echoes Christ’s words, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24 niv).

Elsewhere in Scripture we find the characteristics of a mind under the Spirit’s control. It will be a mind directed toward truth, aware of the Spirit’s presence (John 14:17). It will be a mind seeking to please the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:8). It will be a mind active in memorizing and meditating on the words of Christ (John 14:26). It Will be a mind sensitive to sin (John 16:7-11). It will be a mind eager to follow the Spirit’s guidance (Galatians 5:16-22). The control of the Holy Spirit begins with voluntary commitment and submission to Christ.

l Ask for greater openness and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
l Consciously humble ourselves before God, so we are not too proud to change.
l Look to God’s Word for guidance.
l Obey where we have clear direction, so that our forward movement will enhance the Holy Spirit’s leading. (It makes little sense to steer a parked car!)
When was the last time you prayed as Jesus did, “Nevertheless, may your will, not mine, be done”?

8:7-8 The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.NRSV A sinful mind cannot submit to God because it is the seat of indwelling sin and is in permanent revolt against God. The “sinful mind” (niv) instinctively recognizes in God’s law the danger of judgment, and thus prefers willful ignorance. Living in sin, following one’s own desires, and disregarding God boils down to hostility to him.

Does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.NIV This statement supports the doctrine of total depravity Every person not united to Christ is thoroughly controlled by sin’s power. Thus, those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (niv) because they are interested only in themselves and have cast aside the one and only power that can defeat sin. The mind directed by the flesh can only be devoted to its own self-gratification, which will lead to destruction.

Every human being has a sinful nature. But believers in Christ have access to the Holy Spirit. In fact Paul says, “The Spirit of God lives in you” (8:9). Believers are still in the flesh, but because they are born again, they also have God’s Spirit. The question is which will be in control.


Paul divides people into two categories—those who let themselves be controlled by their sinful nature and those who follow after the Holy Spirit. We would be in the first category if Jesus hadn’t offered us a way out. After we say yes to Jesus, we want to continue following him because his way brings life and peace. We must consciously choose to center our life on God. Use the Bible to discover God’s guidelines, and then follow them. In every perplexing situation ask, “What would Jesus want me to do?” When the Holy Spirit points out what is right, do it eagerly.

 Rom 8:5 For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

The Greek from which this verse comes, according to Wuest, may be translated literally thus:

For those who are habitually dominated by the flesh put their mind on the things of the flesh.

Wuest also noted that the word “mind” carries with it the thought of “deliberately setting the mind upon a certain thing.” From this, it is clear that “walking after the flesh” means deliberately shutting out from the mind all other considerations except those related to animal, bodily, social and temporal needs and desires. In such a definition appears the true reason why the flesh is called “sinful.” It is not because of inherent or natural contamination, but it is due to domination of the flesh by a mind at enmity with God. Again, from Tertullian,

Therefore the apostle says that “sin dwelleth in the flesh,” because the soul by which sin is provoked has its temporary lodging in the flesh, which is doomed indeed to death, not however, on its own account, but on account of sin.

Once the stubborn soul of man, the inner man himself, as distinguished from the flesh, has become reconciled to God through faith and obedience to the gospel of Christ, and has received the Holy Spirit of promise, such a person is then endowed with a whole new set of values. He is born again! Thus the man walks “in newness of life,” as Paul had already stated in Rom. 6:4. This transformation from the old state to the new one is here identified as “minding the things of the Spirit”; but Paul also identified the same condition as that of permitting the mind of Christ to be in the believer (Phil. 2:5f). A legitimate deduction from this is that to possess a measure of God’s Spirit and to possess the mind of Jesus Christ are one and the same thing.

Rom 8:6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.

Mind of the flesh … cannot be thought of as identifying the mind with the flesh, that is, the substance of the flesh. Tertullian cautioned that

The carnal mind must be referred to the soul (as distinguished from the flesh), although ascribed sometimes to the flesh (as here), on the ground that it is ministered to by the flesh and through the flesh.

