Are You in the Right Mind?

2 Corinthians

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about the two opposing mind-sets of believers and unbelievers. You will learn why unbelievers and believers have different mind-sets and how these differences affect all of life.

Flesh vs. Spirit: Romans 8:5-8.

[5]  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. [6]  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7]  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. [8]  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  [ESV]

In these verses Paul develops the antithesis between flesh and Spirit. Paul’s purpose is to explain why obedience to the law is possible only to those who walk according to the Spirit. We begin with some definitions. By flesh Paul means the whole of our humanness viewed as corrupt and unredeemed, our fallen, ego-centric human nature, or more briefly the sin-dominated self. By spirit in this passage Paul means not the higher aspect of our humanness viewed as ‘spiritual’ but rather the personal Holy Spirit Himself who now not only regenerates but also indwells the people of God. This tension between flesh and spirit is reminiscent of Gal. 5:16-26, where they are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. Here Paul concentrates on the mind, or mindset, of those who are characterized by either flesh or spirit.

First, our mindset expresses our basic nature as Christians or non-Christians [5]. In both cases their nature determines their mindset. Moreover, since the flesh is our twisted human nature, its desires are all those things which pander to our ungodly self-centeredness. Since the Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself, however, His desires are all those things which please Him, who loves above all else to glorify Christ, that is, to show Christ to us and form Christ in us. Now to set the mind on the desires of flesh or spirit is to make them the absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection and purpose. It is a question of what preoccupies us, of the ambitions which drive us and the concerns which engross us, of how we spend our time and our energies, of what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to. All this is determined by who we are, whether we are still in the flesh or are now by new birth in the Spirit.

Secondly, our mindset has eternal consequences [6]. The mindset of flesh-dominated people is already one of spiritual death and leads inevitably to eternal death, for it alienates them from God and renders fellowship with Him impossible in either this world or the next. The mindset of Spirit-dominated people, however, entails life and peace. On the one hand they are alive to God [6:11], alert to spiritual realities, and thirsty for God like nomads in the desert, like deer panting for streams. On the other hand, they have peace with God [5:1], peace with their neighbor [12:15], and peace within, enjoying an inner integration or harmony. We would surely pursue holiness with greater eagerness if we were convinced that it is the way of life and peace.

Thirdly, our mindset concerns our fundamental attitude to God [7-8]. The reason the mind of the flesh is death is that it is hostile to God, cherishing a deep-seated animosity against Him. It is antagonistic to His name, kingdom and will, to His day, His people and His word, to His Son, His Spirit and His glory. In particular, Paul singles out His moral standards. In contrast to the regenerate who delight in God’s law [7:22], the unregenerate mind does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so [7], which explains why those who live according to the flesh cannot fulfill the law’s righteous requirement [4]. Finally, those who are controlled by the sinful nature, lacking the Spirit of God, cannot please God [8]. They cannot please Him because they cannot submit to His law, whereas, it is implied, those who are in the Spirit set themselves to please Him in everything. To sum up, here are two categories of people (the unregenerate who are in the flesh and the regenerate who are in the Spirit), who have two perspectives or mindsets (the mind of the flesh and the mind of the Spirit), which lead to two patterns of conduct (living according to the flesh or the Spirit), and result in two spiritual states (death or life, enmity or peace). Thus our mind, where we set it and how we occupy it, plays a key role in both our present conduct and our final destiny.

Blindness vs. Sight:  2 Corinthians 4:3-4.

[3]  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. [4]  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [ESV]

At this point Paul turns to the objection that the gospel, for which he claims so unique a power, has patently been ineffective in the case of many, no doubt the majority, of those to whom he proclaimed it. Large numbers have entirely failed to perceive its superlative glory of which he has spoken with such enthusiasm. The fault, however, is not in the gospel, but in those who have failed to discern its glory. The unveiled gospel, openly proclaimed, has been veiled to them because it is veiled in them; the veil is over their hearts and minds [3:14-16], not over the gospel. It is not Paul’s gospel but they who stand condemned. The absence of its saving effects in their lives shows that they are perishing in blind unbelief, while its glory continues undiminished. “The blindness of unbelievers in no way detracts from the clearness of his gospel for the sun is no less resplendent because the blind do not perceive its light” (John Calvin).

But there is another power at work besides the wills of those whose hearts are veiled against the gospel light – the god of this world, to whom, in turning away from the one true God, those who are perishing have submitted themselves, and by whom their unbelieving minds are blinded. Satan holds a certain sway over the world during this present age. But it is a sway that is usurped, temporary, and in no sense absolute. How, then, is it possible to ascribe the name of “god” to him who is the great adversary of Almighty God? The answer is that Satan wishes, albeit vainly, to set himself up as God, and sinners, in rebelling against the true God, subject themselves to him who is the author of their rebellion. The unregenerate serve Satan as though he were their God. They do not thereby, however, escape from the dominion of the one true God. On the contrary, they bring themselves under His righteous judgment; for Satan is a creature and not a God to be served. Just as there is only one gospel in the world and every pretended alternative to it is a false no-gospel, so there is only one God of the universe and every other deity whom men worship and serve is a false no-god. The dreadful consequence of unbelief, of bowing down to the god of this world instead of to the only true God, is that the mind is blinded. This effect is attributed to Satan as the initiator of sin and therefore of its consequences; but it should not be overlooked that, despite the satanic revolt, God is still sovereign and that this blindness resulting from sin also has the nature of a judgment upon the willful and persistent rebelliousness of the human heart. This, in turn, is attended by the inability to perceive and rejoice in the surpassing splendor of the gospel, and that means perdition. The tempter, in fact, sets in motion a kind of chain-reaction: sin leads to blindness, and blindness leads to destruction. Unbelievers, their minds blinded by that no-god the devil, are incapacitated from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Paul had full knowledge of what it meant to be blinded by sin, and he knew also, through his own history, that the all-prevailing power of God alone could dispel that darkness. From the moment of his conversion onwards the transcendental light of the gospel unceasingly suffused the whole of his existence.

