romans“I’ve got it under control.” Have you ever heard that statement? Better yet, have you ever spoken those words? “I’ve got it under control” is one of the greatest misnomers in the English language. We use the phrase to try and convince those around us that we are just fine, that we’ve got it together, and that there’s no need to worry. The phrase is most often used when things seem to be out of sorts in our life or when others are concerned for us. In today’s lesson we will learn that whenever we are in control we are most assuredly out of God’s will. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 8:5.

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. (Romans 8:5 NIV)

If you were with us last week then you learned that in God’s scheme of things there are only two types of people: those who are “in Christ” and those who are still in their sins. In our minds we might categorize people according to their race, nationality, economic status, educational accomplishments, or political party, but for God there are only two categories of people—those “in Christ” and those still “in their sin.” This week Paul will further elaborate on his lesson by saying that those two categories of people are either controlled by the Spirit or controlled by their sinful nature. Those who are in Christ are controlled by the Spirit of God. Those who are still in their sins are controlled by their sinful nature. I love how God simplifies things for us. We can make things so complicated can’t we? Let’s read our Scripture one more time. Paul writes,

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)

The first category of folks, those who are still in their sins, are those who “live according to the sinful nature.” By speaking about the “sinful nature,” Paul means the nature that each and every one of us is born with. We are not born innocent. We are born with a bent away from God and because of this we do what comes naturally. Just as flowing water follows its natural course so we, as a result of our birth, follow our natural inclinations. Those who are still in their sins do what comes naturally. They’ve got it all under control. Paul says that these folks have “their minds set on what that nature desires.”

Some of you who are here this morning and you’ve never heard anything like this before, you may be wondering what the sinful nature desires. That’s a fair question. I can remember when I was a teenager and was unfamiliar with the things of God. I didn’t know anything about the Bible. God was whatever I had created in my own mind because of what I thought and what others had told me. Words like “sin,” “justification,” “sanctification,” and other biblical teachings were a totally foreign language that I had no knowledge of and neither was I interested in learning about them. You need to know, like I had to learn when God called me to Himself, that you don’t learn the things of God by listening to society or sitting down and applying your mind to discover what you think about these topics. You can only learn about the things of God through God’s Word.

With that said let’s go back to the original question, “What does the sinful nature desire?” What does God’s Word say about this matter? Well, turn with me to Galatians 5:16-25 and let’s read together.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 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 5:16-25 NIV)

When Paul writes to the folks in Galatia he tells them that the sinful nature desires “what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” That is helpful to those who have been walking with God for some time and who are growing in their understanding of God’s Word, but to those of you who are here today and are unfamiliar with spiritual matters this is still vague isn’t it? Well, there must have been folks in Galatia who needed Paul to elaborate as well because he goes on to describe the acts of the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit in vss. 19-23. What does the sinful nature desire? Here we go: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. “And the like” means things that may not have been mentioned by Paul, but would fit into this category. Let me give you an example.

The past few years we have heard stories about some of the supposedly most brilliant people in our country who were in charge of managing multi-billion dollar corporations. Millions of people in our country trusted these folks to manage their money and make wise decisions. When the financial pillars of our country began to crumble ordinary people like me wondered, “What in the world is going on?” Is the economy really that bad? Then we began to get a clearer picture.

Richard Fuld was the CEO of Lehman Brothers, one of Wall Street’s most distinguished banks. The 158 year old bank had the best of reputations until it collapsed. Mr. Fuld was grilled by a congressional panel investigating its financial meltdown. While he was being grilled it came out that, just four days before the collapse, there was a memo sent to the company’s compensation board requesting bonuses totaling $20 million for three executives who were leaving the institution. During the hearing, Henry Waxman turned to Mr. Fuld and said: “You’ve been able to pocket close to half a billion dollars, and my question to you is, is that fair for a CEO of a company that’s now bankrupt?” Fair!?

Washington Mutual was a 119 year old savings and loan institution with great notoriety in America until it filed bankruptcy in the same year, 2008. After the failure of Washington Mutual it came out that their CEO, Alan Fishman, who had only been CEO of Washington Mutual for 17 days, had received about $20 million in compensation. For 17 days? Wouldn’t you like to have a gig like that?

Worst of all, it was reported that insurance giant AIG, after they were bailed out by the government, took their top performers on a little retreat to St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, California. How can you even use the phrase “top performers” for a company that was $18 billion in the hole? Of the $700 billion bailout plan put together by our government, AIG received $85 billion. What did they do with the money received by the government? They planned a retreat of course. A retreat that left them with a tab of $440,000! Here’s how some of their money was spent.

• $139,375.30 for rooms.
• $147,301.71 for “banquets.”
• $1,488 for the Vogue Salon, which features manicures, pedicures and hairstyling.
• $6,939.09 on golf.
• $2,949 for tips.
• $5,016.32 at the Stonehill Tavern.
• $3,064.71 for in-room dining and the lobby lounge.

Now, greed isn’t listed by Paul in Galatians 5, but after considering what we’ve learned this week would you say that the actions of these financial geniuses would fit in the category of “and the like?”

I hope this is helpful to you who are wondering, “What is it that the sinful nature desires.” I wanted to take the time to talk about this because left to our devices we will create our own lists of what we think “sin” is—most of the time our “issues” are left off the list. The Word of God informs you and me like it informed the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote,

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Romans 7:7 NIV)

Paul says that he would never have known what coveting was if it had not been for the Word of God that defined coveting for him. Once coveting was defined and described then Paul saw that dreadful sin living in his own heart. That is my prayer for each of us each week. That we, as we listen to and study the Word of God, would be empowered by God to see into our own hearts and confess our sin to Him.

