“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” – Romans 8:14*
Paul states three things about the spiritual life in Romans 8. First, only people who live “according to the Spirit” (8:1, 4-5) are “in Christ Jesus” (8:1). Those who don’t “have the Spirit of Christ” don’t belong to him (8:10). Second, only people led by the Spirit are free from condemnation, the “law of sin and death” (8:1-2). Being spiritually minded is “life and peace” (8:6). However, all those who “live according to the flesh … will die” eternally (8:13) because “to be carnally minded is death” (8:6). Finally, only people who live according to the Spirit are children and heirs of God (8:14-17). Since only heirs will enter heaven, we must be led by the Spirit.
Being led by the Spirit and living according to the Spirit are vital to the Christian life. We must be spiritually minded. It is the literal difference between heaven and hell. But I didn’t understand what these phrases meant until I considered the alternative: being led by or living according to the flesh. To be carnally minded is to be governed by the human body, its appetites and senses. Each person has two God-given appetites, which are necessary for survival: eating and drinking (sustenance) and sex (procreation). I will discuss the senses in part 2.
Food and drink
People addicted to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco are governed by their mouths. So are those with eating disorders and those who decadently indulge themselves. Anyone who lives to eat and drink is led by this appetite and is carnally minded. So are people who add normal food and drink to God’s kingdom, either decrees or prohibitions (Romans 14:17, 1 Timothy 4:3-5).
Unlike such people, believers led by the Spirit have self-control (Galatians 5:22). They also have godly discernment about what they should and should not put into their bodies. Moderation isn’t possible for drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Unnecessary to survival, these addictive poisons can kill a person. Besides, anyone hooked is a slave. However, moderation is both possible and necessary for normal food and drink. We shouldn’t be gluttons who brag about what and where we eat. Nor should we be ascetics who deny ourselves sustenance. Fasting is easy for people led by the Spirit, but they don’t make it a lifestyle – just a powerful method of prayer.
God gave us the ability and desire as human beings to eat and drink. The purpose of this good gift is to grow, both physically and mentally, into adulthood. Only then can we be responsible family members, friends, citizens, and workers – both in this world and in God’s kingdom. Let’s not turn his good gift into a carnal appetite that leads us to eternal death and hell.
Adultery, bestiality, fornication, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, pedophilia, polygamy, pornography, and rape are all the fruit of people governed by sex. The spiritual normality or abnormality of such fruit is irrelevant. Anyone who lives for sex is led by this appetite and is carnally minded. So are people who forbid marriage and procreation, either wholly or just in the church (1 Timothy 4:3). Sex isn’t inherently evil.
Again, believers led by the Spirit have self-control (Galatians 5:22). They also obey God’s good law on the proper use of their bodies, which are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Living according to the Spirit, such believers “flee sexual immorality” and “glorify God” in their bodies (6:18, 20). They obey the truth that sex within marriage (between one man and woman) is good, but sinful outside it. However, they do not choose celibacy over marriage.
God has given us a wonderful gift in sex. Its purposes are sustaining a marriage and creating a family who loves and obeys God, since he wants “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). We must not abuse this good gift by feeding a carnal appetite that leads us to eternal death and hell.
A life of gluttony is dangerous. So is asceticism, which may appear Christian but has roots in Eastern religion. God created us to need food and drink for sustenance, and sex for procreation. Desiring these things is natural and human. Our sinful natures and Satan’s temptations distort our desires by making us try to please ourselves. Through conversion, the Holy Spirit redirects our desires so that we please God. People who say and do otherwise are carnally minded; they’re leading people astray. Read my article “Fleeing Desire, Work, and Self: Denying Humanity.”
Let us examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith, truly children of God in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). Regarding these appetites, are we led by the Spirit or by the flesh? Do we have a spiritual mind or a carnal one? If we chose the latter option for either question, then hell is our eternal destiny. We must repent, believe, and obey. “Now is the day of salvation” (6:2).
* All Scripture verses are NKJV, unless otherwise noted.