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. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 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, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Paul begins this verse by describing the unregenerate person who lives according to their fleshly desires and passions. He provides a more detailed description in Philippians:
For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
To set the mind on the flesh means to think continually about and constantly desire the things characteristic of fallen, sinful human nature, that is, to think just the way the unbelieving world thinks, emphasizing what it thinks important, pursuing what it pursues, in disregard of God’s will.1
In contrast, the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. The believer has been reconciled to God and now has the freedom to think in a manner that is pleasing to God. The mind once dominated by sinful desires is now focused on spiritual truths and spiritual purposes.
It is still our responsibility to set our minds on the Spirit. This does not happen without a deliberate decision followed by action. If we are going to set our minds on the Spirit, we must be absorbed with spiritual truth, that is, the Word of God.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
God has graciously made it possible for us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. While God makes it possible, He also expects us to develop the appropriate disciplines. It is not a complicated task, but it must be consistently maintained. Failure to discipline your mind for the purpose of godliness will, by default, lead to sinful thinking.
The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace,
Because he trusts in You.
1Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2170). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles
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