(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 11/10/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's turn to Romans 8 and read verses 1 through 9:
Romans 8: (1) [There is] therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (2) For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and of death. (3) For the Law [being] powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in [the] likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those not walking according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (5) For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit [mind] the things of the Spirit. (6) For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit [is] life and peace; (7) because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it [be]. (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God. (9) But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since [the] Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not [the] Spirit of Christ, this one is not His.
Two weeks ago, we looked at verses 2 through 4, which is an expansion of the first half of verse 1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus." We saw that the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ has set us free from the condemnation of sin and of sin's wages, which is death. We also saw HOW this was accomplished. We saw that God's Holy Law, God's commandments, the Law of perfect righteousness, was not meant to save but was meant to show sin. God ordained it so that the Law would not justify. The Law would only condemn. The Law was powerless to justify because God had ORDAINED that it would be powerless to justify in order that JESUS CHRIST would be exalted in the salvation of sinners. We saw that God sent His own Son as a man in the flesh, subject to all the infirmities of the flesh that were a result of Adam's sin. And when Jesus Christ came to this earth, He CONDEMNED SIN when he was in the flesh. Christ KEPT the law PERFECTLY in His life, and when He went to the cross, He took the condemnation that our sins deserved. And since sin was already condemned IN HIM on the cross, there is therefore now NO condemnation left for us who are in Christ Jesus. We also saw the REASON why Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh. God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us. The righteous demand of the Law is fulfilled in us because Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life, and he was obedient to the death of the cross in our place, thus condemning sin in the flesh, and this perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to every one of God's people at regeneration, so we are declared NOT GUILTY, NOT CONDEMNED, and thus we have met the righteousness demand of the Law in the person of Jesus Christ. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because the righteous demand of the Law has been fulfilled in us, so that we are declared NOT GUILTY because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.
At the end of verse 4, Paul again describes those who are in Christ Jesus, who have been saved and are kept saved by a righteousness totally outside of themselves, as "those not walking according to flesh, but according to Spirit." Just as the enemies of God are getting ready to say, "Well, then, if we are saved and kept saved by a righteousness outside of ourselves, why not just walk in sin?", Paul shuts their mouths and says that those who have been justified by Christ's righteousness ARE ALSO those who do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit. The OBJECTIVE reality of salvation based on the work of Christ alone RESULTS IN the SUBJECTIVE reality of God's people walking - living their lives - according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Paul already said this in verse 1. And so, when he expands on verse 1, he first goes through the OBJECTIVE reality in verses 2 through 4, and at the end of verse 4, he uses this transitional phrase to go into the SUBJECTIVE reality in the verses that follow. Now since I already preached on "not walking according to flesh but according to Spirit" a little while ago, I'm not planning to re-preach that, but I want us to be reminded of some of the things I said. The Greek word for "walk" means "to make one's way," "to deport oneself," or "to be occupied with." It is a walking through one's life, a making one's way through life. It is talking about how one conducts his life. We went over Scriptures that used the word "walk" in this sense. If one walks according to flesh, he is conducting his life in accordance with his lusts. If one walks according to Spirit, he is conducting his life in accordance with the new life he has been given by the Holy Spirit.
Now let's get into verse 5:
Romans 8: (5) For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit [mind] the things of the Spirit.
What does the word "mind" mean here? It's used as a verb, "to mind." The Greek word is fron-EH-oh, which means "to think, to be mindful of, to be intent about, to be mentally disposed, to interest oneself in, to set one's mind on, to regard." It is talking about the THOUGHTS of the MIND. Let's look at some verses that use this word.
Acts 28: (22) But we think [it] fit to hear from you [as to] what you think, for truly as concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.
Romans 12: (3) For through the grace which is given to me, I say to everyone being among you, not to have high thoughts beyond what is right to think. But set your mind to be right-minded, even as God divided a measure of faith to each.
