Developing the Mindset of the Spirit Part 1

Developing the Mindset of the Spirit Part 1

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Text: Rom 8:4b-9 (NIV) who do not live Walk) according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

Introduction: Careful thinking for a sermon! See the notes for help.

  • An Anchor: The confidence we have in Christ through the Spirit.
  • Confident that My Life is Spiritually Secure in Christ (8:1-4; 37-39).
    • Why is this important? You will have accusers in your life.
    • The voice of someone close to you whom you failed and who is hurt & angry. Or the voice of your perfectionist critic who resides in the back of your mind. Or Satan the Accuser.
  • Do you believe the voices of judgment & rejection or the truth of Scripture?
    • The Spirit of God and Revelation (1 Cor 2; Eph. 3:1-13)
    • Not just the ideas of Paul! The Spirit of God speaking through a servant of God, one called by God to reveal things hidden.

Explore the Text: Two contrasted lives: Spirit or Flesh. Gal. 5:12-23

A Life Choice: Two Walks of Life; Two Realms of Life

Paul is describing two kinds of life, not two kinds of Christians!

  • Two Walks 8:4b “Who do not live (walk) according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
    • We walk a path in our lives, a path that moves us in a direction.
    • Your life orientation is either towards God or away from God.

Life in the Realm of the Spirit: The Spirit as a Resident. 8:8-9:

  • Living in the Realm of the Spirit—the Spirit of God Lives in You
  • The Spirit comes to live in us, with us, not just to visit us.
    • Keller: One of the jobs of the Spirit is to show us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So he comes in, and he comes in permanently. There’s no more condemnation. It doesn’t say, “Sometimes there’s condemnation, and then if you sin you become condemned. But then you ask for forgiveness, and there’s no condemnation. Then you sin, and there is condemnation.” We didn’t say this last week, but somebody once called that “daisy theology.” Do you know what “daisy theology” is? “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not.” Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus doesn’t love you, then love you not, love you, then love you not. He loves you.[1]
    • The contrast between someone who pays me a visit & someone who resides with me. Life in a small condo—no private space!
  • Too many Christians seem to want to live in both realms!
    • Elijah’s Question to God’s People: Why do you limp between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him! 1Kings 18:21

Two Mind-Sets and Two Contrasting Results

Minding Your Life:

  • A mindset rooted in your heart’s desire, your ultimate life-loyalty.
    • “Mind your own business.” Pay attention with a focused concern.
  • Made new in the attitude of our mind (Eph 4:23; Rom 12:1-2)
    • Who You Are Shapes How You Think (Being shapes Thinking)
    • Stott: Paul’s meaning is not that people are like this because they think like this, but that they think like this because they are like this. Their nature determines their mindset. Our mindset is a matter of what preoccupies us, the ambitions that drive us and the concerns that engross us, how we spend our time and our energies, what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to. All this is determined by who we are, whether we are still governed by the flesh or are now by new birth governed by the Spirit.[2]
  • The Mind (see Dallas Willard in The Renovation of the Heart)
    • The Spirit will renovate your life from the inside out, beginning with your mind.
    • Ideas; Images; Information; Inferences, deductions, and reasoning.
      • Our Emotions are related to our thinking.

A Mind-Set on the Flesh

  • The “Flesh” is a complex idea that demands contextual understanding.
  • The Mind Set on the Flesh (Rom. 1:18-32; Eph. 4:17-19))
    • The two humanities of Rom. 5:12-18: in Adam or in Christ.
    • The word for “condemnation” in Rom. 12:1 is used only two other times in the NT (Rom. 5:16,18)
    • These texts are connected! Echoes of Rom. 5 in Rom. 8.
    • The contrast of sin, condemnation, and death in Adam and grace, righteousness, and life in Christ. Romans 5:12-21
    • Mind of the Flesh: A way of thinking that assumes that life without (in rebellion against or ignoring) God, is the right way to think.
  • The Mind Governed by the Flesh is death (Thanatos—spiritual death in contrast to Zoe—spiritual life) and hostile to God; it does not submit to God, but demands to live according to its own dictates.

A Mind-Set on the Spirit (Rom 12:1-15:13; Eph. 4:20-24)

  • The Mind Set on the Spirit is life (zoe—spiritual life) and peace.
  • Knowledge, truth, understanding, and wisdom shaped by the Spirit of God and by the inspired word of God.
    • Christ-centered thinking! Taking thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5.
  • Do you catch yourself in the act of thinking out loud? A key indicator, especially the things that slip out!
  • We will explore this idea of peace more next week.

