Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Mind on the Holy Spirit

We know what it means to describe someone whose brain is on drugs or alcohol. The chemicals influence everything the person does with his/her brain. We have a basic idea of what to expect of someone “under the influence” because we know the debilitating effect of the substances creating the influence.

The Christian life may benefit from learning amazing things about how our brains function, but that is not where the Christian life rests. Our life in Christ rests on what happens in our minds, not in our brains.[1]

What just became clear yesterday is that Paul’s description of the battle between the mind and the flesh is a fact of life in this present earthly journey. The mind is set on the law of God, and the flesh is set on the law of sin.[2] The flesh is always going to try sabotaging the good we want to do, and promoting the bad we do not want to do. The renewed mind of the believer hungers and thirsts for the righteousness that is by faith in Jesus Christ.

On one side, Paul’s message is: get used to it. In this earthly lifetime, the mind/flesh dichotomy will always be in effect. On the other side, Paul’s message is: don’t put up with it. Just because the flesh is always working to get us to do things we don’t want to do, or to neglect the good things we do want to do, we do not need to do what the flesh says. Just don’t think you can get rid of the flesh. It must be handled a different way.

It now becomes amazingly clear how we are to look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit does not stop the flesh from being the flesh. Rather, it stops us from being in bondage to the flesh. The natural man can only live in the flesh. The spiritual man has a new nature that serves the law of God, and he has the Holy Spirit to enable him to do so.

The clincher then is not the battle between the mind and the flesh, but the battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The mind will either dwell on the flesh, and keep falling into the trap of doing what we don’t want, and failing to do what we do want; or it will dwell on the Spirit, and keep growing up in Christ.

As I skimmed the next section of Romans 8:1-8, the thing that stood out to me is what Paul says about where we set our minds. The summary is that Christians “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”[3] This is the progression of what he stated earlier when he said, “we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”[4] Since the written code mobilizes the flesh to sin, we do not live by the “old way of the written code,” and we do not “walk according to the flesh.” Instead, we “serve in the new way of the Spirit,” and we “walk… according to the Spirit.”

Then Paul addresses the mind, because it is the mind that determines whether we follow the flesh or the Spirit.

  • “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh” (8:5)
  • “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (8:5)
  • to set the mind on the flesh is death” (8:6)
  • to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (8:6)
  • the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (8:7)
  • the mind that is set on the flesh … does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (8:7)
  • “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (8:8)

As we join with our churches for fellowship, worship, and prayer, we must continuously consider whether our minds are dwelling on the flesh, or on the Spirit. Are our “preferences” based on what appeals to our flesh, or what appeals to the Spirit? Do we leave a church gathering feeling that a sermon was good because it brought us to a renewed experience of the Spirit’s work in our souls, or because our flesh was pleased that it affirmed us in our selfishness? When we think we see something wrong with our church, is it because we are hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches,[5] and we want to repent of what Jesus condemns, and grow in what he commends?[6] Or, is it our flesh that sees something wrong because whatever is happening goes against what we want for ourselves.

In one of my church experiences, we ended up with a group of people who were excited about reading God’s word and putting into practice what they were reading, while another group didn’t want anything that would change the way they had been doing things for the past three decades.

After a while, one group of people come to meetings with their minds set on the Spirit, wanting to live out what God was teaching us in his word; and the other group coming with their minds set on the flesh (church pillars took on a whole new meaning here = hard as rock!), wanting to live out the political control of the church they had nurtured for years.

I have etched in my mind the extreme differences between what mattered to both groups, what each group turned to as their motivation, and even what the countenances of both sides looked like. Yes, both the flesh, and the Spirit, show on our faces![7]

We cannot escape the battle between a new mind that wants to know and do the will of God, and the flesh that is at work to live independent of God in every way it can imagine. The clincher is what we do with our minds. If we set our mind on what the flesh is telling us, we will obey the flesh, and do whatever disobedient, God-dishonoring things it imagines. If we set our minds on the Spirit, even while the mind/flesh dichotomy rages, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, at least in a growing-up-to-be-like-Jesus kind of way.

After I began this post, I took another look at the larger picture of Romans 8 to remind myself where it would lead. It took me to this beautiful revelation of the Spirit’s ministry to our souls:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[8]

The flesh takes advantage of us in our weakness to drive us to do what is independent, self-focused, and sinful. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. Big difference.

Even if we don’t know how to set our minds on the Spirit, and even if it feels like Satan is rallying every spiritual weapon against us, we can still pray in faith that God would empower us to set our minds on the Spirit. Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you.[9]

Which reminds me of Jesus’ promise: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”[10]

If nothing else, let us set our minds on asking for the Spirit in every way we could possibly experience him this side of heaven. That IS according to God’s will, and he will answer us for his good pleasure, and for our complete joy. 
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.[11]

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I would now say that it is a bit of a hobby of mine to learn things about how our brains operate in order to see if there are things I can do to help people better process what is taking place in their lives. It has also made me conscious of the need for good nutrition. The better the fuel we put in our bodies, the better our bodies will function, including our brains. Seems like a no-brainer to me!
[2] Romans 7:25
[3] Romans 8:4
[4] Romans 7:6
[5] Each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 ends with the same phrase, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)
[6] All seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 give Jesus’ assessment of their relationship to him. Four of the churches had something Jesus’ commended, along with something he condemned, or held against them; two of the churches had only things to commend in what they were doing; and one church had nothing Jesus could commend. Along with the epistles to the churches in the rest of the New Testament, our spiritual response to the condition of our church is based on what our minds recognize as the will of God in his word, not the personal preferences of our flesh.
[7] This is expected when we consider the contrast between the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-26.
[8] Romans 8:26-27
[9] Luke 11:9-10
[10] Luke 11:13
[11] I John 5:14-15

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