Romans 8:5-9 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”

All the world is looking for life and peace, life with a capital L, life with a purpose and meaning, life with satisfaction, life that is fulfilling, life that does not depend on drugs and drink and loud music and having other people around assuring you that you are wonderful, life that is contented and joyous. All the world is looking for it. It is possible to evaluate the trends of society and the way people spend their time and money simply by this factor, their search for life, and their search for peace. Multitudes are so restless, tense and despairing. They long for inward peace, family peace, international peace, peace with God and with man. All the world is looking for it.

These words that we have just read tell us the secret all the world longs to know of finding life and peace. Then won’t you pay attention? Can you afford to dismiss what I say before I have even started? Might not these words bring radical change in your life? Mightn’t you by them find what you lack – life and peace? Remember that the words I have read to you are not my words and my treatment for your restless heart, they are God’s. They are not the very best diagnosis of religious man; they are God’s analysis of the human condition – of your own condition. This is why God sent his Son from heaven, why he died on Golgotha and rose from the dead, to be able to be a just God and yet a giver of life and peace. That is the reason why the God of providence brought you to this passage now, that you might know life and peace. This is what Paul says; life and peace come from having a mind controlled by the Spirit of God. That is where this quality of life is to be found, there alone. Let’s begin where Paul begins in analyzing this problem . . .


First Paul gives us a very searching analysis of the results of not being a Christian, of being unborn again, of being a stranger to the inward life created and sustained by the Spirit of God.

i] The mind of the non-Christian is fixed exclusively on non-Christian matters. This is what Paul claims; “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires” (v.5). “I am not interested in religion,” they tell you. Not a single non-disciple of Christ has his mind set on the living God. That is shocking. Not one. They may be of very low intelligence or they may be university professors. They may walk the streets and sleep out under the stars or they may be the wealthiest persons in the community, but one thing unites them, they are not interested in religion. Their minds are so narrow and so set on their own interests. “I have made up my mind,” they say. “I don’t want to discuss religion.” Then what are they interested in? What do their minds turn to when they are not thinking about anything in particular? What is the default setting in their minds if they just let them wander? What draws them? What do they find magnetic? Where does their compass needle point to? Paul tells us that their minds are set on what their natures desire. It is that narrow a life. Their thoughts and interests and enthusiasms and humour and zeal are all focused on what their own natures want. They are utterly self-centred; they are pursuing their own agendas. One man’s mind may be aesthetically pure; he loves great classical music and fine literature and his mind is set on that. Another man’s mind is quite different, it is vulgar; he is gripped by X-rated movies and unspeakable websites, violence and pornography; his mind is set on that. But the mind of neither man is set on the living God. Each is living according to his sinful nature. Their minds are fixed on that little dying world which has locked out the living God.

ii] The mind of the non-Christian is death. (v.6). A splendid book came out forty years ago called Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. Its author was Professor Hans Rookmaaker and he and I actually exchanged houses and he stayed here for a couple of weeks and he spoke to us on that theme. He looked at the spirit of our age; he showed us the horror and darkness evident in the paintings of some of its most famous artists, the screams of despair they have captured in oils. Then his friend Francis Schaeffer wrote a book on Jeremiah whose prophecy seemed to be addressing the Western World today. Schaeffer entitled his messages on Jeremiah, Death in the City. You know the solemn word ending Proverbs 8:36, “All who hate me love death.” You think of the abortion culture we live in, and the constant cry to legalize euthanasia, the knife crimes of young men in London, the scene in the Middle East today with nations torn by tyranny and civil war. The statistics of those shot and bombed announced day by day. All who hate God love death.

