This section of the scripture goes right to the heart of walking in the spirit and it is essential to understand what it says and then how to apply it in your life.
In the previous verses we saw a great discussion on the difference between walking in the spirit and walking in the flesh. It all boils down to what you have your mind, which is your spirit, set on. If you focus on the physical things of this world and allow the frustrations, anxieties, fears or even the pleasures of this world to be foremost in your thinking, then your mind is set on the flesh. And when your mind is set on the flesh it is not aligned with the spirit of God.
As it says, to set the mind on the flesh is death but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6). So if you want life AND peace you must learn how to set your mind on the things of the spirit, AND how to keep it there. This is the focus of these two verses today so let us look at how we achieve the path to life and peace by walking in the spirit.
The mind of the flesh
One of the key challenges we all face, Christian or not is how to focus our mind on what is important. To a Christian it is about focussing on the things of the spirit so that we are able to walk in the spirit and thus be in sync with Christ and with God.
Despite our best attempts we will all have thoughts pop into our minds that are not what we want. We all think bad things from time to time. It may be remembering something from our past that upsets us, it may be something someone has said or done that irritates us, it may be a particular weakness we have that would lead us astray or it may be something that comes up during a conversation or any of a myriad of other things.
The challenge we were born into and we live in this physical world with all of the temptations, evil, sin, fears and problems associated with being a citizen of planet earth. As a result we do have a mind that is often focussed on the things of this earth and they are not always the best things we can or should be concentrating on.
And God knows all of this. Do not think for one moment that God expects you to come to Christ and the all of a sudden, BAM! Overnight you are perfect! It just ain’t gonna happen that way, as much as we wish it would!
However God DOES want us to come to perfection for Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:48.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So if God wants us to become perfect, knowing full well we begin in the imperfection of sin and have no way to overcome sin by ourselves, then He needed to establish the process and the path by which perfection becomes achievable. He did this through the death of Jesus for the removal of sin and release from the law. This gets rid of the first roadblock…sin. But it does nothing to change the nature of man.
Jesus’ death and sacrifice for us is the most wonderful thing that God ever did because it gave us the opportunity to be reconciled to God and to return to His fold. But it did not rid us of the imperfections in our nature that lead us to sin.
His death took away sin and removed the penalty of sin in the future by setting us apart from the law. This lays the foundation and the starting point for the ongoing walk with Christ that leads us into the place of perfection. We have perfection by faith in Jesus Christ for if your sin is removed and the law that convicts you of sin is also removed then you can no longer be convicted of sin. And if you cannot be convicted of sin then you are not a sinner and therefore perfect…but only through faith.
However God wants us to be like Him. He wants us to be perfect in thought and deed so that we do not rely on His grace every time we fall down, but we do the fright thing all the time and every time. He wants His love to be our nature just as love is His nature.
This requires a massive transformation to take us out of the place of being subject to the human passions and desires of the flesh to being in control and walking in the spirit and in love in accordance with the nature of God.mthat is why God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Why God gives the Holy Spirit
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to do this transformation in us. His primary job in the working of this new covenant is to take our evil, human, weak spirits and minds and transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, which is the image of God and is fulfilled in love.
This work of transformation is what walking in the spirit is all about. Walking in the spirit is learning the way to be transformed. And we see that it is not our job to transform ourselves, but it is the work of the spirit as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
This is how the Holy Spirit does this work of transformation in us. It is not a “big bang” and you are immediately changed. It is done by slow incremental steps and changes. We are transformed in small degrees, one degree at a time according to a plan that the spirit has for us and which He is following to bring us to completion in the perfection of Jesus Christ in due course.
We must also realise that the plan for transformation will be different in everyone because every person is different. Some people may have obvious weaknesses like smoking, alcoholism, drugs, porn and so on that the spirit needs to deal with immediately before He can deal with other issues.
Some may have deeper underlying issues like lack of self esteem, fear, and addictive personality which the Holy Spirit determines must be dealt with before some of the outer and more obvious issues are worked on. This is why we must not judge other Christians harshly if it seems they are succumbing to temptations too. It may be that the Holy Spirit is resolving an underlying root cause that we cannot see that is leading to a bad behaviour we can see. And once the root cause is resolved the outer behaviour may simply go away.