Now, the sinful nature is not all that is spoken of in Romans 8:5. Paul also says, “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Paul, in Galatians, describes for us, not what the Spirit desires, but what the Spirit produces in the lives of the followers of Jesus. What is the “fruit of the Spirit?” Well, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Those who are in Christ are a work in progress as the Spirit of God produces His fruit in our lives. The Spirit desires to produce His fruit in our lives, but this is not all the Spirit desires for you and me. Turn with me to John 14:26 and let’s read together.

26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 NIV)

The Spirit of God has been sent to you and me to teach us all things pertaining to life and God and to remind us of all that Jesus has said. If we are in Christ then we will desire more than anything else what the Spirit desires for us. Let me show you one more passage of God’s Word that helps us understand what it means to desire what the Spirit desires for us. Turn with me to John 16:7-13.

7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:7-13 NIV)

The Holy Spirit has been sent from the Father to convict the world about our guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. Then, in vs. 13, we see that the Spirit has been sent to lead us into all truth. The Spirit of God desires these things for those who are in Christ. Is this your desire? Do you desire what the Spirit desires for you? You need to know that Scripture doesn’t tell us that this is our “natural” desire. Remember our lessons from Romans 7? We are still dealing with indwelling sin aren’t we? That natural bent away from God has not been entirely straightened out so that we grow increasingly more holy and godly and less prone to sin with each passing day. We are still vulnerable. We are still living in these mortal bodies and absolutely dependent upon the Lord each moment of our lives.

There is a key word that we need to understand from Romans 8:5. It 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. The translators of the NIV have inserted the phrase, “have their minds set,” because the first half of the verse and the second half of the verse are set in contrast. Paul is trying to show us the contrasting mindsets of those who are living according to their sinful nature and those who are in Christ. The word means, “thinking, 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.

You might remember the story from Mark’s Gospel about the time when Jesus was speaking to His disciples about His upcoming death. Peter had things under control. He pulled Jesus to the side and began to correct him, Peter had a different plan than the plan Jesus had been speaking about. Jesus listened for a minute and then we read in Mark 8:33,

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33 NIV)

Here we find the same word that is used in Romans 8:5. Peter didn’t have his mind set on the things of God, he wasn’t thinking about God’s will, he was thinking about his own will. Peter was thinking about what would be best for him, or what he thought would be best for him.
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.

I pray that you are beginning to see more clearly how important our minds are in this process of sanctification that God is working in us. Paul will write a little later in his letter to the church in Rome.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. What is the byproduct of a transformed mind? Read on. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I hear so many people say that they would like to know God’s will for their life. How about you? Do you want to know God’s will for your life? If so then you need to be transformed. How are we transformed? By the renewing of our minds. This is all part of the process of sanctification. Sanctification is the work of God that begins to take place once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our life. God does His work of making us more and more like His Son through His Spirit as we walk with God and seek God with all of our hearts from day to day.

Let me clarify something for us. God does His work in us as we work to walk with Him. Being controlled by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and living by the Spirit are not passive activities. We must set our minds on the things of God rather than that which comes naturally to us. Paul told the folks in Ephesus,

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV)

Paul says, “you were taught.” You can’t be taught unless you are a student. If you belong to God then you will want to be taught, you will want to learn the things of God. You will want to spend time in God’s Word. It won’t matter that you don’t understand a thing in the beginning. You just want to learn something about the Lord. If you belong to God then you will want to spend time with God in prayer. It won’t matter that it doesn’t feel comfortable at first, you will want to be with God. You will have a desire to be still and know that He alone is God. You will want to turn off the t.v., say “No” to distractions that hold no lasting value, and say, “Yes” to getting alone with the Father. If you belong to God then you will want to be in a Bible study. You will want to gather around God’s Word with a small group of other folks who belong to God and talk about God’s Word. You will look forward to and not dread your time together with brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to learn about the Lord.

You may have noticed that I have prefaced all of my comments with, “If you belong to God.” I’ve done that intentionally because Paul wrote that those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. If you belong to God then you are going to desire what God desires for you, what the Spirit of God desires for you.

I am no judge of anyone’s walk with God. That is not my responsibility, but what we have taken a look at this morning sure gives me great guidance about my own relationship with God. Am I in Christ or am I still in my sins? That is the question that all of us should take the time to contemplate this morning. We can flippantly say, “I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus.” but that isn’t really the question this morning is it? Whose control are you under? Have you got things under control? Are you living your life as you see fit or are you under the control of the Spirit of God as you live your life from day to day? If I am in Christ then I am living my life in accordance with the Spirit and I have my mind set on what the Spirit desires.

I want to encourage you to allow the Lord to search your heart concerning what we have learned this morning. Ask the Lord to show you whether you are in Christ or still in your sins. This is the key to the beginning of your transformation my friend. Are you in Christ? Have you trusted Him as your Lord and Savior? Are you fighting the good fight with the Spirit’s power against indwelling sin? Are you going to church on Sunday, but throughout the week you are managing your life? You are in control of your life. Do you do what you want to do or are you led by the Spirit of God as you make your decisions and live life? I want to encourage you to ask Jesus to come into your heart this morning and begin His work of transformation.

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 4, 2014

Under Control
Romans 8:5