“Those who live according to the spirit, [set their minds] on the things of the spirit.”—ROM. 8:5.
1, 2. Why is Romans chapter 8 of special interest to anointed Christians?
IN CONNECTION with the annual commemoration of Jesus’ death, have you read Romans 8:15-17? Probably so. That key passage explains how Christians know that they are anointed—holy spirit bears witness with their spirit. And the opening verse in that chapter refers to “those in union with Christ Jesus.” But does Romans chapter 8 apply only to anointed ones? Or does it also speak to Christians who hope to live on earth?
2 Anointed Christians are those principally addressed in that chapter. They receive “the spirit” as ones “waiting for adoption as sons, the release from [their fleshly] bodies.” (Rom. 8:23) Yes, their future is to be sons of God in heaven. That is possible because they became baptized Christians, and God applied the ransom in their behalf, forgave their sins, and declared them righteous as spiritual sons.—Rom. 3:23-26; 4:25; 8:30.
3. Why do we conclude that Romans chapter 8 should be of interest to those with the earthly hope?
3 However, Romans chapter 8 is also of interest to those who have the earthly hope because God in a sense views them as righteous. We see an indication of that in what Paul wrote earlier in his letter. In chapter 4, he discussed Abraham. That man of faith lived before Jehovah gave the Law to Israel and long before Jesus died for our sins. Still, Jehovah noted Abraham’s outstanding faith and counted him as righteous. (Read Romans 4:20-22.) Jehovah can in a similar way consider as righteous the faithful Christians today who have the Bible-based hope of living forever on earth. Accordingly, they can benefit from the counsel found in Romans chapter 8 that is given to righteous ones.
4. Romans 8:21 should lead us to reflect on what question?
4 At Romans 8:21, we find a guarantee that the new world will definitely come. This verse promises that “the creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The question is whether we will be there, whether we will gain that reward. Do you have confidence that you will? Romans chapter 8 offers advice that will help you to do so.
“SETTING THE MIND ON THE FLESH”
5. At Romans 8:4-13, what serious matter did Paul address?
5 Read Romans 8:4-13. Romans chapter 8 speaks of those who walk “according to the flesh” in contrast with those who walk “according to the spirit.” Some might imagine that this is a contrast between those who are not in the truth and those who are, between those who are not Christians and those who are. However, Paul was writing to “those who are in Rome as God’s beloved ones, called to be holy ones.” (Rom. 1:7) Thus, Paul was contrasting Christians who walked according to the flesh with Christians who walked according to the spirit. What was the contrast?
6, 7. (a) What are some ways in which the term “flesh” is used in the Bible? (b) At Romans 8:4-13, in what sense did Paul use “flesh”?
6 Consider first the term “flesh.” To what was Paul referring? The Bible uses “flesh” in different ways. At times, it applies to the actual flesh of our physical body. (Rom. 2:28; 1 Cor. 15:39, 50) It can also signify kinship. Jesus was “from the offspring of David according to the flesh,” and Paul saw the Jews as “relatives according to the flesh.”—Rom. 1:3; 9:3.
7 However, what Paul wrote in chapter 7 gives us a clue as to the “flesh” spoken of at Romans 8:4-13. He linked “living according to the flesh” with “the sinful passions” that were then “at work in [their] bodies.” (Rom. 7:5) This sheds light on the meaning of the expression “those who live according to the flesh,” who Paul said, “set their minds on the things of the flesh.” He was referring to people who are ruled by or focused on their desires and leanings as imperfect humans. In the main, these are ones who follow their cravings, impulses, and passions, whether sexual or otherwise.
8. Why was it appropriate to warn even anointed Christians about walking “according to the flesh”?
8 But you may wonder why Paul would stress to anointed Christians the danger of living “according to the flesh.” And could a similar danger today threaten Christians, whom God has accepted as his friends and views as righteous? Sadly, any Christian could begin to walk according to the sinful flesh. For example, Paul wrote that some among the brothers in Rome were slaves “of their own appetites,” which could have been sexual appetite or appetite for food, drink, or other things. Some of them were ‘seducing unsuspecting ones.’ (Rom. 16:17, 18; Phil. 3:18, 19; Jude 4, 8, 12) Recall, too, that for a time, a brother in Corinth was “living with his father’s wife.” (1 Cor. 5:1) It is understandable, then, why God used Paul to warn Christians about “setting the mind on the flesh.”—Rom. 8:5, 6.
9. To what does Paul’s warning at Romans 8:6 not apply?
9 That warning is equally valid now. After serving God for years, a Christian could begin to set his or her mind on the things of the flesh. That does not refer to a Christian who occasionally thinks about food, employment, recreation, or even romance. Those are aspects of life for the average servant of God. Jesus enjoyed food, and he fed others. He saw the need for refreshment. And Paul wrote about the proper place for passion or intimacy within marriage.
10. At Romans 8:5, 6, the expression “set their minds on” implies what?
10 What, then, was Paul saying about “setting the mind on the flesh”? The Greek word that Paul used means “to set one’s mind or heart upon something, to employ one’s faculty for thoughtful planning, w[ith] the emphasis upon the underlying disposition or attitude.” Those who live according to the flesh allow their life course to be determined basically by their sinful human nature. One scholar says about that word at Romans 8:5: “They set their minds on—are most deeply interested in, constantly talk about, engage and glory in—the things pertaining to the flesh.”
