Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Not many of us could be accused of this today. And, in any case, the statement is wrong-headed, for as C. S. Lewis observed, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
Being “spiritually minded” has always been a high priority among the masters of the spiritual life. In his devotional classic The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a’ Kempis said, “Set aside the things of time, and seek those of eternity.” And the Puritan theologian John Owen wrote a two-hundred-and-thirty-page treatise on The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded.
The language of spiritual mindedness comes from the Apostle Paul:
“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” (Rom. 8:5).
In this passage the phrase “set their minds” is a verb that refers to the orientation of one’s thoughts, affections, and desires. Paul’s words both state a reality and suggest a responsibility.
Here is the reality: your mindset is an evidence of your spiritual condition. To quote John R. W. Stott: “Our mindset expresses our basic nature as Christians or non-Christians, has eternal consequences, and concerns our fundamental attitude toward God. Notice how Paul contrasts two different kinds of people: “those who live according to the flesh” and “those who live according to the Spirit.”
By “flesh” Paul doesn’t mean our material bodies or natural instincts, but rather our entire human nature outside of Christ. “Flesh” here means not our bodies, but our fallen humanity: our human nature as inherited and defined by our first father, Adam. So, when you read “flesh” and “Spirit,” in this passage, don’t think the contrast is between physical, material, visible things and invisible, immaterial things. That’s not what Paul means at all. The contrast is rather between two ways to live: the way of rebellion against God, on one hand (the way of the flesh); and the way of Jesus, on the other (the way of the Spirit). We know this because the following verses develop the contrast between these mindsets in terms of their attitudes toward God and their end results.
“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” (Rom. 8:7-8).
Interestingly enough, this passage doesn’t even present this as a command, but as a simple statement of fact (the verb in verse 5 is in the indicative mood, not the imperative; it’s not a command, it’s a reality). However, the command is found in this text:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2)
In light of this passage, developing a spiritual mindset is clearly something we must do. So, a spiritual mindset is not only a reality, an evidence of your spiritual condition. It is also a responsibility. Setting your mind on spiritual things is a command to be obeyed.
So, how do you set your mind on spiritual things? Here are three ways:
- Fill your mind with the Spirit’s words. Paul tells us, in 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is God-breathed. Jesus said, “the words I speak to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). And in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says “we have received . . . the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:12-13a). These passages show us that the Holy Spirit communicates through Scripture. The Holy Spirit works in tandem with the Word of God. To have a mind filled with and shaped by Scripture is, therefore, to have a mind that is set on the things of the Spirit.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. You can’t set your mind on the things of the Spirit all by yourself. You can’t do it without the Spirit. So, pray for the Spirit of God to work. I like to pray John Piper’s little acronym, the IOUS.
- I: “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to getting gain.” (Psalm 119:36)
- O: “Open my eyes that I might behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
- U: “Unite my heart that I might fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
- S: “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I might rejoice and be glad in you all my days.” (Psalm 90:14)
These prayers for the Spirit to do something in your mind and heart are good prayers to pray. God wants to answer those prayers.
- Practice the presence of the Spirit every day. Remember Brother Lawrence, that humble, ordinary man, who learned to bask in God’s presence moment-by-moment and day-by-day, even in menial everyday tasks, like cooking and washing dishes? He wrote about it in his famous book, The Practice of the Presence of God. And this is essential to cultivating a spiritual mindset – a mindset on the things of the Spirit. Realize he is right there with you, wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing. In fact, he is not only with you. He is in you. The Spirit of God is in you. He lives in your heart.