Paul in this passage continues his discussion of “flesh” and spirit. In verses 5-7 he introduces the Greek word phrane which is commonly translated as “mind,” but it does not describe the reasoning ability of the brain. The word literally refers to the diaphragm or midriff of the body. The verb form can be translated “to entertain sentiments or inclinations.” Mindset rather than “set their minds” is perhaps closer to Paul’s meaning since it describes inclinations or tendencies and not logical intellect. Verse 5 then says that there are some who have a mindset inclined toward things of the flesh, while others are inclined toward the Spirit. One (verse 6) is death and of the other life and peace. The fleshly mindset is hostile to God. It cannot submit to God’s law (verse 7) and therefore cannot please God (verse 8). However, those in Christ with the mind of the Spirit have the Spirit of God dwelling in them (verse 9).
Paul’s words give assurance that the Spirit is moving us in the right direction toward life and peace, although we currently have this dying mortal body. Paul reminds us that the same Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in us and will give life to our mortal bodies (verse 11). Douglas Moo comments:
“With Christ’s death and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, the new age of salvation has begun. However, since the old age of sin and death has not yet ended, we believers live in the overlap of the ages. We belong to the new age, and our futures now are determined by that fact, but we are still influenced by the old age, and we still must face physical death.”
Paul is addressing believers and giving assurance that we have the “mind of the Spirit” so why does he write so much about the flesh? We can have confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, but perhaps he intends to warn that we are not immune to the deceptive attraction of flesh. Chuck Swindoll sees such a warning and writes:
“A believer exists according to the flesh when he or she tries to become righteous by simply trying harder. Those who train hard, expecting to leap into heaven under their own power, will fall short. That’s the old-nature way of thinking.
Fleshly thinking can have noble ideals and admirable desires, but it is also proud to the bone. Fleshly thinking presumes to achieve godly objectives without God. It rejects the grace of God in favor of its own will, its own way, its own ability to do good on its own terms. Fleshly thinking buys into the “self-made man or woman” philosophy and aligns itself remarkably well with the entrepreneurial spirit. While rugged individualism and a can-do attitude may be good for business, this kind of thinking brings death to the spiritual life.”
next: Romans 8:12-17