Conclusion—Application: Do You Get Discouraged?

Study Peter as an Example of Mind Transformation over a Lifetime.

  • The dualism of Peter’s Mind in the presence of Jesus.
    • Walking on water and drowning. Mt. 14:22-33
    • Confession and rebuke. Mt. 16:13-28
    • Overestimating himself in comparison with others. Mt. 26:31-75
  • The humbling of Peter and his reconciliation with Jesus. Jn. 21:15-23
  • Peter filled with the Spirit and Bold in the face of persecution. Acts 2-5
  • Peter, the Gentiles and Paul’s rebuke (Acts 10-11; Gal 2:11-21).
  • This life in the Spirit is a lifetime adventure of growth and development.
  • Read 2 Peter 1 in light of Peter’s experience.


Gregg R. Allison and Andreas J. Köstenberger

It is hard to exaggerate the significance of the outburst of references to the Spirit in chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans.[] Like a fireworks grand finale, the Spirit is named eighteen times as Paul describes “the newness of the Spirit” (7:6) by those who have been justified by faith in Christ.[] The cumulative force of Paul’s teaching on the Spirit in this chapter is perhaps best conveyed by a succinct successive listing of statements made by the apostle regarding the Spirit’s work in the believer’s life:

  • The law of the Spirit of life has set believers free from the law of sin and death (v. 2).[]
  • The law’s requirements are fulfilled in those who walk according to the Spirit (v. 4).[]
  • Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit (v. 5).[]
  • To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (v. 6).
  • Believers are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in them; whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (v. 9).[]
  • The Spirit gives life because of righteousness (v. 10).[]
  • The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in believers; his Spirit will also bring their mortal bodies to life (v. 11; cf. 1:4).[]
  • Believers will live if they put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (v. 13).
  • All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons (v. 14).[]
  • Believers have received the Spirit of adoption, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (v. 15).
  • The Spirit bears witness with believers’ spirits that they are God’s children (v. 16).[]
  • Believers have the firstfruits of the Spirit, eagerly awaiting adoption (v. 23).[]
  • The Spirit himself intercedes for believers with unspoken groans (v. 26).[]
  • God knows the mind of the Spirit; the Spirit intercedes according to God’s will (v. 27).

By way of summary—and we can do little more than summarize the essence of Paul’s teaching here—among the most important assertions made in this chapter are these:[] (1) Possession of the Spirit is the fundamental prerequisite for being a Christian (v. 9). (2) The righteous requirements of the law are met by those who walk in the Spirit, yet believers are to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (vv. 4, 13).[] (3) Life in the Spirit is freedom from bondage to sin—even though the sin nature remains—as well as righteousness, life, and peace (vv. 2, 6, 10). (4) The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to believers’ mortal bodies (v. 11). (5) The Spirit conveys to believers their sense of spiritual adoption and sonship, which entails not only a past and present, but also a future, reality (vv. 14–16, 23).[] (6) The Spirit intercedes for believers according to God’s will (vv. 26, 27).[] Paul closes this section triumphantly as he sums up:

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. (vv. 28–30).

Paul follows this with the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” (vv. 31–32). Paul is convinced that nothing will be able to separate believers from God’s love in Jesus Christ (v. 39). With this, we have reached a high point in Paul’s, and the NT’s, teaching on the Holy Spirit and his vital function in believers’ lives.[3]

John R. W. Stott

  1. The mind of the Spirit (5–8)

Paul has asserted that the only people in whom the law’s righteous requirement can be fulfilled are those who live not kata sarka (according to flesh) but kata pneuma (according to spirit or better the Spirit), that is, those who follow the promptings and surrender to the control of the Spirit rather than the flesh. It is this antithesis between flesh and Spirit which Paul now develops in verses 5–8. Implicitly or explicitly, it recurs in every verse. Paul’s purpose is to explain why obedience to the law is possible only to those who walk according to the Spirit.