The “mind” that Paul had in view here is the rebellious and perverse spirit of man’s inner self; and the meaning is not primarily that physical death is caused by such mind (though, of course, it can cause that also), but that a state of death derives from and automatically accompanies such a mind, a condition called death “in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). In a simplistic view, man’s entire trouble lies in his inmost mind. Who is in charge there? If the inner throne is occupied by Satan, sin and death reign. If Christ is on the throne, life and peace reign.

Rom 8:7 Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.

As Barrett noted,

(The mind of the flesh) means a mind from which God is excluded.

This verse should be understood in the light of certain basic facts. There is a seat of authority within every person; it is the essential “I” whose choices and decisions determine destiny. Not merely the body, but also the intelligence itself, are both subject to this essence of the person, which is the monitor of the complete life of the individual. This inner throne of personal authority was designed by the Creator for his own occupancy, and is so created that the “I” itself cannot occupy it; although it is possible for the “I” to dethrone God and turn the occupancy of the throne over to Satan. This is what Adam did in Eden. This means that every life is under the authority of God or that of Satan. Man was so created that it is impossible for man himself to be the captain of his soul, his very nature requiring that the ultimate authority of his life shall belong to either one of two masters, and only two, God or Satan. Thus, when Paul spoke of the “mind of the flesh” in this verse as being at enmity with God, he referred to the mind of one who has put the Lord off the inner throne of his life.

It is true that Satan deceives people into the vanity of believing that they might indeed get rid of God and “live their own lives”; but it is a delusion, for, in the very act of refusing God the adoration that is rightfully his, the person becomes automatically a de facto servant of the devil; and the inevitable result of such an exchange of masters is that the very highest human faculties (as well as all others), including the intelligence itself, are incapable of serving God as long as such a condition exists. This intelligence subordinated to Satan instead of God was called “the mind of the flesh” by Paul here, because such a mind no longer has any regard or concern for eternal things and is occupied completely with the earthly life of flesh.

How utterly wrong, therefore, and how totally incredible, is the delusion that any such thing as total hereditary depravity was taught by Paul in this verse. Murray has this:

In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability ….”Enmity against God” is nothing other than total depravity, and “cannot please God” nothing less than total inability.

But, of course, the expressions cited by Murray refer to man’s mind, not as it was by the endowment of birth, but as it became through his rebellion against God. Paul’s teaching here corresponds exactly with that of Jesus regarding two masters (Matt. 6:24). If one decides to serve one, he cannot serve the other; but in the teaching both of Paul and of Jesus, the question of the soul’s right to decide is never for an instant doubted. The impossibility of serving the other master cannot derive from any inborn condition, but it must always be viewed as the consequence of the soul’s decision to serve one or the other, that option being the only one that God has given people.

The right of decision is never removed from man, no matter what his sins are; and therefore the “mind of the flesh” is morally accountable to God. Every gospel invitation, and even the great invitation of Jesus (Matt. 11:29,30) are grounded in the principle that even the wickedest of people have the right of decision if they elect to exercise it. The doctrines of depravity and inability cited above are inimical to the word of God, being not founded in the teachings of Christ or his apostles, but derived from the speculations of people. The question of judicial hardening is another matter, and will be discussed under Rom. 11:25. Christ’s teaching with regard to little children and his word that “unto such belongeth the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14) is a denial of human theories of total depravity, etc.

Rom 8:8 And they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The questions raised by this verse are discussed under Rom. 8:7, above. “In the flesh” is here a reference to the condition that exists when the soul rejects its Creator, sacrifices all hopes of immortality and of the eternal world, and decides to make the present life of flesh its one and only concern.

