Teaching series from Romans

Walking By the Spirit (Part 1)

Romans 8

Teaching t07944


Paul is discussing spiritual growth/sanctification/how to serve God. In 6:14 and 7:6, he describes two different ways we can approach this: under law/in the oldness of the letter vs. under grace/in the newness of the Spirit.

Serving God under law, as we saw last week, means trying to serve God by your own power. What could make more sense than to focus on God's commandments and try as hard as you can to keep them? But as Paul shares from his own attempt to serve God this way, it leads to failure. Despite his best intentions, he experienced the defeat he described in 7:21-23 (read). He learned what many of us have learned--that this is a blind alley!

But there is another way. Read 7:24,25a. You can take the counter-intuitive approach--look outside your own resources to Jesus Christ to set you free from this bondage. This is serving God under grace/in the newness of the Spirit. In chapter 8, he describes some very different results (read 8:1-8):

Read 8:2. Although the "law of sin and death" is more powerful than our moral will-power, the "law of the Spirit of life" more powerful than the "law of sin and death." It has the power to liberate us.

Read 8:4. Although serving God by our own power only results in increased (or at least increased awareness of) violations of God's moral Law, God's Spirit will gradually fulfill the requirement of God's Law in us (loving God and loving people).

Read 8:6. Although serving God by our own power only results in failure and defeat ("death"), serving by God's Spirit results in life and peace.

Who wouldn’t want this? You can have it! The key, according to Paul, is to "walk according/by to the Spirit." This is what we want to learn how to do over the next two weeks. Today we'll learn the first of three key elements in walking by the Spirit.

Walking by the Spirit involves setting your mind on the things of the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit?

Many think this is primarily a subjective experience--trying to sense intuitively God's presence and guidance. Now, there is a subjective dimension involved in walking by the Spirit, and we will discuss this next week. But this is not what Paul focuses on here.

Others think this is primarily about behavioral change. Now, walking according to the Spirit will produce behavioral change. But if we equate walking by the Spirit with behavioral change, we're back to serving God under the law.

Re-read 8:5-7. According to Paul, the primary element in walking according to the Spirit is "setting our minds on the things of the Spirit." To set your mind on something involves rational reflection, what you think about and the perspective from which you view the different facets of your life.

Spiritual growth begins not with our behavior (what we do) or with our experiences (what we feel)--but with our minds (how we think). That's why he says 12:2 (read)--behavioral and experiential transformation flow from mental renewal!!

As we learn to set our minds on what God wants them set on, the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed to gradually transform our characters and behavior ("the requirement of the law fulfilled . . . life") and also grant us increasing experience of God's peace.

What are the "things of the Spirit?" Some Christian preachers say the "things of the Spirit" refer to messages given to us through heavenly voices or visions or dreams. This is not what Paul means.

Read 1 Cor. 2:12,13. The "things of the Spirit" are the truths concerning what God has freely given us through Christ--truths which have been revealed through the apostles and recorded in their writings. In other words, the "things of the Spirit" refer primarily to the New Testament teaching on God's grace. That's why Paul call this serving God "under grace" (6:14). "Setting your mind on the things of the Spirit" is choosing to look at every major area of your life in the light of God's grace. The more we learn about what Christ has given us, and the more we consciously view every area of our lives from this perspective, the more God's Spirit will transform our lives.

Paul contrasts this mind-set to a mind-set on the "things of the flesh." This refers to the perspective we adopt on things apart from and contradictory to God's revealed grace. This is our mental "default setting"--which is why we must choose to "set our minds on" God's perspective.

NOTE: This is why we emphasize biblical content (and especially what it teaches about God's grace) so much: going to Bible studies, taking courses, discussing scripture with one another, evaluating your thought-life and the messages coming at you from the world in light of what God says. And this is why we emphasize New Testament more than Old Testament--because it teaches God's grace more clearly and fully.

Key mind-set areas

Let's get practical. Let's think about some of the major areas of our spiritual lives, and contrast what it looks like to think about them "according to flesh" versus "according to the Spirit."

YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD: How you view God and how you think God views you are the most foundational and important spiritual things we can think about.

