Once we are transformed by the renewal of our mind, how do we keep it that way? The Apostle Paul wrote,

Romans 7:14-25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if what I am not willing to do, this I am doing, I agree that the law is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the desire is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if what I do not want to do, this I am doing, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the law in me that when I want to do right, that evil is present in me. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive in the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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.

We have two laws mentioned here in verse 23, (1) the law of the mind (desire to obey God’s law) and (2) the law of sin that dwells in my members (the inner desire that wars against the law of the mind). A law is a rule of conduct that controls a person. The law of the mind is what we have left from our perfect parents Adam before they decided to rebel. The law of sin is from the same parents, but after they rebelled. It is like inheriting one good trait and one bad trait. Whichever one is cultivated this one will control us. Therefore, we need to cultivate the law of the mind. This is not the old mind, but rather the renewed mind. In other words, we have come out of the world of humankind that is dominated by the mindset of Satan, into having the mind of Christ by way of accurate of full knowledge (Gr, epignosis). We have a new way of thinking, which controls the way we feel and believe, resulting in new behaviors. Our new mind is now what should control our new self. However, the conflict comes in because we now have a new mind in an old body and brain. We are in an imperfect state, and the law of sin is seeking to control our behavior, just as the law of the mind is doing the same. That is why there are times, when we fall victim to the law of sin, even though the law of the mind wanted no such thing. (The Pillar New Testament Commentary is a little deeper that the Holman New Testament Commentary that we have been using. Nevertheless, if we take our time, all will be well.) On Romans 7:14-25, Leon Morris writes,

14. This verse marks the change from the past tense so common in the previous section to the present, which is equally characteristic of the verses to which we now come. As we have already noticed, the most natural way of understanding this is to see it as pointing to Paul’s present experience. He begins with We know, an appeal to knowledge shared with his correspondents. He does have a “for”81 (which NIV omits), which gives a reason for the foregoing (cf. 8:22). He proceeds to characterize the law as spiritual, a term which clearly signifies a highly desirable quality, but one not easy to define with precision. It seems best to connect it with the Holy Spirit rather than the human spirit and to understand the expression to refer to the law’s “divine origin and character” (Murray). It certainly sets the law with God over against man, as the following words show. Paul contrasts himself with the law. I am unspiritual is better rendered as “I am carnal” (presumably NIV avoided the old-fashioned word; the term certainly does not mean “unspiritual”).84 It draws attention to the physical life, though it is not confined to the physical (though Goodspeed translates “I am physical”). As Robinson puts it, “Man qua sarx is man viewed in his difference and distance from God, man left to his own weakness and mortality” (p. 90). Paul is not saying that there is a problem with his body as though differentiating the body from the essential self. He is referring to his “own unaided human nature”, to quote Robinson again. The expression points to the weakness of mankind and to the sin we so easily commit because we are weak. Paul recognizes the divine origin and the excellence of the law, he knows that constant obedience to the law is the way he should live, but he also knows that owing to the weakness of his fallen human nature he does not always do what he should.

He brings that out by saying that he is sold as a slave to sin. The imagery is that of a slave market. Paul regards himself as sold “under” sin, which is more than NIV’s sold to. It means that he is “under” sin’s control. This is a vivid way of bringing out the truth that Paul sins, though he does not want to. It does not mean that he never does the right, but is a strong expression for his inability to do the right as he would like to. Calvin brings out the paradox: “It would not be sin if it were not voluntary. We are, however, so addicted to sin, that we can do nothing of our own accord but sin.” The passive means that Paul is carried off by sin, not that he sold himself to sin, as Ahab did (1 Kings 21:20). He still desires to do the right, which is not true of the person who abandons himself to evil. Every earnest Christian advances in goodness, but he cannot arrive at perfection. Why not? Because he is sold under sin. There is that about him (he is “carnal”) which prevents him from being the perfect being he would like to be.

15. Once again Paul uses “for” (which NIV omits) to advance his argument. It indicates that what follows is related to the preceding; it explains something of what it means to be sold under sin. Paul says, I do not understand what I do. The verb translated understand may point to Paul’s perplexity as to why he does evil though he earnestly wants to do good.89 Or the word may be used in the sense “acknowledge” or “approve” (cf. “the Lord knows the way of the righteous”, Ps. 1:6, RSV). Or he may be carrying on the imagery of slavery. The slave does what he is told to do. He does not know the reason for it or where the action leads, or even what the action means in itself. This is the case of Paul vis-à-vis sin. He goes on to affirm that it is not what he wills that he does but91 what he hates. He does not say that he is not responsible; he himself does it. That is the problem. It is not that he never does good or that his doing of evil is habitual. But there is no reason for concern over a good action, whereas sin is always a problem for the servant of God. Paul is concentrating on the problem area. Slavery helps him bring out what is involved. He is not completely free, and the sin he commits shows that he is in some sense a slave. He finds sin too powerful and too much in control to resist at all times. “Only the hypothesis of slavery explains his acts” (Denney).

16. Consequences flow from Paul’s good intentions. His if construction implies that the condition has been fulfilled—“if, as is the case”. The fact that he is doing what he does not want to do shows that he is not in theory opposing the law. He is for it. He agrees95 with it. The construction is elliptical, and we should supply something like “and thus I testify” that it is good. Barclay translates “fair”, but this is not the meaning. Paul’s word can mean “beautiful”; it “suggests the moral beauty or nobility of the law” (Denney). The law is fair, certainly. But that is not what Paul is saying. He is asserting that it is fundamentally good; it is morally beautiful. Paul’s very good intentions tell us something about the goodness of the law.