 Additional Notes

(8:5-8) Mind, The—Carnal—Flesh—Spiritual Mind: the Spirit pulls the mind to spiritual things. This is one of the most important passages in all of Scripture, for it discusses the human mind: “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Where a man keeps his mind and what he thinks about determine who he is and what he does. If a man keeps his mind and thoughts in the gutter, he becomes part of the filth in the gutter. If he keeps his mind upon the good, he becomes good. If he focuses upon achievement and success, he achieves and succeeds. If his mind is filled with religious thoughts, he becomes religious. If his thoughts are focused upon God and righteousness, he becomes godly and righteous. A man becomes and does what he thinks. It is the law of the mind. Scripture says three things about the power of the Spirit and of the human mind.

  1. There is the carnal mind vs. the spiritual mind. The carnal mind is the mind of man’s flesh or body. The phrase “to be carnally minded” (to phronema tes sarkos, Romans 8:6) means the mind of the flesh. It is the mind with which man is born, the fleshly mind which he inherits from his parents.

The carnal mind also means something else, something that must be heeded. It means the mind that is given over to the flesh; that focuses upon the flesh and its worldly urges and desires; that gives its attention and pursuits over to the flesh; that savors tasting and partaking of the flesh; that is controlled by one’s sinful nature.

The carnal mind focuses upon three areas of life, or to word it another way, there are three directions of thought the carnal mind takes:

  1. The carnal mind may focus upon the base, the immoral, the violent, the material, and the physical. This is usually the life-style most people think about when a carnal or fleshly person is mentioned. The minds of some are consumed with the lust for sex, power, money, houses, lands, furnishings, recognition, position—concerned and filled with the earthly and the worldly.
  2. The carnal mind may focus upon the moral, upright, and cultured life. Some minds are centered upon the welfare and comfort of themselves and of their society. They want themselves and their society to be as refined and educated, as moral and upright as possible, so they focus their minds upon such commendable ends. And they are commendable purposes, but a person can be refined and well educated and live as independently and as separate from God as the base and immoral person. Most cultured people depend upon their good works and service to make them acceptable to God. Most just think that God will accept them because their lives and efforts have been focused upon building a good life and better society for all. What they fail to see is that God is interested in building a God-centered society and not a world-centered society. God wants the needs of every man to be met, but He wants it to be done from a spiritual basis, not from a human basis. He wants men led to Christ—their minds and lives focused upon God—so that they may have life, life that is both abundant and eternal. Just taking care of the physical needs of man does not meet the spiritual needs of man. It leaves a gaping hole in man’s life; for the spirit of man determines how a man lives, either defeated or victorious, either with or apart from God (see note— Ephes. 1:3).
  3. The carnal mind may also focus upon religion: upon living a religious life of benevolence and good works, of ceremony and ritual. However, note again: a person can be a strict religionist and still live separate from God. He can have his mind set on religion and its welfare instead of God. He can be living for religion instead of for God, carrying out the function of institutional religion instead of the mission of God. He can be depending upon his commitment to religion to make him acceptable to God instead of believing and trusting God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In all of this, note where the religionist’s mind is—note where his thoughts are. There is little if any stress upon a personal relationship with God; little stress upon knowing God—really knowing, believing, and understanding Him—little stress upon walking and living in Him. The stress of the carnal religionist is his religion and its rituals and ceremonies, its welfare and projects. Such a focus is fleshly and carnal. It is of the earth, attached to the physical and material institution which passes away and dies.

The point is this: a carnal mind does not necessarily mean that a man’s thoughts are upon the base, immoral, and vicious. A carnal mind means any mind that does not find its basis in God, any mind that is not focused upon God first. A carnal mind may focus upon a moral, upright, and cultured life and still ignore, neglect, and exempt God. A carnal mind may also focus upon religion and still exempt God. A carnal mind is a mind that finds its basis in this world, that focuses its thoughts upon the physical and material instead of God.

  1. There is the spiritual mind. It is the natural mind of man that has been renewed by the Spirit of God.

The words “spiritually minded” (to phronema tou pneumatos) mean to be possessed by the Spirit or to be controlled and dominated by the Spirit. It means that the man who walks after the Spirit minds “the things of the Spirit” day by day. And note: it is the Spirit of God who draws the believer’s mind to focus upon spiritual things. The Spirit of God lives within the believer. He is there to work within the believer, both to will and to do God’s pleasure; He is there to keep the mind and thoughts of the believer focused upon spiritual things.