Romans 15: (5) And may the God of patience and encouragement give to you to mind the same thing among one another according to Christ Jesus,
2 Corinthians 13:11:
2 Corinthians 13: (11) For the rest, brothers, rejoice! Perfect yourselves; encourage yourselves, mind the same thing, be at peace; and the God of love and of peace will be with you.
Galatians 5: (10) I trust as to you in [the] Lord that you will think nothing else, but that the [one] troubling you shall bear the judgment, whoever he may be.
Philippians 1: (7) as it is righteous for me to think this of you all because you have me in [your] heart, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all sharers of the grace with me.
Philippians 2:2 & 5:
Philippians 2: (2) fulfill my joy, that you think the same, having the same love, one in soul, minding the one thing, ... (5) For think this within you, which [mind was] also in Christ Jesus,
Philippians 3:15-16, & 19:
Philippians 3: (15) Then as many as [are] perfect, let us be of this mind; and if you think anything differently, God will also reveal this to you. (16) Yet [as] to where we have arrived, walk by the same rule, [being] of the same mind. ... (19) whose end [is] destruction, whose god [is] the belly, and who glory in their shame, the [ones] thinking earthly things.
Philippians 4: (10) But I rejoiced in [the] Lord greatly that now at last you revived [your] thinking of me (although you indeed did think, but lacked opportunity).
Colossians 3: (2) mind the things above, not the things on the earth.
Now there can be no doubt from these verses that this word is talking about an activity of the MIND, the THOUGHTS. We again see here as we've seen in other places that the Christian life starts in the MIND, also known as the HEART. It's where the THINKING takes place. And it is also where the fleshly life starts - it starts in the MIND. When one goes from being in the flesh to being in the Spirit, there is a change of what? A change of MIND. The THOUGHTS are changed. What we think of, what we are mindful of, what we are intent about, what we are mentally disposed to, what we interest ourselves in, what we set our minds on, what we regard, is changed. If there has been no change of MIND, then there has been no change of STATE. A change of STATE ALWAYS results in a change of MIND. One cannot go from being lost to saved and remain minding the flesh.
Let's look back at Romans 8:5. What's the first word there? "FOR." This connects us with what was just said, which is that we do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit. It means "because." This is a very important connector, and I want all of us to understand this. We do not CONDUCT OUR LIVES according to flesh but according to Spirit BECAUSE ... why? Because we do not SET OUR MINDS on the flesh but on the Spirit. Here is the connection between our THOUGHTS and our CONDUCT. Our CONDUCT is what is the outward manifestation of our THOUGHTS. If someone is "according to flesh," his CONDUCT is characterized by his obedience to lusts because his THOUGHTS are characterized by his obedience to lusts. Is someone is "according to Spirit," his CONDUCT is characterized by his obedience to God because his THOUGHTS are characterized by his obedience to God.
Let's first think of those who are "according to flesh." These are unregenerate people. They mind the things of the flesh. They have no ability to mind the things of the Spirit, because the Spirit is not in them. They are totally depraved. Everything they think is sin. Even when they think kind thoughts, they are sinning. They are in a continual fleshly state and thus continually mind their flesh, their lusts, their disobedience. Now as I've said before, this doesn't mean that they are continually thinking about sexual lust or continually thinking about killing people or any of the more blatantly immoral things. It certainly DOES mean that for some people. But minding the things of the flesh can also mean an unlawful desire to do what is right in order to gain or maintain God's favor. They could be thinking about doing some kind deed, but as long as they are thinking that their own works form at least some part of the ground of God's favor toward them, they are minding the things of the flesh.
