I don’t know if it’s something I just naturally have, or if it’s something that the Lord has planted in me in later years, but one of the things I love about Scripture is its perfect balance. I’ve long professed my love for what I call “tension verses,” those verses or passages in which glorious truths are held in tension with each other.
I think probably the best one of these-and the most important—is faith and works. According to Ephesians 2:8-10, we’re saved by grace through faith [in Christ] for good works. Our position in Christ is eternally secure (based on who Christ is and what he’s done), and there’s absolutely nothing we can do or not do that can change that. But our position will affect our condition (if you’re not sure about what I’m talking about with those terms, see here).
That’s what Paul is expanding upon here. His main focus isn't telling us how we should live. He’s delving into how our position in Christ affects how we think which will eventually affect how we act. Let me ask a very clarifying question here: Can you please point out to me a command in today’s passage? Look carefully. You won’t find one. All of these—and again, I can’t overemphasize how important this is—are declarative statements,not imperative statements.
This passage has a series of declarative statements, facts we need to know about how our position in Christ is going to affect us. Here’s a summary, starting with the bad:
Those without the Spirit:
- “have their minds set” on what the “flesh” (the sinful desire) wants.
- are on a road that leads to death
- has a mindset that’s hostile to God. It’s not loving, and it’s not neutral.
- cannot submit to God’s way of doing things. It’s not just that they don’t want to, but they cannot do so even if they wanted to.
- cannot please God
- do not belong to Christ (which is really the root of all this)
But those who have the Spirit:
- “have their minds set on what the Spirit desires”
- have life and peace
- have the Spirit living inside of them
- belong to Christ (which really leads to all the rest of this)
- have the Spirit giving them life right now, and
- have the promise that the same Spirit who raised our Savior from the dead will likewise raise us up someday
Quite a contrast, huh? Couldn’t be starker. But there are a couple of points I need to emphasize here. First and foremost, the term used by the NIV (“have their minds set”) can be unintentionally misleading. As the scholars with the NET Bible put it “What is in view here is not primarily preoccupation, however, but worldview. Translations like ‘set their mind on’ could be misunderstood by the typical English reader to refer exclusively to preoccupation.” They also point out that “The Greek term. . . does not refer to one’s mind, but to one’s outlook or mindset."
What Paul is saying is that if we belong to Christ, he'll start to change the way we view things. As we mature in him, sin will look less appealing. And he. . .oh wow. . .he becomes more precious and attractive. And that even filters down into how you see everything else in between. Even supposedly neutral things will take on a somewhat grayer hue compared with your Savior. And this way of thinking and looking at things will filter down into how you act.
Now, do we still fall? If all you had of Scripture was this passage, you might think “Man, I must not be saved after all! Sure, I try to love Jesus, but my mind and my thoughts and my perspective and my speech and my lifestyle. . . how could I be saved with all this mess in my life?” Based on the rest of Scripture, we know that Paul is talking about a general direction of life, not a once-and-for-all change, just like John does in his letter. The man who wrote the book of Romans freely admitted that he wasn’t where he needed to be.
Let me end this on a positive note—really, you don’t get more positive than this. The same Spirit who put breath back into the lungs and started the heart beating again in Jesus’ dead body. . . lives inside you. Right now. And when our Lord returns, this same Spirit will do the same thing to your body that he did to Jesus. So don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Please.
Lord Jesus, I do belong to you, and I do love you, and your Spirit lives inside me to change me from the inside-out, from inside my mind and thoughts and mindset out to my fingers and toes and tongue. But I show that way too little. By your grace, I want to see more evidence of this. Please.
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