So God gives the Holy Spirit to work in us and on us so as to gradually and slowly transform us into perfection. It is His work and we need to get out of the way and let him do it. Which does not mean we don’t have a role to play in the work of transformation. And that brings us right back to the focus of these two scriptures in Romans 8:12-13.
How to walk in the Spirit
Our role in the work of transformation is to recognise our problems and hand them over to the Holy Spirit or to the Lord to fix. Our role is to set our minds on the things of the spirit and to take our minds off the things of the flesh.
So how do we do this. Well let’s look at the two verses here.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Note verse 13 and in particular the second half of it. “…if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
The most important word in this verse is the first use of the word…YOU. If YOU put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power and working of the Holy Spirit you will live. YOU have a role in this process because when the passions and desires that lead to the evil actions, behaviours or deeds of the flesh rise up in you, it is up to YOU to hand them over to the Spirit to put them to death.
Quite simple actually. In fact nothing in the Lord or the working of the new covenant is difficult for God has so designed His processes to enable anyone and everyone to be able to follow His path successfully. He wants you and I to succeed and so He made it simple for us.
This is how. When an evil thought, passion, desire, feeling or whatever rises up in us we need to change our minds to focus on something good instead. We need to replace the thought with something better to overcome the evil intent in our minds that would lead to evil actions if allowed to take control of us.
Now the quickest and best way to do this is to pray in tongues. And yes I am aware many people do not have the gift of tongues and I am saying here and now that they need to seek this gift through the receiving of the Holy Spirit and learning what the spirit is given for, including this gift.
Don’t get me wrong here. A person does not necessarily need the gift of the Holy Spirit or tongues to be saved and gain entry into the presence of God. However, without receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit gift from God you cannot come into the full perfection that is offered in the new covenant. The only path to perfection is through the receiving of the Holy Spirit for it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of transformation from one degree of glory to another as noted in the 2 Corinthians 3:18 verse quoted above.
Now, when an evil thought, passion or desire comes up in your mind, the best way to attack and capture that thought immediately is to begin speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is a form of prayer and praise to God where the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf to the Father for our benefit. He goes directly to the Father on our behalf and defines the problem and offers the solution by changing our thinking.
When we speak in tongues we are handing the issue over to the spirit in the best way possible for we are using the Holy Spirit to combat and fight the spiritual war against our own mind and flesh. What better way to fight a war in the spirit than to use the sword of the spirit! And by doing this we are doing exactly what paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Here paul describes walking in the spirit perfectly.
We live in this world as humans in the flesh. But the war we are waging is one of the spirit and the battleground is in the minds and spirits of ourselves. So the weapons of warfare must be spiritual. We must use the sword of the spirit to fight and overcome, and speaking in tongues is the best of those weapons provided by the Holy Spirit to believers…and yes it is available to everyone, not just a select few. And it is the lofty or proud thoughts we have in ourselves and the humans, fleshly passions and desires of our minds that are the thoughts we capture and destroy by the power of the Holy Spirit. How? We replace those evil thoughts with thoughts that are good and so take every thought captive to obey Christ.
This is obedience to the truth of Jesus Christ and the word of God. And as we do this over and over again, each time an evil thought, feelin, passion, desire or whatever comes into our minds, over time the Holy Spirit removes these thoughts so that we no longer think them. They are removed and we are transformed incrementally into the image of Jesus Christ.
Now, I said that speaking in tongues is the best way to do this, but it is not the only way. You can pray or read scripture or meditate on the word or sing or listen to uplifting songs or go out into the garden and be inspired or awestruck by the wonder of God’s creation. There are other ways to replace the evil thoughts that would tear you down that come into your mind. Philippians 4:8-9 has some other excellent examples.
8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
All of these things are ways to walk in the spirit and some are more effective than others for different people. Each of them though has the same purpose…to replace evil thoughts with good thoughts so that your mind is no longer set on the flesh but is focussed on the spirit.
This is the essence of walking in the spirit. This is the basic process of transformation by which we are being changed into the image of Jesus Christ. And this work of transformation is being done by the Holy Spirit as YOU trigger the process by handing the matter over to the Holy Spirit by one of these methods so as to take every thought captive to obey Christ.
(Photo sourced from freeimages.com taken by Steve Roberts)
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