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Setting Your Mind
by Karen Burkhart
I’ve often heard it said that if a person wants to discover what they truly value, they should look no further than their calendar and bank statement. If someone says caring for the poor is important, for example, but gives no money or time to help the poor, the value is only theoretical. Likewise, if someone says God comes first but rarely meets with the Body of Christ to hear the preaching of the Word of God and encourage His people, it’s probably time for that person to get honest, or better yet, get to church. In today’s passage, often titled, “Life in the Spirit,” the litmus test presented to discover one’s true spiritual identity is considerably less objective than adding up hours and dollars to reveal values—it requires considering the focus of one’s mind.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8
So, what exactly are “the things of the flesh”? According to the apostle Paul’s writings, they are a person’s natural desires, operating apart from God. A couple examples are: 1) enjoying the gift of sex but doing so outside the God-placed boundary of marriage between a man and a woman and 2) desiring to avoid suffering but doing so by denying Christ because it would mean the loss of something or someone held dear.
And what are “the things of the Spirit”? These are the attributes and works of the Holy Spirit. A few examples are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, truth, wisdom, holiness, conviction of sin, power over sin, prayer, and the Word of God.
According to Paul in today’s passage, there are two types of people--those who set their minds on the things of the flesh and those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The former are unbelievers, unable to please God, and the latter are the children of God, in whom He takes great delight.
Is it possible to sin without being guilty of setting one's mind on the things of the flesh? Of course--for evidence, just read the prior chapter (Romans 7) in which Paul confessed his own war with his flesh and Christ’s power to rescue him. But Paul says that setting the mind on the things of the flesh is equal to living according to the flesh. It’s one thing to struggle to submit one’s natural desires to the Lordship of Christ, and quite another to set your course by those desires. The latter, according to Paul, is evidence that the Spirit of Christ does not dwell within.
It strikes me that if you are reading this you likely fall into the category of those who strive to set their minds on the Spirit, rather than on the flesh. After all, isn’t that the very purpose of personal Bible reading and prayer? It also occurs to me, though, that it’s important we understand the life and death distinctions Paul is making, even if we ourselves are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us. Unfortunately, most of us have loved ones who would call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ but appear to be setting their course to live according to the flesh. Remember, Jesus said, "Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven." I believe part of the call to us in today's Scripture is to recognize the evidence that someone may be in grave spiritual danger so we can pray for them, and ultimately call them to repentance. Believe it or not, it’s not "being judgmental" to agree with God's thoughts concerning salvation. Of course, only He knows with certainty a person's heart and true spiritual identity.
May we each make it our goal to set our minds on the things of the Spirit more and more, and have love and courage to speak truth to those in our lives who may be setting their course according to the flesh to help them get on the path that leads to life.
Lord, thank you for Your Spirit that lives within me, confirming that I am Your child. I don't deserve your gift of salvation, but I eagerly accept it and all You have for me in the Spirit in this age and the age to come. Thank you that even those who are living according to the flesh today may one day change their course and become part of your family.