We begin with some definitions. By sarx (flesh) Paul means neither the soft muscular tissue which covers our bony skeleton, nor our bodily instincts and appetites, but rather the whole of our humanness viewed as corrupt and unredeemed, ‘our fallen, egocentric human nature’, or more briefly ‘the sin-dominated self’. By pneuma (spirit) in this passage Paul means not the higher aspect of our humanness viewed as ‘spiritual’ (although in verse 16 he will refer to our human spirit), but rather the personal Holy Spirit himself who now not only regenerates but also indwells the people of God. This tension between ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ is reminiscent of Galatians 5:16–26, where they are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. Here Paul concentrates on the ‘mind’, or (as we would say) ‘mindset’, of those who are characterized by either sarx or pneuma.

First, our mindset expresses our basic nature as Christians or non-Christians. On the one hand, there are those who live according to the sinful nature. They are not now those who ‘walk’ according to it (4, literally) but those who simply ‘are’ like this (5, literally). These people have their minds set on what that nature desires, whereas those who live in accordance with the Spirit (literally, ‘those according to the Spirit’—there is no verb) have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (5). The meaning surely is not that people are like this because they think like this, although that is partly true, but that they think like this because they are like this. The expressions are descriptive. In both cases their nature determines their mindset. Moreover, since the flesh is our twisted human nature, its desires are all those things which pander to our ungodly self-centredness. Since the Spirit is the Holy Spirit himself, however, his desires are all those things which please him, who loves above all else to glorify Christ, that is, to show Christ to us and form Christ in us.

Now to ‘set the mind’ (phroneō) on the desires of sarx or pneuma is to make them the ‘absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection and purpose’. It is a question of what preoccupies us, of the ambitions which drive us and the concerns which engross us, of how we spend our time and our energies, of what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to. All this is determined by who we are, whether we are still ‘in the flesh’ or are now by new birth ‘in the Spirit’.

Secondly, our mindset has eternal consequences. The mind of sinful man (literally, ‘of the flesh’) is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit (literally, ‘of the Spirit’) is life and peace (6). That is, the mindset of flesh-dominated people is already one of spiritual death and leads inevitably to eternal death, for it alienates them from God and renders fellowship with him impossible in either this world or the next. The mindset of Spirit-dominated people, however, entails life and peace. On the one hand they are ‘alive to God’ (6:11), alert to spiritual realities, and thirsty for God like nomads in the desert, like deer panting for streams.26 On the other hand, they have peace with God (5:1), peace with their neighbour (12:16), and peace within, enjoying an inner integration or harmony. We would surely pursue holiness with greater eagerness if we were convinced that it is the way of life and peace.

Thirdly, our mindset concerns our fundamental attitude to God. The reason the mind of the flesh is death is that it is hostile to God, cherishing a deep-seated animosity against him. It is antagonistic to his name, kingdom and will, to his day, his people and his word, to his Son, his Spirit and his glory. In particular, Paul singles out his moral standards. In contrast to the regenerate who ‘delight’ in God’s law (7:22), the unregenerate mind does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so (7), which explains why those who live according to the flesh cannot fulfil the law’s righteous requirement (4). Finally, those who are controlled by the sinful nature (sarx), literally those who are ‘in flesh’ (en sarki) or unregenerate, lacking the Spirit of God, cannot please God (8). They cannot please him (8) because they cannot submit to his law (7), whereas, it is implied, those who are in the Spirit set themselves to please him in everything, even to do so ‘more and more’.

To sum up, here are two categories of people (the unregenerate who are ‘in the flesh’ and the regenerate who are ‘in the Spirit’), who have two perspectives or mindsets (‘the mind of the flesh’ and ‘the mind of the Spirit’), which lead to two patterns of conduct (living according to the flesh or the Spirit), and result in two spiritual states (death or life, enmity or peace). Thus our mind, where we set it and how we occupy it, plays a key role in both our present conduct and our final destiny.[4]

Douglas Moo

Conspicuous by absence so far in Romans has been the Spirit of God. Paul mentions the Spirit only four times before chapter 8 (1:4; 2:29; 5:5; 7:6), but he now makes up for that absence. He uses the word “spirit” (pneuma) twenty-one times in Romans 8, and all but one (v. 16b) refer to the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit, although the constant motif in Romans 8, is not really Paul’s topic. That is, Paul does not actually tell us much about the Spirit as such; he tells us about what the Spirit does. And what the Spirit does is mediate to Christians the life and hope that have been the key themes since Romans 5. The Spirit applies the work of God in Christ to us so that we can enjoy life, both new spiritual life in the present and resurrection life in the future (vv. 1–13). The Spirit makes us aware that we are God’s own children and that as his children we can expect a wonderful inheritance someday (vv. 14–17). And the Spirit causes us to groan at the present time, manifesting our frustration at not yet experiencing the glory to which we are infallibly destined (vv. 18–30). This work of the Spirit is an elaboration of 7:6, where Paul briefly introduced the life of the Spirit before launching into his excursus about the law. As 7:7–25 elaborates the situation that Paul has described in 7:5—controlled by the sinful nature, with the law arousing sinful passions—so 8:1–30 depicts the status of the believer as one who serves “in the new way of the Spirit” (7:6).

