mind set and the Spirit

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. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8:5-6

What do we fill our minds with will affect our outlook on life, our very life itself. And the choices and difference here is flesh and Spirit. When we gravitate toward the things of the flesh, we will not only be influenced by that, but the flesh can take over. By flesh here, what’s really meant is all that’s not of the Spirit. The world system along with the principalities and powers which are part of that are in that mix. The Spirit involves all that is of God revealed in Christ.

What is emphasized here is perhaps both practice and disposition. We set our minds on what is of God and become acclimated to that. Or else we let ourselves drift into the thoughts and ways of the flesh, that which is in opposition to God.

If we have the Spirit through Christ, then we can set our minds on the things of the Spirit. And actually when you consider this passage (click above link), it is really something of a description of those who are in Christ and thus in the Spirit and live with a mindset given by the Spirit, and those who are in the flesh without the Spirit and therefore live with a mindset of the flesh (see NET footnotes).

A number of scholars believe that this chapter is getting at what the rest of the book addresses as a problem within the church made up of house churches in Rome. They weren’t always getting along, dividing over disputable issues in which Christians can differ. So even though this passage in Romans 8 seems to draw a stark line, it’s not like we as followers of Christ can’t falter and live apart from the Spirit. That is as plain as day in the letter of 1 Corinthians, but plain enough here too, I think.

The Spirit makes the needed difference. But it seems clear enough to me that this is not automatic, but something we’re to practice, to both set our minds on the things of the Spirit as well as on the Spirit. Regardless of what our experience is, we keep on doing that. In and through Jesus.

think biblically

In the firestorm of today’s news, some of which is exceedingly sad, and perhaps all the more in the political climate of today, and any day, for that matter, we need to aspire to learning to think biblically.

Just to look at the Bible alone, as if we could do so, as it were, in a vaccum, which is impossible, but again, just to consider the Bible alone is challenging. I resort to what has been called a redemptive hermeneutic (hermeneutic essentially means interpretation), so that the Bible is a story which points to an ultimate conclusion, which is a fitting end to the beginning, but takes seriously everything in between. So that, while there’s harmony in the sense that the story follows a certain path, we find unexpected twists and turns along the way, even in the First Testament alone, but especially so in the Second, Final Testament, when Jesus fulfills all of scripture in ways which were not anticipated by those who lived during that time, or prior. But the seeds of which one can arguably clearly enough find in the First Testament.

From there, we have to consider present day thinking, where that came from, how it is entrenched in society, and in our own thinking. If we’re beginning to get the first goal of arriving to good Biblical thinking, true to that text and its fulfillment in Jesus, then we are ready to consider how we really think in everyday life, what our thinking actually is, which likely will be a reflection of the thinking of the world in which we live. And we have to critique that in the light of biblical thinking.

Where I live, the United States, our language and thinking is derived from the Modernist Enlightenment. Even how we think biblically is in large part impacted by that, so that we actually end up imposing the understanding of the age upon the text of scripture. Rather, we need to remain in the text of scripture, so that we can more and more think truly biblically, and be able to critique our present day thought.

Does that mean we expect the world to conform to biblical thinking? Certainly not. But we in Jesus are not to be conformed to this world, but rather, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we might come to understand what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). That is not something we’ll arrive to overnight, indeed it involves a lifelong process together with other believers.

I believe this is critical, mainly because I think we think in ways that are not so much informed and thus formed by the Bible, but more by society, with especially profound, and too often, I think, egregious/tragic results, especially seen in the political realm. Like everything else in life, this is surely a mixed bag. We do get some things more or less right even on this track, but are amiss in other things, I’m afraid. A big problem from our inheritance of the Modernist Enlightenment on which the United States was largely built, is the emphasis and insistence on individual rights. So that the rights of the individual, however that is manifested politically takes priority over everything else. While “rights” and the individual surely arguably have their place, we have to ask ourselves if that has the same place in scripture that it has in our world. And if not, then what informs it, or what context in scripture might we say it exists, its place.

This is not a proposal to imagine that biblical thinking can be imposed on the world, but to seek to be true to it ourselves, so that we can better live in it, through learning to think and therefore live according to what scripture teaches, and its fulfillment in Jesus, rather than what any political party of this world insists on. The new way of thinking and living in the grace and kingdom that is ours in Jesus.

the myth of “the wrong (or right) side of history”

Yesterday I was listening to people talking about the news of the week, when I heard someone say confidently in regard to a controversial issue that there is a wrong side of history. I guess especially in political circles, but actually beyond that (doesn’t politics swallow up everything?), this is a popular saying. It may be popular, but that doesn’t make it apt.

Myths come from the stories we tell. The myth may be true or not. We live by them; they can give impetus as well as structure to our lives. And whether or not its basis is sound, it becomes true to us. So that we end up making judgments on a “truth” we take for granted, which may be based on a faulty premise of belief.

Instead of confidently applying such a notion, people ought to pause and step back and really examine what they are saying. “The wrong (or right) side of history” based on what? And just what might be the motivation behind the call?

It would be far better to simply talk about the differences as a matter of fact and sort out from that why they exist. Those who so confidently assert a side of history with equal confidence that they are on the right side of it are every bit as religious in their belief as the people of religion or faith they may be (and often are) ridiculing. For example the naturalists who claim that faith can’t be taken seriously as a truth claim are themselves making a statement of faith when they say that. People need to humbly step back and examine what they are saying. If they are going to be humble and therefore truthful.

Maybe we ought to reject this phrase and notion entirely. Is there an elite out there which knows just where history came from and where it is going, and in the light of that, how we should live? To sort out the morass even in the present of such claims (and counter claims from those who are equally confident), and the mind boggling complexities any serious historical study will uncover in the human enterprise, not to mention all the uncertainties which surround it, leaves us with a certainty that we can’t really be certain. Or at least whatever certainty we might have should be tempered with the knowledge of the limitations inherent in such an endeavor. Read the book of Ecclesiastes with this thought in view (one of my favorite go to books of the Bible, by the way).

We who hold to the faith that is in Jesus do believe there is rhyme and reason that is discovered soley in Jesus and God’s revelation in him. A revelation which ends up being nothing less than good news, which is what gospel means. And we bank our lives on that, indeed life itself, which includes the world. But we do so knowing that there’s so much we don’t know, that we really don’t undertand well or get at all. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV), “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

If people want to keep this phrase as a way that makes sense of the world for them, they need to admit and explain their basis for such confidence. Just as we ourselves who as the church profess to live in King Jesus will do in terms of God’s will made known in and through him.

The church has indeed often gottten it wrong in many places such as the slavery and racism of recent centuries. We are not foolproof and we ought to be an example in acknowledging that. But neither are we in a hopeless abyss.

God in the Person of the Son did step into history in becoming a human being to take the needed judgment that brings salvation on himself, so that humankind along with all creation can flourish in a God-breathed and ordered existence of love. The beginning of that we have received in the start of this new life. Of which we would say, “Come and see. And taste and follow.”