Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desire. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace … Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit … (verses 5-6, 8-9)
We had a horribly memorable experience while living in a 1940s house several years back. The kitchen nook had a crawl space underneath, open to the outside. One winter day, a local rat found its way to the nicely warm hot water pipes that ran under our floor to the radiator situated under the window. It nestled itself between the pipe and floor boards to get warm, but in the process got thoroughly stuck, indeed mercilessly trapped, then died and started the process of decomposition, right under our floor. Of course our furnace kept heating the water and sending it to the radiator, further cooking the bloated rat, exacerbating the problem.
Oblivious to all this drama, we simply experienced the smell! It was horrendous. It started gradually, but soon became overwhelming, propelling me on a frantic search to discover its source. I found it quickly enough, but extraction was a further problem. Enough said.
Contrast that putrid odour with the delicious aroma of my wife’s gourmet cooking which soon filled the kitchen once again, spilling into the rest of the house. I’d go for the latter over the former any day!
Paul says the same options exist in our mind. It is possible to allow elements of the sinful nature to get lodged there - lust, greed, bitterness, anger, hatred, jealousy, discord - which then become bloated, putrid and overwhelming. These things are hostile to God’s law, disconnecting us from God himself, sapping our peace, and ultimately leading to death. The smell is horrendous. Though perhaps not at first. We may begin simply with the sweet comfort of nestling in alongside those fleshly thoughts, replaying images of impurity or rancour or past offence or present envy or covetous greed or whatever, finding appeal in the viewing. But don’t go there, Paul says. “The mind of sinful man is death” (verse 6) and the putrid smell grows.
Instead, set your mind on things of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Set your mind on his mission (to make Christ known), on his compassion for people (seeking the lost), on his calling in your own life (carrying out the good works God prepared in advance for you to do). Submit to his purposes. Rejoice in his joys. Follow his leading. “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (verse 6), a refreshing fragrance.
It doesn’t happen automatically, which is why Paul needs to urge us in the Spirit’s direction. But neither is it an impossible struggle. “You … are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit” (verse 9). “Therefore … we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature” (verse 12). Paul has already told us that we were once “controlled by the sinful nature” but now “we have been released … so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit” (Romans 7:5-6). We have freedom to be enveloped in the Spirit’s presence. Amen!
So, press on in his way. “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Set your mind on what the Spirit desires. Rejoice in the fragrance.
Holy Spirit, I choose to submit my mind afresh to your purposes, your ways, your delights. Nudge me in the ribs every time my thoughts stray back to the old ways of the sinful nature. Increase my aversion to that vile smell. Strengthen me in my inner being to take captive every thought, making it obedient to Christ. Give me joy in filling my mind with your fragrance. To Jesus’ glory. Amen.
Memorize: Take the first phrase of verse 9 and work at it all day, committing it to memory. “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” Embrace this reality. Lean into the Spirit to experience its truth.