Romans 8:5-6. 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. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
In these verses Paul introduces s to the importance of the mind. He uses a verb for “to set the mind” and he uses the noun form of the same word for “mind.” Let me show you:
In verse 5 he uses the verb phroneo, which means “to set the mind upon.” Those who live according to the Spirit have phroneo the Spirit.
In verse 6 he uses the noun phronema, which means “the mind.” The phronema of the flesh is death, the phronema of the Spirit is life and peace. I know verse 6 reads like a verb, but it’s actually the noun.
So what is Paul saying? He’s saying you either have the mind of the flesh or the mind of the Spirit. And you WILL actively set your mind on which ever of those two minds that you have – flesh or Spirit.
As we said yesterday, these are positional truths. Paul is not describing the battle that takes place in the mind. Yes, that is real. And yes, he did already talk about that back in chapter 7 of Romans (remember the 3 laws?). And yes again, he will later say that our minds need to be renewed over and over again. And NO having some “fleshly” thoughts does not condemn you or mean that you are not a Christian. The conditional truth is that your mind will fluctuate between flesh and Spirit all day every day. But this is Romans 8. This is about what we ARE at our core.
Romans 8:9. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
We ARE in the Spirit. We HAVE the mind of the Spirit. We DO set our minds on the Spirit. This is what a Christian IS and DOES. If you are in Christ, you are in the Spirit. The law of the Spirit now governs your mind. You have his mind set. Back in Corinthians, Paul put it this way:
1 Corinthians 2:16. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
So what is the “mind.” What is phronema? What does it mean to phroneo? And how does having the Spirit’s mind change everything.
We’re talking about much more than just your intellect. Paul calls it your entire walk. Attitude. Lifestyle. Outlook. Worldview. Choices. POV. Opinion. Disposition. Even feelings.
Let’s just say the mind is super important. For Paul it’s what drives our entire life. And it will always drive us toward some version of righteousness. In other words, because our mind is naturally ordered by the knowledge of good and evil, it will always work to convince us that we are right, not wrong. That we are good not evil. That we are better than others. That we are more moral than everyone else (even when we don’t care about the morality of everyone else).
In our modern context, Social Psychologist (and atheist by the way) Jonathan Haidt says basically the same thing. His book The Righteous Mind outlined how our minds are intrinsically moral and judgmental. He says that we reason things out not to change our own judgments, but rather we use reasoning to prove to ourselves why everyone else should change their judgments to match ours. In his most recent book The Coddling of the American Mind, Haidt proposes that this bent of our minds towards our own self-righteousness has produced an entire generation of people who simply cannot handle a different opinion from their own. Things like “micro-aggressions” and “trigger warnings” now inhibit speech and the exchange of ideas. Emotional reasoning is commonplace – what we feel is what is real. In short, our mind’s bent toward’s our own self-righteousness now validates all of our personal offenses.
Here’s one of Haidt’s early TED talks about the righteous mind.
Whether he realizes it or not, Haidt is close to describing the same mind of the flesh that is death that Paul describes in Romans 8:6. A mind set on self-righteousness is the death of kindness. The death of humility. The death of confession. The death of friendships with people that are different from us. The death of personal growth. The death of true reason. And ultimately a mind that only self-justifies will produce eternal spiritual death.
“To live is Christ” is the mind of the Spirit. It is life and peace. Not because everything we think and believe and love are always correct. Or because our thoughts and morality are better than everyone else’s. Quite the opposite. The mind of the Spirit is given to us in spite of us. The truth that guides our mindset is Christ himself, not some achieved self-realization. His life is my truth. His life is my mindset. The righteousness that my mind is set upon is not my own.
This assurance now allows us to face our own moral and intellectual limitations. We no longer have to be consumed with our personal justifications. We can fight to win hearts not arguments. Because we have the life and peace of Christ, our mind can now rest. It can stop running toward self-righteousness. It can actually be quite humble and open minded. It can be renewed in love.
You are more than the human mind could ever hope to comprehend but still You’re calling me out into the ocean of your endless beauty I want to know You more.