  1. The believer keeps his mind upon developing spiritual character and fruit.
  2. The believer keeps his mind upon carrying out the ministry and mission of Christ.
  3. The believer keeps his mind upon knowing, believing, and understanding God.
  4. The believer keeps his mind upon casting down imaginations and making every thought obedient to Christ.
  5. There is the fate of both minds. The carnal mind is strongly warned, whereas the spiritual mind is assured and comforted.
  6. The fate of the carnal mind is death. By death is meant spiritual death, being separated and cut off from God eternally. It means the soul is dead now, while the man lives on this earth; and it means that the soul remains dead (separated and cut off from God) even when the man enters the next world. The carnal mind…
  • cannot ignore God now and expect to have thoughts of God in the next world.
  • cannot focus upon the flesh now and expect to focus upon God in the next world.
  • cannot think as it wills now and expect to think as God wills in the next world.
  • cannot have a worldly mind now and expect to have a spiritual mind in the next world.
  • cannot choose the flesh now and expect to be saved from the flesh in the next world.
  • cannot reject God now and expect to be accepted by God in the next world.


Very simply stated, whatever the mind chooses will continue on and on. If the mind chooses the flesh instead of God, then the choice is made. The mind will continue on without God from now on, forever and ever. The mind is allowed to do as it chooses. If it chooses to be separated and cut off from God so that it can dwell upon the flesh, then the soul shall have the flesh; it shall be separated and cut off from God. God loves man; God will not violate man’s mind and force man to choose Him. The choice is man’s: he may choose God, or he may choose flesh and death (to be separated and cut off from God).

  1. The fate of the spiritual mind is life and peace. It is the very opposite of death. The spiritual mind is a state of mind, a mind that is filled with life and peace, with thoughts of life and peace. The spiritual mind dwells in life; it lives all that life was intended to be and lives it eternally. The spiritual mind is full…
  • of meaning, purpose, and significance.
  • of assurance and confidence.
  • of joy and rejoicing.
  • of knowing, believing, and understanding God.
  • of spiritual fruit, the fruit of love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22-23).

The spiritual mind is also full of peace. The man who is spiritually minded is at peace with God: he has peace with God because he knows beyond question that his sins are forgiven and that he is now acceptable to God. He also dwells in the peace of God: he has the peace of God because he experiences the day by day care and guidance of God in his life. He actually walks through life in the peace of God, knowing that God is looking after him and working all things out for his good. He knows his eternity is taken care of, that he shall be given the glorious privilege of living eternally and serving God in some glorious responsibility. Note something else as well: the man who is spiritually minded is at peace with all other men. He loves and cares for all men, no matter who they are, just as Jesus loves and cares for them.

The spiritual mind, the mind that focuses upon the things of the spirit, knows and experiences life and peace. Life and peace are its destiny forever and ever. Such is the promise of God and the testimony of His saints who have gone on before. To be spiritually minded reaps its reward, and its reward is eternal life and peace.

  1. There is the reason the carnal mind dwells in death. The carnal mind dwells in death because it is at enmity with God. This is simply seen.
  • God is holy, righteous, and pure; whereas the carnal mind is impure, immoral, and polluted. The carnal or fleshly mind is opposed to God by its very nature.
  • God acts only in morality and justice and goodness; whereas the carnal mind behaves immorally, unjustly, and selfishly. The carnal or fleshly mind is opposed to God by its very behavior.
  • God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting; whereas the carnal mind ages, deteriorates, dies, and decays. The carnal or fleshly mind is opposed to God by its very destiny, death.

The carnal mind is opposed to God, to all that He is. It is not pure or lasting; it is fleshly and full of corruption, and it dwells in death. The carnal or fleshly mind is bitterly opposed to all that God is. Therefore, the carnal mind dwells in death, and it shall dwell in death eternally.