Now what about those who are "according to Spirit"? These are regenerate people. They mind the things of the Spirit. Because of the Holy Spirit indwelling them and because of the new principle of holiness imparted to them and implanted in them, their thoughts are characterized by holiness. Now there needs to be some explanation of this in case we get accused of being perfectionists. I am NOT saying that a Christian's thoughts are perfectly sinless. Christians sin in their thoughts just as they sin in their actions. But their thoughts, just like their actions, are guided by this new principle of holiness, so they rejoice to think the good and hate to think the evil. Christians still lust in their thoughts, but when they do, they do it against the principle of holiness, and they grieve over it and repent of it. And there's one very important way in which their thoughts have COMPLETELY changed, and that is in the area of the ground of salvation and acceptance before God. Those who mind the things of the Spirit now know that their salvation is conditioned on the work of Christ alone and now know that their best efforts in their character and conduct form absolutely NO PART of the ground of salvation or acceptance before God. They will NEVER think that their salvation is conditioned on themselves. In this way, their thinking has been TOTALLY and IRREVERSIBLY CHANGED, so that they are CONTINUALLY minding the things of the Spirit, which is the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone.
Do you see how important THINKING is? Take two people who are doing good deeds for someone. Both are doing exactly the same thing - say they're both giving food to someone without food. Yet one is doing something good, and the other is doing something wicked. What's the difference? The one doing something good is doing it MINDFUL of the fact that he is doing good works out of love for God who has saved him based on the work of Christ alone, and the other one, doing the same thing, is doing something wicked because he is THINKING that his act of kindness forms some part of the ground of his acceptance before God. One is minding the things of the Spirit, and the other is minding the things of the flesh.
God says in verse 6 that the mind of the flesh is death. The word "mind" here is fron-AY-mah, which is a noun that means "way of thinking, content of thinking, or thought." So the thought, the way or content of thinking, of the flesh, is death. How is it death? In two ways. First, the disobedient thoughts of an unregenerate person are enough to condemn him to eternal damnation. He can be as outwardly moral and pious and kind as anyone else, but if he sins in just ONE thought, he is condemned, because the Law demands PERFECTION not only in word and deed but also in thought. Remember when we went over Paul's life before he was saved? He was serving in oldness of letter. He thought that his outward obedience to the Law was enough to recommend him to God. He was BLAMELESS when it came to outward obedience to the Law. Yet when the commandment came, and sin came alive, he died, and the commandment, which was to life, this was found to be death to him, as he said in Romans 7:8-9. There is another important way in which the mind of the flesh is death, and that is something that we just went over, which is one's thinking about the ground of salvation and acceptance before God. If one thinks that his own efforts form any part of the ground of salvation or acceptance before God, whether it is to gain salvation or maintain salvation or to make him fit for heaven, his thoughts are thoughts of death. That kind of thinking only leads to death and is only thought by one who is dead in sins. The mind of the flesh is constantly figuring out what he can do to gain or maintain God's favor. And each time the mind of the flesh figures out something, that something is always dead works and fruit unto death. The mind of the flesh can never figure out that the only righteousness that is acceptable to God is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The mind of the flesh is constantly going about to establish the person's own righteousness and is never submitted to the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel. And as long as one thinks that his own efforts are what make the difference between salvation and damnation, he is in a state of death and is bringing forth fruit unto death. This includes everyone who believes that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception. It matters not what else you think or what else you say or what else you do - if you believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, then you do NOT believe that it is the work of Christ alone that makes the only difference between salvation and damnation. You think that it is your OWN effort that makes the difference. And the only kind of mind that can think that is the mind of the flesh. The only kind of mind that can believe universal atonement is the mind of the flesh. The mind of the Spirit cannot believe this, because the mind of the Spirit believes the gospel and is submitted to the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel and thus believes that it is the work of Christ ALONE that makes the difference between salvation and damnation.
The first part of verse 7 says that the mind of the flesh is ENMITY towards God. This mind is God's enemy. And we certainly can see why, can't we? Anyone who thinks that he can gain or maintain any part of salvation by his own efforts or believes that Christ's blood was shed for those in hell is trampling underfoot the blood of Christ. Anyone who does not believe the gospel does not believe that God is both a just God and a Savior. Anyone who is going about to establish his own righteousness is treating Christ's righteousness as nothing. They think in their heart, "there is no God," at least not the God whose righteousness is revealed in the gospel. They shake their fists at God in their minds, calling Him unjust for choosing some to salvation and some to damnation. They believe in a lying god who says he is satisfied with christ's sacrifice for everyone without exception, who says his wrath has been appeased through christ's sacrifice for everyone without exception, but who then sends people to hell for whom christ sacrificed himself. Oh, yes, this mind of the flesh is in league with the devil and does the devil's desires. It believes Satan's lie, "You shall not surely die." It is in direct opposition to all the righteous attributes of God.
