I need to ask you a question. It may be a little personal, but I’m going to ask it anyway:
What kind of thoughts are guiding your life?
Chances are, they’re not too different from the mindsets guiding two major groups that Paul speaks to in Romans 8. Those two groups, early Jewish Christians and early Greek Christians, each had a unique issue. Early Jewish Christians were tempted to live by will power. Early Greek Christians were tempted to follow culturally permissive pressures. The grace of God was entirely new to both groups.
Which one do you gravitate towards? Which of those two losing solutions most sounds like you?
If you find yourself in one of those two camps (and, let’s face it, just about all of us do), Paul has an inspired solution: contrast living by our own desires versus living by God’s Spirit. He says it a little better, though:
“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.” (Romans 8:5)
You may be a Christian, but if you’re letting your human appetites (flesh) go unchecked, you haven’t truly come alive. Paul says that the only way to fully accept what God has given us is to focus on what His Spirit desires.
How do we do that? We need these three things.
1. We Need a new Mindset
If we don’t get ahold of the way we think, we’ll never live the life that God has for us. You can’t live a full Christian life if you don’t commit yourself 100%. We don’t serve a once in awhile kind of God. We serve an all-in,, 24/7, knows every hair on your head type of God. How we think about ourselves and Him is a very, very big deal.
In verses 7–17 of Romans 8, Paul runs down what happens if our mindset is focused on our fleshly desires: we become defined by strife with God, struggles with self-control, and separation. The end result? Death.
But there’s another side to that equation. If you approach life with a mindset of following what God’s Spirit desires, the results are intimacy with God, internal rejuvenation, and inheritance In the end, you receive life and peace.
That’s a much better deal.
2. We Need God’s Spirit
When God comes into our lives, it’s not a stopover. That’s not what the Bible says. God says when Jesus comes in He makes a home. He’s taking up residence in your heart. It’s His house, where He’s comfortable. You end up having a relationship and end up being able to focus on the desires of the spirit.
But why is that so important? 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
If you don’t have God’s Spirit, the things we’re saying right now are going to sound ridiculous. The Spirit of God allows us to understand His word, and through it He reveals His purpose for our lives. It’s like one of those decoder rings you used to find at the bottom of cereal boxes. The only way you can understand God’s message is through His Spirit.
3. We Need to Fight Back
The flesh is a bully. It’s true. It likes to push us around. It likes to get us to do things that we know we shouldn’t do. It likes to goad us into not doing the things we know we should do.
It’s time we stood up to our bully.
But here’s the problem: we can’t do it on our own. The flesh is going to keep on shoving us into lockers and giving us swirlies until we confront it with a greater power. God’s Spirit is the only thing that can strengthen us enough to stand up to the flesh.
We try to stand up to our desires, but willpower just can’t get you there. If we were able to will ourselves into perfect obedience, Jesus’s death was a waste. We just can’t. Not through willpower, not through conforming to the world’s patterns — we can only overcome sin by the power of the Spirit.
Getting a Grip on Who You Really Are
When we do without these three things, we lose sight of who we really are. When we put willpower or conformity before God’s spirit, what we’re really doing is struggling with His grace. We feel we’re not worth it, and become burdened by guilt. That guilt is heavy, and it crushes our effectiveness for the kingdom of God
So get a grip.
It’s times like that that we need to remember who we really are: the sons and daughters of God. We can’t do anything to change the way He feels for us. When we struggle and fail against those earthly desires, giving in to guilt can’t buy us freedom. The only way to truly be free is to lean on God’s Spirit. His grace is and always will be enough.
Lincoln Brewster is a nationally recognized worship leader and pastor at Bayside Church. Bayside exists to reach people far from God and show them how to follow Jesus step by step.