For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Romans 8:7-9
That word "hostile" (verse 7) can be a burden. We know when our minds are being hostile to God. We feel the hardness. We see the thorns. And it hurts. Hard times, suffering, and even our own failure can leave believers in a momentary posture of hostility, glaring at God, wondering why God is letting this happen to us, wondering why he's forgotten us. This is all part of the Christian journey.
But I don't think these verses are describing a struggling believer. Instead, Paul is describing someone here who does not and cannot submit to God, someone who "cannot please God." They aren't just struggling through a painful season of trying to understand what God is doing. In fact, the problem is that they aren't struggling at all. They're simply rock-hard. Hostile ground is cursed; it's infertile like the surface of Mars; it's incapable of growing plants. There's a kind of grim calm, a settledness, to this kind of hostility. It's the quiet stillness of death. And there is no farmer, no shovel, in sight.
You may be in a hard season, believer. There might be thorns and thistles, shame and guilt. There may even be some degree of alienation from God as you've worked through doubt, guilt, fear, and a broken heart. You may have been anything but quiet and still. You're restless, stirred up, anguished, struggling, and at war with yourself, God, and many people around you.
But there's good news in all this...your struggle proves you are not dead. Though your heart has been volcanic and erupting, a spiritually sensitive (albeit suffering) soul is not the cold, hardened lava of a heart hostile to God.
Your struggle to wrestle down your flesh, though it creates a sometimes unbearable tension, does not reveal spiritual weakness but spiritual life. In the Spirit, you are very much alive, stirring, awakening. And evidence of a farmer's work is all around you:
The Spirit dwells in you as a believer in Christ.
Your sin grieves you.
Your life is already bearing the fruit of spiritual sensitivity.
Am I saying you've arrived? Of course not. That's not the point - none of us can say that, and God isn't expecting us to. Not yet.
So let's not give up on the battle plan against specific sins (Rom 6:1-2). But in spite of more work needed, you are not hostile ground. You are good soil and his Spirit is already at work. His work is, on many days, to dig up stuff that doesn't belong, to throw out stuff that will get in his way, and to burn away stuff that can only hinder what he's planning to do. You are, I would guess, more aware of your sin and failings today than you have probably ever been in your life. And that is clearly because the Spirit is digging in you, unsettling the dust, preparing for seeds to sprout.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard... (Colossians 1:21-23)
His work is to make you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. Your work is simply to believe he can, and that he will. That is gospel faith. And this faith will keep you close to him, trusting his love, power, and wisdom.
Claim it: Think about whether or not you might be able to pray this prayer: Dig me up and plant your seed. If you think you can honestly and sincerely pray that prayer, just say those seven words to God whenever you think of it.
And then pay attention over the next few weeks. The seeds he plants are spiritual seeds like faith, hope, love, joy, peace, humility, etc. Which ones do you get the sense he is planting in you? And what kind of digging and pruning needs to continue to let those seeds flourish?