A while back, someone I hadn't seen or spoken to in decades sent me a hand-written letter and a few pictures of her family and my family standing together. It was nice to hear from her, but when I looked through the pictures, they reminded me of a time that certainly wasn't my favorite season of life. I started to think about all the things that were taking place in the greater scope of my life at the time those pictures were taken, and I felt quite grateful to be living in this season of life instead of that one.
Have you ever had an experience like that? To be honest, I'm kind of glad that I grew up in the era before digital photography and social media. Pictures used to cost something to take and develop so we were much more selective back then, and thankfully, there isn't a huge visual record of my less favorite seasons.
I think the Lord recognizes that this is the kind of perspective we're likely to develop, over time, as we come to know Him deeper and develop a greater appreciation for the changes He has made within us. The longer we walk with Jesus, the less we resemble the person we once were. The longer we walk with Him, the more distant we start to feel from the life we once lived. In Christ, we have been blessed with a brand-new life, and there are aspects of this new life that we are invited to gain a better understand of through looking at His word.
Romans 8:1-11 gives us a snapshot of the new life we have in Christ. It's a life that isn't being led by the priorities of this world or passions of our old nature. Our new life is a life that's being led by the Holy Spirit.
I. Are you condemned or are you free?
In Christ, we are free. Through Christ who took our condemnation upon Himself at the cross, we are no longer condemned, provided that we trust in Him. But it can be rather easy for us to forget this truth even though it's plainly stated in Scripture. It's easy to condemn others, and it's easy to condemn ourselves. To be honest, I think I'm much harder on myself than I am on anyone else. My mind is good at remembering all kinds of details, particularly the specifics of everything that I've ever said or done that I now regret. It's good to learn from those experiences, but it isn't healthy to dwell on the mistakes of our past in a condemning fashion because Jesus has already dealt with the condemnation we deserved. As Romans 8:1 reminds us, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
But it can be helpful to remember where we came from and who brought us to the point we're at. Paul makes that clear when he tells us that the law of the Holy Spirit has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death that used to govern us. Before knowing Christ we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Before we knew Christ, we were without hope. We were just biding our time until the inevitable day of our accountability before the throne of God. But the Holy Spirit has regenerated us. He has made us alive, and He is now leading our lives. Sin and death once ruled over us, but now their sting and power has been taken away.
How was this all accomplished? It was accomplished by the Father who sent His Son to this earth to be born in human flesh, fulfill the requirements of the law, then condemn sin itself. He condemned sin by defeating it and demonstrating that it operates on a time table. Sin will not reign victorious over God's people or God's creation forever. During this season, we still deal with the effects of sin, but the day is coming when all things will be restored, and sin will reign no more.
In fact, through Christ, sin no longer reigns over us. We've been divinely empowered to stop living or thinking according to the dictates of our old, sinful nature. At this point, those who call Jesus their Lord, are enabled to walk according to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers our thinking. He gives us wisdom. He grants us guidance. He even gives us the right words to say when we need them. The Holy Spirit helps us to begin seeing life, ourselves, and other people through the eyes of God instead of adopting the perspective of this world.
In Christ, we no longer live as condemned people who await our impending judgment. Through His sacrificial death in our place, He has secured our freedom. And now, instead of dwelling on the fruit of death and doom, our minds have been lifted up and transformed so we can dwell on greater things.
II. What does your mind dwell on?
Throughout the course of our lives, it's interesting to observe and learn from the people we meet, whether they share our perspectives or not. In my extended family, there is a man that I have observed over the course of most of my life. He has always been nice to talk to, but he has also shown me that he doesn't think very much about "big" things. His mind is mostly set on the weather, taxes, local government, and how much he's getting paid. He doesn't seem to ask deeper level questions and he doesn't show much interest in spiritual things.
What does your mind dwell on? What tends to occupy your thinking? Do the worries of this world or the temptations of your flesh consume your thinking, or has your pattern of thought been curiously interrupted and uplifted by the presence of the Holy Spirit?
This Scripture tells us that those who still live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh. They live for their creature comforts. Their greatest yearning is for temporary things. They care more about the opinions of their peers than they care about the desires of the Lord, and in fact, they've embraced a pattern of thinking that is in hostile opposition to God. But those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit experience the joys of true life and peace.
The mind matters, but it's quite challenging to control. Does it feel like your mind is working against you at times? Maybe you're struggling with things like persistent negativity, inappropriate lust, irrational anxiety, or a covetous perspective toward the blessings of others. That isn't God's desire for your mind, but how can that pattern of thinking be overcome? What does it look like to set our mind on godly things? How does this really work in our lives?
Let me suggest a few biblical and practical suggestions that can certainly help us to mentally dwell on what honors Christ.
1. Submit yourself to the Lord so your thinking will be fruitful.
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." -Galatians 5:16
2. Seek the Lord in prayer.
"do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
3. Trust that God is truly in control.
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” -Matthew 19:26
4. Be intentional about what you feed your mind.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." -Philippians 4:8
5. Let your conversations be Christ-honoring.
"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." -Colossians 4:6
Through faith in Christ, we have been given a new mind with a transformed and renewed perspective. Seek the Lord's guidance and rely on His power to dwell on that which honors Him because He has made you a temple of the Holy Spirit who now dwells in you.
III. Does the Spirit dwell in you?
I'm an optimist, not because of what I can control, but because of what God has clearly been orchestrating. But it isn't always easy for us to catch on to what He's doing at first. He stretches our thinking and develops our faith to enable us to learn the joys of trusting Him more completely.
That's the process the early disciples had to go through as well. Throughout the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly told the disciples what was going to happen to Him. He explained that He was going to be rejected, arrested, executed, then raised back to life. I don't know why those conversations didn't seem to fully catch the attention of the disciples, but they seemed somewhat ignorant of this information until after these prophesies were fulfilled. In the meantime, their initial response was to panic, flee, and hide when these things first took place.
But then, on the third day, Christ rose from death. He defeated death, Satan, and sin, the very things that once held us captive. And the victory He secured is a victory He shares with us. At the moment we trusted in Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwelled us. And just as Christ rose from death, so too will we. As Paul states in Romans 8:11, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."
The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death and He lives within all who trust in Christ. Knowing that to be the case, we're reminded of something in this passage that should bolster our confidence. We are not destined to die. As Christ rose, so too will we. And even now, the mindset we adopt and the way that we walk should enthusiastically demonstrate that we've been made truly alive. Not just alive physically, but spiritually. Death has completely lost its power over our flesh and our spirit.
This portion of Scripture grants us a beautiful snapshot of our brand new, Spirit-led, life. A life of freedom, not of condemnation. A life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit who has completely transformed our thinking. When you were growing up, you probably had a mental picture of what your ideal life was going to look like, but I hope you can see that what we've been given through Christ is far better, and more enduring, than anything we could have dreamed up on our own.
© John Stange, 2019