11. What sort of things might we include when asking ourselves, ‘What is my key interest?’
11 It was fitting for Christians in Rome to analyze what their focus in life really was. Could it be that their lives were dominated by or centered on “things of the flesh”? And it is fitting for us to consider the same about our lives. What is of greatest interest to us, and to what does our speech gravitate? What do we really pursue day in and day out? Some may find that they are focusing on trying different types of wine, decorating the home, finding new clothing styles, making investments, planning vacation trips, and the like. Such matters are not bad in themselves; they can be normal aspects of life. For example, Jesus once made wine, and Paul told Timothy to take “a little wine.” (1 Tim. 5:23; John 2:3-11) But did Jesus and Paul “constantly talk about, engage and glory in” wine? Was it their passion, what they ‘constantly talked’ about? No. What about us? What is our key interest in life?
12, 13. Why is what we set our mind on a serious issue?
12 Self-examination is important. Why? Paul wrote: “Setting the mind on the flesh means death.” (Rom. 8:6) That is serious—spiritual death now and physical death in the future. Still, Paul did not mean that if someone began to ‘set the mind on the flesh’ his end unavoidably would be death. Change is possible. Think of the immoral man in Corinth who went after “the flesh” and had to be disfellowshipped. Yet, he could and did change. He ceased to walk after the flesh and returned to a straight path.—2 Cor. 2:6-8.
13 If it was possible for that person to change, it is possible for a Christian today to change, especially one who has not gone after the flesh as far as the man in Corinth had. Certainly, Paul’s warning about the possible final outcome for someone who ‘sets his or her mind on the flesh’ should be a stimulus to Christians to make any needed changes!
“SETTING THE MIND ON THE SPIRIT”
14, 15. (a) What alternative is there to “setting the mind on the flesh”? (b) What is not meant by “setting the mind on the spirit”?
14 After the apostle warned us against “setting the mind on the flesh,” he offered this positive assurance: “Setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace.” What a result or reward that is—life and peace! How can we gain that reward?
15 “Setting the mind on the spirit” does not imply that a person has to live with his head in the clouds, so to speak. He does not need to think and talk of nothing other than the Bible or his love for God and his hope for the future. Let us recall that Paul and others in the first century who pleased God were living rather normal lives in many respects. They consumed food and drink. Many married and enjoyed family life, working to support themselves.—Mark 6:3; 1 Thess. 2:9.
16. Though sharing in many normal aspects of life, on what was Paul focused?
16 However, those servants of God did not allow such normal aspects of life to become the center of their lives. After showing that Paul worked as a tentmaker, the record reveals what his life was centered on: He regularly gave attention to the Christian preaching and teaching work. (Read Acts 18:2-4; 20:20, 21, 34, 35.) And those were the activities that he recommended to his brothers and sisters in Rome. Yes, Paul’s life centered on spiritual provisions and activities. The Romans needed to imitate him, and so do we.—Rom. 15:15, 16.
17. If we ‘set our mind on the spirit,’ what sort of life can we have?
17 What is the outcome if we maintain a spiritual focus? Romans 8:6 answers clearly: “Setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace.” That implies letting our mind be influenced by and dominated by holy spirit and being in harmony with God and his thoughts. We can trust that by making “the spirit” the real center of our existence, we will have a satisfying, meaningful life now. And the lasting result is everlasting life, be that in heaven or on earth.
18. In what way does peace result from “setting the mind on the spirit”?
18 Let us reflect on the assurance that “setting the mind on the spirit means . . . peace.” Many people struggle to find peace of mind. While they desperately search for inner peace, we already enjoy it. One aspect of having such peace is that we strive to be at peace with those in our family and those in the congregation. We have the good sense to realize that both we and our brothers and sisters are imperfect. Because of this, problems may occasionally arise, and if that happens, we have been taught to follow Jesus’ advice: “Make your peace with your brother.” (Matt. 5:24) This is made easier when we recall that the other brother or sister is also serving “the God who gives peace.”—Rom. 15:33; 16:20.
19. Depending on what we set our mind on, what special peace can we enjoy?
19 And there is another peace that is of incalculable value. By our “setting the mind on the spirit,” we enjoy peace with our Maker. Isaiah recorded words that applied in his day but have an even greater fulfillment now: “You [Jehovah] will safeguard those who fully lean on you; you will give them continuous peace, because it is in you that they trust.”—Isa. 26:3; read Romans 5:1.
20. Why are you thankful for the counsel in Romans chapter 8?
20 Accordingly, whether we are spirit anointed or we hope to live permanently in a paradise on earth, we can be thankful for the inspired counsel in Romans chapter 8. How grateful we can be for the encouragement not to let “the flesh” become the principal thing in our life! Instead, we see the wisdom of living in line with the inspired assurance: “Setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace.” The reward of doing so will be everlasting, for Paul wrote: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 6:23.