N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 70 (a Mind Set on the Spirit)

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N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Romans 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.

(Rom. 8:5 NET) For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.

(Rom. 8:5 NIV) Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

As the ESV translates, Paul seems to emphasize a decision by the individual to focus on the Spirit rather than the flesh. The onus is plainly placed on the Christian. However, the Greek doesn’t say that.

The NET Bible is closer to the literal Greek by speaking in terms what shapes the Christian’s thinking. The translators explain —

Grk “think on” or “are intent on” (twice in this verse). 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.

Doug Moo’s commentary explains,

In some sense, then, it is fair to say that Paul is contrasting two groups of people: the converted and the unconverted. But Paul’s main purpose is to highlight the radical differences between the flesh and the Spirit as a means of showing why only those who “walk/think/are” after the Spirit can have eschatological life [live in the NHNE]. This is the connection between vv. 1–4 and vv. 5–8. Life, eschatological life, is conferred only on those who “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. v. 4b). “For” those who are “according to the flesh” can never escape death (v. 6); the flesh prevents people from obeying God’s law (v. 7) or from pleasing him (v. 8).

It is the Spirit, “the Spirit of life” (v. 2), who reverses this situation, making it possible, through Christ, for believers to “fulfill the law” (v. 4) and to be delivered from condemnation (v. 1). …

In vv. 5–6, Paul uses a logical progression to contrast the ends to which the flesh and the Spirit lead. In this progression Paul uses the language of “thinking” as the “middle term” to connect existence determined by flesh or Spirit (“those who are according to flesh/Spirit”) with the contrasting destinies of death on the one hand and life and peace on the other.

Both words, “think” in v. 5 and “mind” in v. 6, come from the same Greek root, a root that connotes not a purely mental process but, more broadly, the general direction of the will, encompassing “all the faculties of the soul—reason, understanding, and affections.”

Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 486–487.

Paul’s reference to our “mind” in connection with receipt of the Spirit can’t help but recall the new covenant promise of Jer 31:31 ff.

(Jer. 31:33 NIV)  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

That is, Paul is not speaking of spiritual disciplines or the power of positive thinking. He is speaking of God’s work within us. On the other hand, Paul is aware that we can frustrate, grieve, and even quench the Spirit’s work. We can refuse to live as the Spirit wishes. But the emphasis here is on what God does.

Romans 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.

(Rom. 8:6 NET) For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace,

(Rom. 8:6 HCSB) For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.

The NET Bible and Holman translations are closer to the Greek translating “outlook” or “mind-set” rather than “set the mind.” Again, the Greek does not place the onus on the Christian. Rather, if your outlook, perspective, mindset, or even worldview is “of the flesh,” you will not be granted immortality and so will die. Eternal life is only for those who have an outlook of the Spirit.

Paul does not tell us just what a mindset of the Spirit is until we get to chapters 12 and 13. But for those familiar with the Law and the Prophets, we know that Paul is speaking of having a circumcised heart so that we’ll love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and so share God’s passion for widows, the fatherless, and the sojourner (Deu 10:12-20; 30:6). And we know that idolatry is especially a fleshly, unspiritual thing, as idolatry is why the Jews were in Exile. Most of the OT verses on the coming Spirit were written in contrast to the idolatry of the Jews.

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