Every Man’s and Every Woman’s Battle: Romans 8:4-11
“5) For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6) For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7) because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8) and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans‬ ‭8:5-8‬
The battle between the flesh and the spirit is every man’s and every woman’s battle. For the non-Christian, the outcome is inevitable because the spirit of man died at the fall of Adam and Eve. Hence Paul describes the tragic condition of human depravity in Ephesians 2:1-4. He observes that the non-Christian is dead in their trespasses and sin, sold out to the world, influenced and controlled by the prince of the power of the air, and chasing after fleshly indulgence. It may look different for every person, but the general story is the same.
When a person becomes a Christian, the human spirit comes alive and is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Scholars are actually divided over the true meaning of walking in the Spirit. Should it be translated as “walking in the spirit” or “walking in the Spirit?” The former understanding, favors a model where the renewed human spirit is filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, but still retains ultimate control. The latter understanding favors a model where the indwelling Holy Spirit is in total control.
I favor the understanding of “walking in the spirit” for several reasons. First, human free will is not lost for the Christian. We still have the freedom to decide. Second, the Bible paints a picture of gradual growth and maturity for believers over time. This would not be the case if the Holy Spirit gained absolute control at the moment of salvation. Third, this understanding opens a three way battle for control of a persons life. Let’s look at the three possible ways your life can be governed and make decisions.
First, the human flesh can sit on the throne and be controlled by sin and bondage. The result is carnality and sinful bondage. Second, the human soul can sit on the throne and be controlled by emotions, logic or reason. The result is that a persons world view and overall life philosophy sets the direction of life. This is why some non-Christians can be decent people. Or third, for the Christian, the renewed spirit can sit on the throne and be influenced and controlled by the Holy Spirit. The result is living in tune with God and in obedience to His Word and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
For most people, there is constant inner tension over which part of the human makeup reigns on the inner throne. It can even shift between the flesh, the soul or the spirit throughout the day. With spiritual growth and maturity, walking in the spirit should become the predominate mode of operation, but the tension is ongoing. The flesh does not give up easily. All it takes is being cut off by a rude driver and a flash of anger can ascend to the inner throne.
The above explanation seems to fit both Romans 8:5-11 and Galatians 5:13-26. I believe this picture is also the best explanation of Philippians 2:12-13 where the believer is admonished to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Christian growth is a life long process. We are encourage to take it seriously and work diligently at this calling. (See 2 Peter 1:4-11)
The big take away from Romans 8:4-17 is that salvation accompanied by the indwelling Holy Spirit is the big game changer for the Christian. We do not need to live a life of failure or sinful bondage. God has provided everything for our journey to practical holiness, spiritual maturity and unimaginable fruitfulness in this life. “In Christ” your future can be very different from your past.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global