Walking according to the Spirit – Romans 8:5-8

Paul often contrasts living one’s life according to the flesh with living according to the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25 a prime example, but there are others. This is an example of a “two ways” passage common in Judaism (Psalm 1) and early Christianity (Didache). On can either live out their life on the “road of righteousness” or the “road of wickedness.” This “two ways” thinking is ultimately based on the blessing and curses of the Law, which Moses called a “way of life” or a “way of death” (Deut 30:11-20).

kronk-shoulder-angelsUsually a writer would list a series of virtues and vices without any sort of description, as Paul does in the Galatians, the “deeds of the flesh” are listed in contrast to the “fruit of the Spirit.” Paul does not give a list of virtues or vices here since his purpose is simply to contrast the flesh and the Spirit.

In Greek philosophy, virtues were often the balance between two vices (bravery is the balance between cowardice and foolhardiness). Aristotle called virtue the “golden mean” between two vices. But for Paul, there is no middle ground: Paul is describing our spiritual lives as either dead to sin or alive in Christ, walking according to the flesh or walking according to the Spirit.

A person can “set the mind on the flesh” or “set the mind on the Spirit.” The contrast is between “mindset” (φρόνημα) only appears in Romans 8 in the New Testament, although the word-group is more common in the LXX. The word-group refers to a pattern of thinking, something like a worldview in contemporary English. Like worldview, this word can have both positive and negative connotations, depending on what makes up a person’s worldview. For example, φρόνησις for עָרְמָה in Job 5:13 for “presumptuous cleverness” (TDNT 9:224). Josephus used this word to describe the “tree of knowledge” (τὸ φυτὸν τῆς φρονήσεως, Ant., 1.37; LXX has τοῦ εἰδέναι). Josephus uses the same word when Solomon asks for wisdom (Ant. 8.23; TDNT 9:229).

If we imagine a worldview as a lens through which we look at reality, then a “mindset” in Romans 8 can either be flesh or Spirit. For any given issue, someone who does not have the Spirit of God may offer a solution radically different than those who walk by the Spirit. In the first century, for example, the value of a person who was a slave would be much different for a Christian than for an unsaved Roman. The same might be true for a person who was very ill; a Christian might risk their lives to help a sick person but a Roman might just let them die.

The most part this “Judeo-Christian ethic” has so permeated western culture even non-Christians see the value of most life (although there are notable exceptions). But there are many other ways a Christian will look at an ethical issue differently than a non-Christian. Let me offer two example, one bad example and one good.

First, the bad example: in the 1980s James Watt was secretary of the interior. He was a conservative Christian who genuinely believed Jesus was going to return very soon. Because of this he saw no value in caring for the environment, saying “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.” For Watt, his particular theological views blinded him to the importance of caring for the environment embedded the creation mandate in Genesis 1.

Second, a good example: during the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius plague broke out in Rome. The Emperor quickly left Rome, as did anyone with any means to do so. Compassion for the sick and dying was not a value in Roman culture. Christians, on the other hand, saw plague as an opportunity to care for people who were in desperate need, serving people who had no hope with love and compassion.

What are some other (positive) examples of a Christian worldview changing the way people think about an issue?



6 thoughts on “Walking according to the Spirit – Romans 8:5-8

  1. Adopting a Christian worldview or “mindset” should cause us to take a biblical perspective on everything. The” law of sin and death” is the divine “rule” that those who win must die, but we are set free from that law by the “law of the Spirit of life” (8:2) (Moo). Therefore we live in the Spirit and not the flesh. Douglass Moo explains that Paul is referring to God’s Holy Spirit and “flesh” is not so much a part of us as an influence or force, so there are two different influences. Those apart from Christ are dominated by the flesh (Moo). Some issues require a specific stance, such as politics, whether a biblical or worldly stance, while others are more objective facts. When it comes to helping people, caring for the poor…etc., as Christians we use these moments as opportunities to show God’s love and spread the Gospel. Once we change our mindset, our behavior follows (Rom. 12:1-2). We should be looking for those opportunities in our everyday living. However bigger issues, like abortion or the definition of marriage, require a biblical worldview for Christians. I really liked this quote from Moo: “Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is (pg. 133, Moo). We need to be living with a mindset that reflects Jesus.

    Moo, Douglass J. Encountering the Book of Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Print.