17. As it is paraphrases Paul’s “But now”, where his “now” is logical rather than temporal; “Now, in the light of my endorsement of the law.…” The fact that it is his view that the law is good shows that it is not the real Paul who does it. He does not define it, but in the context he is undoubtedly referring to the sin that the law forbids, the “what I do not want to do” of verse 16. On the contrary, “the dwelling in me sin” does it.98 Sin is pictured as having taken up residence in Paul. This is not the honored guest, nor the paying tenant, but the “squatter”, not legitimately there, but very difficult to eject. Paul is personifying sin again; it is in some sense a separate entity, even though it is within him. But it is not external to him. This sin that lives in him, though it is not the real Paul, is what produces the acts which the real Paul hates so much. Sin is out of character for the believer, even though it is so difficult to be rid of it entirely.

18. Verses 18–20 repeat verses 14–17, more or less. Certainly the vocabulary and the thoughts are much the same. But in the earlier section Paul is saying basically that he cannot stop doing things of which he disapproves, whereas in these verses he cannot carry into action things of which he approves. He has just said that sin lives in him, and now he carries this further with I know that nothing good lives in me. This requires qualification, for he has been saying that he approves the law (v. 16). So he explains it as “in my flesh” (NIV, in my sinful nature). We should not understand this of “the lower self” in contrast with “the higher self” or “the mind”, etc. It is rather man as fallen. Brunner sees “on the one side an irrational flesh, on the other an ineffectual law of reason.” Reason is no match for desire. Flesh is not inherently sinful, but it is weak and thus not able to do the good Paul approves. Käsemann considers it “the workshop of sin” (p. 205). Some see Paul’s view as akin to the Jewish view of the good and the evil inclination (yetser). There is, of course, something in this, but with the important difference that for Paul “It is ‘sin’ which is the enemy, not the ‘evil impulse’ ” (Black). He is not repeating a commonplace of Judaism. To will, he says, is present with him, but to do the good, No.102 What he does is never completely what he wants to do.

19. Paul states again the dilemma of the man who wants to do good and cannot. “For not what I will, I do, a good thing, but on the contrary, what I do not will, a bad thing, this I do.” The first negative precedes the entire clause and negates the whole, whereas the second is in the normal place before the verb and negates the verb only. This probably has no profound effect. But Paul is saying emphatically that he wills to do good but does not do it, while he does not will to do evil but in fact does it. Luther borrows an illustration from horseback riding: “It is as with a rider: When his horse does not trot exactly as he wishes, it is he and yet not he that causes it to trot as it does. For the horse is not without him nor he without the horse.”

20. The thought of verse 17 is repeated. Paul’s if clause implies that the condition has been fulfilled—“if, as is the case”. There is no doubt about his doing what he does not want to do. Again, his no longer implies that formerly he had done this. But things being what they are, it is the indwelling sin that brings about the evil action. Paul’s will is not behind it. He is not saying that he is not responsible; after all, it is his action. He is saying that he is no careless or audacious sinner. His will is firmly in opposition to evil, and that is to be borne in mind in assessing the situation.

21. So leads us to the logical consequence. Paul sums up with a “law” which has caused some difference of opinion. Most take it in the sense “principle” (NEB) or “rule” (JB), but others think the law of Moses is meant, as Moffatt, “So this is my experience of the Law …” (cf. RV mg. “I find then in regard of the law …”). Either is possible, but it seems more likely that Paul has in mind the law which he later calls “the law of sin” (v. 23). This is more than simply an observed sequence, as in the way we might speak of “a law of nature”. Throughout this passage Paul has in mind the compulsion to do evil, and that will be his meaning also when he speaks of the “law” he has now found (Hodge speaks of a “controlling principle”, and SH of “the coercion of the will”). His nature, so to speak, obeys this “law”. I find puts this as a discovery. It is not something that Paul lays down as his presupposition, but a conclusion he has reached from a study of the facts. There is some emphasis on the fact that the self-same “I” has both these opposite experiences. Paul insists that he has the will to do good. But the trouble is that evil is right there with me. He cannot escape it.

22. For introduces an explanation. He is happy inwardly with the law of God. I delight is a stronger expression than “agree” (v. 16). This rejoicing is in my inner being. Leenhardt regards the expression as “certainly of Hellenistic origin,” and he finds evidence in Plato, Philo, and the hermetical literature. It is a question whether Paul is using the expression here in much the same way as his Hellenistic contemporaries or whether he is referring to the person who has been regenerated. In favor of the former view is the fact that the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in this chapter. Paul is certainly not speaking explicitly of the Spirit’s regenerating work. Further, the apostle goes on to say that he sees “another law” at work warring against “the law of my mind”, and it may well be that we are meant to see this as equivalent to “the inner man”. The objection is that the expression elsewhere refers to the essential being of the believer, the inner life that Christ has brought (2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16). Paul may not be making our distinction here. He doubtless knows that the expression was widely used in the world of his day and that it has a special meaning for Christians. But he may not be referring with precision to either way of using the term. He is contrasting the real Paul, the Paul who is known only in the deep recesses of the man, and who delights in the law of God, with that other Paul who so readily does the sin of which the real Paul does not approve. It is true that the regenerate Paul would abhor that evil, and it is also true that the respectable and intellectual Paul would abominate it. But would the unregenerate delight in the law of God? I doubt it. This leads to the conclusion that if the distinction is in Paul’s mind, then he is referring to the man enlightened by the working of the Spirit of God within him.

