Last week as I concluded the sermon, I asked a question but didn’t answer it. The question was, what does it look like to walk according to the Holy Spirit? I asked at this question because our text last week, Romans 8:1-4, took us there. As that text ends we find Paul saying we are those who do not, “…walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Which led to our question, ‘Ok, what then does it mean to walk according to the Spirit?’ The answer to this question isn’t short but it will begin to be answered for us today, as we keep on following Paul as he slowly and carefully takes his time unfolding the nature of the Spirit’s work in us from v5-17. Which means, big broad take away point here, Romans 8:5-17 is perhaps the richest and most saturated teaching on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life in all of Romans.

For us today, we’ll look at the beginning of Paul’s answer in v5-11 where he shows us the great and vast difference between living according to the flesh and living according to the Spirit.

Two Mindsets (v5-6)

“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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

You might think Paul’s teaching that there are two ways Christians can live, one way resembling death and one way resembling life and peace, and that Paul speaks like this because he really wants us to choose the right way and turn away from the wrong way. But this isn’t what Paul is teaching us here. Rather, Paul’s teaching us that there has only ever been two positions mankind can be in. Sure, how we live matters (as we’ll see very soon) but what’s in view here is our position before God.[1] We’re either those in the flesh (read = unconverted/lost) or those in the Spirit (read = converted/saved).

Look at how Paul shows us this. He uses the phrase “set their minds on” four times in v5-6 to indicate the difference between those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit. Though it’s four words in English, it’s only one word in Greek, phroneo. While this word does have much to do with our thought life, it’s a phrase that has a much broader scope in view. It includes all the makeup of our soul: our thoughts and reasoning, our hearts and affections, our speech, our motives, our intentions, passions, desires, actions, and behavior.[2] Naturally then, because the whole person is in view in that phrase we see there is a firm link between one’s mindset and one’s life here in v5-6. Those who have set their minds on the flesh live in line with the flesh while those who have their set their minds on the Spirit live in line with the Spirit. This all-encompassing reality would then lead us to say…for the unconverted person, those who set their mind on the flesh, this is not just them occasionally thinking about the things of the flesh, no it’s them thinking of the things of the flesh most of all, over all, so much so that the things of the flesh are the things they’ve been mastered by and the things they’ve come to truly desire and love above all else. That’s alarming for sure. But see the other side here. For the converted person, those who set their mind on the Spirit, this is not just them occasionally thinking about the things of the Spirit, no it’s them thinking of the things of the Spirit most of all, over all, so much so that the things of the Spirit are the things they’ve been mastered by and the things they’ve come to truly desire and love above all else.[3] How wonderful is that? Paul’s boiling it down for us here, saying that there are only two kinds of people in the world – those controlled and directed by the flesh and those governed and led by the Spirit.[4] We get all that from v5.

To expand on this in v6 Paul then makes the results of both of these positions clear. Those who have their minds set on the flesh will experience death. And those who have their minds set on the Spirit will experience life and peace. These terms too, are broad scope terms. Death not only awaits those who set their minds on the flesh in the future, death reigns over their whole life, even here and now. Or as Romans 5-6 taught us, those in Adam are under death and captive to it. And the opposite is just as true. Life and peace not only awaits those who set their minds on the Spirit in the future, life and peace reigns over their whole life, even here and now. Or as Romans 5-6 taught us, those in Christ were once under death but are now under grace.

These then are the two categories that all mankind throughout all of history fits into. But, Paul doesn’t just want to state these things to us, he wants to unfold them to us, to open them up to us, and to so explain them to us that we respond in the manner we ought to: with disgust and loathing toward the flesh, and with love and affection toward the Spirit. That is what he does next. He begins first with the flesh in v7-8, on what it means to set the mind on the flesh.