Schaeffer said, “Modern man thinks there is nobody home in the universe. Nobody to love man, nobody to comfort him even while he seeks desperately to find comfort in the limited, finite, horizontal relationships of life. But it doesn’t go – in his art, in his music, or any other place. In his literature, in his drama, it doesn’t go. In the sexual act, in human relationships, he finds only the devastatingly sterile and the dreadfully ugly” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City, IVP, p.19). Man has an inner death as far as the living God is concerned.

iii] The mind of the non-Christian is hostile to God. (v.7). It may not be hostile to the Borodin String Quartet, or to a painting by Lowry, or to a poem by R.S.Thomas. It fears most of all to be dismissed as a ‘Philistine.’ Of course such compositions are the most sublime artifacts of human creation, and they have the capacity to reach beyond the author’s grasp, but why is there such hostility to Jesus Christ? None of those works of art can sit alongside the simplicity of the words with which John’s gospel begins, “In the be
ginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God
. . .” I remember once as a12 year old hearing someone in a youth rally reading those words and the following verses and they blew me away. I had never heard anything more beautiful than the prologue to the fourth gospel, but why is such blessed truth defiantly ignored? 

Paul tells us that the mind of the natural man is hostile to God. He is a negative man, he is against God, against his commandments, against his day, against his people, against his word, against his claims over him. God once sent his Son into the world, and if you could see him with the eyes of faith you would be seeing his Father because there is such a family likeness. He and his Father are one. The Son of God went about doing good. He showed his love to those who did not love him. He helped the selfish and cold-hearted. He prayed for those who nailed him to a cross. He never took a penny from people for healing them. He was the loveliest and the best of men. No one ever spoke the way he spoke. What did men do when they were encountering God? They contradicted and opposed and hated him. They lied about him and murdered him by nailing him through his hands and feet to a cross. So they showed what Paul says here, that in men’s hearts is hostility to God.

iv] The mind of the non-Christian does not submit to God’s law. (v.7) He rejects God’s claim to be his Creator and God’s right to tell us how we should live in his creation, saying, “Who is he to tell me how to live?” He does not submit to God’s law. He sits on the throne of his own life and he says, “I am God.” When Paul speaks of man’s hostility that does not mean that he’ll occasionally express some outbursts of anger against God. We have all met or will meet that, when people’s hearts have been broken at the death of those they love and they cry in their anger, “I could never believe in a God who would do that!” But such bursts of anger are not what Paul is speaking of here. He is talking of a low, foundational undercurrent of resentment and hostility that is determined not to change and will ignore God for ever, saying, “I am doing this my way. I don’t care what the Bible says. If God does tell me to be faithful to my wife, what is that if I should meet someone whom I love and who loves me? Then life is too short to be locked into a loveless marriage, hung up about promises made twenty years ago,” and he’s abandoned them all. Twenty years ago Woody Allen shocked the world by beginning to live with the Korean adopted step daughter named Soon-Yi of Mia Farrow his lover. He was asked, “How could you get involved with someone who was almost your daughter?” His reply was, “The heart wants what it wants.” Then that is the choice before the whole world, whether it will choose what God wants and find grace to live with the will of God, or if it will seize what it wants, irrespective even of the will of God.

v] The mind of the non-Christian cannot submit to the law of God. (v.7). In other words it does not possess the ability to change, and that is the reason it won’t change. It will not turn around 180 degrees because it can’t do that. Unaided, and by its own wits it will never change. It is impossible for it to change and suddenly to start grieving over its rebellion, and begin to love God with all its heart and mind, confessing its sins, and pleading the death of God the Son as its atonement and the ground of its pardon. It cannot kindle in its heart of stone a warm growing love for Jesus Christ that will lead to dedicated service him and work for him, spending his life and be spent for the Saviour, and even laying down his life for him – all because of his own unaided decisions and endeavours! No. He cannot submit to the law of God that tells him to repent and to believe on Jesus Christ. He has no power to save himself. No man can come to me except the Father which has sent me draw him,” says Jesus. He can never pat himself on the back and say, “Wasn’t I smart to change and submit to the God? Didn’t I do a good thing in choosing heaven rather than hell?” No he cannot turn himself around like that. He doesn’t have the ability to do that. The hostility is always stronger than the desire. What is his state? It is one of death. He is dead in his sins. What does Paul say here? “The mind of sinful man is death” (v.6). Can a corpse resurrect itself? Of course it cannot. It is utterly impotent. How did Jesus rise from the dead? Through the Spirit of holiness. God the Holy Spirit raised him. That’s what Paul says in the fourth verse of the opening chapter of this letter: “through the Spirit of holiness [Jesus] was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead” (Roms 1:4). How have any of you come to submit to the law of God? The same way. The Holy Spirit changed you, and made you willing to confess your sins to God, and believe on Jesus Christ and begin to do what he tells you to do. Without God we can do nothing. We have no ability to do anything without the power that made the universe. We have to cry to him for help.