23. The real Paul rejoiced in God’s law. He recognized it for what it was and rejoiced accordingly. But obeying it is another thing altogether, and to that he now turns. He sees another law at work within him, which may well signify “a law of a different kind”. This law should be seen as the same as the law of sin, for it is highly unlikely that Paul thinks of two different hostile laws at work within his being. Law will be used in the sense “principle” or “rule of action”, though with the nuance that there is some element of compulsion (he is made prisoner). The law is in, not “of”, my members (NIV supplies at work; it is not in the Greek). Consistently Paul proceeds from his basic position that the body is not evil, though the forces of evil work through it. The “other law” makes war against the law of my mind. The thought of conflict is important. Paul is still fighting. He has not surrendered to the powers of evil. The mind emphasizes the intellectual side of the struggle. Paul is referring to the principle that is operative in his rational nature. But this principle is not victorious. Paul anticipates our modern psychologists in their recognition that there are limits to what reason can do. Paul finds himself made captive by what he has called another law and now proceeds to speak of the law of sin (“the evil principle”, Bruce). This will be the way sin works, but there is also the thought that it exercises sway (Cranfield sees “the power, the authority, the control exercised over us by sin”). Again there is a reference to my members (cf. 6:13, 19; 7:5); the body is that through which sin makes its suggestions.

24. Paul’s deep emotion explodes in the exclamation “Wretched man that I am!” Some object that this is not Paul’s view of himself.116 But the language of this verse is impossibly theatrical if used of someone other than the speaker. The more we advance spiritually the more clearly we see the high standards God sets for his people and the more deeply we deplore the extent of our shortcoming. Paul is surely referring to his own experience. As Robinson well remarks, “One” could not be substituted here for “I” without loss (p. 82). Paul is expressing in forceful terms his dismay at what sin does to him. It is, moreover, important that we understand this as applying to the regenerate. It is all too easy to take our Christian status for granted. We so readily remember our victories and gloss over our defeats. We slip into a routine and refuse to allow ourselves to be disturbed by what we see as occasional and minor slips.117 But a sensitive conscience and a genuine sorrow for every sin are the prerequisites of spiritual depth.

The apostle goes on to ask who will deliver him. The verb denotes deliverance generally, without specifying the mode. In the New Testament it is mostly used by Paul. Paul asks who will deliver him from this body of death, an expression which may also be translated “the body of this death” (NASB).119 Some insist on taking this with death (e.g., SH, Murray); some, indeed, suggest that the emphasis is on “this death” (e.g., Gifford). But it is more likely that “the body of death” is the basic expression, perhaps with something of a Semitic flavor (where there tends to be a multiplication of nouns rather than the use of adjectives). The whole expression is then marked out with “this”.120 Some exegetes take body figuratively; Hodge, for example, translates “the burden of this death” (so Shedd). But in the context it is better to see the word as referring to the physical body, which is characterized by death (cf. 6:12; 8:11). It is itself mortal, and it is that in which sin operates and so brings death to us.

25. The question in verse 24 appears to be a rhetorical one, with the answer “Nobody can” all too apparent. But Paul answers it with the joyful shout Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! The victory is God’s, and he gives it through Christ. It is Paul’s consistent teaching that God in Christ has supplied all our need and will continue to do so (cf. Phil. 4:19). Clearly Paul’s words express gratitude for a present deliverance, but it is likely that they also have eschatological significance. The deliverance we have today is wonderful, but it is partial and incomplete. It is but a first installment of greater things to come, and Paul looks forward to that great day with his burst of thanksgiving.

So then introduces a logical summary of what Paul has been saying. This, then, is what it all adds up to. There is disagreement about this, it is true. Some exegetes feel that the outburst of thanksgiving cannot have been followed by a reference to being a slave to the law of sin. Moffatt accordingly transfers this part of the verse to the end of verse 23, a rearrangement that is accepted by Dodd and others. There is no support for this in the MSS, but Dodd says, “we cannot avoid trusting our own judgment against their evidence”. But it is hazardous to set our view of what Paul ought to have said against all the evidence.124 It is better to view the second half of verse 25 as a summary of the preceding argument before going on to the triumph of chapter 8. As Cranfield puts it, “it sums up with clear-sighted honesty … the tension, with all its real anguish and also all its real hopefulness, in which the Christian never ceases to be involved so long as he is living this present life.” Notice that Paul does not shrug off his responsibility; he does not say that his mind serves God while his flesh serves sin. He uses the emphatic pronoun “I”. It is what he has been saying all along. While there is that in him which approves God’s way there is that in him also which follows the paths of sin.[1]

Because we are ‘mentally bent’ toward the wickedness that dwells within us (Gen. 6:5; 8:21), there is an ongoing battle once we have renewed our mind. If we are to beat down these desires to the point of real self-control, we must feed our renewed mind continually with accurate knowledge from Scripture. (Col. 3:9-10) Head knowledge alone is not enough, we have to channel that head knowledge down into our figurative heart, the seat of motivation. In other words, we need to cultivate good mental habits, like telling the truth, as opposed to the bad habit of telling a lie. The habit of being honest instead of being dishonest is cultivated by repetition. This is the way we truly develop a law of the mind. We get to the point that as we contemplate a dishonest move, a screaming internal alarm will go off, the conscience, telling us to abort.

1 Timothy 6:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who consider godliness to be a means of gain.

2 Timothy 3:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disapproved in regard to the faith.

As you can see from the Apostle Paul, it is the truth of God’s Word (a product of Holy Spirit), which renews the mind, as well as keeping the mind renewed. However, if we start to doubt that truth because we deprive ourselves of constant replenishments, we can end up opposing the truth. This results in our being depraved and corrupted in mind, like a computer that is infected with a virus. Thus, our spiritual wellbeing, as well as our eternal life is completely dependent on what we feed our mind on.

