It is so amazing to me how God uses my life experiences each week to shed light on the Scripture that I am studying. This past week has been another affirmation of God’s desire to teach me. Let me explain to you what I am talking about. All week long I have been studying Romans 8:5-11. In these verses Paul makes it very clear that, from God’s perspective, there are only two types of people who inhabit the planet. Let’s read our Scripture so that you can see what I am talking about. Read with me beginning in verse 5.
5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:5-11 NIV)
Did you recognize the two types of people who populate the nations of the world? There are those who live according to the “flesh,” or the “sinful nature” as the NIV translates the Greek word, “sarx,” and there are those who live according to the “Spirit” with a capital “S.” That’s it. Period. There are not good people and bad people. There are not wealthy people and poor people. There are not educated people and uneducated people. There are not Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Charismatics, Methodists, or Church of God in Christ. There are not black, white, brown, red, or yellow people. There are not single or married people. I could go on and on and on with all of the distinctions that we, as people, make about people. From God’s perspective none of these distinctions of people are relevant—people are either in the “flesh” or in the “Spirit.” We will talk more about that in a few minutes, but before we do let me share with you what happened to me this week.
On Tuesday night I went to a meeting with a friend of mine. There were three speakers at the meeting who shared their stories of addiction, brokenness, loss, and hope. It was time well spent for me. The second speaker was a young woman, who according to her words, was raised in a conservative Christian home. She was speaking about her struggle to embrace the idea that a Power greater than herself could restore her to sanity. She talked about how her views of God were so skewed and that she had a real problem with the idea of “God” period. She went on to tell us that she has a friend who has been helping her with her struggle. I sat and listened to her talk about how she has worked on her understanding of God.
One of the other speakers also spoke about his struggle with the concept of God and how it had been marred by his experience with people who called themselves “Christians” and by his experiences in life. I was so blessed to hear the honesty and openness of all three of the speakers who bared their soul to all of us. As I listened to the two people who spoke about their struggles with the idea of God, my heart became so heavy with the thought that there are so many people, even many of you who are here this morning, who are trying to make their way through life and really don’t know God. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that they have no knowledge of who God is or what God is like, but what I am saying is that their knowledge is based upon their own opinions of God rather than coming to understand God from who He says He is from His Word.
If you go around town and ask people what they think about God, or what they know about God, they will be quick to tell you. The only problem is that much of what you will hear will be merely hearsay, what others have told them, or their opinion. It would be like me telling you that I know Barak Obama or Phil Robertson. I know what others think about those men, I’ve listened from a distance about what they’ve had to say about a very limited number of topics, but to say that I know them would be a stretch at best.
This is why I love teaching God’s Word. It is in the Word of God that you and I can learn about who God is and what His character is really like. In our study of the letter to the Church in Rome we learn so much about God. We learned, back in Romans 2:4, that “…God’s kindness leads us toward repentance.” Paul wrote,
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4 NIV)
God’s kindness, His graciousness, His patience with us leads us to turn around, to turn away from living life on our terms and begin to live life for His glory. In Romans 3:21-24 we learned that our being made “right” with God is not based on how good we can become or what noble deeds we have done, but by faith in what He has already done on our behalf through His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul wrote,
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24 NIV)
At the end of the chapter that we are now studying we will learn another great truth about God—nothing can separate us from Him, those who are in Christ, because of His great love for us. Paul wrote,
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
I could go on and on detailing all of the things that we can learn about God from our study of Romans, but there is something else that we can learn from Paul’s letter as well. We can learn what God has to say about us. It is one thing, and a very important thing, to learn what God says about Himself, but it is also vitally important to learn what God says about us. This is where we will focus our attention for today.
In Romans 8:5-11 we learn that from God’s perspective there are only two kinds of people on planet earth. It doesn’t matter if they live in Gaza or Guthrie. It doesn’t matter if they live in a palatial mansion or sleep on a pallet under a bridge. It is irrelevant whether they have an Ivy League education or have a Ph.D. from the school of hard knocks. There are only two kinds of people in this sanctuary and in this world today. Let’s take a look at verse 5 one more time.
5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5 NIV)
There are only two kinds of people: those who live according to the “flesh” or “sinful nature” and those who live in the Spirit. There is a commonality among all people that is set forth in this verse. We all live. We are physically alive. The difference is how we are living. All of us, when we are born, live according to our natural desires. We do what comes naturally. We want what we want. We will do whatever is necessary to get what we want. That is the human way, the “fleshly” way, living according to our appetites.
The word that Paul uses is so helpful for us in understanding what Paul means when he writes, “live according to.” The word I want us to look at is the word, “phronema.” The word doesn’t actually appear in the second half of the verse, in relation to the Spirit, but it is used in reference to those who have their minds set on what their sinful nature desires. Paul is trying to show us the contrasting mindsets of those who are living according to their sinful nature and those who are led by the Spirit of God, those who are in Christ. The word means, “thinking” or “thought processes.” Let me show you some other places in the New Testament where this word appears. In Colossians 3:1-3 we read,
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” We are not to do what comes naturally; we are set our minds on the things above, the things of God, and not on earthly things. Let me show you one more example. Turn with me to Philippians 3:18-19. Paul uses the word in verse 19 to describe those who live as “enemies of the cross.” Read with me.
