by Doy Moyer
How Christians think and what they think about are critical in determining how they live. Once we decide that we will live for Jesus and sanctify Him as Lord in our hearts (I Peter 3:15), we are making a priority out of thinking about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Paul put it this way in Colossians 3:1-3:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
“Set your mind” means to think, but this is not just an incidental “by the way” kind of thinking. The idea is that we are purposefully giving careful consideration to something important, to be intentional in our thinking (BDAG lexicon). There are many distractions through which we are to engage our minds for the Lord, so it is vital that we are thinking with purpose.
In contrast to recognizing that Christians are heavenly citizens, Paul warned about enemies of the cross “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). This may seem a bit oversimplified, but the basic difference between followers of Christ and enemies of Christ is where they set their minds.
The importance of this basic point would be difficult to overstate. Paul’s concern about where we set our minds is seen in Romans 8:5-8. After stating that there is no condemnation for those in Christ, he argues that the Lord’s people “do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Notice again the fundamental difference between those who are in Christ and those who are not (i.e., those for whom there is no condemnation and those who stand condemned outside of Christ). That difference lies in their respective mindsets. The term “flesh” is interesting, for it is not just the literal flesh that covers bones (the physical body). Rather, it stands for the instrument of actions or expressions that are focused entirely on physical feelings and sensations (see BDAG). Being in the flesh physically is not sinful, nor is feeling physical pleasure. God has provided proper avenues for these sensations. But when we are dominated by physical desires and our thoughts are continually geared toward fulfilling those physical urges, then we are living according to the flesh. These thoughts can easily crowd out the spiritual mindset in a way that ends up completely denying God for the sake of selfish ambitions and desires. A mind set on the flesh cannot please God. It is a mind that refuses to trust God and is hostile toward Him. It is ultimately a mind set on death.
In contrast, the mind set on the Spirit focuses on Christ, fixes eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3), and is determined to live by faith according to the will of God. This is the mindset of the one who has been raised up with Christ into a new life, has become a new creation, and now sees everything through the lens of the Spirit and His revelation. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Hebrews 12:6) and lives by the hope of the resurrected Christ, knowing that “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
There is always a danger of losing focus. Paul was concerned for the Corinthians as they were bearing with a false gospel: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3). “Simplicity,” here, is not “simple” in the sense of easy, but is in contrast to duplicity, a mind that is divided. In other words, God wants His people to have a single, focused mind that is intent on standing for the truth of Jesus. Distractions will present themselves. Will we stay focused on what is right and good, or will we allow the world to divide our minds and push out the spiritual?
Set your mind on the things above. You have been raised with Christ and your mind is not to be conformed to the world, but transformed, renewed so that “you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).