  2. We as humans are not perfect. Even though we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us and interceding on our behalf, that doesn’t mean we never fail to honor God. We can, and ought to choose to live in the Spirit, setting our minds on things above, but the sin nature will pull us back to our sin. In a sense we can choose to live in the Spirit, but sometimes we will fall back into the mindset of the flesh. And since we are never made perfect on this earth we will still always battle against living in the flesh. Through the Spirit we get to enjoy new spiritual life (Moo). Is the new spiritual life suggesting our relationship with God, or the eternal life we will once have through Christ? If we have still not been made whole on this earth, we can not always live in the Spirit because we will fail. So what part of living in the Spirit will we enjoy if we can not always be in the Spirit? There may be progress with living in the Spirit, but we will still fail. Since we still fall back into the mind set of the flesh, does that mean we will not fully enjoy the new spiritual life in Christ until we are taken out of this body of sin?

    Moo, Douglas J. Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. Print.


  3. I think that even though abortion is a sensitive topic, it is clearly one of the most important issues facing our society today. Christian world-view would understand that God made man in his image (Genesis 1:26) and we place a higher value on life than people with a more worldly view whether it is “only the strong survive” or “oops i messed up…abortion” we as Christians believe that life begins at the moment of conception and the world does not deem a fetus as a person with rights. But my point is that there are non-believers who care about life and even if they were not saved they are pro-life, while there are also Christians that for different reasons and unique circumstances are pro-choice. I hope that by setting the example for others about the value that God gives to us for each life that we are changing many unsaved peoples opinions. Another example would be charity and giving to the poor. we have a biblical mandate in James 1:27 to care for orphans and widows and we can clearly see that there are many christian founded charities but there are an equal amount of non-christian charities founded by people who just want to “do good”.


  4. One of the main areas in which Christian-worldview has had impact is in the area of poverty. Numerous non-Christian organizations have had a hand in raising money to provide clean water wells for various African countries. What I find strange is that non-Christian society is aiding those who need help even though non-Christians may see no purpose when life ends. This may stem from a common inclination to do good to make you feel better about yourself. This irks me to the core. As Christians, we see aiding those suffering in poverty as a command from Jesus. Showing compassion this way is a central characteristic of our Savior. The world loves the attitude and characteristics of Christ whether they know it or not. They put into practice Christ’s commands without acknowledging Him as their Savior. It is a disjointed affair. It becomes very unfortunate when we hear of and see humanitarian organizations doing much more for those who are impoverished than the church has been doing. Christians are supposed to be the light of the world whose good works are supposed to guide those watching to the Lord. (Matthew 5:14-16) We should not let the world’s light guide earth’s inhabitants towards a selfish and unsatisfying end.


  5. There are multiple topics or issues where a Christian worldview differs from a worldly one. Issues such as abortion, racial tension, politics, and every other issue one might think of are going to have a contrast of ethical opinions about them between Christian and non-Christian worldviews. A Christian worldview regarding abortion, is going to be against the notion of aborting the baby. This is because we know that God values everyone, even the unborn baby. As David mentioned in Psalm 139, God knows each one of us and knit each of us together within our mother’ wombs. He carefully and lovingly created each of us. It is not the circumstances or the two people that created that baby, rather it was God who began to form that baby. Therefore, the unborn fetus, baby, has value because it has been made in by God, in the image of God. Secular worldview shows that the woman’s rights are being violated by not allowing her to escape from her troubles when there is an “out” available. People with a non-Christian mindset value her life more since she has lived more of her life, and since the baby is still unborn it is not considered to be living being of the same value. Race is an issue, because those without the Christian world-view do not see each other as being equally valuable to God. In many passages of the Bible, there is evidence that God loves and values us all equally, and that He does not care about race or ethnicity or what we look like, rather He cares about the heart of a person. Christians know this, and those with a Christian worldview will see each human being as someone of equal worth as themselves, because they too loved by Jesus. Politics are going to be affected by worldviews, because a Christian will not want to place someone in a position of power whose goals are contrary to Biblical principles. Non-Christians are going to look to vote for the person who will make the most people happy, and who will bring the most benefit to themselves. The list goes on, but on every issue one can think of, the Bible will have something to say about it, and a Christian will base their opinions off of the Bible. Moo mentions how believers are free from the authority and deadliness that sin has over non-believers, and talks about how Rom. 7:24-25 show us how one is wretched without God, but with God there is victory over past sinful deeds, and over the power of sin itself.


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