Monday, December 18th: Romans 8:5

Have you ever heard it said of someone, “He’s a hammer and everything he sees is a nail”? The phrase is typically applied towards someone who is rigid or often overly simplistic in their problem solving abilities. But the logic of the metaphor is sound: if you are a hammer, you view your life through the lens and worldview of a hammer. Hammers clobber nails, therefore you are always looking to do just that.

Paul is stressing a similar point, but in the positive in Romans 8:5. Notice how he begins again, “For…those who live.” We just saw Paul in Romans 8:4 discussing those who “walk not according to the flesh” and here we see him adding another level of corruption: those who walk in the flesh live in the flesh. Perhaps you are confused at this phrase since we all are “in the flesh.” We have bodies, is it sinful to have a body? Does God hate our physical nature?

The answer is no! In other places Paul speaks about the body as a tool we use to glorify God (Romans 12:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:23). What Paul means when he uses the word “flesh” is seen in the way he is contrasting it with the alternative category, “Spirit.” We walk not according to the flesh (that is a sinful blindness of heart) but according to the Spirit (that is a life redeemed and ransomed by God).

So how do you know if you are living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit? We have already seen that this is an important need if it is only in the Spirit that we are counted righteous in Christ (Romans 8:4). Paul’s test is our mind.

Those who are in the flesh “set their minds on the things of the flesh.” Hodge clarifies the weight of this word “set” and adds: it means, “they make the object of attention, desire, and pursuit. The things of the flesh, are the objects on which their hearts are set, and to which their lives are devoted.” Paul isn’t saying that we cannot enjoy the little things in life (such as entertainment or sports) but he is making a distinction in terms of how much we value and see the desires of the world as ultimate.

Matthew Henry says, “The man is as the mind is. The mind is the forge of thoughts. As he thinketh in his heart, so is he, Prov. 23:7. Which way do the thoughts move with most pleasure? On what do they dwell with most satisfaction? The mind is the seat of wisdom. Which way go the projects and contrivances? Whether are we more wise for the world or for our souls?”

A test, and a goal, for those who claim to be in Christ Jesus is to examine the desire of your heart. John Stott calls us to consider the question of, “what preoccupies us, of the ambitions which drive us and the concerns which engross us, of how we spend our time and our energies, of what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to. All this determined by who we are, whether we are still ‘in the flesh’ or are now by new birth ‘in the Spirit.’”

To be in the flesh is to fall into the hammer and nail category. It sees only that which it is conditioned to see and nothing more. There is no room for a life which pleases God, no consideration of the beauty of Christ, no framework for a life lived for his glory. Culture attempts to tell us that life in the flesh is of greatest joy, but there is no adventure of glory in this life. It is a hammer, seeing everything else as a nail, hoping to find satisfaction in creation instead of the Creator.

But if we have been made alive by the Spirit, a slow and progressive battle for our mind has been set forth. In our studies, in our careers, relationships and leisure we are able to think spiritual and God honoring thoughts. Because we have the Spirit of God we can know him and be captivated by his renewed outlook for his glory in our life. Where do you need to grow in this mindset?

Tuesday, December 19th: Romans 8:1-5

Use these catch-up days to go back and track the larger structure of the texts you studied this past week. What is the connection between the verses to each other? What causes what confidence or hope? This is why paying attention to words like “therefore” and “for” are helpful. We looked at what they said separately, but we must also see what they say in unison together. This context is key for rightly understanding and applying the Bible.

 Wednesday, December 20th: Romans 8:6

In a world where morality is being played out in the legislative realm the narrative of Christianity can quickly be reduced to a mere moral compass. In America, courts are making moral ruling on abortions and abortifacient drugs, marriage, recreational marijuana, and transgendered surgeries funded by tax payer monies. Christians have a responsibility to thoughtfully and wisely participate in such decision making, yet often times the proverbial baby gets thrown out with our bathwater.

