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. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:5-6
After announcing boldly the good news of God, Paul makes clear the difference between life under the direction of human nature and new life in Christ. ”Those who live according to the flesh,” Paul writes, “set their minds on the things of the flesh.” Paul’s use of the term flesh here refers to an unregenerate life. In other places Paul uses other terms like carnal, unspiritual, even natural to talk of a life that is under the control of human nature. Paul writes that such a life is not benign. ”To set the mind on the flesh is death,” Paul warns.
The alternative is living “according to the spirit.” Paul asserts that those who are in Christ set their “mind on the Spirit” and experience “life and peace.” When Paul speaks of setting the mind on the Spirit, he is not talking about merely thinking about the spirit or believing certain spiritual doctrines. Instead Paul is talking about a radical re-orientation so that life is no longer guided by natural instincts but by the supernatural spirit – the very Holy Spirit of God.
Paul makes this comparison between natural inclinations and a spiritual life in Christ throughout his writings, perhaps most completely in Galatians 5:16-25.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Eternal Father, thank you for your Holy Spirit through which you give me new life – full, complete, good, and blessed. Help me both to forsake my sinful nature and to set my mind on your life-giving Spirit. Amen.
A Bible-study devotional by Gorman Houston