Summary: To note the difference between being in the flesh or in the spirit and the difference the spirit of Jesus will make in the believer’s life
The first point we should see upon reading this text is that there are two conditions that a person could be in. That is, he could be first of all, “in the flesh”, or second “In the Spirit.”
First lets explore what it means to be in the flesh. Our text begins in verse 5 and says, “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh.” Now, in the Greek this sentence has the meaning of being totally dominated by the flesh. Flesh here is the evil nature, our fallen nature, that which we get from Adam. To be totally dominated by that nature means that we are taken by its nature at all times. It is what controls us. Not one moment is given to what God would have us to do or what would bring Him glory. Next in verse 6, we see that the mind is completely controlled by the sinful nature. Thoughts, and attitudes are all coming from this polluted spring called the corrupt nature. What’s worse is we do nothing about it if we are carnally minded and this will lead ultimately to death. Then, we see in verse 7 that the carnal mind is hostile toward God. We may fool ourselves and say, “I have nothing against God” or “I pray” or “I go to church.” But all this is worthless. Because the mind dominated by the sinful nature is hostile toward God. I once met a man who was very intimidating and seemingly hostile toward the Gospel, when we tried to talk to him he said, “I don’t have anything against Jesus!” How foolish! His very words condemn him. The verse goes on to say that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God. That means that it cannot come under the control of His law. A person may say, “I try to keep the ten commandments” but push come to shove and they will just as well lie as tell the truth to keep out of trouble. Verse 8 sums it up by saying, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” No matter what the “good deed” no matter what the act of righteousness, it does nothing to please the infinitely Holy God.
Now let’s see what it means to be, “in the Spirit.” From verse 5 we get the same idea from the Greek that the person in the Spirit has their life completely dominated by the Spirit of God. Does this mean they are perfect? No. But, the Holy Spirit comes to live in the sinner at the moment of conversion and resides in them throughout their life. A person that is saved, in the Spirit, will be conscience all his days of God’s Spirit. If they walk in His ways or not, the Holy Spirit will be there. They may run from Him, but they can’t hide. God will be in their thoughts. God will be in their hearts. God will be in their relationships. The Spirit filled life should be a life of ever increasing awareness of God’s presence and influence. Verse 6 tells us that we should demonstrate a mind of life and peace. I heard John MacArthur say the other day that the Christian life is not about making life easier, but about demonstrating joy and peace no matter what trial may come to us through the knowledge of our God’s wonderful sovereign plan for our lives. Next, because the carnal mind cannot be subject to the law of God, we should have an attitude of always wanting to obey God, being under the control of the Holy Spirit. Though the Christian life is likened to a war of flesh and Spirit, the Christian has the desire, the God given desire, to obey his heavenly father more and more. Lastly, a life “in the Spirit” is a life that desires to imitate Christ. If we take the positive view of verse 9 we would learn that to be in the Spirit would mean that we would have the Spirit of Christ. We have Christ as our example for our lives. Why don’t we follow him? We know Jesus showed compassion, do we? Jesus befriended the lowly, would we? Jesus strengthened the weak, forgave the sinner, fed the poor, and much more. We have a lot to learn from Jesus, we have a lot of Jesus to imitate.
We have been looking closely at verse 9. Now let us come back a little and get a broader view. Upon second glance of this verse we see that Paul here is addressing the Roman believers in a positive way. He says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit…” That is a very kind thing to say. That would put them all at ease. Left alone it would not only put them at ease but cause some to perish in their sins! So, he adds, “…if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you.” This is a test. A test to see if they all are in the Spirit, so that none would have to perish in their sins on his account.