According to the flesh: We naturally assume that God's acceptance and approval of me is contingent to my performance. We tend to view God primarily as a strict parent/principal/supervisor--ready to pounce on every mistake we make. This is why we will tend to avoid God--especially when we think our performance has been poor--or (worse) become dishonest with ourselves and God.

According to the Spirit: But what does God say? Read 8:1--God will never condemn me (KJV error). Read 8:15-17--God does not want me to relate to him as a slave in fear of his rejection, but as a son and heir who is confident of his love. Read 8:38,39--nothing (including my own sins) can separate me from God's love. To the extent that we set our minds on this great truth, we will tend to relate to God more frequently and more honestly. And thanksgiving will become a big part of our communication with God. In fact, the New Testament indicates that this is a key feature of the Spirit-empowered life (Eph. 5:18,20).

YOUR DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES: It is inevitable and proper that we think about our circumstances--where we work, our state of health, our finances, etc. And because we live in a fallen world, sometimes these things are quite painful and negative.

According to the flesh: If we have a legalistic relationship with God, we will tend to interpret bad circumstances as God's punishment. If we view our happiness and security as contingent upon our circumstances, we will tend to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy worrying about them, or trying to change things we can't change, or blaming our unhappiness on them.

According to the Spirit: We will feel the impact of negative circumstances, and we will often try to improve them when possible. But, more fundamentally, we will remember two crucial biblical truths:

Read 8:18,23-25. My negative circumstances are only temporary, to be removed in the next life and replaced by glory. When we view our negative circumstances in this light, God grants us resilience and hope.

Read 8:28,29. God is sovereignly involved even through my negative circumstances for his glory and my growth. In other words, nothing can prevent God from accomplishing the most important goal in my life. This frees us from victimhood to thankful, creative cooperation. Our prayers will change from "Get me out of this!" to "What do you want me to learn from this?"

YOUR CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS: Most of us think a lot about the other people in our lives--especially lovers or spouses, children, parents, friends, work associates, etc.

According to the flesh: Left to our own perspective, we will tend to believe that we will be happy when they love us the way we want to be loved. In other words, we look to these people to give us security, meaning, and identity. But this will always disappoint us sooner or later, because they are finite and fallen--only God can provide these things. So we will become disappointed, outraged, try to manipulate, reject them, etc. After years of this, many get cynical about relationships and just use people where possible and avoid them otherwise.

According to the Spirit: As we draw our lives from God and his love for us, we discover a reliable and inexhaustible source of security, meaning, and identity. On this basis, we can approach relationships with others in a very different way. We are grateful to receive love from them--but we don’t have to demand it because we know God will be there. In fact, we see their love ultimately as an expression of God's love for us. When they hurt us, we can extend forgiveness--because we're so aware and appreciative of how much God's forgives us. More importantly, we begin to be able to give love to others sacrificially and without strings--because we are secure in God's love, and because we experience the joy of God when we do so. This other-centered perspective is both a result of spiritual growth and a cause of further growth.

VIDEO TESTIMONY: Sean and Rebecca illustrate how relating to God under grace can revolutionize a marriage relationship.

Before you can walk by the Spirit, you must be indwelt by the Spirit.

Before we conclude this morning, I need to point out one more thing that may the most important point for some of you. We've been talking about walking by the Spirit this morning--but before you can walk by the Spirit, you must be indwelt by the Spirit.

Read 8:9. Notice that not everybody is indwelt by the Holy Spirit--only those who belong to Christ. This is what Jesus himself said in Jn. 7:37,38 (read). We are not born with God's Spirit--rather, we receive him when we admit our spiritual thirst and personally believe in/receive Jesus.

So before you can grow spiritually, you must be born spiritually. Just as a human being cannot grow to maturity until it is born, so we cannot grow and mature spiritually in our relationship with God until we are born spiritually by establish a relationship with Christ and receiving his Spirit.

Am I saying that you cannot experience anything genuinely spiritual before you receive Christ? No! We normally experience a process of spiritual awakening ("thirst" - gradually becoming aware of our need for God and of Christ's offer), and we experience a process of growth into spiritual maturity. But the point that connects these two processes is our decision to receive Christ. Some of you are at the end of the first process, and are interested in the second process--but you need to take the step that lies between them.

NEXT: Two more keys to walking according to the Spirit

Copyright 2000 Gary DeLashmutt