Human Wisdom vs. the Mind of Christ:  1 Corinthians 2:10-16.

[10]  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [11]  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  [12]  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. [13]  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. [14]  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15]  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16]  "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.  [ESV]

[10-13]  Paul is in no doubt as to who has the truth, the learned philosophers or the humble believers. To the believers great things have been revealed by God. There can be no feelings of pride where it is recognized that all is of God. Believers know what they know, not because of any skill or wisdom of their own, but because it has pleased God to reveal it to them. Paul speaks of the revelation as having been accomplished by the Holy Spirit. This is a kind of turning point, for while he has previously mentioned the Spirit occasionally in his argument, he now begins to dwell upon His activities. Searches [10] does not mean that the Spirit searches with a view to obtaining information. Rather it is a way of saying that He penetrates into all things. There is nothing which is beyond His knowledge. In particular Paul specifies the depths of God. Depths is a word often used to describe the mighty depths of the sea, and thus comes to signify unfathomable. It points us to the impossibility of any creature knowing the innermost recesses of the divine counsel. But they are known to the Spirit, and it is this Spirit who has revealed the truths of which Paul speaks. The place of the Spirit is brought out by the analogy of man’s nature in verse 11. Nobody can really know what is going on inside a person, nobody except the person’s own spirit. From outside other people can guess. But the spirit of the person does not guess. He knows. In the same way, reasons Paul, no one outside God can know what takes place within God. Nobody can know but the Spirit of God Himself. That is to say, the Spirit knows God from the inside. There can be no question but that this passage ascribes full deity to the Spirit. And it also implies that the revelation of which Paul has been speaking is authentic. Because the Spirit who reveals is truly God, what He reveals is the truth of God. In verse 12 Paul once again sets Christians over against the wisdom of this age [6] with an emphatic we. The spirit of the world probably refers to worldly wisdom which is in opposition to the wisdom that comes from God. In contrast to this human wisdom are believers who have received the Spirit who is from God who brings assurance and understanding to the believer. What the Christian receives they pass on [13]. So Paul says that these revealed truths are spoken by believers to others. This is not done by means of human wisdom but rather by means of the teaching by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s activity extends to providing the actual words used, and is not confined to the supplying of general ideas: words … taught by the Spirit.

[14-16]  Though what is taught is a revelation from God, and though it is taught in words given by the Holy Spirit, it is not received by all. Paul gives as the reason that the natural person has their limitations. Natural does not mean anything like sinful. But it does point to an absence of spiritual discernment. It refers to the man whose horizon is bounded by the things of this life. It is the worldly-wise person again, the person who has been so much in Paul’s thoughts throughout this passage. Such a person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. Such a person is not equipped to discern the activities of God’s Spirit. Paul goes so far as to say that it is quite impossible for them to know or understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The Greek word translated discerned means ‘to scrutinize’, ‘to examine’, and so ‘to judge of’, ‘to estimate’. It is used in a legal sense of the preliminary examination prior to the main hearing. Paul is insisting that the person whose equipment is only of this world, the person who has not received the Holy Spirit of God, has not the ability to make an analysis or judgment concerning spiritual things. By contrast, the spiritual person can examine and form a judgment on all things. By spiritual, Paul does not mean that this person has different natural abilities from the natural person of verse 14. What Paul means is that the spiritual person has been regenerated by the Spirit who now resides in this person’s heart, teaching him about the things of God. When the Spirit enters a person’s life everything is changed. One new thing that appears is the ability to make a right judgment because the Spirit of God now equips him. The Greek word translated judges is the same word translated discerned in verse 14. The second part of the verse is to be taken in the sense that the spiritual person is not to be judged by any natural person. It is clear enough from the whole tenor of Paul’s writings that he did not believe that the spiritual person could not be called upon to account for their actions. Much of this Epistle is nothing else than a criticism of spiritual people. What Paul means is that just as the natural person is not capable of evaluating spiritual truths so the natural person cannot understand or judge the spiritual person. The priorities, thoughts, actions of the spiritual person should not make any sense to the natural person because he has no personal faith relationship with God. Since the natural person does not have a saving knowledge of Christ, he cannot know or understand the follower of Christ [1 John 3:1]. This impossibility is shown by the question in verse 16. As none but the Spirit has knowledge of the depths of God it is manifestly impossible for the natural person to have knowledge of the person in whom the Spirit resides. It is due to the Spirit’s indwelling in believers that Paul can make the bold assertion that we have the mind of Christ. He does not mean that the Christian is able to understand all the thoughts of Christ. But he does mean that the indwelling Spirit reveals Christ. The spiritual person accordingly does not see things from the viewpoint of the worldly. He sees them from the viewpoint of Christ.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Why is obedience to God’s law only possible for those who walk according to the Spirit? Contrast the mindset of the flesh with that of the Spirit. Ask God to show you areas of your life where you are living according to the flesh instead of the Spirit.

2.         How does Paul, in 2 Cor. 4:3-4, answer the objection that the gospel is ineffective?

3.         Describe the work of the Spirit in the process of revelation. Why can only the spiritual person receive and understand this revelation?


The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter-varsity Press.

The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

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