A Tale of Two Minds
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Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Rom. 8:5-6).
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In these two verses, Paul puts his finger on the most significant factor that distinguishes the people of God from the rest of the world: what they choose to set their minds upon.
This dichotomy is a common theme in Paul's writings. To the Corinthians, he described this contrast as the "natural man" versus the "spiritual man" (1 Cor. 2:14-15). In Galatians, it's "flesh" versus "spirit" (Gal. 5:16-26). In Ephesians, it's those who walk "in the futility of their mind" versus those who have been "renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph. 4:17, 23).
In all these contexts, Paul is contrasting two different mindsets, yielding two different ways of life. The spiritually minded person gravitates to a life of purity, godliness, kindness, and generosity. He keeps the lusts of the flesh under tight control, because his mind is concentrated on a higher purpose in life. In contrast, the carnally minded person is easily drawn away by the base instincts of the flesh: lust, anger, selfishness, and indifference to the needs of others. His mind is in thrall to his passions, so he tends to live that way.
Paul's language in these passages exposes two serious misconceptions about the life of faith.
First, being a child of God is not a function of "joining the right church." Far too many people justify their spiritual status solely on the basis of their membership in a church that teaches the truth on baptism, instrumental music, and the Lord's Supper. These are legitimate subjects, of course, but they do not begin to address the far wider range of attitudes and behaviors that define the people of God. We belong to God, not because our name is on the membership roll of the "right" church, but based on the state of our heart--and that is a far higher bar to clear.
Second, there are a good many "religious" people who will get a rude shock on judgment day. Throughout their life they went to church, contributed their money, gave all the right answers in Bible class, and even read their Bibles--but their hearts were not really in it. In most of their day-to-day activities, they were just as rude, self-centered, and careless as their colleagues out in the world. Their religion was a smoke-screen, a façade to provide them with a veneer of respectability while they pursued what their heart was really after.
The spiritually minded person is a rare breed in this world. But these are the people who have found the secret to life and peace, because their minds are fixed on another world.