By Ryan Shaw
The six chapters of Romans 3 – 8 provide some of the most comprehensive Biblical instruction of the inheritance believers have received through Christ. Simultaneously, these chapters reveal how believers draw on what has been provided, applying it to our lives and circumstances.
Paul lays out for believers of all centuries, principle upon principle, how to draw on God’s power, dwelling within every believer’s human spirit, and overcome areas bringing trouble to our lives. This enables us to live in victory over self and sin. We learn to live free from depression, addiction, fear and bondage.
Romans chapter 8 details the war between the flesh and the spirit taking place on the inside of every follower of Jesus. It is crucial to understand the nature of this battle, what it means and how to walk according to the Spirit in our lives and situations.
Paul describes this battle as two different life perspectives – walking according to the “flesh” or walking according to the “spirit.” There are only two such options. We are either operating in one or the other – the choice is ours.
In the first five verses in Romans 8 Paul puts significant focus on these two life perspectives with three statements about “those who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (vs. 1, 4, 5).
Verse 5 helps us understand how to walk in the Spirit. “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”
We see a contrast in this verse surrounding the core issue of our mindsets. Where a believer chooses to put their mindset directly impacts whether they walk according to the flesh or Spirit.
This issue directly impacts the Great Commission. Multitudes of believers, purposed by God with critical roles in cross-cultural mission, have been sidelined due to “walking according to the flesh.”
We often understood setting our minds on things of the “flesh” representing areas of immoral thoughts and the like. We think of sexual lust, lying, cheating and other blatant, open sin. While it is true these are included in having our mindsets on things of the “flesh,” Paul brings emphasis to something entirely different through the context of Romans 3 – 8.
These chapters reveal “setting our minds on things of the flesh” means allowing mindsets to dominate our thinking which originate (1) from what our five senses can tangibly experience, (2) what our emotions tell us at any given moment, (3) what are physical appetites or impulses may dictate or (4) what our circumstances and situations are like.
In contrast, living according to the Spirit refers to finding out what the Bible and the Spirit says about our lives and circumstances and applying these truths. These then begin to dominate the conversation within ourselves and with God instead of what we are experiencing in the natural world. This is the essence of the life of faith.
It is common to find believers living for years, even decades, with a dominant mindset determined by what they can see, feel or hear or emotions being experienced at a particular time. They face difficult circumstances and easily cave because their life perspective is not on God’s truth but on the overwhelming nature of their circumstance or what their emotions are telling them.
Paul says these have “set their minds on the things of the flesh,” which leads to easily succumbing to areas of temptation. All because we chose to “set our minds” on emotions, circumstances or what we can experience with our five senses.
The Bible and the Spirit consistently reveal a true perspective of who we are before God in our innermost being. Paul is telling us in Romans 8 that we are responsible to draw upon the truth of God’s word which he has just detailed in the previous chapters of Romans.
This truth teaches us about what God has made available to us as victors over areas of sin, especially faulty mindsets about ourselves or God. Most problems believers face come back to how we view and perceive ourselves.
Are our measuring sticks of how we perceive ourselves based on what we can see and hear in our circumstances or how we may feel in the midst of them? Or do we draw upon what the Word of God and the Holy Spirit says about us?
We want to take our cues from Scripture and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. They teach us that emotions, circumstances and what we can see or hear do not constitute the final word in our lives. God, His truth, His divine power and enabling, His authority and work done within us, is the final word. We “set our minds” on these things in order to “walk according to the Spirit.”
We draw upon what the Bible says about our core identity as well as God’s desire to intervene in situations that are presently not according to His will.
Instead of allowing our physical appetites, emotions or what we see and hear to guide our decision making, we return to what God promises in and through His word. We stir ourselves up by faith in His superiority and supremacy, trusting in His capacity to accomplish His will in our lives. We allow these things to inform our decisions and in doing so “walk according to the Spirit.”
What dominates the conversation within you? Are you choosing to walk according to the flesh or the Spirit? What can you do today to “walk according to the Spirit” or according to what God says about you and your life?