vi] The mind of the non-Christian cannot please God (v.8). That does not mean that every non-Christian is a devil. No. Every non-Christian man and woman is made in the image of God and has been influenced by the earlier generations of his family, and the salt and light of Christians, and the translation of the Bible into his language many years earlier, and generations of preachers and Christians during an earlier grace in the land, and so there are grand people who are not Christians. They are faithful in their marriages, encourage family activities, are thoughtful about others, are involved in the caring professions, make splendid nurses and firemen and inspirational teachers. Aren’t there mothers who sacrifice themselves for their children and wives who spend years caring for their husbands? Millions of them are good, compassionate, laudable and virtuous men and women, many of them better than some Christians. Do they please God by acting like that? Of course they do. So what does Paul mean when he says that those who are controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God? You can answer it in many ways. What man is able to do on a horizontal level in his behaviour to other people he cannot perform on a vertical level in his behaviour towards God. He cannot do that! While so good to others he ignores God his Creator and the author of all the goodness and wisdom he’s ever had. He’s done nothing to the end and purpose that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified. He has done nothing out of conscious obedience to the will of God. He has certainly done things with which God is pleased, yes, and far better that he do them than not do them, but he has done them with utter indifference to the glory of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That then is the situation of the natural man, those six points show his guilt, rebellion and helplessness. What do we learn from that? That if he is going to be saved then it must be entirely from outside of himself. Salvation has to come to him from the Lord, as a gift, as an irresistible work, as a deep, inward, transforming power coming upon him. Salvation is the rescue of an unconscious drowning man. Salvation is the raising of the dead. Salvation is the sudden
rising of the west wind blowing cool air on a scorching day. Salvation in its conception, its continuance and in its consummation is of the Lord.

Paul tells us that there are only two groups of people in the whole world, and that everyone belongs to the one or the other. There are those in the flesh and there are those in the spirit. There are those who live according to the sinful nature, and there are those who live according to the Spirit. There are those whose mind is death and there are those whose mind is life and peace. To which group do you belong? There is line that runs through this congregation and all are either on one side or the other. Are you under the law of sin and death or under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus? You must be in the one or the other.

“How do I know?” you ask me. I will tell you. It is really very simple. When your thinking is challenged by the Bible, who wins? You or God’s word? Have you been rejecting this verdict of God on your life? Then you are the one who has won not God. But if you bow before this divine diagnosis in reverence and say, “What God says about me is absolutely true” then God has won. It is often at such crisis points in our lives that we show our true colours. When our thinking and our emotions and our choosing comes into conflict with the word of God then we haven’t yet set him on the throne of our lives.

So what is the result of these words being true? If we are controlled by the sinful nature we cannot please God. What then? Certainly keeping the law can’t save you. And the message, “Love your neighbour” can’t save you. And the message “do this and live” is death for you. I can’t do the will of God. You need another message, and here it is: “You must be born again.” Do you understand that Paul here in Romans 8:8 is virtually duplicating what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3? ‘Nicodemus, unless you are born again, you cannot even see the kingdom of God.’