18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19 NIV)
This is a great example of those who live according to the sinful nature, those who have their minds set on what that nature desires. What can we learn about these folks? Well, first of all they live as enemies of the cross. They may think that they’ve got it all under control, but we learn here that their destiny is destruction. Their god is their stomach. The New American Standard Version of the Bible translates the Greek word as, “appetites.” Their god is whatever they desire. We also learn that their glory is in their shame. The things that are shameful to God are the very things that they take such pride in, the things they glory in. Last of all, and most importantly, we learn that their mind is on earthly things. Their minds are set on earthly things, fulfilling the desires of their sinful nature. Let’s turn to Romans 8:6-8 and see what more we can learn. Paul writes,
6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8 NIV)
These three verses are so revealing about those who live according to the flesh or sinful nature. We learned in Romans 8:5 that those who do not know the Lord live according to whatever their desires desire. Here we can learn even more. In verse 6, we learn that the mind of sinful man is death. Here, Paul is not speaking about physical death, but spiritual death. Before we come to know Christ we are spiritually dead to the things of God. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and said,
14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)
From the moment we are born, you and I are no more capable of understanding or being interested in God than a dead person is able to take a breath or enjoy a sunrise. “The mind of sinful man is death.” Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that “the sinful mind is hostile to God.” The Greek word used here for “hostile” is “echthra” and it means, “enmity, hostility, hatred, both as an inner disposition and objective opposition.” Dr. C.E.B. Cranfield, in his commentary on Romans, wrote these words,
Fallen man’s fierce hostility to God is the response of his egotism (which is the essence of his fallenness) to God’s claim to his allegiance. Determined to assert himself, to assert his independence, to be the center of his own life, to be his own god, he cannot help but hate the real God…His hatred of God and his rebellion against God’s claim upon him expressed in God’s law are inseparable from each other. As a rebel against God he hates God, and as one who hates God he rebels against Him. (C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1985, pg. 180)
People’s rebellion, or hostility towards God, is expressed in all kinds of ways. Some people are very vocal and antagonistic in their true feelings towards God. Other people are more passive/aggressive in their rebellion against God. They won’t spout off blasphemous things about God, but they live like there is no God at all, they live like they are accountable to no one. Paul says that the sinful mind does not submit to God’s law. The reality is that because we live without Christ we cannot submit to God’s law. As a result, we cannot please God.
I’m sure that someone here raised a red flag when I said that the person without Christ cannot submit to God’s law. Your ears perked up because you remember, from our study of Romans, that Paul said that “a righteousness apart from the law has been revealed by God.” Let me show from Romans 3:21-24.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24 NIV)
What Paul is seeking to shoot down is the idea that we can somehow be made right with God by following the law, instead of following God. Paul is not debating the value of God’s law, but he stands in opposition to dependence on works righteousness. Adhering to the law, if that were possible, is not God’s way of being made right with God. The law of God is good, but the people of God turned it into something that God never intended for it to be. When Jesus was asked, “What’s the greatest of the commandments?” (Matthew 22:36) Jesus said,
37 …”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)
Love God. Love people. That’s it. That’s God’s desire for you and me. Paul, being raised under the strict guidance of the law, truly learned Jesus’ teaching. That is why Paul wrote in Romans 13:8-10.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 NIV)
We can’t do this apart from Christ living in us, apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding. In verse 9, Paul turns his attention to the folks in the Church at Rome and he says,
9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11 NIV)
There are only two kinds of people: those controlled by their natural desires, which are not to be confused with God’s desires, and those controlled by the Spirit of God. For those who have accepted Jesus as Lord of their life and have made the decision to say “No” to what comes naturally, a different reality has emerged.
First, Paul says that if Christ is in us, our body is dead because of sin, but our spirit is alive because of righteousness. What he means is that our bodies are dead, we are still mortal just as we were before we came to know Jesus, but we are now alive because of what God has done to make us righteous. Paul wrote to the folks in Galatia and testified to what had happened in his own life. In Galatians 2:20 we read,
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)
For those who are “in Christ,” those who have been brought from death to life by God, they have set their minds on the things of God. In Galatians 5:24-25, Paul wrote,
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25 NIV)
It is so important for you and me this morning to really consider the question, “How are we walking?” Are we walking, being led around by whatever we desire in life? If we have not surrendered our life to Jesus and embraced what God has done for us in giving His Son to redeem us from death to life, then we are living according to our own desires. We may be sitting in church this morning, but our heart and mind may be somewhere else. Throughout the week, is the one thing that drives us most, living for the glory of God or living to do whatever we want?
This is an important question for us in helping us to determine if we are truly “in Christ,” “being led by the Spirit of God,” and being “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
Before you arrived here today and heard this lesson from God’s Word, you may have answered “yes” if someone were to ask you if you were a Christian. I hope that after hearing this lesson you will give that more thought. Being a follower of Jesus consists of more than simply saying you love the Lord. How are you walking? How are you living? What, or Who, is it that motivates and moves you?
The people of the world will go on living according to whatever stirs their desires, but if you belong to Jesus then you will live for the One who has called you from death to life. You will recognize His call on your life and seek to live out His will for you.
If you are not a Christian and this morning the Lord has revealed the deadness of your soul and the waywardness of your heart then won’t you surrender to Him today? Won’t you recognize that He is calling you to Himself and take your stand as you begin to walk in newness of life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 14, 2014