Culture hears our opinions and our stances, but they do not often hear our motive. Because of this their cry is, “Why can’t we just live like we want to live? Who are you and why would you care about my decisions?” If we are not careful, our positions on morality (which the gospel should provide for us) can become the only position we are known for. Do we care about moral issues only because we want to have uniform code of morality? This is why Paul’s thought in Romans 8:6 is so important for us in the Western world today.

For,” Paul begins, “to set the mind on the flesh is death.” As you looked at this text we are reminded that the “for” is a logical connection between what we looked at in verse 5. But it would also be wise for us to see the tense that Paul is using in this passage. He doesn’t say: “For to set the mind on the flesh will result in death,” as if it is a future death. Instead it is the present tense, “to set the mind on flesh is death.”

Why do Christians care about actions done in the flesh? Because we care about those who are dead and without life. We don’t want the world to have morality for morality’s sake, we want the world to be in the Spirit for the sake of life! What is true of our cause in culture is also a somber litmus test for our own heart. One commentator defines the “setting of the mind” as “the absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection and purpose.” To be absorbed in the thing of the flesh is a sign that you are currently dead.

Charles Hodge says of this verse, “The idea is not merely that the actual seeking the things of the flesh leads to death; but that a carnal state of mind, which reveals itself in the desire and pursuit of carnal objects, is death.” I once heard a story (true or not I don’t know) describing how the indigenous hunters of the Artic caught wolves. They would take the blood of an animal, put it in a mold and place a knife in the middle of it. The hunters would then set the blood and knife out to freeze like a popsicle. This dangerous treat would then be stuck into the snow/ground and left there.

Wolves would smell the blood, and come to the site. After licking the blood, their tongues would become numb, so much so that when they licked it down to the knife they could not feel their own tongue being cut open. The result was that the wolves would become so weakened by their own blood loss that they would easily be tracked and taken by the hunters. This is what it means to have our minds set on the flesh and to therefore, in the moment, be dead. We may think the pleasures of this world are rich to provide whatever we perceive to be our greatest need, but they cannot.

The other side of Paul’s equation is the life that comes from setting our mind on the Spirit. There is nothing we can turn to in this world which will provide life, so to even have that desire or trajectory is to be a dead man standing. As Matthew Henry calls it, “dead as a soul can die.” However to set our mind on the Spirit, which is done when one through faith is in Christ Jesus, then we have life and peace as immediately as the latter has death.

In the conversion of the Spirit we have everything the world promises but cannot provide. As the British pastor J.C. Ryle says, “Sin promises like a god, but pays like a devil.” We should be wise to make sure that in claiming salvation we are not seeking life in things which are not provided for us in God’s Spirit. Death comes early for those who hope in such things. Life comes indestructibly for those who hope in Christ’s death for their sins. We cannot lose that which God freely gives us in faith. The result is peace even amidst life’s hardships.

In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis tells the story of a man witnessing the state of souls in hell and souls in heaven. Speaking on the topic at hand, one of the characters alludes to this powerful truth, “And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere but Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”

Thursday, December 21st: Romans 8:7-8

Note: We have combined the readings for December 21st and December 22nd. Today’s reading will be Romans 8:7-8. This is different than what your bookmark says, so take tomorrow and use it as an additional catch-up day.

If you visit a jeweler, or watch jewelry commercials you will notice something consistent. Nearly every time they show you a diamond or a ring, the precious stone is shown on a black background. In store, the associate will hold it on a black piece of fabric, on TV it often rotates in a dark black box. Why do you think this is? Because the contrast of the dark and colorless fabric causes the diamond to appear vivid in color.

Romans 8:7-8 is the black fabric which illuminates the luster of the gospel in our lives. In pausing on this text we may have thought it overly simple and wanted to rush through it, or we may have found it increasingly uncomfortable and wanted a different verse for the day. But the beauty of this passage is actually in the weight of it.

Yesterday we saw the death sentence of those who set their mind on the flesh, and today Paul tells us why this is true: “For the mind set on the flesh...” Before we get to Paul’s prognosis of the disease we must pause and see who it is who is susceptible to it: those whose mind is on the flesh. In the narrative of Romans 8, Paul has created two and only two camps in which you can find yourself: in the flesh, or in the Spirit. Those who are in the Spirit are those who have been found by faith, in Christ and those who are not in Christ are in the flesh. If we think biblically on this distinction we come to see the hard truth about this: we at one point were all in the flesh.