So you see there is good news for those in the flesh, even in Romans 8:5-8, and here’s the good news: The gospel is that Jesus Christ has died as the Lamb of God so that you can have new life, and you must receive that new life, or you will die.There is nothing that you can do for yourself to get this new life. Jesus must accomplish and apply all that is necessary in order for you to have this new life – he must take away your inward state of death putting it to death in his death – and then the Holy Spirit must bring you to life. But if you find yourself today under the conviction that you’ve been walking after the flesh for a long time, that you’ve been setting your mind on the things of the flesh far too long, that they’ve become more important to you than God is, that they’re more important than his word, his calling, his people, and his gospel then you’re in the flesh. Or maybe your heart’s set on sinful things. God is telling you in his word not to do these things, but you’re getting excitement from what you’re doing and you thumb your nose at God and you say ‘I’m getting pleasure from this; I have no intention of quitting.’ You’re in the flesh. If you find yourself in that place but under conviction today, then you need to be born again. You need to throw yourself at the feet of Christ and say, “Christ, save me. Christ, forgive me. Spirit, change me. I need new life, and I need a new nature, and I need pardon, and acceptance, and acquittal, and forgiveness, and I can only find that in your gospel.” Men and women do not fail to listen to God’s word today. You must be born again. So to be carnally minded results in death.


Being spiritually minded is all important. It is the ultimate result of escaping from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life and peace. Paul says in verse 6, “The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” He is saying in our text that as a result of the new birth the Christian has a new mindset, the mindset of the Spirit. It is not just “mind” but also “attitude.” He is referring to the whole frame and disposition of our minds, and our affections and values and our enthusiasm, our very laughter and sorrows. To say that we have a “mind controlled by the Spirit” is to say that the Spirit is shaping our inner life according to the mind of the Spirit of God. John Piper says that spiritual mindedness exalts Christ, and it values God, and it cherishes the Word of God, and it sees people and things with a relentless God-consciousness.

When people say to me whether I would like to see changes in the Aberystwyth conference, I say that indeed I do. I would like to see all the speakers and all the attendees at the conference spiritually-minded people. I am not interested in some cosmetic changes with different hymns and music and times of meetings and numbers of meetings, and all that human engineering can do. I long for what only God the Holy Spirit can do. I long to see here a growing spiritually minded congregation week after week led by a spiritually minded pastor. I want us to see the world with spiritual eyes, whether it is sport and computers and politics and education and eating out and celebrations and fashion and the media and everything. So what are the marks and goals of being spiritually minded? I have taken and changed some of the marks of John Piper.

i] Taking radical steps to keep our minds pure. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-29)

ii] Making God our supreme joy. That is being spiritually minded. Knowing that our chief end is to glorify and enjoy him, and that we are doing that! “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God” (Psalm 43:4). Literally the phrase “my exceeding joy” is “gladness of my joy.” I take this to mean that in all our joys God should be the supreme glad joy. Every joy should be like a spoke that leads back to the hub, God. It should become a joy in God. Family relationships, our meals, a walk with the dogs besides the sea, listening to fine music and so on . . . if a joy cannot offer a taste of who God is, and be enjoyed the more for that reason, then it is unspiritual joy.

iii] Seeing each person you meet as you will see them a hundred years from now. “The poor man died and was carried by the ang
els to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side
” (Luke 16:22-23). Each one destined to live as long as God, each one to spend that eternity experiencing God’s blessing or his woe. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16)

