Death Versus Life and Peace in Romans 8:6

In Romans 8:6 Paul draws a stark contrast between two things:

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace.”

Death, or life and peace—it all depends on where the mind is set. We surely prefer life and peace, but since life and peace result from the mind set on the spirit, how do we do that? What is the spirit? What is the flesh? What is death in our experience? What are life and peace? Let’s find out.

The spirit in Romans 8

What is the spirit we set our mind on here? Note 3 of Romans 8:4 on the word spirit in New Testament Recovery Version explains:

“It is difficult to discern the word spirit used in this chapter, in Gal. 5, and in other places in the New Testament, unless it is clearly designated to denote God’s Holy Spirit or our regenerated human spirit, as in v. 9 and v. 16 of this chapter. According to the usage in the New Testament, the word spirit, as used in this verse, denotes our regenerated human spirit indwelt by and mingled with the Spirit, who is the consummation of the Triune God (v. 9). This corresponds with 1 Cor. 6:17, ‘He who is joined to the Lord [who is the Spirit—2 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 15:45] is one spirit’—one mingled spirit.”

The spirit in Romans 8 isn’t the Holy Spirit alone—it’s our human spirit mingled with the Spirit.

How did this mingled spirit come to be? God created our human spirit so we could contact and receive Him. When we believe into Jesus Christ, He as the divine Spirit comes into our spirit and we’re born again, as John 3:6 tells us: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

What is the flesh?

Our human spirit is now indwelt by and mingled with the Spirit. This is a fact. But here’s another fact: our flesh, even after we’re saved and reborn in our spirit, remains as sinful as ever. Romans 7:18 tells us that nothing good dwells in our flesh.

Through Adam’s fall, Satan injected his sinful nature into mankind, and our God-created body was transmuted into the flesh, full of lusts.

What is the mind and its role in Romans 8:6?

So far we’ve seen the wonderful fact that our spirit is mingled with the Spirit, and the dreadful fact that our flesh is polluted with sinful lusts. What about our mind?

Our mind is our thinking faculty and the leading part of our soul. From the diagram in this infographic of the three parts of man—spirit, soul, and body—you can see our mind, as part of our soul, lies right between the spirit and the flesh.

Our mind plays the critical role of determining whether we experience death or life and peace. It can either direct us to our flesh or to our spirit. It all hinges on where it’s set.

The mind set on the flesh

Whether we set our mind on our flesh or not isn’t determined by how intelligent or logical we are. Our fallen mind needs to be wholly renewed through God’s complete salvation; until it is, it easily goes to the flesh, which is tied to sin and the world. In this respect, everyone’s mind is the same. No wonder Paul warns us saying, “The mind set on the flesh is death.”

None of us need to be taught how to set our mind on the flesh. Before we were saved we spontaneously set our mind on our flesh, and based on Paul’s warning, we can continue to do so after we’re saved.

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What is the experience of death in Romans 8:6?

We experience spiritual death through particular feelings of death. In The Economy of God, page 151, Witness Lee describes in detail the feelings of death. They include the following: emptiness, darkness, uneasiness, weakness, and depression, oppression, or suppression.

We’ve all experienced these negative feelings of death in our Christian life.

For example, let’s say we begin to read the news online. At first we feel fine. After a while, we go from one link to the next, reading all kinds of things. The Lord may speak to us, “Stop,” but we ignore Him and keep going. We start to feel empty, dark, and uneasy within. As we continue to set our mind on the flesh, cooperating with and going along with our flesh, the feeling of death increases.

This death comes from setting our mind on the flesh. But what happens when we set our mind on the spirit?

The mind set on the spirit

When we heard the gospel and believed in the Lord Jesus, our mind was open to Him and set on Him and His salvation. Feelings of joy, release, and enlivening filled us. We had life and peace. But that shouldn’t be a one-time event.

Christ came to live in us and is mingled with our spirit! For the rest of our Christian life, Christ wants us to set our mind on our mingled spirit. Whenever we do this, we contact Him and enjoy life and peace.

What is the experience of life and peace?

We experience the sense of life and peace in many ways.

In The Economy of God, page 152, Witness Lee describes the sense of life:

“What is the sense, the taste, of life and peace? First of all, in contrast with emptiness, there is satisfaction and fullness. We sense that we are satisfied with the Lord. We are full in His presence, neither thirsty nor hungry. Secondly, we sense light, the opposite of darkness. Along with our inward satisfaction we have the light shining within us. Every corner and every avenue of our being is full of light. Every part is transparent; nothing is opaque. Then, in contrast to uneasiness, we have peace, which soothes all our disturbances. Peace with rest, peace with comfort, peace with ease is the sense within us. There is no feeling of friction or controversy. Strength versus weakness is another taste of the sense of life. We feel the full strength and power of life. There is a living dynamo within us; and it seems as if there is not only one motor, but four motors. Sometimes we feel the horsepower of a million horses. Oh, there is a real strengthening within us that overcomes all our weakness!… Finally, in contrast with depression we have liberty. Through the flowing of life we are not only liberated, but also transcendent above all oppression. Nothing can suppress us. The more the depression comes, the more we are in the heavenlies.”

What a contrast between death and life and peace! We’ve surely experienced these positive feelings. Perhaps we didn’t know they came from setting our mind on our spirit. 

How can we set our mind on the spirit?

One way to set our mind on our spirit is to come to the Lord in prayer and in the Word first thing in the morning, before other things distract us.

Then as we go about our day, setting our mind on our spirit doesn’t mean we think about Christ all the time instead of our work or studies. Rather, while we’re working, studying, driving, taking a walk—whatever we’re doing—we stay in contact with the Lord. By opening our heart to Him, breathing Him in, calling on His name, or just taking a moment to talk to Him in a simple prayer, we set our mind on the spirit.

Whenever our mind is set on the flesh, the feelings of death will tell us. They’re like a flashing red light that alerts us, “Stop. Wrong way. Go back.”

Using the previous example about reading the news, when we’re aware we feel empty, dark, and uneasy, we can stop and turn back to the Lord to go along with our spirit. Instead of cooperating with our flesh, we can cooperate with our spirit. By setting our mind on our spirit this way, life and peace return.

It takes practice

All of this takes a conscious effort. If we’re passive, our mind will drift to whatever catches our attention and easily be set on the flesh.

Like physical exercise, exercising to set our mind on our mingled spirit can become a normal part of our life the more we do it. Through practice, we’ll develop a deeper desire for life and peace and learn to turn more quickly from what deadens our inner being. The more life we experience, the more we grow in the Lord.

For more on this subject, we encourage you to read chapter 17 of The Economy of God for free here.