Now note: all this is saying one simple thing: the carnal mind “is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” The carnal mind cannot be subject to God’s law because it is not “like” God: not by nature, not by behavior, not by destiny. A carnal mind has no interest in the law of God nor in trying to live as God wishes. The carnal mind wants to live as it wishes and do its own thing. The carnal man wants to indulge his flesh, whether by food, sex, pride, power, position, money, recognition, fame, or self-righteousness.

However, the glorious truth is this. The Spirit of God can transform the mind of man. The Spirit of God can pull the mind to spiritual things.

Most carnal minds are influenced heavily by their environment and those around them. If their friends are materialistic or immoral, they focus upon the same. If their environment offers films and literature, they fill their minds with such, whether X-rated or educational and philosophic. Few carnal minds ever break away from their environment and friends. Only the Spirit of God can penetrate the human mind and set it free from the flesh and its carnal passions.

“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Rom. 8:12). There is no obligation to the old nature. The believer can live in victory. In this section, Paul described life on three different levels; and he encouraged his readers to live on the highest level.

“You have not the Spirit” (vv. 5-8). Paul is not describing two kinds of Christians, one carnal and one spiritual. He is contrasting the saved and the unsaved. There are four contrasts.

In the fleshin the Spirit (v. 5). The unsaved person does not have the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9) and lives in the flesh and for the flesh. His mind is centered on the things that satisfy the flesh. But the Christian has the Spirit of God within and lives in an entirely new and different sphere. His mind is fixed on the things of the Spirit. This does not mean that the unsaved person never does anything good, or that the believer never does anything bad. It means that the bent of their lives is different. One lives for the flesh, the other lives for the Spirit.

Death—life (v. 6). The unsaved person is alive physically, but dead spiritually. The inner man is dead toward God and does not respond to the things of the Spirit. He may be moral, and even religious; but he lacks spiritual life. He needs “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2).

War with God—peace with God (vv. 6-7). In our study of Romans 7, we have seen that the old nature rebels against God and will not submit to God’s Law. Those who have trusted Christ enjoy “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1), while the unsaved are at war with God. “‘There is no peace,’ saith the Lord, ‘unto the wicked'” (Isa. 48:22).

Pleasing self—pleasing God (v. 8). To be “in the flesh” means to be lost, outside Christ. The unsaved person lives to please himself and rarely if ever thinks about pleasing God. The root of sin is selfishness—”I will” and not “Thy will.”

To be unsaved and not have the Spirit is the lowest level of life. But a person need not stay on that level. By faith in Christ he can move to the second level.

The Holy Spirit Changes Our Nature

In verse 4 Paul speaks of the believer’s behavior, contending that he does “not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” As in verses 2 and 3, the conjunction for in verse 5 carries the meaning of because. The point is that a believer does not behave according to the flesh because his new heart and mind are no longer centered on the things of the flesh and ruled by sin.

In God’s eyes, there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who do not belong to Him and those who do. Put another way there are only those who are according to the flesh and those who are according to the Spirit. As far as spiritual life is concerned, God takes no consideration of gender, age, education, talent, class, race, or any other human distinctions (Gal. 3:28). He differentiates people solely on the basis of their relationship to Him, and the difference is absolute.

Obviously there are degrees in both categories. Some unsaved people exhibit high moral behavior; and, on the other hand, many saints do not mind the things of God as obediently as they should. But every human being is completely in one spiritual state of being or the other; he either belongs to God or he does not. Just as a person cannot be partly dead and partly alive physically neither can he be partly dead and partly alive spiritually. There is no middle ground. A person is either forgiven and in the kingdom of God or unforgiven and in the kingdom of this world. He is either a child of God or a child of Satan.