Though you may have said, or heard someone say, “Well I’ve always grown up a Christian,” this statement is true only in regards to what we remember about our experience. But it is not a true indication of what was really our reality. In Titus 3:3 Paul says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray,” Additionally in describing the sinful state of humanity in Ephesians 2:4 he says to the believers in Ephesus, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh.” We may now be saved by grace, but at one point all of us were found in the flesh and dead in our sin. Sin is the universal experience of humanity.

Back to Romans 8, what made the carnal man sinful? “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Did you pause over the gravity of those words? Hostile? Unwilling to submit? Unable to please?

Think of the language we casually use to describe our experience of salvation: I found God, I believed in God, I always knew God, I gave my life to God. We might accurately say, “The sun rose this morning.” This is a true recitation of our experience: the sun rose up in the sky over those mountains and climbed higher into the clouds. Experience though must be vetted through reality. The sun doesn’t rise. The earth revolves around the sun. It is ok to use this type of language in shorthand, but we must know the truer reality behind our experience.

When we use experiential language regarding our salvation (as given above) we must also be fully aware of the true reality behind it. Because we are hostile towards God, we could never choose him. Because we would not submit to him, we would never believe in him. Because we can never please him, we would never give our life to him.

This reality is called depravity. Matthew Henry says, “The carnal man may, by the power of divine grace, be made subject to the law of God, but the carnal mind never can; this must be broken and expelled.” The only way a man can be delivered from the flesh is for the mind that is set on the flesh to be killed. This can only happen when Christ puts it to death on the cross.

In contrast to all of our pop-culture songs and movies this text portrays the danger of our will and the deceitful power of our heart. Swiss Pastor John Calvin says, “But let us observe here, that the will of man is in all things opposed to the divine will; for, as much as what is crooked differs from what is straight, so much must be the difference between us and God.”

If the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, the natural mind of humans is free to only sin. The capabilities of our free will is to only choose to reject God. But the cross disrupted this pattern of slavery by freeing us through the work of Christ. Our greatest freedom and liberty isn’t found in our own person, but in Jesus Christ who redeems our crooked mind. Liberty unto our will is folly compared to liberty unto Christ.

Not being able to submit to God’s law and his person is therefore our greatest problem because without finding ourselves in his law we have no access to righteousness. Paul shows us the problem this causes: “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Have you ever considered the weight of that task? Pleasing God? Henry again says, “Pleasing God is our highest end.” This is the way to the peace and life we saw in verse six. However, Henry continues, “of which those that are in the flesh cannot but fall short; they cannot please him, nay, they cannot but displease him.”

This text should cause our lungs to burn as if we have been held underwater for too long. It should make us long for the pleasure of God that comes through faith in Jesus. It is the dark night of the soul which makes the sunrise of the gospel all the more beautiful for those who are in the Spirit. We will see this beautiful sunrise Saturday in verse nine.

Friday, December 22nd: Catch-Up Day

We combined the readings for Thursday and Friday so use this day to catch-up, read another book of the Bible, or to pray for specific people and issues in your life.

Saturday, December 23rd: Romans 8:9

Some friends of ours had a boy, who at less than two years old, was diagnosed with a severe and rare form of cancer. Initially the doctors informed my friend and his wife of the type of cancer; it was one which had a fatality rate of nearly 100% and was extremely quick to produce such results. They mentally prepared to have their son for only a few more weeks. Having three kids of my own, I couldn’t imagine the type of inescapable burden this would place on the family.

However, the doctors came back after additional testing and informed them that the cancer wasn’t the exact type they had thought. It was still an extremely dangerous and fast-growing blood cancer, but there was at least a treatment plan moving forward for this new kind. By God’s grace their son is now referred to as “Legend” by the staff of his children’s hospital, and is living cancer free.

