In this section Paul contrasts the differences between the saved and the unsaved – between those who experience exempted and exalted living and those who are excluded to that way of life because they are trying to live it in their own power. So it is here that Paul speaks of the differences between the Spirit-led life and the self-led life; humble dependence verses prideful independence; Lordship verses non-Lordship; and trusting verses trying.
This is of utmost importance because the Bible speaks clearly and completely about the truth of multitudes perishing who thought they were saved (Matthew 7; 24; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Peter 2:1-2).
Because of the reality of the danger of being deceived we are told to make sure that we are saved – “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you…” (2 Peter 1:10). We are told to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith – “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith: examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And we are told how to test ourselves (1 John and Romans 8:5-17).
So in this section (Romans 8:5-17) Paul contrasts and compares the differences between the saved and the unsaved primarily to show how those who are saved will live an exalted and sanctified life in the Spirit and how those who are not saved will live an excluded and unsanctified life in the flesh. We can divide this section into three categories: (1) those who are in the flesh (8:5-8), (2) those who have the Spirit (8:9-11), and (3) those whom the Spirit has (8:12-17).
For now our primary concern will be with those who are in the flesh according to Romans 8:5-8. Here we see three characteristics of those who are in the flesh:
Those who are in the flesh mind the things of the flesh (Romans 8:5). What does it mean to mind the things of the flesh? Before we answer that question let me tell you what it does not mean. Minding the things of the flesh does not mean that a person is not religious; it does not mean that a person does not go to church; it does not mean that a person does not read the Bible; and it does not mean that a person does not have a profession of faith. A person can do all those things and still be someone who minds the things of the flesh. A person can do all those things and still be lost – the Bible even tells us that many preachers and teachers of God’s Word mind the things of the flesh instead of things of the Spirit and that they are false and lost.
So what does it mean to mind the things of the flesh? As simply as I can state it, minding the things of the flesh means to live by the flesh rather than by faith. It means to be self-controlled or self-led rather than Spirit-controlled or Spirit-led. It means to be governed by worldly principles rather than by principles of the Word. We are actually given many examples of this in the Bible.
In Jude 11 we read about Cain, Balaam, and Korah – all given as examples of men who operated by the flesh and not by faith.
Cain rebelled against God’s way of justification by approaching God on his own terms and not on God’s terms. Cain departed from the Word of God and offered God something other than what God prescribed. Cain operated in the flesh and not in faith – he minded the things of the flesh. Cain wanted to do it his own way and not God’s way. And we read that by faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous… (Hebrews 11:4). We also read that Cain was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous (1 John 3:12).
Balaam rebelled against God’s way of sanctification by encouraging the people of God to compromise their purity, holiness, and separation through committing acts of immorality both spiritually and physically. Balaam caused the people of God to be defiled with the world by teaching them to be friends with the world and to love the world. Balaam operated in the flesh and not in faith – he minded the things of the flesh. Balaam wanted to do it his own way and not God’s way and he taught the people of God to do it the same way. Balaam’s motive was fame and fortune and not the well-being of God’s people or the glory of God.
Korah rebelled against God’s way of glorification by exalting himself over God’s appointed leaders. Korah deceived himself with his works by gathering 250 men of renown and assembling themselves against Moses and Aaron for the purpose of self-exaltation. Rather than by faith trusting God to exalt him in due time, Korah took matters into his own hands and operated in the flesh. Korah operated in the flesh and not in faith – he minded the things of the flesh. Korah wanted to do it his own way and not God’s way!
In Jude 16 we read about these people who mind the flesh – “These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts [desires]; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.” Now let me ask you, where do you see any living by faith in the person who is taking matters into his own hands to bring about what he desires? This is minding the flesh and not living by faith. Is this person saved?
Jude 17-19 says, “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly minded, devoid of the Spirit.” Being worldly minded is to mind the things of the flesh; to be devoid of the Spirit; and to not live by faith.
