Don't be a zombie | Romans 8:5-6
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6
To "live according to the Spirit" isn't quite how it sounds. This isn't talking about the "living" that you do each day from moment to moment by making a series of choices. In this case, "living" is the condition you are in because God has united himself to you, and he is Life itself. To "live according to the Spirit" means something closer to "be alive according to the Spirit." To be alive in the Spirit's way, which is eternal and good and full and free and abundant.
On the other hand, to "live according to the flesh" means that a person is alive in their flesh only. Their spirit is dead to God, does not know God, has no interest in God, is unable to feel what God feels (v.7-8). There's nothing they can do about it, because they are dead. Their flesh is alive, they live according to it, and the life of the fallen flesh is temporary, full of fear, hunger, depletion, craving the things of the world, which are also dead, and subject to death.
In literature and movies, this dead-life (life according to the flesh) is portrayed by zombies, vampires, goblins - creatures that are alive in that they move and eat, but whose lives are dead. They are not life-giving. They are not seeking life. They feed on and thrive on death.
"Living according to the Spirit" is a fixed status. It doesn't come and go. It's permanent, as the life of God himself is permanent.
And it's decided. It's not subject to your will, or your accomplishment or success, but to God's will, and his accomplishment and success. He has chosen to give you spiritual life, and so you do have spiritual life. You always will. Now that he has breathed life into your spirit by the word of the gospel and united you to Jesus by faith, you will never not live again. It's eternal life. You will always, for the rest of forever, live according to the Spirit. This is extremely good news. Your life is on a path to total spiritual - and physical - renewal because God has decided it will be so. He's said, in essence, "Let there be life." And in you there now is and always will be, life.
However, you do still make choices. This is the living you choose from day to day, your life's walk. Obviously, this isn't a fixed condition. It changes every day.
There are days when you choose to live according to the Spirit. That feels good because it brings your body into the Life of God that your spirit now enjoys. And of course there are days when you live - you act, walk, think, choose - according to the flesh even though that is not your condition. You're living like you're dead, even though you're not.
Your sin doesn't kill you each time you give in. You're still alive, even when you live like a spiritual zombie, lurking around in the darkness, feeding on death.
BUT (KEY POINT) THAT'S WHY SIN HURTS SO BAD.
People who are dead in their spirits can't feel that pain. They are spiritually dead people being poked by sin's red-hot tongs and it doesn't really phase them.
But if you are ALIVE and you make a choice for sin (which is a choice for death) it's going to hurt like hell. Literally. Imagine living for a day like a zombie. Yuck. That's how sin feels to a born-again believer in Christ. Don't expect to enjoy it.
This is the agony Paul describes in Romans 7:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me...
I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus... (Rom 7:15-8:1)
The Spirit has given you life and so you are living. Next, he has moved into your life and is living in you, with you. There, in that shack of death we call your body, live your spirit and the Spirit of God together. The Spirit of God transforms and teaches your spirit as you live together in the rotting shack. Sometimes it's a happy life together, learning, discovering, enjoying God's presence. Life and peace, as Paul says.
But sometimes your spirit sneaks off into corners of the shack and scrapes up something to do that isn't "according to" the Spirit's life. And immediately you know it. You can see your hands and feet and eyes and mouth (your "members") acting in ways that are dead. And it hurts your heart. Your spirit aches and winces.
That pain is the presence of the Spirit there with you, controlling your spirit, grieving with you, and teaching and causing you to grieve with him. He isn't glaring at you, or judging you. There is no condemnation. He's aching with you. He's also leading your spirit - the part of you that now feels because it is alive - to govern your flesh. As the Spirit disciples your spirit, your spirit begins to rise up and take charge - take dominion! - over the flesh. When this happens, you start living differently. You bring your dying flesh into tandem and harmony with your living spirit. And living doesn't hurt quite so much, because you're not being torn in two opposite directions.
In spite of the sorrow your sin causes God, this is why he has moved in, precisely for moments like this. He knows what he's doing.
If you think he's just standing there, doing nothing while you slink away to feed your flesh on death, you're wrong. Why doesn't he step in and take your hands and feet and stop you? Because by God's design, they're an extension of your soul. He wants you to do it, because that is the end goal. That will vindicate his justice in not condemning you.
He is there to revive and control your spirit, where all your actions pour from.
He has already taken control by saying, "Let there be life" to your spirit. You are already alive, apart from your own will or power. Now he's continuing that resurrection by commanding your spirit to live according to the Spirit, in this case, to ache over the sin you just committed. He knows that by controlling your spirit, he will gain control of your body as well. But this takes time - and he is patient.
He says things like, "Love." "Believe." "Persevere." "Desire me."
And yes, even, "Forgive."
Don't fight this powerful spiritual process; give in to the Spirit's control of your spirit and don't demand he do it another way because he won't. He wants this fellowship with you, to partner with you as you and he together take dominion over your tiny piece of the creation - your own body.
When you sin, and it hurts, thank him for being there to guide you with that pain. Thank him for life that feels the pain of sin. Thank him for being with you in the middle of it. And keep going.
He loves you with a love that changes things. HIS LOVE WORKS.
Claim it: It's appropriate to apologize to God for your sin. But when you do, don't separate yourself from him. The purpose of repentance and forgiveness is to be together again, to restore the relationship. So, with your repentance, make eye contact with him again. Let him back into your soul. Enter back into his. Believe that he wants this with you, even though you're sinful. Learn to repent in a way that ends in rejoicing and peace.