Romans 8:5-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

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 setting the mind on the flesh is death, but setting the mind on the spirit is life and peace because setting the mind on the flesh means enmity toward God, for it is not subjected to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

While it is perfectly fine to study what Bible critics have to say, or arguments that the atheist and agnostic might raise (for evangelistic purposes); it is not fine to do it without first preparing the mind to do battle. If we feed our minds with corruptive thinking, without having the ability to defend against it, we will end up with a deprived and corrupted mind. Leon Morris writes,

5. Verses 5–8 form a closely knit section, with a series of conjunctions tying the various members together. “For” (which NIV omits) connects it with the previous words; Paul is now about to cite evidence to support what he has just said. In verse 4 Paul had spoken of walking “according to the flesh”; there is a slight change now when he refers to those who “are according to the flesh”, but there is not much difference in meaning. The expression he uses here perhaps conveys a hint at what these people are rather than what they do, but we should not press this. Paul still has in mind that those whose lives are dominated by “flesh” are strongly opposed to the things of God. His list of “the works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19–21 shows that we must not think only of gross sensuality, for Paul includes such things as enmity, jealousy, and anger. There are many ways of manifesting a disposition that is confined to the flesh. Those in the flesh, he now says, have their minds set on the things of the flesh. They are preoccupied with the flesh; they concentrate on the flesh to the exclusion of all else. It is this verb that Jesus uses of Peter when that apostle rebuked him at Caesarea Philippi, “your mind is not set on the things of God but the things of men” (Matt. 16:23). Peter was not being desperately wicked, but he was looking at things from a completely worldly point of view. Paul is saying something of the sort about fleshly people. They may have good intentions, but their horizon is bounded by the things of this life. The flesh is the focus of their whole life. And because they are concentrating on this fleshly life, they cut themselves off from the blessings Christ offers.

Paul has a corresponding saying about those who “are according to the Spirit.” Such people are not intermittently interested in the things of the Spirit; their whole being centers on them. What the Spirit does is their absorbing interest. We should not understand this as a self-centered concentration on the piece of Christian work in which they are engaged. It is rather a delighted contemplation of what the Spirit does wherever the Spirit chooses to move. It is the very opposite of a concentration on oneself, even on the service one renders to God.

6. The significance of Paul’s “For” here is not as obvious as that of the one at the head of the previous verse (Lagrange and Boylan find it difficult). Probably, as Cranfield puts it, “it is intended as explanation of the opposition between the Spirit and the flesh presupposed in v. 5.” The apostle changes his form of expression slightly when he speaks of the mind of the flesh. The thought is of a thoroughgoing concentration on the flesh, the things that pertain to this life. This, Paul says starkly, is death (so RSV). There is no verb in the Greek, but NIV seems to have the meaning with is. GNB reads “results in death”, NEB “spells death”, and Moffatt “mean death”. But Paul does not seem to be referring to the consequences of having the mind of the flesh. He is saying that to be bounded by the flesh is itself death. It is a cutting off of oneself from the life that is life indeed.

The opposite of the mind that is death is “the mind of the Spirit”, which, Paul says, “is life and peace.” Again the thought is of thorough going concentration. When the things of God dominate one’s outlook, when one is constantly responsive to the direction of the Spirit, then there is life. This is the opposite of the death that concentration on the flesh means. Just as the flesh brings death, so the Spirit brings life. But Paul does not leave the antithesis there. The believer has peace as well as life. Paul spoke earlier of peace with God (5:1), but there is general agreement that this is not what he has in mind here. It will be the basis of the peace he now deals with, for without peace with God there could not be the life and peace which the Spirit brings. This peace will mean the enjoyment of all that reconciliation with God means, a peace that pervades the whole of life and cannot be dispelled by the conflicts life brings. We are reminded of the way Paul so constantly links peace with grace in his salutations.

7. Again this verse is linked to the preceding, this time with because. We have been told that “the mind of the flesh is death” (v. 6), and now we find that it is “enmity” towards God. It is not simply being slightly uncooperative; it is downright hostility. It means being in the opposite camp, refusing to be subject to God’s law. “In withdrawing from God,” Brunner writes, “I eliminate him so far as I am concerned. I am hostile to him.” Paul explains the hostility in that this “mind” does not submit to God’s law. The implication is that it ought to do this. That is the common lot of man. God has given his law so that people may know what is right and submit to it. But the person whose general bent is towards the things of this earth, fleshly things, the person dominated by his fallenness, is by that very fact rebellious against God’s law. Indeed, Paul says, such a mind cannot submit to God. By definition it is set on a contrary course. There is no possibility that anyone will at the same time set the course of his life on the merely fleshly and be obedient to God. This does not mean being horribly and blatantly wicked. Bowen quotes Bernard of Clairvaux: “So far from being able to answer for my sins, I cannot even answer for my righteousness!” People may do good with completely wrong motives; they may try to “gain control over God by paying Him His fee.” Bernard was concerned lest his good deeds be tainted by self-seeking motives, a danger to which we are all subject.

8. There is disagreement on the way we should understand the link with the previous verse. AV has “so then”, Godet suggests “and on the other hand”, Barrett “It follows that”, Cranfield simply “and”; many, like NIV, simply omit the connective. It seems that Paul is just carrying on the argument, so that “and” is as good an understanding as any. This verse rounds off this section of the argument with the flat statement: “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” This repeats what Paul has just said with some small alterations. The apostle is still concerned that those whose interests are earth-bound cut themselves off from fellowship with God and from the blessings that follow. To be wholly involved in this life is to make it impossible to please God.[2]

Philippians 3:18-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, and they have their minds on earthly things.

