My flesh has a mind of its own, and becoming a Christian does not stop the flow of thoughts coming out of that mind. Sadly, it keeps generating bad attitudes, passions and images as long as I live. The good news is it wont be there after Im resurrected into my new body. The bad news is Ill have to learn to cope with it and silence its voice day by day and moment by moment for the rest of my life, or until Jesus comes again. Facing the prospect of this lifelong struggle is not pleasant, but if I refuse to acknowledge this truth Ill never live in the freedom God has promised.
Over and over again in this passage Paul contrasts two minds: the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit and then appeals to us to follow one and warns us of the danger of following the other. In order to do this I first have to learn to distinguish between the two and recognize which is talking to me at the moment. One always lures me back to slavery and tries to damage whatever or whoever Im dealing with. The other calls me to draw closer to Him and to listen and trust. When you describe it this way the choice seems easy. Of course I want to follow the mind of the spirit, but in actual practice, its not easy at all, especially at first. It requires faith. It requires humility. It requires diligence
day by day and moment by moment. And thats hard work until it becomes a habit. But if I accept the responsibility to govern my flesh and consistently redirect the attention of my mind back to the Spirit then I actually discover Gods will for my life, and with it the greatest blessing of all: that everyday I can walk beside Jesus.
Its very important to Paul that we see life from Gods perspective. Thats why hes going through such a careful explanation. Truth sets people free. Deception holds them in bondage. As we read this passage two truths confront us:
1) God has done His part
Already! As a Christian theres no point in begging God to help me. He has already given me everything I need. Change will only come when I believe this and learn to access these resources.
Im forgiven (8:1); Im free (8:2); Im full (8:3, 4)
I have now all I need to:
Escape depression; break the yoke of addiction; heal my mind from toxic memories; reprogram bad habits; make good decisions and start living a blessed life
2) I must do my part
I must not passively wait for God to change me, saying things like:
- He knows I want to change and Im waiting for Him to do something!
- Ive prayed: God change me, make me kind, make me pure, make me happy. Its out of my hands. Now all I can do is wait.
I must not be content to remain as I am.
- Im okay with it if I have to stay like this till I get to heaven
I must not put the responsibility for my change on others
- Here I am, you fix me
- I want you to hold me accountable and make me behave properly
I must refuse to go back to my old ways when the going gets hard.
- Lots wife toward Sodom
- Israel toward Egypt
I must be courageous, willing to suffer till I learn to find comfort in God
Paul says, For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again
(8:15). When were born-again Jesus does not free us from one form of slavery (to sin) only to impose on us another form of slavery (to God). He restores the original freedom the human spirit had before Adam sinned, then He calls us to voluntarily pick up His yoke (Mt 11:29, 30) and follow Him as our Lord. The new birth makes it possible for my spirit to rule over my body and mind, to exercise the authority I was intended to have when God created me (Ps 8:1-9; Jn 15:14, 15). He puts me back in charge of me.
But if Im truly free, then Im also free to disobey. I can still say yes to sin. I can return to being dominated by my flesh (Ro 6:15-18), or I can choose to draw on the guidance and power of the Spirit to become more and more like Jesus. To stay free I must remember that its not my willpower that frees me, its Gods power. But my will must continually choose to draw on that power.
What holds us back?
The truth is neither the flesh nor the devil have the power to prevent us from walking in the Spirit. The greatest obstacles we face are our own attitudes:
I stubbornly refuse to admit that I cant handle this on my own (pride)
Ive grown comfortable with a certain level of failure because I assume Ill never be completely free in this life.
Im not fully convinced that what Paul says here is true.
Im embarrassed to admit how awkward I feel when I try to function in the spiritual realm: worship, prayer, hearing God, letting His Spirit come over me, discerning His voice from the flesh and the devil
Im ashamed to come to God and ask Him to help me because Ive failed so often for so long.
Ive grown hopeless because Ive tried to changed so many times but always relapsed.
So which voice is right? Gods Word which says Im forgiven, free and full, or my past which says I should be ashamed, hopeless and learn to live in defeat? God cant make the choice for me. He can show me the truth but I have to make the decision to follow.
Before we talk about practical steps lets briefly describe these two minds so when thoughts come well recognize their source.
1) The mind of the flesh: In each of us, even after we become born-again there remains a flow of thoughts that arise not from our spirit, but from our physical brain:
Programmed thinking: Thoughts actually produce physical pathways in our brains and the longer we think those thoughts the deeper those pathways become. It takes a concerted effort to repattern our thinking (Ro 12:2).
The subconscious: Theres a part of our mind that records reality from our perspective (whether true or false). It doesnt filter whats real from whats being pretended. So its usually full of toxic memories and distorted reality, but it constantly influences our thinking, usually without our being aware of it. Wounds located here cause much of our struggles, but God can heal them.
2) The mind of the spirit: After were born-again we become aware of new thoughts and feelings that present themselves to our mind. This happens much more intensely and more frequently when were consciously close to the Lord in worship and prayer. A new thought or attitude can suddenly envelop us and everything looks different. Hope arises, were sure God will answer, the right decision becomes obvious, we recognize a new option we never saw before
my spirit is now thinking Gods thoughts
its following after the Spirit.
The process of walking in the Spirit requires deliberately staying conscious of His presence and waiting until His thoughts come before I act. This can be done subtly so that others are not even aware of whats taking place inside me, and it can become a habit so that I become accustomed to find Him quickly.
I must by trial and error discover practical steps that work for me, to discern which is His voice and which is my flesh, and for that matter, which is the devils (well take up that subject another time). I must tend my mind by:
1) Acknowledging Him in all my ways (Pr 3:5, 6)
Direct my mind to the Spirit at the beginning of the day and each activity.
Regularly remind myself to listen to Him, depend on Him, obey Him.
2) Recognizing the ever-present danger of the flesh mind taking over without my even knowing it at first.
With humility and honesty I must admit when I see Ive slipped into the flesh.
Quickly refocus back to the Spirit.
I must tend my thoughts. I deliberately turn my attention to the Lord, and then monitor my thoughts as I go, listening to my words and making course corrections when I catch myself drifting back to the flesh. Have I become unloving, judgmental, cynical, angry, fearful, lustful, envious? Have I started boasting, dominating the conversation, talking too much about me? Am I only talking to friends and ignoring someone whos lonely or overlooked? Lord, what do you want me to do right now? What do you want me to say? Holy Spirit please speak to my spirit, Im listening.
1) Describe what its like for you when the Holy Spirit comes over you and that change of mind takes place. What steps did you have to take for this to happen.
2) Describe how God usually communicates with you. Do you see things, hear things, feel things? Give us an example.