Live According to The Spirit, Not According to The Flesh

Romans 8:5-11 (ESV)

(v. 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.”

To understand Romans 8 it is important to look at the full implications of the phrases “according to the Spirit” (kata Pneuma) and “according to the flesh” (kata sarka).  Some versions of the Bible such as the NIV translate flesh (sarka) as “sinful nature.”  Although someone can certainly understand the basic intent of this Scripture with this translation, I don’t think it brings out the full implication of the Greek phrase.  Consequently, I think the word “flesh” is a much better translation than “sinful nature.”

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee gives this definition for “according to the flesh.”  In the flesh is the condition of humanity “before and outside of Christ.”  To walk in the flesh is to walk on our own, outside of Christ’s redemptive work, outside of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Whether we do seemingly noble things or incredibly “wicked” things, if they are done outside of relationship with God, they are done in the flesh.

The issue is not whether or not our flesh is sinful, the issue is our flesh has no power to free us.  Our flesh cannot save us, our flesh cannot make things right, our flesh cannot restore relationship with God, our flesh cannot give us the mind of Christ, and our flesh cannot bring us the joy, peace, love, and contentment we often desire.

Think of walking in the flesh as a lamp that isn’t plugged into the wall.  Whether it is a good lamp or a bad lamp doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that it is separated from the electricity it needs to shine.  In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we shine!  Outside of Christ, we are darkness.  This Scripture is rather easy to understand in this context.  What do you think about all day?  If you are daily listening for and yielding to God’s Holy Spirit then you are a person who lives “according to the “Spirit.”  However, if you daily set your mind on a life that is almost void of God’s influence, then you live “according to the flesh.”

(v. 6) “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  (v. 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.  (v.8) Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

When facing a problem, we have a tendency to put our best intellectual or physical effort into motion.  We draw on the best in our “flesh” to get the job done.  Sometimes, if we feel we do not have what it takes to deal with the problem, if we feel our “flesh” is too weak, we give up or despair.

The problems with this approach is that it brings death, outside of the Spirit.  Our first and last indicator of “Spirit”ual vitality is our reliance on and obedience to God’s Spirit.  Life and peace are found in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit must be the destination and motivation of the Christian mind.  We cannot please God through our best efforts.  But we can experience the pleasure of God through setting our mind on the things of God.  From this place of Spirit dependency we can begin to exercise our best intellectual and physical efforts.

(v. 9) “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.  (v. 10) But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. ”

The reality is simple.  If you are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is in you.  Submission to God’s Spirit is a life long process.  Receiving God’s Spirit is a gift of salvation.  The Apostle Paul is reminding the Roman church that they have received the Spirit through Christ.  Consequently, they must begin to live a life that yields to the fullness of the Spirit’s work.

This is sometimes a difficult reality to understand.  How can we be people full of God’s Spirit on the one hand, while on the other hand experience difficulties, trials, and even death?  The theologian Gordon Fee states that we live in the age of “already but not yet.”  Christ has “already” come, but he has “not yet” come again.  Christ has “already” been raised from the dead, but we have “not yet” experienced our resurrection.  The Holy Spirit has “already” been poured out.  But we are “not yet” in heaven.

This leaves our faith in right tension.  We are not overly triumphalistic on the one hand or fatalistic on the other.  Because the glory of God has been revealed through Christ Jesus, we expect to see great miracles in our lives.  However, because we are “not yet” in heaven with our Father, we will call upon his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness.

The important point to remember is that we do everything while yielding to God’s Spirit.

(v. 11) “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.”

When we walk according to the Spirit, the Spirit testifies on God’s behalf.  In other words, we gain the heart of God.  The Spirit motivates our spirit to desire the ways and will of God.  We are also comforted by the knowledge of the eternal life and fellowship we will have with God because of what Christ has done.  The Holy Spirit was poured out and is in the hearts of God’s children because Christ arose from the grave.  When we have the Spirit in us, the Spirit testifies to our own resurrection that is to come.

Consequently, a life “according to the Spirit” helps us overcome our fear of death, this side of heaven.

When we walk kata pneuma (according to the Spirit) we experience life and peace.

Live the Word

1.  I’m going to take an inventory of my behavior.  How often do I engage the Holy Spirit when dealing with the problems, trials, and frustrations of life?

2.  I am going to spend some “quality” time praying in the Spirit, asking God to give me a refreshing sense of his Spirit.

3.  I am going to try and be more obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading and direction.

Peace, Pastor Doug

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6 Responses to Live According to The Spirit, Not According to The Flesh

  1. Treva Bell July 30, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    Thank you for this! I love how you teach, making it easy to understand and apply to real life…reminds me of your mom and bible study I was ever in!

  2. Kristine November 4, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    Thank you so much for this! it helped me understand a lot about the Holy Spirit. God bless you!

  3. Jill January 31, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    Good read. Cleared things up for me. Praise God !

  4. David April 23, 2019 at 1:18 am #

    But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 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, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[e] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 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. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
    25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25.

    Is an occasional lapse, by a person who is in the Spirit, covered by the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ, as per Romans 8:1-3?

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