How to Walk 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).

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Usually 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?

 

 

7 thoughts on “How to Walk according to the Spirit – Romans 8:5-8

  1. A “way of life” versus a “way of death” that Moses describes in Deuteronomy is a staple of Christianity. In other words, a believer or a Christian is expected to live a different life than those who are not in Christ and are not believers or Christians. This is where a “way of life” comes into play. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers is expected to transform their mind, heart, and soul in a way that breathes life to everyone who comes into contact with them. People outside of faith may not be able to have this same effect or impact because of a lack of transformation.

    In terms of Christian worldviews, they definitely affect how people think and view an issue. For instance, a close friend of mine is currently struggling with unemployment and finding a job that matches their collegiate degree. They have been extremely diligent in completing applications and working very hard to find a job. The process has been difficult and humbling, but many of my friends’ family and friends that are Christians are really preaching the importance of looking at this process as God closing doors for a better door to open in the future. God’s plan is at work in this situation. This is a positive example of where a Christian worldview would affect how someone looks at a specific issue; a societal or secular view of this situation would be one of frustration, complaints, and impatience.

    Another common example of a Christian worldview affecting how people view a specific issue is when someone is struggling financially, they see it as an opportunity to rely on God and not their own ability to provide. Philippians 4:19 mentions the idea that God will provide in one’s life. Christian worldviews commonly view challenges as an opportunity to turn to God and rely on God, rather than rely on oneself. In contrast, secular worldviews can be more emotional and reactive.

    As a Christian, it is commonly used that people should be a light for God to others. This is heard often in prayer. It is an excellent theological concept, and I believe that summarizes the idea of living a “way of life” rather than a “way of death.”

    Lastly, I find it incredibly important that it is understood that sinning does not mean that one is “living in the flesh.” Sinful action and behavior is definitely a trait of a lifestyle in the flesh. However, all people, even Christians, sin. According to the ESV Study Bible (2008), “To set the mind on the flesh means to think continually about and constantly desire the things characteristic of fallen, sinful human nature, that is, to think just the way the unbelieving world thinks, emphasizing what it thinks important, pursuing what it pursues, in disregard of God’s will” (p. 2170). This is a perfect summation of this lifestyle and mind on the flesh. Christians that sin are not disregarding God’s will, but they are still falling short. There is a difference.

  2. Other than God another foundation of Christianity is having faith. This means we do not let fear or doubt enter into our lives. The reason behind this is because know and believe the God is, omniscience, omnipotent, and omnipresence. There is nothing on this earth that God has not already foreseen. No one else is more powerful than He is. God is present at all times as He has been before the foundations of this earth was laid. We chose to serve God through the knowledge and understanding that His Love and Grace will forever be sufficient enough for us. These gifts He constantly grants us gives us purpose and strength to continue to move forward. No matter what circumstances we may face we know that God has already gone before us and won the battle on our behalf. This is why He sent His one and only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. As a Christian this is a perspective that I try to carry over in all my situations. Others may consider it fake optimism or just being fake in general. What they do not know though is all the situations God has already brought me out of in my life. I know for a fact that other Christians feel the same too and try and do the same in their situations (even though sometimes it is easier said than done). Then when we discover this faith we try and share it with others. When this happens then a ripple effect follows shortly after. Prayer warriors start to rise up, people become Christians for the first, or they rededicate their life to Christ, and faith is strengthened. There is no situation that God cannot handle and that is a fact. Which, is why as Christians we can look at the world with a positive lens and a sense of discernment.

  3. Very cool word study on φρόνημα. Sounds to me like a good English term for it would be “perspective” (the “tree of perspective”; Solomon asking God for perspective that would help his leadership; etc.). We need the Spirit’s perspective in order to choose and live rightly. Good stuff.

  4. If a worldview is a lens through which we look at the ultimate reality, then this worldview plays an imperative role and impact in a person’s life, because the core of person action, behavior, moral choice, and motive come within the frame of his/her worldview. It is, therefore, crucial to test every worldview whether it corresponds and coherent to reality. For we lived in a world of majors differences in worldview depending on the cultures and environment, and if all worldviews are equally valid in regards to the truth then the assumption its self is self-refuting and also contradicts the law of logic. Because both A and B cannot be right at the same time, one has to false or true. For this reason, there has to the ultimate truth to which we evaluate and test our worldviews whether they correspond and coherent to the truth. Truth by definition is exclusive and objective not subjective. However, when we look at the Christian worldview, the positive aspect of the Christian worldview is its authenticity and reliability because it corresponds and coherent well with reality itself when it deals with, origin, meaning, morality and destiny. The Christian worldview is the only worldview that answers these four questions. Once you have an authentic worldview, the way you handle yourself and others become truthful and authentic as well. Apart from the Chrisitan worldview, issues like origin, meaning, morality becomes problematic. As being humans, there are four fundamental questions that we are deeply craving for, and if one cannot find a satisfying and truthful answer in those questions, it can ultimately lead to an impairment in a person’s life. The uniques thing about the Christian worldviews is that it offers an authentic hope for the afterlife. As human beings, we all know that we are all finite beings and will not be living eternally on this earth. In this case, without the hope of life after death, everything seems so meaningless and despair. This can negatively affect a person in the midst of depression and despair. The main reason why Christian is joyful in our suffering and view issues as an opportunity and in a positive view is because of the hope that was given to us by Christ in his resurrection.

  5. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desire; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (Romans 8:5).” Romans 8:5-8 gives the idea of two different mindsets. The first mindset is the mindset of the flesh. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on the desires of the flesh. Which means that they are concerned about fulfilling the desires of their sinful nature whether that be through lust, greed, or anything else that person is seeking after. But the second mindset is that of the Spirit. And for those who live according to the Spirit, they will set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Those who walk in the desires of the flesh walk a path that leads to death. While those who follow the path of the Spirit, they shall receive peace. “People set apart from Christ, Paul claims, are dominated by the flesh, while believers are dominated by the Spirit (Moo pg.118).”

  6. I find it so interesting the balance between bravery and cowardice. When we think of virtues, I feel that most don’t put a balance within the two contradictions. We have a line between right and wrong, but I think we do have levels within those ideas. Even in the Christian realm, some Christians are really good, and others do not display the traits of a “proper Christian.” I love that Paul makes a distinction that we need to have a line and follow it because we really can’t live in both mindsets because they do contradict each other. I also like how Paul clarifies the outcome on not living in the spirit in Romans 8:8. We cannot please God with in our “flesh” mindset because it is not of Him. “People apart from Christ, Paul claims, are dominated by the flesh, while believes are dominated by the Spirit” (Moo, 118). Having the choice of the Spirit and choosing it gives us new perspectives of the world and life. It gives us different responses between the flesh and Spirit and is one the ways that Christians are, and should be seen, differently to the world.

  7. Paul’s view on not incorporating virtues into his letter is interesting. He is going against what the philosophers of the time are saying, but he is pointing out that for a Christian we are either walking in our faith in Christ or we are denying Christ and living in the flesh. In the modern Christian worldview I feel like we use virtues as an excuse to act in a certain way or take part in the desires of the flesh. Matthew 16:24-26 comes to mind when Jesus is talking about denying yourself and picking up your cross in order follow him. It seems as though Paul is saying the same thing deny the flesh so that you can live in the spirit. Paul is simply stating that a person living in the spirit truly can not live in the flesh.

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