The Spirit of Life (8:1–13)

Paul refers to the “Spirit of life” in verse 2 (NIV: “Spirit who gives life”), and this title points to the theme of these verses. Through the Spirit we enjoy new spiritual life, having been rescued from the condemnation due our sin in Adam (vv. 1–4); through the Spirit we learn to live in ways pleasing to the Spirit and to God (vv. 5–8); through the Spirit God will raise our bodies from the dead (vv. 9–11); and through the Spirit we are to kill off the lifestyle of sin so that we can enjoy the life of God forever (vv. 12–13). In contrast to the divisions found in some Bibles and commentaries, then, verses 12–13 should be kept with verses 1–11. Verses 12–13 bring the section on the Spirit of life to a fitting conclusion by reminding us that God’s gift of the Spirit must be appropriated and used if we truly are to enjoy the life brought by the Spirit.

Verses 1–4 restate and elaborate the central truth of Romans 5:12–21 in light of chapter 7. In Romans 5:12–21, Paul has taught that believers belong to Jesus Christ and therefore are rescued from the condemnation that all people suffer in Adam. So, in 8:1, Paul proclaims that “those who are in Christ Jesus” need not fear condemnation. Paul explains why this is so by referring to the believer’s freedom from “the law of sin and death” (v. 2)—an unmistakable reference to the situation that Paul has delineated in 7:7–25. As is the case in 7:22–23, Paul’s use of “law” language in 8:2 has stimulated vigorous debate. “The law of sin and death” at the end of the verse could well refer to the law of Moses, for it is precisely in these terms that Paul has described the law in Romans 7. Sin has used the law to bring death (cf. 7:5). But in 7:23, the phrase “law of sin” refers to a power or authority exercised by sin. That probably is what Paul means here as well. “The law of sin and death” is the immutable divine “rule” that those who sin must die. We are set free from that law by “the law of the Spirit who gives life.” Again, this could refer to the Mosaic law, as it functions in the realm of the Spirit. But Paul does not present the law as a liberating force, and the contrast between Spirit and law in texts such as 2:28–29 and 7:6 also makes it difficult to think that he associates them here. Probably, then, this first “law” also means “rule” or “principle.”

In verse 3, however, “what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh” certainly refers to the law of Moses. The phrase is a tidy summary of the basic message of Romans 7. Despite its divine origin and innate goodness, the law of Moses could not rescue human beings from the nexus of sin and death, because human beings are helpless captives to the power of this world. So another way to redeem human beings must be found, and God has found that way through his Son. He sent him “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This phrase neatly balances two important facets of the incarnate Son. First, Jesus became fully human. He did not just appear to be a man (the docetic heresy); he truly was a man. Paul therefore emphasizes that Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh. Second, Jesus never sinned. Paul therefore says that Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh. But not only did God send Jesus to earth as a man; he also sent him as a “sin offering.” Jesus was given over to death as a sacrifice to take care of our sin problem. To paraphrase an ancient theological truth: Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is. God condemned sin in Jesus (v. 3) so that we would not have to be condemned (v. 1).

The upshot of God’s work in Christ is that the “righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us” (v. 4). Paul chooses the singular “requirement” to stress that the totality of the law’s demands is fulfilled in us when we come to Christ. Probably lying behind his statement is again the idea of Christ as our substitute. He fulfilled the law perfectly. When we are in him, therefore, God views us also as having fulfilled the law perfectly. No longer can we be condemned for failing to do the law; in Christ, we have done it. This passage is not only a wonderful summary of the work of God on our behalf but also one of those many New Testament passages that hint at the doctrine of the Trinity. Note how each of the persons of the Godhead is involved in securing our redemption from sin: God the Father sends the Son, whose work is applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit.

