Summary: We’re either under the control of the Spirit or under the control of our fallen nature. When we surrender our lives to God, He transforms our priorities and gives us new purpose in life.
Sermon Series on Romans 8: Reasons to be encouraged!
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
>Reason #2, Our priorities are transformed -Romans 8:5-8
"Those who live according to the sinful nature (the flesh) have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
We’re face-to-face with a major conflict, the contrast between two opposing forces--the flesh and the Spirit. As we consider verses 5-8, we have to ask ourselves a personal question: “Who’s in control?” Are we running things, or are we letting God direct us? We’re either under the control of the Spirit or under the control of our fallen nature. When we surrender our lives to God, He transforms our priorities and gives us new purpose in life. That’s encouraging! But let’s consider—how do we really view life? Do we see God as part of everything, or is life only what we make it?
Paul is describing (in Romans 8) more than attitude—He’s showing us who we are. A major teaching of Scripture is that there are two kinds of people, who act according to their nature, or mind-set. The two are: “flesh” and “Spirit”. We all start out in category #1, as lost--fallen, and polluted by sin. This is what Paul means by “the flesh” (other translations use the terms “carnal” or “sinful nature”). In contrast, the “Spirit” is the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who leads us to Christ and causes new life to spring up and transform us. The flesh is human nature--corrupted, directed, controlled by sin. Those controlled by the Spirit have renewed interests and purpose. We’re either spiritually-minded or self-minded; we’re all “minding” something—there’s no middle ground. In Galatians, Paul explains, “The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and our choices are never free from this conflict” (5:17, NLT). Paul then lists several typical actions of the flesh, in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit (19-23).
We feed our cat Spike regularly, but when he goes outside, he hunts for mice. Not because he’s hungry—he’s simply behaving according to his nature. In the same way, people live according to their nature, which is either led by the flesh or the Spirit. This doesn’t mean people are either horrendously sinful or completely perfect. Scripture indicates that until we get to Heaven, we retain some of our fallen nature, our imperfections. It’s like two armies fighting within—the one that wins is the stronger one, the one we support the most. Paul realizes that we have a foot in two worlds.
As believers, our minds are fixed on the things of the Spirit. We live in a new sphere, with a converted outlook. But this doesn’t mean that unbelievers never do anything good, or that believers never do anything bad. It means that the focus of our lives is different. One lives for the flesh, the other for the Spirit.
Because “the flesh” is depraved human nature, some people think depravity means being a monster like Hitler or Stalin. Human depravity means being led by the flesh, by self-interest. It doesn’t mean that unbelievers are as evil as possible, rather it means they’re living according to their own desires. Until our priorities are transformed by the Holy Spirit, we’re only interested in doing our own thing.
In Colossians, Paul urges that in all things Christ should have preeminence (1:18). If He has the first place in our lives, it says something about our priorities. When we live for self, we may find ourselves at the top of the ladder of success, only to discover we’re on the wrong ladder. As we evaluate our goals, we should discern whether they have any eternal value, or if they’re land-locked into this fleeting, temporal world.
Patrick Morley is an author and mentor of business professionals. When his own business was starting to take off, he began getting lots of offers and invitations from his business community’s in-crowd. He gave it his all, to the neglect of his family. He worked long hours, brought work home, and became consumed by ambition and defined by his business. One day he told his wife Patsy, “We’ve arrived!” -and she added, “Yes, but at the wrong place.” This began a transformation of Morley’s goals. He said to Patsy, “Maybe we should prioritize everything we do on the basis of who’s going to be crying at our funeral.” This saved his family. When I conduct funerals, there are usually a few eulogies, in which family and friends stand up and say what kind of impact their loved one made. Will we leave a lasting legacy, or will our lives amount to little of eternal value? What will be said about our faith? When we reach the close of our days, will we have regrets? And will we be ready to stand before God?