iv] Pondering that at every moment, even your happiest, there is misery and wailing in 10,000 places, some of them very near. Don’t be smug in your little religious world. Behind many front doors in this town there is pain. Won’t that consciousness kill all our joys? Why should it? Better to be real and sad than happy and fake. But I don’t think we have to choose. Real and happy and also sorrowful is possible. That is why Paul says that he is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Listen to this moving story from David Brickner who is the head of ‘Jews for Jesus’. “Some months ago I was flying home from a meeting when the man sitting behind me began gasping for breath. An announcement over the plane’s intercom called for a physician. Soon a doctor and several nurses came to the man’s aid but to no avail. I began to pray for the man and his wife, who was sitting beside him. The pilot announced that due to a medical emergency the plane was going to land in Edmonton, Canada. I could hear the activity behind me escalate as the doctor and nurses took turns doing resuscitation. If you’ve never been near a person who is dying despite these efforts, I can assure you that it is not much worse than what we see on television. The sound of air being forced out of a human being’s lungs, the sounds and smells of the death rattle were horrific. I heard the doctor pronounce, “Time of death, 10:25 a.m.” And then the captain announced to the passengers that the man’s situation had “stabilized,” and therefore we would continue to San Francisco. I don’t know how many people realized that what was announced as though it were the passing of the emergency was actually a veiled announcement of the passing of this man’s life. Certainly those of us nearby knew. The flight attendants pulled a blanket over his head. His wife, still beside him, was sobbing and moaning . . . and then the flight attendants began to come through the aisles . . . serving lunch! Lunch!? How could anyone in that cabin eat after what had just happened? But they did.” (Jews for Jesus Newsletter, Nov. 2006, p. 1). That is a parable of the world at any given time. Some are eating lunch and thousands are wailing. It helps to remember this when we are carried away from reality with some computer problem or promise.

v] Remembering Jesus’ warning about what chokes spiritual life: worries, riches and the pleasures of life. There are those who hear the gospel and make some kind of response, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. (Luke 8:14). That is repeated in Mark’s gospel. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

vi] Pondering what is divine perfume to the Lord, and what he delights in. For example, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). “For we are the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15). God’s delight “is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:10).

vii] Being friends with spiritually minded people. Overcome your shyness and get to know other Christians, how they’re doing and what encouragements and battles they are experiencing. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). And again remember the exhortation, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

viii] Reading God-besotted, spiritually minded writers. For example, read Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Read any books written by Iain Murray, or any of the Banner of Truth Puritan paperback series especially John Owen’s Spiritual Mindedness. Read J.I. Packer’s Knowing God or his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

ix] Pondering that your life will very soon be without a body. “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). How attached are all your pleasures to the senses of the body?

x] Telling yourself how short life is.All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Only one life – ‘twill soon be past;

Only what’s done for Jesus will last.

xi] Asking day by day for spiritual-mindedness. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). The psalmists pray often for the heart and mind that they long to have.

xii] Understanding and remembering definitive sanctification, in other words, your position and status in Christ which cannot be taken from you ever, that you died with Christ and have crucified the flesh. That carnal nature is no longer your lord. It i
s not the Lord of any born-again Christian. It is hung up on Golgotha, crucified with Christ, under the judgment of God – what you once were. Who would obey a dying, fatally weakened power as it whispers out its temptations? “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). The most basic key to spiritual-mindedness is the deep assurance that the unbeliever you once were, under the lordship of sin, has really died and today you live by the control of an indwelling Saviour.

xiii] Accepting God’s trials as part of his fatherly discipline to bring about greater spiritual mindedness. Listen to spiritually-minded Paul sharing with us his experience of the afflictions he endured: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Again, think of those familiar words in Hebrews 12 concerning responding to various hardships. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11)

xiv] Risking being considered foolish and weird. You don’t have to be cool. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25)

xv] Realizing that millions of people trapped in the other religions of the world are not looking for people with more western cultural sophistication and techno savvy. They are looking for a “holy man,” a “man of God.” The questions will not be, “Has he got the latest Blackberry? Is he quick-witted and fast-talking and clever?” The questions will be: “Does he pray a lot? Does he know his holy Book, much of it by heart? Is he self-denying and focused on God? Is he powerful in his weakness? Is he patient, compassionate and understanding?”  Those are some of the hundreds of marks of spiritual-mindedness, and they are all the stuff of life and peace.

4th March 2012 GEOFFREY THOMAS