In this context, the phrase according to refers to basic spiritual nature. The Greek could be translated literally as those being according to, indicating a person’s fundamental essence, bent, or disposition. Those who are according to the flesh are the unsaved, the unforgiven, the unredeemed, the unregenerate. Those who are according to the Spirit are the saved, the forgiven, the redeemed, the regenerated children of God.

As the apostle points out a few verses later, the unsaved not only are according to the flesh but are in the flesh and are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The saved, on the other hand, not only are according to the Spirit but are in the Spirit and indwelt by Him (v. 9). Here in verse 5 Paul is speaking of the determinant spiritual pattern of a person’s life, whereas in verses 8-9 he is speaking of the spiritual sphere of a person’s life.

The verb behind set their minds, refers to the basic orientation, bent, and thought patterns of the mind, rather than to the mind or intellect itself. It includes a person’s affections and will as well as his reasoning. Paul uses the same verb in Philippians, where he admonishes believers to “have this attitude [or, “mind”] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5; see also 2:2; 3:15, 19; Col. 3:2).

The basic disposition of the unredeemed is to “indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires” (2 Pet. 2:10). The lost are those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19). The things of the flesh includes false philosophies and religions, which invariably appeal, whether overtly or subtly, to the flesh through self-interest and self-effort.

But those who are according to the Spirit, Paul says, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. In other words, those who belong to God are concerned about godly things. As Jonathan Edwards liked to say, they have “holy affections,” deep longings after God and sanctification. As Paul has made clear in Romans 7, even God’s children sometimes falter in their obedience to Him. But as the apostle said of himself, they nevertheless “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22). Despite their many spiritual failures, their basic orientation and innermost concerns have to do with the things of the Spirit.

The mind is the noun form of the verb in verse 5, and, like the verb, refers to the content or thought patterns of the mind rather than to the mind itself. It is significant that Paul does not say that the mind set on the flesh leads to death, but that it is death. The unsaved person is already dead spiritually. The apostle is stating a spiritual equation, not a spiritual consequence. The consequence involved in this relationship is the reverse: that is, because unredeemed men are already spiritually dead, their minds are inevitably set on the flesh. Paul reminded the Ephesian believers that, before salvation, they were all once “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

There is, of course, a sense in which sin leads to death. “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,” Isaiah declared to Israel, “and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2). Earlier in the book of Romans Paul explained that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23) and that “while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (7:5; cf. Gal 6:8).

But Paul’s emphasis in the present passage is on the state of death in which every unbeliever already exists, even while his body and mind may be very much alive and active. “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” Paul explained to the Corinthian believers, “for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14).

But the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Again Paul states an equation, not a consequence. The mind set on the Spirit, that is, on the things of God, equates life and peace, which equates being a Christian. The mind set on the Spirit is synonymous with Christian, a person who has been born again, given spiritual life by God’s grace working through his faith.

The mind set on the Spirit is also synonymous with spiritual peace, that is, peace with God. The unsaved person, no matter how much he may claim to honor, worship, and love God, is God’s enemy—a truth Paul has already pointed out in this epistle. Before we were saved, he states, we were all enemies of God (5:10). Only the person who has new life in God has peace with God.

The obvious corollary of that truth is that it is impossible to have a mind set on the Spirit, which includes having spiritual life and peace, and yet remain dead to the things of God. A professing Christian who has no sensitivity to the things of God, no “holy affections,” does not belong to God. Nor does a merely professing Christian have a battle with the flesh, because he is, in reality, still naturally inclined toward the things of the flesh. He longs for the things of the flesh, which are normal to him, because he is still in the flesh and has his mind wholly set on the things of the flesh.

An unbeliever may be deeply concerned about not living up to the religious standards and code he has set for himself, and he may struggle hard in trying to achieve those goals. But his struggle is purely on a human level. It is a struggle not generated by the love of God but by self-love and the subsequent desire to gain greater favor with God or men on the basis of superior personal achievement. Whatever religious and moral struggles he may have are problems of flesh with flesh, not of Spirit against flesh, because the Holy Spirit is not in a fleshly person and a fleshly person is not in the Spirit.

