Romans 8:5–8 (ESV) — 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.
We need to be aware up front…
- This is not a command, an imperative, to be “of the Spirit”.
- He is declaring an accomplished fact.
- Those in Christ are “of the Spirit”.
Specifically…when Paul says “those who live”…
- The word for “live” – eimi – means to already be and exist according to a specific reality.
- In our text, this reality would be either “the flesh” or “the Spirit”.
Tom Schreiner says it this way:
“…those who ‘walk’ by the flesh or the Spirit do so because they ‘are’ of the flesh or the Spirit. In other words, [Paul’s] argument is that behavior stems from the being or nature of a person” – Schreiner.
This is hugely significant!
- I will unpack why this is later.
- First we need to unpack some phrases to understand our verses.
Flesh and Spirit Stuff:
“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” – Verse 5.
(1) What does Paul mean by “flesh” and “Spirit”?
“Flesh” here does not refer to anything physical specifically, such as the body.
- In keeping with Paul’s usage in previous passages…
- “Flesh” refers to humanity’s rebellious human nature.
“Spirit” here is the Holy Spirit.
- Paul’s use of the Spirit here signifies that the believer is no longer alienated from God.
- And participates in the life of the Spirit.
(2) So what is “live according to” the flesh or Spirit?
- This is more dominion or address language from Paul.
To “live according to the flesh” is…
- To exist under the dominion or address of sin.
- This is to be slaves to sin and under the sway of the rebellious human nature.
To “live according to the Spirit” is…
- The believer’s life giving experience of the Holy Spirit…
- Under the dominion of grace, freed from the condemnation of the law.
(3) What is the “set their minds on” the flesh or the Spirit?
First, it is important we get something here.
- This phrase is simply one word, the verb “phroneō”.
- And as we saw with the word “eimi/live”, this is not a command.
- It is an indicative – a done deal.
This means it is a description of how the person’s mind already operates…
- By virtue of being of the flesh or Spirit.
- It is not a method of thinking a person can “will”.
Given this, what does “phroneō” mean?
- It relates to our desires, intentions and will as shaped by our address/dominion.
The DPL says, “phroneō denotes an attitude of mind which finds expression in the will” – DPL.
- The BDAG says, it means, “to be intent on” – BDAG.
- The EDNT says, it means, “single-minded commitment to something and the conditions for such commitment” – EDNT.
So to “phroneō” in the flesh…
- Is to, by default, desire, intend or will the things that are sourced by the power and dominion of sin.
- Those who “live according to the flesh” don’t try to “phroneo” this way…they just do.
Paul gives a list of some of the “things of the flesh” in Galatians.
- Galatians 5:19–21 (ESV) — 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21a envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
So to “phroneō” in the Spirit…
- Is to, by default, desire, intend or will the things that are sourced by the Spirit – the dominion of grace address.
- Those who “live according to the Spirit” don’t try to “phroneo” this way…they just do.
Paul also gives a list of some of the “things of the Spirit” in Galatians.
- Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV) — 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
So let’s look at verse 5 again, and parse it out.
- “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.”
Given what we have just learned we can paraphrase it this way:
- Those who live under the power and dominion of sin…
- Dominated by the rebellious human nature…
- Persist in a “will,” desire and intention towards its things.
Those who live under grace…
- Dominated by the Spirit…
- Persist in a “will,” desire and intention towards its things.
We can also put it this way:
- To exist in the dominion of sin is to be orientated or inclined in its direction.
- To exist in the dominion of the Spirit is to be orientated or inclined in its direction.
BTW – This doesn’t mean those in the Spirit can’t or don’t do the things of the flesh.
- In fact, it doesn’t mean that we don’t continually struggle with the same sin.
- But this means that our sinning doesn’t condemn us.
The persisting in sin that leads to condemnation, for Paul…
- “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” – Gal. 5:21b.
- Is to continually sin from the address that is “situated in” (resides in) the flesh – EDNT.
Paul doesn’t leave it there.