So we ought to be able to see that those who are in the flesh and mind the things of the flesh are worldly minded rather than Word minded. They operate in the realm of man’s best thinking (philosophy) rather than God’s revealed truth (theology). This is what makes the false preachers and teachers so dangerous and so successful. To the worldly minded man the worldly minded teaching of the false prophets sounds like truth.
The Bible tells us that these false prophets are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them (1 John 4:5). But it also tells us that the true prophets are from God; he who knows God listens to them; he who does not know God does not listen to them. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6).
False prophets and their followers mind the things of the flesh and are worldly minded. What does it mean to mind the things of the flesh? It means to be self-controlled or self-led.
So I pray that you get the picture that those who are in the flesh and mind the things of the flesh do not live by faith and end up violating the Word of God. The requirement of the Law is not fulfilled in them.
Those who are in the flesh are dead to the things of God and are still at war with God (Romans 8:6-7). We saw what it means to mind the things of the flesh, but what does it mean that the mind set on the flesh is death? First it means that the mind set on the flesh is a mind that is in rebellion against God. The root of death is sin or rebellion against God. The mind set on the flesh is death because it is an independent spirit. It has a suicidal love affair with independence and self-determination. The mind set on the flesh is worldly minded and devoid of the life giving Spirit of God. No matter how loudly it proclaims to honor and serve God it is anti-God and anti-Christ and it does not and cannot subject itself to the Law of God.
For another thing it means that those who are in the flesh and set their minds on the things of the flesh are dead to the things of God. We will look to 1 Corinthians 2:3-14 to establish this truth.
Those whose minds are set on the flesh have a type of faith but not biblical saving faith. The mind set on the flesh rests on the wisdom of men rather than the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). The mind set on the flesh is dead to the things of God and alive to philosophy and worldly wisdom.
The mind set on the flesh does not understand the wisdom of God nor the ways of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). God’s wisdom is hidden from the unsaved and it is foolishness to those who are perishing. The unsaved look at the ways of God and in essence say, “God wouldn’t do that; God doesn’t work that way; or that will never work.” It is impossible for the unsaved to operate by faith according to God’s wisdom because they are dead to the things of God.
The mind set on the flesh does not accept or receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised or understood (1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore, the unsaved, those who set there minds on the things of the flesh cannot and will not live by faith. This truth leads to the second truth that is stated in Romans 8:7 – “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the Law of God, for it is not even able to do so.”
So those who are in the flesh are dead to the things of God and are still enemies of God – they are hostile toward God. This means that they have not been justified and that they do not have peace with God. They are still in their stubborn independence and self-determination – even as they attempt to do what they think to be the will of God.
No man can do the will of God in the flesh. Our text says that it is impossible. The only way to do the will of God is by faith through the indwelling Spirit. This is why Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This brings us back to the truth that Christianity is trusting not trying. We can’t obey God in the flesh – He never said we could – He actually said we couldn’t. We can only obey God by faith – trusting Him with all our hearts and leaning not on our own understanding. We must remember this truth – we can’t, He never said we could; He can, and He always said He would.
So clearly we can see that those who are in the flesh are dead to the things of God and are still at war with God – they have not been justified.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8). This truth is more than obvious. Since those who are in the flesh are still in their rebellion and suicidal love affair with independence and self-determination – they cannot please God. All that this type of person can do is sin against God while claiming to obey God. This means that they are not being sanctified no matter how religious or how good their works seem to be when judged according to appearance.
A person can give his life going around trying to bring about world peace or cure world diseases or fight world hunger or diminish world poverty and still not please God. All of this can be done in the flesh and can be a result of the heresy of works righteousness which will eternally damn the soul.
Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Romans 8:8 says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. It is of utmost importance that Christians learn the differences between flesh and faith because much of what is being called Christianity in our day is nothing short of deeds of the flesh counterfeiting and posing as faith.