Setting the Mind on the Flesh (v7-8)

“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. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

As v7 begins we once again find the phrase, “a mind set on.” Remember, this is not referring to just mental activity but to the whole of one’s soul or the all-encompassing bent of one’s life and position before God. So, the language of v7-8 refers to those who are not Christians, those who are unconverted. See then the sad state of all who are outside of Christ. All non-Christians have a mindset or a heart posture or bent that doesn’t just ignore God, a bent that isn’t just against God, but a bent that is hostile to God. The word ‘hostile’ is key to hear and feel. It indicates much more than mere disagreement. ‘Hostile’ is not a word speaking of passive neutrality. It’s an active word. A word that gives us the image of someone aggressively engaged in attacking another. Church, this is the posture and position of all those led by the flesh and not led by the Spirit. An unbeliever might seem or even might say they don’t care about the things of God, they might even display a generosity or kindness in a worldly manner. But what does Paul say? They’re rebels against the King of kings. They have as much desire for God as a lion has toward a bowl of lettuce. Everything about God: His nature, His ways, His Law, His Word, His Church – is alien to their nature. They know the Law of God, it’s been written on the hearts of all men and lives in the conscience, but they hate it, repress it, and refuse to submit to it as Romans 1 taught us. Therefore, they not only don’t desire to please God, they cannot please God, and they are not pleasing to God.

Pause for a moment. How do you hear this? Do you agree with it? Or do you deny this and say mankind isn’t as bad as this makes us out to be? If that’s you be warned. You’ll often find yourself disagreeing with Scripture, all over the place. In those moments we must remember that we’re sinners and God’s perfect. Which then ought to lead us to conclude that we’re the ones who are wrong while God is right. But, maybe that’s not your issue. Maybe you do agree with this, but you view a passage like this as being just for those who commit really sinful sins. Like drug addicts, prostitutes, murderers, child abusers and those serving life sentences. This is a passage just for them, right? Surely it’s not for my nice neighbors, or co-workers, right? Wrong. One who ignores God and runs after success in their work is just much dominated by the flesh as those who ignore God and commit adultery.[5] Whatever sin is in view it’s just the symptom of a deeper heart problem. Whether the sin is moral, ethical, political, cultural, social, theological, or spiritual, everyone who lives according to the flesh is outside of Christ, devoid of the Spirit, and is hostile to God. Nothing more terrible can be imagined.[6]

Now, it’s probably not surprising for me to tell you this, but our culture hates that the Bible speaks like this. So every time something like this happens in Scripture, many people ignore it, others reject it, some even twist it to make it mean the exact opposite of what it means. Church, we must be clear on this. At the last judgment God won’t send sins to hell, He’ll send sinners to hell.[7] This is the meaning of spiritual death. This is what it is to set the mind on the flesh.

Now, having opened up to us the horror of sinful man, let’s keep on following Paul as he opens up to us the beauty of redeemed man.

Setting the Mind on the Spirit (v9-11)

While everything we said about those who’ve set their minds on the flesh was devastating and dreadful, now as we turn to those who’ve set their minds on the Spirit everything we’ll say about them (or…us!) is delightful and wonderful. We should feel the shift here. Paul doesn’t pass through the evil of the flesh ruled man and then say of Christians, ‘We’re not like that.’ He says far more about us. In this light I whole heartedly agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he says, “God forbid that we should give the world the impression that we are mere negations, that we are simply a people who…do not do this and that. What a travesty of Christianity that is, and especially in the light of all the glorious positives that the New Testament puts before us.”[8] Listen then Church, to the glorious positives God has to say about us in v9-11, “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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.”

Look at v9. Paul does believe what he said about the state of those in the flesh in v7-8, but see it…as v9 begins, he believes better things, higher things, of these Christians in Rome. Sure they struggle with sin and need to grow in holiness and mature toward a greater Christlikeness, but Paul is clear. He doesn’t believe they’re in the flesh but believes they’re in the Spirit… “…if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Perhaps he adds that if to encourage his readers then and us here today to examine and ask ourselves if the Spirit is truly in us? After all, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” Yes that’s true, and if upon examination of ourselves we find we’re driven and controlled by the flesh we should flee to Christ and be saved! But see it, the opposite is also true. Yes, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” But anyone who does have the Spirit of Christ does belong to Him.

