I’ve suspected for a very long time that mindset determines life, but now I know…
Romans 8: 5-8 – 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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
My observations of this passage:
1Five times in 4 verses we hear phrases that describe a mind that is set on certain things.
Clearly, it is possible to intentionally choose a mindset and it is the one who possesses the mind who does the setting.
“Responsibility” seems too small a word to describe such a burden in light of the results the decision will have on the person’s life and eternal destiny. Each of us is accountable for our mindset and I fear too few of us even realize it.
2More an implication than a clear statement, it seems that many make their mindset choice unknowingly, the desired resulting lifestyle being the deciding factor.
I know from experience that the allure of a “fleshly” lifestyle is powerful, the devastating consequences not being easily seen. The perceived fun and freedom it provides are ruses that suck a person in without much real contemplation.
The power of sin still resident in the body and the depravity of the human heart combine with the allure of the lifestyle and prompt a choice from us that we don’t know we are making.
Yet, it is a choice. We are individually accountable to God.
3A mindset consists of the type of things it is focused upon. In this case, things “of the Spirit” or things “of the flesh.”
Simply put, mindset equals focus.
Said another way, what a person focuses on DETERMINES or BECOMES their mindset.
So the person who habitually bemoans their state in life or the things done to them in the past is moment by moment choosing a defeated, self-pitying mindset. Every disappointment or trial becomes yet another “reason” for such a person to focus more acutely on what they perceive as an unfair lot. For such a person life can be perceived as nothing but bitterness and misery because what they choose to focus their mind upon breeds such a life.
The woman who regularly revisits the grave of a lost child to weep and wish for things to have been different is regularly shackling her mind to a wistful dreamland that is not in touch with the reality in which she must live. Her life is devoid of hope because she mentally longs for what cannot be – and she chooses that life day after day by what she chooses to focus upon.
For the man who as a child was repeatedly told that he was a mistake, that his parent’s have been so much better without him, that he will never amount to anything of importance or significance, life is fraught with mental echoes of those condemnations. The moment he accepts them as truth, they become his mental focus and thereby shape his life.
4Behind the type of life a person lives is a mindset.
The contrast is between a life “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit.” There is no option other than those two.
Where I choose to set my mind determines the kind of life I live. It would be wise for me to figure out what it means to “set my mind on the things of the Spirit” and begin doing exactly that. It’s the only way I’ll be able to live the life I desire and that God intends for me.
There are two possibilities that initially came to mind.
The first is Paul’s famous list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are undoubtedly the fruit I want to flow from my being. They are character traits, descriptions of the person who is saturated in the Spirit of God.
But what would it look like to “set my mind” on them, and is focusing on the desired outcome like that the same as setting my mind on the “things of the Spirit?”
On their own I don’t think it’s fully what Paul had in mind.
For example, were I to set my thoughts on “love” – what it is, what it looks like practically, that I should be a loving person, etc. – I may be setting my mind on “things of the Spirit” well enough, and it will undoubtedly have a positive effect on me, but it seems to be missing something personal to me.
I see now that I cut off my citation of Romans 8 one verse too early…
Romans 8:9 – You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
The “thing of the Spirit” I need to focus on is found here.
God’s Spirit lives in me NOW I am NOT “in the flesh” but AM “in the Spirit.” That means that the “seeds” of the fruit of the Spirit ALREADY reside in me and are able to be produced as fruit in my life.
I can truthfully say, “I AM a loving person,” because Jesus’ Spirit in me is loving, and He is my life.
It’s much more than the “positive thinking” sort of affirmation that is popular in our day. Those are more wishful thinking than they are truth-based statements, especially when the person saying them does not have the Spirit within them.
But this is different, this is an affirmation in the truest sense because in saying it I am affirming to myself what GOD says is true of me. THAT is a mind set on “things of the Spirit.”
The second possibility that comes to mind is Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4:8 …
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
To me this is a different type of setting my mind on the “things of the Spirit.”
- In this approach I’m not focusing on outcomes that I want, I’m focusing things that already exist.
- Truth about God, me, people, and the world plays a central role. What God has revealed AS true is vital.
- This has to do with the overall attitude, outlook, and ”tone” of my thoughts; will they dwell on positive of negative things?
I know and have known people who dwell on their misfortunes, wallow in their mistreatments, and fixate on the “unfair” situations in their lives. Sometimes it originates in labels parents or others placed on them long ago and they see themselves as unfortunate victims as a result. Sometimes they’ve chosen that identity themselves through wrong conclusions about the events of their lives.
Paul teaches us some extremely important things about mindset in this passage:
- Each of us gets to choose the “environment” or “tone” of our minds – positive or negative.
- Changing a mindset / attitude CAN be done.
- Each of us is responsible to do so as needed throughout life.
My thoughts on what this “truth mindset” does for us:
- It puts us into a necessary, humble frame of mind. Recognizing and pondering God-sized issues like truth and justice show us how complex and deep life is and that there is much we do not know or understand.
- It places us into a position of awe, and therefore praise, as we recognize that God understands and controls all the things we don’t. It also highlights those things of beauty God continually does around us.
- It prompts us toward gratitude.
- It grounds our thinking in reality as God sees it rather than leaving us to our own misconceptions.
- It fills our minds with good, lofty, admirable aspirations of what we can become in God’s hands.