“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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6, ESV)
Starting in chapter six of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul begins explaining the internal battle that each Christian faces. We have died to sin through baptism into Christ’s death and are raised as new creations through his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 6:4). There is an objective reality that we have been united to Christ through a work totally outside of ourselves, accomplished on our behalf by our Triune God. Yet, there is still something old and unchristlike about us. We feel like a walking, talking juxtaposition. We want to obey but we won’t. We do but we don’t. We could but we can’t. We are but we ain’t. (1)
Paul refers to this old self as ‘the flesh’. Each of us must make a conscious effort to live not according to this flesh, but according to a new way, the way of the Spirit. As we’ll see next week, living according to the flesh is bondage and there is no escape apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit of God. Those who have been set free by the Holy Spirit are enabled to live in this new way. And this scripture tells us that the key to living in this new way is taking control of your thoughts (see also, 2 Cor. 10:5, Rom. 12:2).
Not only is our heart a controlling factor in our lives (Prov. 4:23), but so too is our mind. And on top of that, our mind can actually influence our heart! Consider this illustration. A man is burdened by the news of a dear friend’s illness. Someone comes to him and tells him, “Be happy!” But he cannot obey that command. Sure, he can force a smile, but he isn’t truly happy. Now, let’s say another friend comes along and informs him that this friend’s illness is totally curable and is in fact in full remission. No one has to tell him to be happy, because now his heart has been changed by what he knows. His thoughts have affected his affections.
So, the Scriptures repeatedly instruct us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, to meditate on God, his nature and works. This will give fuel to our hearts and motivate us to walk in obedience and worship by the power of the Holy Spirit. So start early in the morning and often throughout the day. Set your mind on things of the Spirit, for there you will find the path of life and peace.
(1) This language comes from the song, “I Do, but I Don’t” written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin. I highly commend Dennis Parker's version to you.