A key battleground in life is the mind. To live by the Spirit means we need to move our minds away from the fleshly or trivial and for our minds to be increasingly consumed by things of the Spirit.
Understanding What Is Meant
Paul is teaching that what we set our minds on is indicative of something bigger. We will either set our minds on the things of the flesh (leading to death) or on the things of the Spirit (leading to life and peace).
In talking about ‘things of the flesh’, Paul is not only talking about things that are explicitly sinful, but also things that are trivial and insignificant yet consume our thinking and distract us from the things of God. In our age, overcoming the distractions of triviality (often made more prevalent by technology) is a particular challenge for Christians who wish to live a focussed life of walking with the Spirit.
By contrast, we are urged to set our minds on ‘things of the Spirit’. This, of course, includes thoughts about God himself, but also thoughts about other things that are in line with godliness (see Phil. 4:6-8). To do this involves both shaping our ‘intentional thoughts’ by seeking sources of truth with which to fill our minds and shaping our ‘background thoughts’ through practising God’s presence constantly.
The challenge in this message is to pay attention to what we are paying attention to – and thereby give space for the Spirit to increasingly fill our minds. There are two elements to the application of this:
Firstly, eliminate thoughts that distract. Take stock of current patterns of thought and attention. Evaluate where default background thoughts drift. Develop healthy boundaries around aspects of life that compete for our attention (particularly phones, social media and TV binge watching – though many other things may apply too) and ask for the Spirit’s help in keeping these things from dominating our minds.
Secondly, be intentional in engaging with truth. Proactively fill your mind with thoughts of God. Read scripture, study, meditate on things of God, listen to the voice of the Spirit. Setting our minds on things of the Spirit is not something that happens on its own. It requires diligent, disciplined, Spirit-empowered pursuit of truth.
There is a virtuous circle between the mind and the Spirit. As we set our minds on things of the Spirit, we will want to increasingly walk in his power. And as we walk in his power, we will want to more and more fill our minds with his truth.