This thought quickly leads to his encouragement in v10, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Anyone surprised at how v10 begins? I thought we were discussing the Holy Spirit? Now in v10 he explicitly mentions “…if Christ is in you…”? What’s going on here? Has Paul gotten confused? Has he made a blunder? No. This is not a Trinitarian error or even a blurring of the roles here between the Persons of the Trinity. Rather, what’s being highlighted in v10 is the intimacy of the relationship that exists between the Son and the Spirit in those who believe.[9] In other words, the Son of God and the Spirit of God are so closely connected when it comes to communicating the benefits of salvation to those who believe that Paul can move back and forth between Son and Spirit seamlessly in v9-10.[10]

Keep going in v10 though, what’s the point of this? If Christ is in you, “…although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” This is another Romans 7 like statement. Though we’re still bound to these fallen, mortal, earthly bodies that are decaying day by day, there’s a different story to see on the inside. Deadness may surround us, but life (!), Holy Spirit life abounds within us! Why? Because of righteousness? Yes! The righteousness of Christ reckoned to our account when we’re saved, that righteousness leads to life blooming within by the Spirit. If we didn’t get that, Paul repeats this same beautiful reality in different words in v11, “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.”

v11 is just like v10, it begins with a surprise. While v9 says the Spirit of God dwells in us, and while v10 says Christ is in us, now v11 says the Spirit of the Father is in us. You see that? “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you…” This is undeniably a reference to the Father, but the focus here is on the Spirit.[11] So the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Him who raised…or the Spirit of the Father. How can this be? Again, this is not a Trinitarian error or a blurring of the the Persons within the Trinity. Rather intimacy is again in view. But this time it’s intimacy between the Father and the Spirit, such close intimacy that the Spirit can truly be called the Spirit of the Father. [12] How glorious to see, our Triune God united and eager to see redemption accomplished for us and applied to us.

But again, keep going in v11, what’s the point of this? If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is 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.” Just as the Father raised the Son and filled Him with the resurrection might of the Spirit, so too the Father does the same to us. Or we could say, the Spirit’s presence cannot but result in abundant life for the one He dwells in.[13] In v10 it was our Spirit thriving while our body was decaying. Now in v11, it’s our mortal bodies that will ultimately be transformed. Again, this is all-encompassing. Just as all of us was once controlled by the flesh and under the rule of death, totally depraved, so too we, from the moment of redemption, are governed and led by the Spirit of God which in the end, will result in our total transformation, inside and out.

This is what it is to set the mind on the Spirit.

Conclusion:

Let’s conclude our time with an illustration. Perhaps this will help drive it home to you.

Here in v5-11 we’ve seen the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, or as Paul says here, those who set their minds on the Spirit and those who set their minds on the flesh. I think the difference between these two kinds of people, is like the difference between a fake flower and a real flower.[14] The fake flower has no imperfections, it’s perfect in every way, and it does probably look much better than a real flower, though it’s entirely dead and void of all life. The real flower though, has imperfections to it that reflect its own uniqueness. The real flower might even be drooping and losing a few pedals but it’s really and truly alive. But if you give water to it, it’s likely to spring back up and grow healthier and stronger.

Such it is with those in the flesh and those in the Spirit. Those in the flesh might look like they’re thriving and strong, perfect in every way, but they’re dead. While those in the Spirit are fully alive even though they have imperfections and might droop a little. Day by day the Spirit sees to them, nurturing them with resurrection life until the day they blossom fully at Christ’s return.

Church, this passage has reminded us that we cannot have two masters. We cannot be in Adam and in Christ. We cannot be in the flesh and in the Spirit. We’re either under the dominion of sin or the lordship of Christ.[15] Where are you? Who is your master? May it be Christ! And may you be filled with His Spirit.


[1] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 509.

[2] Ibid., 510.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – The Sons of God (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 5.

[4] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 285.

[5] Moo, Romans, 511.

[6] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 11.

[7] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 253.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 17.

[9] Murray, Romans, 289.

[10] Moo, Romans, 513.

[11] Ibid., 515.

[12] Murray, Romans, 291.

[13] Moo, Romans, 515.

[14] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 36.

[15] J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 196.

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