At the end of verse 4, Paul introduces a contrast that dominates verses 5–9: the Holy Spirit versus the flesh. When I first read these verses many years ago in another version of the Bible, I thought that Paul was contrasting my own flesh, my material side, with my spirit, that part of me open to the spiritual realm. This idea of a division between two parts of the human being (anthropological dualism) has a long history in Western culture. But certainly this text is not talking about any kind of division within human beings. As all modern English versions recognize by capitalizing “Spirit,” Paul is referring not to some part of the human being but to God’s Holy Spirit. And even the “flesh” is not so much a part of us as an influence or force. Hence, Paul can describe Christians as people who are no longer “in the realm of the flesh” (v. 9a; the NIV adds “realm of” to capture this idea). So the contrast in these verses is between two different influences. People apart from Christ, Paul claims, are dominated by the flesh, while believers are dominated by the Spirit. He expresses this point in three contrasts, which move from the sphere of “position” to “mind-set” to “lifestyle”:

position: being in the flesh versus being in the Spirit (vv. 8–9a)

mind-set: the mind of the flesh versus the mind of the Spirit (vv. 5b–7)

lifestyle: living according to the flesh versus living according to the Spirit (vv. 4b–5a)

A logical progression is obvious. All believers are “in the realm of the Spirit” (v. 9). Anyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of God dwelling in him or her. And the person in whom the Spirit dwells—in a startling shift of the metaphor—is “in the realm of the Spirit.” These are two ways of saying the same thing: the Christian is one who is now dominated by God’s Spirit. To use the salvation-historical imagery that is so basic to Romans 5–8: we have been transferred from the realm of the flesh and put into the realm of the Spirit. As people who now belong to that realm, we need to mold our thinking in accordance with our identity. We need to cultivate the mind or, better, mind-set of the Spirit. And once we do that, Paul suggests, our behavior will follow as a matter of course. A mind focused on the Spirit’s values will inevitably produce a lifestyle that pleases the Spirit. As he does so often (see, e.g., Rom. 12:1–2), Paul highlights the cultivation of a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled mind as the critical step in holy living.

The Spirit creates in us new spiritual existence (vv. 1–4a), leads us into a new lifestyle (vv. 4b–9), and ultimately will raise our bodies from the dead (vv. 10–11). Paul acknowledges a reality at the beginning of verse 10 that he never ignores for long in his discussion of the Christian life: the incomplete nature of God’s work in history and in us. With Christ’s death and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, the new age of salvation has begun. However, since the old age of sin and death has not yet ended, we believers live in the overlap of the ages. We belong to the new age, and our futures now are determined by that fact, but we are still influenced by the old age, and we still must face physical death. Nevertheless, though the body still is dead because of sin (see NIV footnote), “the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.” It is the Holy Spirit, according to verse 11, through whom God will raise our bodies from the dead. It would be quite natural, then, for Paul to refer to this same Spirit in verse 10 as the animating power that now resides within us. Our bodies must die, but the power of that Spirit within us will not let the body remain dead.

As we noted, many Bibles and commentaries do not include verses 12–13 with verses 1–11. This is a mistake, because these verses strike an appropriate balance with the focus of verses 1–11. These first eleven verses have stressed what God through the Spirit has done for us. Now Paul will conclude by reminding us that we still have to respond through that same Spirit. We find here again, in other words, the balance between “indicative” and “imperative” that we noticed in Romans 6. Certainly Paul wants to encourage us by reminding us of all that God has done for us and all that God will do for us. We are secure in him and have a certain hope for the future. Yet Paul never wants that security to breed complacency. He does not want believers to sit back and rest, thinking that God has taken care of it all. Response on our part is still necessary. And so, while he can proclaim the life that the Spirit has won for us, Paul now reminds us that we will never experience that life unless we are growing in holiness. We are to use the Spirit to “put to death” the continuing sinful patterns of behavior from the old life. Only as we do so will we find life.[5]

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[2] Stott, J., Larsen, D., & Larsen, S. (2016). Reading Romans with John Stott: With Questions for Groups or Individuals (Vol. 1, pp. 127–128). IVP Connect: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press.

[3] Gregg R. Allison and Andreas J. Köstenberger (2020) In N. A. Finn, C. W. Morgan, & D. S. Dockery (Eds.), The Holy Spirit (pp. 140–145). B&H Academic.

[4] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (pp. 222–224). InterVarsity Press.

[5] Moo, D. J. (2014). Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (W. A. Elwell, Ed.; Second Edition, pp. 116–119). Baker Academic.

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