Satan uses many tools against the new Christian, or the Christian that is weak, because they are not prepared. One of these is the distortion of the truth. These can come from false Christianity, other religions, atheists, agnostics, and so on. Most of this distortion is designed to get us to call into question the heavenly truth that we have learned, by getting our mind focused on earthly things. They replace the sovereignty of God, with the sovereignty of self. Max Anders writes,

3:18. The apostle with great emotional anguish described the reality of life. Many did not follow the example of Christ or Paul. He labels such people enemies of the cross of Christ. The Christ way is a cross way, a suffering way. The enemies’ way is a pride way, a self-achievement way, a way of present perfection. It never leads to suffering.

3:19. The enemies’ way or philosophy of life has a different focus, a different goal, a different source of pride, and a different result. Paul describes these somewhat ironically, giving double meaning to his words. At the same time, he wrote against Jews who emphasized achieving perfection by obeying the laws, he also had in mind Greeks and Romans who threw off all restraints and lived very sensual lives. Their emphasis was on the physical and the material. These people were called “antinomians” (against the law) as they were against any rules or laws. They wanted to live in complete freedom of any restraints on their physical desires.

Contrary to the gospel of Christ Paul preached, the enemies focus on their stomach or their own physical desires rather than on God. From a Greek perspective such a focus is purely physical. Thus, in practice, their physical desires have become their god. From a Jewish perspective, the stomach represents food allowed or not allowed by Jewish food laws. Their god has become self-protection from ritual pollution, thus the preservation of their self-perceived perfection.

Their goal is earthly things. For the Greeks these are things that give prominence and pleasure in this life. For the Jew, these are rules, regulations, and rituals humans have devised on earth trying to please God in heaven.

They glory or take pride in shame. For the Greek such shame would be meaningless rituals for all their gods, rituals often involving sexual practices and prostitution. For the Jew such shame would be in their attention to the “shameful” body parts, namely their preoccupation with circumcision as a requirement for perfection with God. All such pride is misplaced, for it centers on human achievement. For Paul all glory is in Christ and what he has done (3:3). Thus Jew and Greek faced a destiny of destruction. Instead of winning the prize and participating in resurrection, they would face eternal hell.

If you have become a Christian, Satan, the evil one, has lost the battle for your soul. [This author would say your life. We do not possess a soul we are souls. As Genesis 2:7 says, Adam became a soul, God did not give him one. For more on this, see the book cited below.][3] He seeks to distort your Christian walk with false doctrine opposed to the teachings of the Bible. In many cases, Satan uses unsaved people to tempt and lead Christians astray. They will show you a different way to the salvation Paul preached, a way that avoids the cross and satisfies the human appetite. Such a way leads to the destruction of hell. [This author would agree with Anders again. There is no hell, a place of fiery torment. God said to Adam, if you eat of the tree, you will die, Ezekiel tells us the soul that sins will die, and Paul says the wages of sin is death.][4] So every person faces the decision: Paul’s way and resurrection or the human way and hell.[5]

Colossians 1:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your minds, doing evil works, 22 yet 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, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

At one time, we were enemies of God, by way of our mind. At that time, our mindset, out attitude, our thinking was contrary to God. If we stumble by taking in distortions that we have not prepared ourselves to cope with, we can become hostile in mind once more, even to the point of being beyond repentance that is the desire to repent. Max Anders writes,

1:21–22. This concept of reconciliation is not just a universal theory; it is a personal truth. Jesus’ death allows God’s enemy to become God’s friend. Before the miracle of reconciliation, the Colossians, and all unbelievers, were at odds with God. We were alienated, that is we were separated, estranged. We were alone, an outsider, exiled, shut out, cut off, locked out. Ephesians 2:11–12 gives us another sad perspective on our estranged position before reconciliation.

Paul then tells us we were once God’s enemies in two ways. First, we were enemies in [our] minds. Our thoughts and our attitudes were hostile to God. Before we trusted Christ, our entire way of thinking was contrary to God’s. For us, and for those who have yet to be reconciled, the problem was and is simple. We refused to accept God’s evaluation of us as being sinners. We would also not accept God’s remedy for the situation—dependence on Christ.

Second, we were enemies in [our deeds], because of [our] evil behavior. It’s not just that we thought wrong; we also acted wrong. Despite our active opposition to God, he reconciled us through the death of Jesus. Jesus died for a race of rebels to offer them a chance to become his allies.

The outcome of this reconciliation is present peace and a future presentation of ourselves before God. The slate of sin has been wiped clean, and we look forward to the day we will stand before God holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

1:23. The if of verse 23 should not be misunderstood. This verse is not saying that we will be presented holy and blameless if we remain faithful, as if our eternal salvation depends on our performance. The Greek construction of the if is not an expression of doubt but an expression of confidence and is better translated as since. Paul is not in doubt about whether the Colossians will remain faithful (see Col. 2:5). He is confident that because they have understood what it means to be reconciled they will remain faithful to the gospel that reconciled them. He writes this as an expression of confidence and as a warning to avoid the religious fads of the false teachers of Colosse.[6]

Ephesians 2:2-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience. Among whom also we all formerly lived in the desires of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Before finding Christ, our minds were filled with ignorance. We had established certain things that we habitually fed our minds on, causing us to walk in the way of the world. After we renewed our mind, there lies the risk of becoming double minded. Young prince Hezekiah wrote, “I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.” (Ps. 119:113, ESV) What does it mean to be double minded? This is one, who tries to live a double life, one foot in the world and one foot in the faith. This will eventually lead to choosing the world over choosing the Word. You will undoubtedly become depraved and corrupted in mind. We owe God our whole heart, soul and mind. Peter Thomas O’Brien writes,

2 It was in these transgressions and sins that the readers formerly lived their lives.14 Twice in these verses the temporal adverb once appears (vv. 2, 3) as Paul, by means of a short rhetorical form often employed in primitive Christian proclamation, draws a sharp contrast between the readers pre-Christian past and their present standing in Christ (cf. Col. 1:22–23): you were once … but now you are.… This schema appears almost exclusively in the epistolary literature of the New Testament (though see Acts 17:30), and is found in doctrinal, exhortatory, or personal contexts (Gal. 1:23; cf. 1 Tim. 1:13; Phlm. 11). It is frequently employed by Paul, but it is used by other New Testament authors as well. The wonder of the salvation that has been experienced is contrasted with the lost situation from which God has freed them. The past condition is mentioned by terms relating either to sin (Rom. 5:8–11; 7:5; Eph. 2:1), ethical practices, alienation from God and his people (Col. 1:21; Eph. 2:3), or bondage to evil, supernatural forces (Eph. 2:2).