- He tells us what the “phroneo-ing” in verse 5 means in verses 6-8.
- “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.”
If you live according to, and thus “phroneo” the flesh…
- You die the death of condemnation and alienation from God – eschatological death.
- You live life hostile to God.
- God’s law condemns you for your rebellion.
- And you “cannot please God”.
BTW – What does it mean that a “flesher” cannot please God?
- Does this mean they can do no good works?
- Can a “flesher” persist in good works?
But if you live according to, and thus “phroneo” the Spirit…
- You have life and peace.
- You are free from “the law of sin and death” – Doug Moo.
- You are no longer alienated from God.
- And you do not suffer eschatological death of condemnation and alienation from God.
- “There is therefore now no condemnation.”
Importantly, this life and peace aren’t something we do.
- They aren’t feelings.
- In other words, they are “an objective reality not a subjective state of mind” – Doug Moo.
Back to the Hugely Significant:
Earlier we saw that:
- “…those who ‘walk’ by the flesh or the Spirit do so because they ‘are’ of the flesh or the Spirit….[and that] behavior stems from the being or nature of a person” – Schreiner.
- In other words, it’s “being” before behavior – Robert Jewett.
- Inside to outside.
I said that this was hugely significant!
- Now I want to unpack why this is so.
The reason this is hugely significant is because…
- This truth speaks volumes on how we mature as believers under grace.
What is the typical way we are taught to be better Christians – to be more Christ-like?
- Usually we are given “to do” lists – imperatives.
- Pray more, give more, love more, learn more, sin less, etc.
And, of course, our actions do matter.
- So, we should strive to “do”.
- Commonly known as “applying” God’s word.
- Making God’s word about us by translating it into actions we can do.
But we sometimes operate under the illusion…
- That spiritual growth and transformation…
- Comes only from this type of application of God’s word.
In other words…we find value in God’s word…
- Mostly when we can take home a “to do” list…
- That we can add to the routines of our life.
Knowing God’s word for its own sake and on its own merits…
- Gets short shrift.
- It is characterized as just an intellectual exercise.
A false narrative is created that pits…
- The heart against the mind.
So this is what we desperately need to realize.
- If our behavior “stems from” what we are in Christ and the Spirit…
- If we act because we are…a process that flows inside to out…
- And not the other way around…
- What should we spend more time understanding and comprehending…
- What we are to do or what we are?
The answer is:
- Valuing, Knowing, and Understanding…
- For its own sake and on its own merits…
- What we are in Christ and the Spirit…
- And how God has secured what we are.
And how does this valuing, knowing, and understanding of what we are happen?
- With a to do list?
Answer – by consuming the living and active word of God!
Here’s the thing:
- What do you think happens when a person that “phroneo’s” in the Spirit…
- That is to say, desires, intends or wills the things that are sourced by the Spirit…
- Consumes God’s living and active word?
I can testify from years of doing so…
- That it actually changes you!
- No to do list required!
To say that knowing God’s word is a mere intellectual exercise?
- Is to devalue and downplay both…
- God’s word, your Union with Christ…
- And the very thing Paul is teaching us today…the power and life of the Holy Spirit…from which we “phroneo”.
It is time for us to see that…
- Consuming, Valuing, Knowing, and Understanding God’s word…
- Is of utmost importance.
- And it brings lasting application that to do lists and will power can’t.
Close with This:
Jeremiah and Ezekiel understand how powerful it is to consume God’s word:
- “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” – Jeremiah 15:16
- “And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.” – Ezekiel 3:3
We need to know that there is no Hebrew word for “mind” or “brain”.
- They thought that the heart and mind stuff happened together in the bowels.
- Which could be the heart, the stomach, etc.
- So they did not pit the heart and mind against each other like we do.
- It was all the same stuff.
So these texts mean exactly what we have been saying.
- To eat God’s word and find it to be a joy, delight and taste of honey includes…
- The valuing, knowing and understanding of God’s word for its own sake and own its own merits.
- If there is something we need to “do” – it is this!