The Holy Spirit: Romans 8:5-9

Rom 8:5

(Rom 8:5 ESV) 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

“Set their minds on” is a single verb in the Greek, and it’s present, active, indicative. As Zodhiates explains the Greek, present, active, indicative expresses action that is occurring while the speaker is making the statement. Hence, “have their minds on,” as in the NIV, is more precise. In other words, this isn’t a command; it isn’t a condition; it’s an observation on the difference between our natures without and with the Spirit. If we have the Spirit, our minds are set on the things of the Spirit. This is about a change in our natures, not a change from one law to another.

Rom 8:6

(Rom 8:6 ESV) For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

There is no verbs in v. 6 in the Greek. The way Greek works, that means they are borrowed from v. 5. Present, indicative, active is hard to express in English, but the thought is that our minds are presently set on the Spirit. Hence, “the mind that is set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Again, it’s not a command or condition, but a statement of fact.

Notice, that “is life” refers back to Deu 30:6: “so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” How is it that we “may live”? By God, through the Spirit, setting our minds on the Spirit rather than the flesh. (There is also this parallel: circumcision of the heart by the Spirit rather than circumcision of the flesh, which accomplishes nothing.)

Rom 8:7-8

(Rom 8:7-8 ESV) For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Paul continues to borrow his verbs in v. 7, so “is set on the flesh” remains present, indicative, active, that is, presently true: minds set on anything other than the Spirit are hostile to God — even if your mind is set on the Law of Moses or some other legal system that supposedly came from God, because to set your mind on a legal system cannot be submissive to God. No legal system can please God, because that’s the nature of the flesh. The way you escape the flesh is through something that is not flesh — the Spirit.

Rom 8:9

(Rom 8:9 ESV)  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Let’s start with the second sentence. If you don’t have the Spirit, you are damned. Why? Because you are trapped in the Rom 7 situation. You can’t obey sufficiently, even if you love the law of God.

But if the Spirit “dwells in you,” you are “in the Spirit.”

Now, there are some deep meanings in these phrases. “Dwell” goes back to the Exodus and God’s instructions to build a tabernacle —

(Exo 29:44-46 ESV) 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests.  45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.  46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

God dwelled in the tabernacle in the form of a glorious, special presence.

(Exo 40:34-35 ESV)  34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

In 1 Cor 6:19, Paul refers to our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. It’s the same thought: God will dwell in each of us, through his Spirit, just as he dwelled with Israel in the tabernacle and, later, the temple through his glory.

God’s indwelling in the tabernacle was a special place of communication —

(Exo 25:22 ESV)  22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

It’s also an assurance that God will keep his promises — an earnest —

(Exo 29:45-46 ESV)  45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.  46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

The key, of course, is that the people could perceive God’s presence there. They knew God dwelt among them because they could see the glory of God among them. And this is the root of Paul’s description of the Spirit dwelling in each of us. This is no mere abstraction. Indeed, it’s a special, personal, visible, powerful presence.

The next intriguing phrase is Paul’s distinction between being “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit.” “In the Spirit,” of course, sounds opposite to the Spirit being in us. But we’ve heard similar language elsewhere —

(John 17:20-21 ESV)  20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

For us to be “in the flesh” is to be only flesh and blood — without the power of the Spirit in us —

(Rom 7:5 ESV)  5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

We are no longer “in the flesh” because we’ve been transformed into beings that are partly Spirit. We are “in the Spirit” because our essential natures have been changed, so that we are no longer mere flesh and blood beings.

(2Co 3:18 NIV) 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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