The gravity of their previous condition, however, serves to magnify the wonder of God’s mercy. The past is recalled not because the emphasis falls upon it, but in order to draw attention to God’s mighty action in Christ. In Ephesians 2:4, although there is no explicit use of now, the positive side of the contrast is strongly accented: But God who is rich in mercy has acted decisively on behalf of those who were objects of wrath; he has made them alive with Christ, raised them up, and seated them with him in the heavenly places (vv. 5–6). The break between the past and the present has already occurred. Vv. 8–10 underscore the contrast by repeating the clause by grace you have been saved (v.8) and indicating the purpose of walking in good works (v.10), which is the converse of walking in trespasses and sins, with which the passage began (v.2).

The reader’s former lifestyle, which characterizes all who are outside of Christ, was not true freedom but evidence of a fearful bondage to forces over which they had no control. Three compelling influences directed their lives: the world (v.2), the devil (v.2), and the flesh (v. 3). The first two of these evil influences are depicted by coordinated phrases, each of which is introduced by the preposition according to: (1) according to the age of this world, and (2) in accordance with the ruler of the realm of the air.

In (1) the keyword aiōn usually means age or time span. However, the term was well known in Hellenism as a personal deity, and it appears numerous times in the magical papyri with this sense. It was a popular expression for personal powers in the Nag Hammadi texts and other Gnostic documents. If it refers here to a deity Aion, as many commentators suppose, then it would have been readily intelligible to Gentile readers.

But the context requires that this term be understood in the Jewish sense of a period of time. Paul has already used the word at 1:21 when referring to the typical Jewish two-age schema, and several verses later (v.7) he employs it in a temporal sense. The whole phrase according to the age of this world signifies the world existing in that particular span of time. In these three references a contrast is being developed between the marks of the old age and the new age which is dawning in Christ Jesus. According to the manner of this world-age is a way of speaking about both the spatial and temporal aspects of fallen human existence. The previous lifestyle of the readers has been dominated by this present evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4) and this world, rather than being focussed on heaven and the life of the age to come. Their behavior has been determined by the powerful influence of societys attitudes, habits, and preferences, which were alien to God and his standards.21 Hence the NIV’s rendering: when you followed the ways of this world.

(2) Those outside of Christ are not only subject to the pervasive bondage of the present evil age; they are also inspired and empowered by personal evil forces. Paul depicts the second hostile influence as a powerful supernatural being who rules over this host of evil spirits: the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Ephesians, as we have seen, contains more about the principalities and powers than any other New Testament letter and provides the most detailed response to these spiritual authorities (see on 1:21). Further, it draws special attention to the ultimate authority of evil lying behind them, namely, the devil (4:27; 6:11) or evil one (6:16), who is here called the ruler, or prince, a term used in the Old Testament for a national, local, or tribal leader, and refers to him as the chief or leader among these powers of darkness. In the Gospels he is called the ruler of the demons (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15) and the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He is the god of this age (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4), a personal centre of the power of evil.

This evil ruler is in control of the kingdom of the air. Here, as in Colossians 1:13,  the word rendered kingdom denotes the realm or sphere of the devils influence rather than his personal authority. That realm is further defined as the air. According to the ancient world-view, the air formed the intermediate sphere between earth and heaven. It was the dwelling place of evil spirits (as the magical papyri25 and the literature of Judaism attest), not an atmosphere of opinion with ideas, attitudes, and the like, which is a more recent Western understanding. The kingdom of the air, then, is another way of indicating the heavenly realm, which, according to Ephesians 6:12, is the abode of those principalities and powers, the world-rulers of this darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness, against which the people of Christ wage war. The hostile powers inhabit the heavenly realms (cf. Eph. 3:10; 6:12), a notion that has its antecedents in the Old Testament and Jewish thought. If there is any distinction between the expressions the kingdom of the air and the heavenly realm, it is that the former indicates the lower reaches of that realm and therefore emphasizes the proximity of this evil power and his influence over the world.

The devil is further characterized as the spirit who exercises effective and compelling power over the lives of men and women: the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. His manner of operation is described by means of a dynamic power term which, together with its cognate noun, always denotes supernatural power in the New Testament. It has already been used in Ephesians of God, who mightily works out everything according to his will (1:11) and who has exerted his mighty strength in Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (1:20). Here the word designates the spirit’s evil supernatural activity whereby he exercises a powerful, compelling influence over the lives of men and women. Indeed, so effective is his present evil working that Paul can refer to his victims as sons of disobedience, that is, men and women whose lives are characterized by disobedience. They are rebels against the authority of God who prefer to answer the promptings of the archenemy. Such men and women have not responded in gratitude or praise to the evidences of God’s eternal power and divinity which he has provided in creation (Rom. 1:19–21; cf. 2:8). They reject the gospel (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8) and disregard his will. This is not to suggest, as some contemporary Christians do, that those who live in disobedience to God are necessarily possessed by an evil spirit. All who are outside of Christ live in a kingdom called the tyranny of darkness (cf. Col. 1:13) in which the evil one holds sway. But not all sons of disobedience are demon-possessed.

