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Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:


9:19–23—The triumph of God’s mercy through his forbearance of wrath
(November 17th 2017)
Romans 8:5–8—You are either of the flesh or of the Spirit.

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.

Applying broad strokes, Paul paints portraits of contrasting lifestyles, one fleshly and the other of the Spirit. There are only two portraits because there are only two categories of people. Each person who has ever lived or is alive now fits in one of these categories. Depending on which category you are in, one of these portraits is of you, as God sees you. If you are a non-Christian, the regulating principle of your life is flesh; if you are Christian, the regulating principle of your life is Spirit.

A matter of worldviews
The Greek verb translated “set the mind” (phrŏnĕō) conveys much more than a mental process. It expresses all the capacities and functions of the soul: desires, purposes, values, and affections. Here is my abbreviated version of the definition in Strong’s lexicon: to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience):—set the affection on, regard, savor, think.

Paul uses this verb (and the noun phrŏnēma in verses 6 and 7) to differentiate people according to how they set the course of their lives. He is describing worldviews or outlooks: how we look at ourselves, other people, the world around us, and God. Every person has a unique perspective on life, but only one thing truly sets people apart—how they respond to Jesus Christ.

People of the flesh
If you are not a Christian, please take to heart what God, through Paul, is saying about you. I say this as a pastor. You may object to the portrayal of yourself as fleshly, but there is a reason for Paul’s straight talk. The clearer you see your perilous position, the more likely you will heed his warning of what awaits you.

Don’t be deceived by the word “flesh.” It describes more than a desire to satisfy the body’s appetites. You may practice self-discipline, live an admirably pure life, adhere to noble ideals, and think of yourself as spiritual. But if you reject God as he has revealed himself in nature, in Scripture, and in the person of Jesus Christ, you are “in the realm of the flesh.” You are a person bound under the power of sin and death.

You may not think of yourself as hostile to God, but if you have no desire for him and no inclination to obey him, you are hostile to him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Your hostility is evident in your desire to go it your own way, to determine on your own what is true, and to live without regard for God’s word.

Paul puts you on notice of being under condemnation by God because you remain captive to sin. In a sense, this is not your fault, because you were born this way as a descendant of Adam. Every human being is by default captive to sin. But it is also true that you personally sin. God knows this about you. He waits for you to admit what he already knows. Ever the gracious Father, God invites you to change course by receiving his Son. Let him transfer you from the realm of the flesh to the realm of the Spirit. Heed Jesus: “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

Read the entries on Romans 7:14–25 to find out why your only recourse to avoid eternal death is Jesus Christ. This entry will get you started. Then discover how God exhibited both his justice and his mercy by sending his Son to the cross to die for you—even though you are ungodly, a sinner, God’s enemy. Calling on the name of Jesus Christ is your way to life and peace.

People of the Spirit
Now I speak to Christians. We misinterpret these verses if we think that God is commanding a change in our behavior to “live according to the Spirit.” On the contrary, these verses describe our standing in Christ and in the Spirit. Paul will make this clear in verse 9, but he will go on to caution us about fleshly behavior in verses 12–13.

We know how truly mind changing is the decision to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The moment I made that decision a spark lit my soul as the Holy Spirit signaled his presence. I immediately had a new purpose and new desires: to know God and his word.

We who set our mind on the Spirit are not content merely to think about God. We want God! We set our affection on him, savoring his character and works. We want to be near him, hear his voice, and do the things that please him. We want our character to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and we welcome the Holy Spirit and his gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:
not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
—C.S. Lewis


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