As Paul has illustrated from his own life in Romans 7, a true Christian battles with the flesh because his mortal body still hangs on and tries to lure him back into the old sinful ways. But he is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit. Speaking of true believers, Paul said, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). But “if we live by the Spirit,” he goes on to say, “let us also walk by the Spirit” (v. 25; cf. v. 16). In other words, because a believer’s new nature is divine and is indwelt by God’s own Spirit, he desires to behave accordingly.

It is important to note that, when he speaks of sin in a Christian’s life, Paul is always careful to identify sin with the outer, corrupted body, not with the new inner nature. A believer’s flesh is not redeemed when he trusts in Christ. If that were so, all Christians would immediately become perfect when they are saved, which even apart from the testimony of Scripture is obviously not true. The sinful vestige of unredeemed humanness will not fall away until the Christian goes to be with the Lord. It is for that reason that the New Testament sometimes speaks of a Christian’s salvation in the future tense (see Rom. 13:11).

Referring to those who were already saved, Paul says later in this chapter, “Having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). As the apostle explains to the Corinthians, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an  imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

No matter how self-sacrificing, moral, and sincere the life of an unredeemed person may be, his religious efforts are selfish, because he cannot truly serve God, because his mind is set on the flesh. Paul again (cf. v 6) uses the term (the mind), which refers to the content, the thought patterns, the basic inclination and orientation of a person. This inclination, or bent, of the flesh is even more deep-seated and significant than actual disobedience, which is simply the outward manifestation of the inner, fleshly compulsions of an unregenerate person.

Every unredeemed person, whether religious or atheistic, whether outwardly moral or outwardly wicked, is hostile toward God. An unsaved person cannot live a godly and righteous life because he has no godly and righteous nature or resources. He therefore cannot have genuine love for God or for the things of God. His sinful, fleshly mind does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so. Even an unbeliever whose life seems to be a model of good works is not capable of doing anything truly good, because he is not motivated or empowered by God and because his works are produced by the flesh for self-centered reasons and can never be to God’s glory. It clearly follows, then, that if the fleshly mind does not and cannot subject itself to the law of God, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Men were created for the very purpose of pleasing God. At the beginning of the practical section of this epistle Paul says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2). In a similar way he admonished the Corinthians, “whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to [God]” (2 Cor. 5:9; cf. Eph. 5:10; Phil. 4:18). He exhorted the believers at Thessalonica “to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:1).

After describing the spiritual characteristics and incapacities of those who are in the flesh, Paul again addresses those who are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Sinful human flesh can only reproduce more sinful human flesh. Only God’s Holy Spirit can produce spiritual life.

A test of saving faith is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. “You can be certain of your salvation,” Paul is saying, “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Dwells has the idea of being in one’s own home. In a marvelous and incomprehensible way the very Spirit of God makes His home in the life of every person who trusts in Jesus Christ through  baptism.

The opposite of that reality is also true: But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. The person who gives no evidence of the presence, power, and fruit of God’s Spirit in his life has no legitimate claim to Christ as Savior and Lord. The person who demonstrates no desire for the things of God and has no inclination to avoid sin or passion to please God is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus does not belong to Christ. In light of that sobering truth Paul admonishes those who claim to be Christians: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

And if Christ is in you, Paul continues to say to believers, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. In other words, if God’s Spirit indwells us, our own spirit is alive because of righteousness, that is, because of the divinely-imparted righteousness by which every believer is justified (Rom. 3:21-26). In light of that perfect righteousness, all human attempts at being righteous are but rubbish (Phil. 3:8).

Summing up what he has just declared in verses 5-10, Paul says, But 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 indwells you. It was again the Holy Spirit who was the divine agent of Christ’s resurrection. And just as the Spirit lifted Jesus out of physical death and gave Him life in His mortal body so the Spirit, who dwells in the believer; gives to that believer new life now and forever (cf. John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6).

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Posted by on September 9, 2021 in Romans


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