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Life by the Spirit

July 23rd, 2013

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

The living Spirit of God lives inside every believer in Christ and will bring to us His power and His life and His peace as we walk in agreement and in fellowship with Him. Every moment we can speak with Him, listen to Him, learn His perspective, and obey His calling and purpose for our lives. Do you want to live in victory and peace? This is the way!

Many golfers have joked that Ben Hogan’s little book on the fundamentals of golf has caused more golfers more problems with their swing than anything else. Hogan was a great golfer, but somehow his explanations of how he became so have not always been easily understood by his readers.

Some others have made a similar complaint against Paul here, that His explanation of how he lived victoriously for Christ, though offered sincerely and genuinely, is as likely to mislead as to help. But despite the problems that this passage has been accused of creating, we should remember that, unlike Hogan, Paul was inspired of the Spirit of God to write these words and they are, in that sense, the very words of God. So there is something here that, though hard to understand (and even Peter said as much, 2 Peter 3:16) are precious to our hearts and essential to our spiritual instruction and understanding and application of divine truth.

First, let’s consider the word “mind”: Paul referred here to the normal way of human thinking, and really to human nature itself. The mind is representative of the human soul that receives and processes information based on a set of criteria that it has developed. These criteria come from human society, the home, the influencers around us, and from us as individuals ourselves. In this sense, we may say that the mind is neutral in someways, neither evil nor good by itself, but it has been corrupted by the world.

Second, the word “flesh”: Here Paul referred to the sin nature that has permeated the human world and the human heart. He does not call it a “mind” since in the original creation when God created human life He called it “good.” But something happened, and in human sin and rebellion a new nature became attached to us all, the nature of sin. In the previous chapter of Romans, Paul wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me” and then he clarifies, “in my flesh” (7:18). So this “flesh” is not something that is entirely abstract or that just floats around in the world; it is within me, within you. It is not of us, it is of the devil and of sin, but it has attached itself to us, to our worldview, to our ways of solving our problems, to our perspectives on life. It has corrupted and taken captive our minds.

Third, the word “Spirit”: Paul referred here to the Spirit of God who is also alive and active. But this idea is also attached to a new reality of heart and life for the believer, that the Spirit of God indwells our spirits. There is now another option made available for the believer, a new way that the mind can think, and that is by the Spirit of God. The idea that some have, that we ourselves are entirely neutral and there is a cosmic battle between good and evil and these forces floating about the world can influence one way or another, that idea is clearly not what Paul or what God is saying here. He is also not saying that sin has edged God out of the human heart and poor, little, weak God must find another way in and needs our help to do so. He is not saying that either.

What he is saying is that God left the human heart when sin entered, and can only re-enter through Christ. Only in the payment of our sin by the death of Christ, only in the resurrection of Christ by the Spirit of God, and only upon the individual’s repentance and belief in Christ does the Spirit re-enter. But when He comes in He comes in to reign, not to be marginalized. It is now the flesh that is under attack by the Spirit of God in the believer’s life.

Fourth, the word “governed”: Here we have a problem not with Paul but with translators. In the original Greek, no such word appeared, but it is inserted by the NIV, and the Good News Version did something similar, to represent the thought. Literally the Greek said, “the mind of the Spirit,” and the Christian Holman translates it “the mind-set of the Spirit.” The original meaning means not that we have two minds, but that our one mind needs to be under the influence of the Spirit, and if it is not, then it is under the influence of the world. Translators have sought to explain the meaning of Paul or help our grasping of the truth, and have, perhaps, gone too far.

But the idea is there that the “mind of the Spirit” is one that is influenced and governed by, which has a different “mind-set” from the world or our flesh. The Amplified Bible says: “Now the mind of the flesh [which is sense and reason without the Holy Spirit] is death [death that comprises all the miseries arising from sin, both here and hereafter]. But the mind of the [Holy] Spirit is life and [soul] peace [both now and forever].” The Phillips says: “But the spiritual attitude reaches out after the things of the spirit. The former attitude means, bluntly, death: the latter means life and inward peace.”

Now to apply this: In our living day-to-day we are commanded to keep our minds focused on the Spirit of God. This means that we fellowship with Him, that we know His will, that we are gaining His perspective, that we stand in agreement with God and not rebellious against His will, and that we are taking steps of obedience to Him. The result is life and peace, a spiritual thrill that the world is unable to match.

The Deeper Christian Life