Although the ruler of this world has been defeated by Christ at the cross (Col. 2:14–15; cf. Heb. 2:14–15; Eph. 1:20–22), he does not surrender without a struggle and he continues to make his powerful influence felt. He is effectively at work in those who have not personally benefitted from God’s deliverance in Christ, while he still poses a threat to believers (Rom. 8:38–39; Eph. 4:27), who must steadfastly resist him by God’s power (Eph. 6:10–20; cf. 1 Pet. 5:8–9).

3 Having reminded his Gentile Christian readers of their former pagan existence, Paul now asserts that prior to their conversion he and other Jewish believers had been in a similar desperate state, for all of us also were included among the disobedient. We Jews too, he states, had followed a lifestyle that was in conformity with the desires of the flesh. Paul’s point is similar to the argument of Romans 1:18–3:20, where it is clear that Jews were no better off than Gentiles. Both alike were under sin (3:9).

In turning to the role of the flesh Paul now describes the nature of the pre-Christian life from a different perspective. According to vv. 1 and 2 men and women outside of Christ have been deeply affected by evil, determining influences:—the environment (the age of this world) and a supernaturally powerful opponent (the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient). Here the description of the former life is in terms of our fallen, self-centred human nature. In this context flesh does not stand for a persons physical existence, but humanity in its sinfulness and rebellion against God. It is the sphere in which a person is unable to please him (Rom. 8:8). The passions of the flesh (cf. Gal. 5:16, 24) in which those outside of Christ had once lived are not to be thought of simply as sexual or carnal appetites. They include anger, envy, rage, dissensions, and selfish ambition as well (Gal. 5:20). Following its desires and thoughts: Paul adds that our conduct was once in keeping with the desires of this unregenerate outlook; it dominated our lives, and we carried out its dictates. Even our thoughts35 were corrupt, and they controlled our actions.

Not only were Paul and his fellow Jews dead and enslaved; they also stood condemned: we were by nature objects [lit. children] of wrath. By nature can only mean by birth at Galatians 2:15, and this is its significance here. The expression children of wrath is a Hebraism, like sons of disobedience (v.2), and means worthy to receive divine judgment. Paul and his fellow Jews were deserving of and liable to wrath just as much as the Gentiles were. This dreadful predicament has been inherited, according to Paul, from the one man through whom sin came into the world … and so death spread to all because all sinned (Rom. 5:12). If the result of one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all human beings (v.18), because all humanity was encapsulated in that one man, then this is to say that all are inherently (by nature) subject to condemnation. The same point is made here: like the rest signifies that the whole of humanity outside of Christ lies in this sinful condition with its consequences (cf. Rom. 1:18–3:20).

The wrath in view is God’s holy anger against sin and the judgment that results (cf. Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:5, 6). It is neither an impersonal process of cause and effect, nor God’s vindictive anger, nor unbridled and unrighteous revenge, nor an outburst of passion. Wrath describes neither some autonomous entity alongside God, nor some principle of retribution that is not to be associated closely with his personality. Furthermore, the wrath of God does not stand over against his love and mercy. Wrath and love are not mutually exclusive, as the following verse makes abundantly clear: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy (v.4). He is a holy God, and therefore he does not stand idly by when people act unrighteously, transgress his law, show disdain to him as their creator, or spurn his kindness and mercy. He acts in a righteous manner, punishing sin in the present and especially on the final day. Yet God also acquits the guilty, and only the person who understands something of the greatness of his wrath will be mastered by the greatness of his mercy. The converse is also true: only the person who has experienced the greatness of God’s mercy can understand something of how great his wrath must be.

In his profound analysis of the human condition the apostle has described the character of the pre-Christian life from three different perspectives the world (v.2), the devil (v.2), and the flesh (v. 3). This analysis is consistent with the teaching of James (cf. Jas. 3:15) and John (1 John 2:15–17; 3:7–10). The source of evil tendencies is both internal and external to people as well as supernatural. Individuals possess an internal inclination toward evil, and their environment … also strongly influences them. As a result men and women cannot respond to life’s decisions neutrally. They are deeply affected by evil, determining influences. These influences may be described in terms of the environment (the age of this world), a supernaturally powerful opponent (the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient), and an inner inclination towards evil (the flesh). Arnolds comment on this state of affairs is worth quoting in full:

Paul’s teaching suggests that the explanation for our behavior is not to be found exclusively in human nature or in terms of the world’s influence. Similarly, an exclusively demonic explanation for deviant behavior is unduly myopic. Rather, we should explain behavior on the basis of human nature, environment and the demonic, all three simultaneously. One part may play a leading role, but all three parts need to be considered.

In Ephesians, there is considerable emphasis on the spirit powers. This has apparently been occasioned by an epistolary situation in which many of the readers were keenly aware of demonic powers being at work and needed (further) instruction about the place of these powers in relation to Christ and the believer. But the Pauline conception of the flesh has not been replaced in Ephesians by another explanation for sin. The influence of the world and the flesh is coordinated with the influence of the evil powers. Paul regards the three influences as complementary, leading individuals into sin, transgression, and disobedience.[7]

How Can You Protect Your Renewed Mind?

