Moving along to the fifth verse of Romans’ eighth chapter, it can be read, “For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh” (8:5a). One has to work hard to resist the temptation to turn these statements inward and begin thinking about them in personal terms, thereby turning “things of the flesh” into those things that are generally defined as “sin” based upon nothing more than personal biases, prejudices, and preferences. Doing this would do damage to Paul’s message and to the message of Christ as a whole. The “things of the flesh” do not take upon themselves a new constitution as one reaches this statement, but must be understood in the context already presented.
That context is the covenant, the law, and the works of the flesh in which a fair amount of the Creator God’s covenant people (at the time of Christ and of Paul’s writing) were engaged for the purpose of separation and the eventual elevation of national Israel over the nations as the establishment of the expected kingdom of their God. Therefore, when one reads about those who live according to the flesh, and understand that as living according to the works of the flesh (traditions that served as national boundary markers), then it becomes quite simple to understand that their outlook is shaped by the things of the flesh. For so many, their entire interaction with the world was based upon the specific, nationalistic construct that had been created.
For Paul, this would appear to stand in sharp contrast with “those who live according to the Spirit,” who “have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit” (8:5b). Those who live according to the Spirit are those, both Jew and Gentile, that have moved beyond the nationalistic boundaries and associated desires, doing so by and through their recognition of, and belief in Jesus as Lord and Christ (Messiah). This position of belief, as far as Paul sees it, is the result and evidence of the activity of the Holy Spirit---the same Spirit that delivered the power that raised Jesus up from the dead.
Paul rather often points out that it is this that becomes known as union with Christ that is all-important. This union with Christ, which is the believing, faithful allegiance to Him because of Who He is as proved by the Resurrection, is the new boundary marker of God’s covenant peoples. It transcends the flesh (the old boundary markers of the covenant). Owing to that, the all-important works of the flesh to which Israel has been holding no longer has a place of service in denoting the people of the covenant-making God. In and through the Christ, there is a worldwide unity of peoples that form the kingdom of Israel’s God, where no division is necessary or even tolerated. This, of course, can be seen as the fulfillment of the Creator God’s covenant with Abraham to bless all peoples through his (Abraham’s) seed (the Christ, Who can be understood as the faithful Israelite).
Because this breaking down of all divisions, which reminds the Creator God’s people of the removal of the wall of hostility that separated them from Him, in which all distinctions are erased is such a radical concept for the world of his day (and any day), the people that live inside this new construct are said to live according to the Spirit. Indeed, Paul insists that it must be the case that their outlook is shaped by the things of the Spirit, with the main thing of the Spirit being the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and His being shown forth as Messiah of Israel and therefore the ruler of the world through the now-inaugurated kingdom of the Creator God. Since, as Paul presumes, one can only come to believe in such a ridiculous thing (a crucified man, who has been raised from the dead, is the world’s true King) through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, via a faith that is somehow transmitted and brought about through the preaching of the Gospel, the only conclusion to be reached is that such an outlook, and therefore the responses of life that are dictated by that outlook, are shaped by the Spirit of God.