This story I just shared was a dramatic and emotional experience for the family and their friends. But the narrative above was changed from sorrow to joy with one word: “however.”

This is the same word Paul uses in the ESV to begin the exceedingly dramatic shift in Romans 8:9, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” The story above showed that the weight of the diagnosis made the relief of “however” all the more compelling. The same is true with what Paul is discussing in this text.

Last time we read, we saw the inescapable and unavoidable consequence of a mind set on the flesh: it cannot please God and therefore has no hope of salvation. Even though stories of cancer or false imprisonment quickly prick our emotional senses, the condemnation of sin is far more severe and more personal than any other trial we could go through.

To be in the flesh is to be removed from any access to life or hope. It is to find oneself under the just condemnation of a perfect God. Just as a cancer diagnosis may determine the fate of an individual, a diagnosis of our sinfulness is the most determinative event in our lives. It demands our death.

Praise God for “however”! What is the only way we escape the end of sin? Paul continues, “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” The salvation Paul describes here is conditional. It is only true if the condition is met. The condition is: the Spirit of God dwelling in you. This is our only hope for salvation.

Charles Hodge says: “This is the only decisive test. Every other bond of union with Christ is of no avail without this. We may be members of his Church, and united to him by being included in the number of his people, yet unless we are partakers of that vital union which arises from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we are his only in name.” How is it that we know the Spirit of God is in us? This is where we must remember the context of Romans 8.

The confidence of our “however” is for those who “walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (vs. 4) for “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (vs. 5). A blood test or CAT scan is the test which provides confidence to a cancer patient that they are no longer infected. For believers the confidence of our salvation is not merely that we have life but that we live life. To be “made alive” but to not live by the Spirit is to show that you are still dead in the flesh. This is no life.

“The Spirit visits many that are unregenerate with his motions, which they resist and quench,” says Henry, “but in all that are sanctified he dwells; there he resides and rules. He is there as a man at his own house, where he is constant and welcome, and has the dominion.”

Why is there life for those who are in the Spirit? Because in being joined to the Spirit of God, we are also joined to the Son of God. We belong to Jesus if we are saved in the Spirit. Belonging to Jesus is the greatest hope we have, for in him we have the righteousness that the Spirit applies to us. He is the source of all the streams of our salvation. To be joined to Christ is to be saved from the flesh. One cannot have the Spirit without having Jesus, nor can we claim Jesus without having the Spirit. They are part and parcel of what it means to be saved.

But if we are in the flesh, we have no part of Jesus. Remember context here. When Paul says “in the flesh,” he is talking about those who have their minds set on the flesh, those who are unconcerned with the life of the Spirit, those who are thoughtless of a life lived in holiness and peace. If we are not careful, we might unknowingly fall into these categories of thought even if we claim to be a Christian. But Paul’s strong words here attack the thought that we can be Christian and simply unconcerned with living in the Spirit. 

The late R.C. Sproul points out the sever implications of this text, “[There is] a serious distortion of theology that is rampant in the evangelical world today, namely, that there are two types of regenerate Christians—the spiritual Christians and the carnal Christians. Notice that Paul knows nothing of this: you are either controlled by the sinful nature or by the Spirit. The ultimate test of whether you are saved or not is this: is the Spirit of God dwelling in you?”

If we claim Christ, then we must claim to have Christ-like thoughts in all of life. And if, Paul says we have our minds set on the Spirit, then we rejoice that we are no longer under the curse of the flesh. The doctor has come to us but instead of revealing a mistake, he died for our disease so that we might live for him.

Sunday, December 24th: Catch-Up Day

Hopefully you are able to attend church and a Christmas Eve service back home!

Tyler Velin

Tyler Velin has been on staff at Sovereign Hope since 2007 and an elder since 2015. He currently oversees student ministries and works directly with Grizzly Christian Fellowship. He is a graduate of the University of Montana and Western Seminary (Portland, OR). Tyler’s passion is the preaching and teaching of the gospel and its significance in today’s culture. Tyler and Sarah were married in 2011 and have three children: Owen (2012), Addley (2015), and Ellie (2017).