Certainly, we want to keep our mind renewed once we have gotten it there. We do this by maintaining a strong Christian conscience. The Apostle Paul spoke of those ‘who have branded their own conscience with a hot iron,’ (1 Tim. 4:2, ASV) When we think of a branding iron, usually it is the branding of cattle that comes to mind, but it was used to mark slaves at one time. The iron is heated until the metal is fiery red; then, the brand is pressed against the flesh, searing the image of the iron into the flesh. Seared flesh is scared flesh that becomes unfeeling. Can you imagine, there are people that have no feeling in their skin? If they picked up a red-hot coal out of a fire, they would not feel it burning them. These ones have no warning that something is too hot or too cold. This can happen figuratively to a Christian conscience, it can be seared to the point of becoming unfeeling, or dead. The conscience is designed to send out warnings, helping us to avoid moral dangers, or spiritual dangers. If the conscience is seared, it will not warn us, or protest certain things we take into our mind, or give us pangs of shame or guilt when we are heading toward wrong acts.

We need a clean, healthy conscience to warn us of spiritual or moral dangers. If we are contemplating a movie, or a song, or a friendship that is wrong for us, it will scream out to us. If we listen to it, it will remain strong. However, if we repeatedly ignore it, the warning it provides will grow dimmer and dimmer, until we can no longer see the dangers ahead. In the beginning, we grow our conscience by way of our Bible studies. We are able to reason out principles from Scripture that help us understand the dangers of the gray areas of life. We need to stay strong in our studies, our meetings, and our evangelism and ministry. If we are, absent from these constant reminders for an extended period, the influences of Satan’s world will begin to sear our conscience, meaning that we will start to lose sensitivity, and the slippery slope of wrongdoing will grow stronger and stronger. Keep in mind that this is like heating water up to a boiling point so slowly that a live animal would not even know they are being cooked to death.

How Should We be Mentally Engaged?

We do not want to have a mental relapse back into a worldly way of thinking, depraved and corrupted. We know now that we are naturally mentally bent toward wrongdoing and that through a course of biblical study, meeting attendance, helping others in a ministry, and teaching others about God, we have bent ourselves in another direction, toward what is pleasing in the eyes of God. We do not want anything or anyone to get us to move to the left or right of our true course. We must continually strengthen the law of the mind by digging into God’s Word, and sharing it with others.

In order to be successful in this endeavor, we must make efforts mentally, always being aware of our thinking, to see if it has gotten off course. We need constant refreshing, which we get at congregation meeting and personal Bible study. This means that we must buy out time from Satan’s world, and give it to this renewing practice. As Paul said, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”–Hebrews 10:24-25

To appreciate the fact that we can never, in a lifetime, come to fully understand every single nuance within the Bible, let us consider an analogy. It is like a 5o million piece jigsaw puzzle. We can get sections together, but we will never, in 150 years, working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, complete the whole puzzle. There are exegetical commentaries that run 1,200 pages on just one Bible book, and that is just a scratching of the surface. This is not meant to discourage anyone, but to encourage. You see, we need continually to feed our minds on Biblical truths, in order to stay spiritually functional. If it were humanly possible to understand fully the whole of Scripture after ten years of intensive study, what would we do then? Then, there is this, we are always growing in our understanding of God’s Word, and growth leads to occasional readjustments in our thinking. At times, we may have to be humble, by rethinking our position on things.

While we cannot fully know the mind of God, we can enjoy the privilege of continually discovering information, secrets, and revelations, from his Word. As we grow in an understanding of the deeper things of God, we mature in the way we walk with God. This means that we will spiritually stumble less and less, as we grow more and more. Of course, there will not come a day in this present age, where we will not stumble in word or deed. Our loving heavenly father asks us, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Prov. 23:26, ESV) This means that we must give our undivided attention to God’s Word, and he will disclose his ways to us. This is done by having a regular personal study, keeping his Word close to our heart, forming a longing for it.

Scriptures for Meditation

2 Corinthians 5:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;[8] the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

5:17. Paul asserted that every person who is in Christ—who is joined to him in his death and resurrection—has become a new creation. Paul drew from Old Testament prophetic language, describing the new world that God would bring at the end of the age (Isa. 66:22). This language also appears in the New Testament (2 Pet. 3:13). “New creation” describes those who follow Christ because they have begun the transformation that will eventually lead to their full enjoyment of salvation in the new heavens and new earth. Christ’s death and resurrection introduced a foretaste of that new world to come.

Paul’s ministry was compelled by the display of Christ’s love on the cross. Paul had been united to Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus had been inwardly renewed and regenerated. The apostle truly was a new creation. In this changed state, he began to look at people differently. Prior to coming to Christ, Paul would not have thought about the Corinthians much. He certainly would not have worked and sacrificed for the Gentiles in that church. But now the shadow of Christ’s cross fell across his view every time he looked at other people. He saw believers as new creations in Christ and unbelievers as people in need of Christ. This perspective shaped his ministry.[9]

Romans 12:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable[10] and perfect.

1 Peter 1:13-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 Therefore, gird the loins of your mind,[11] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As children of obedience,[12] do not be conformed according to the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, you also be holy in all your conduct; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Peter 4:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

4 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same way of thinking, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

Review Questions

  • What two laws are found in Romans 7:23? What are laws?
  • From where do these two laws come from, and how do we make one victorious over the other? What renews the mind?
  • What must we do before we investigate what the Bible critics, atheist, or agnostic has to say?
  • Whom does Satan direct his efforts toward?
  • What was our mind like before we found Christ?
  • What does it mean to be double minded?
  • What is a seared conscience? How can we protect our renewed mind?
  • How should we be mentally engaged?
  • Talk about the Scriptures for mediation

FOOTNOTES

[1] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 290–298.

[2] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 304–307.

[3] WHERE ARE THE DEAD? Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith by Edward D. Andrews

[4]

[5] Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 246–247.

[6] Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 284.

[7] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 157–164.

[8] Or creature; Gr ktisis

[9] Richard L. Pratt Jr, I & II Corinthians, vol. 7, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 357–358.

[10] Or well-pleasing

[11] I.e., prepare your minds for action (mental perception)

[12] I.e., obedient children