The second part of verse 7 says that the mind of the flesh IS not and CANNOT be subjected to the Law of God. First, it IS not subjected to the Law of God because it is in REBELLION against the Law of God. This includes people who have no regard for God's Law whatsoever and do whatever they please. But even unregenerate people who are striving to OBEY God's law are actually in rebellion against it, because they do not believe that God requires perfect obedience to His Holy Law. In saying that God accepts the best we can do, they are actually rebelling against God's Law that says "cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them." They take God's Law and twist it to make it a means of justification, just as the Jews of old did. Second, the mind of the flesh CANNOT be subjected to the Law of God. It is INCAPABLE of being subjected to the Law of God. The mind of the flesh HAS NO FREE WILL to choose the way of life. It cannot just decide one day to mind the things of the Spirit. If someone has a fleshly mind, he is UNABLE to come to God for salvation. He is bound by the chains of sin and cannot change. He may have many reformations of character and conduct; he may have many religious experiences, but it is all fruit unto death. He remains in constant enmity against God, and unless God unilaterally acts upon that sinner, that sinner will continue in enmity against God until his final breath. Jesus Christ said in John 6:44, "NO ONE IS ABLE TO COME TO ME unless the father who sent Me draws him."1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "But a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is NOT ABLE to know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Unregenerate people have NO ABILITY to come to God or to know the things of the Spirit of God. Their will is bent on evil continually, even the ones who are outwardly moral. Their hearts cannot change. They are dead in their sins, unable and unwilling to believe the truth and to be set free. But when God comes to one of His unregenerate elect at the appointed time, He unilaterally changes that sinner's heart from a mind of the flesh to a mind of the Spirit, and then that person is able and willing to seek after God and understand the things of God.
Verse 8 says that "those being in the flesh are not able to please God." If those in the flesh are in continual enmity against God and continually in rebellion against God's Law and cannot change, then it follows that those who are in the flesh cannot - are not able to - please God. God is CONTINUALLY DISPLEASED at those who are in the flesh. And God's displeasure here doesn't just mean that He's a little bit upset. God is WRATHFUL toward those in the flesh. Why is it that God is wrathful toward those in the flesh? It is because God is a JUST and HOLY God who can only show WRATH toward those who do not have perfect righteousness, who do not have a righteousness that answers His demands for law and justice. Thus, all who are in the flesh, who do not have such a righteousness, who are going about to establish a righteousness of their own, are under God's CURSE. "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked," Proverbs 3:33 says. Everything they do is under a curse. Their rising up, their working, their acts of kindness, their worship, their lying down to bed at night is all accursed. Nothing they do pleases God. It is all wickedness.
Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Thus, no one who does not have faith can please God. And since those who are in the flesh do not have faith, they cannot please God. And there's no way for them to OBTAIN faith in and of themselves. It takes a divine act for a man to be given faith. And once that person has faith, he is able to please God. Why is that? Is it because his own deeds in his own character and conduct become perfectly righteous? No. It is because he has now received the imputed righteousness of Christ by God-given faith, and God is pleased with the perfect righteousness of His Son. The only way God is pleased with a sinner is if the sinner has a righteousness that answers the demands of His Law and Justice. And the only way this is done is by imputation. Then, as a fruit of being justified based on the righteousness of Christ, he will do good deeds and will seek to be obedient to God, not out of a fleshly mind that thinks that one's deeds are a ground of God's acceptance, but out of a Spiritual mind that knows that his ground of acceptance before God is based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Amen.