By Steven Chan
1. Gen 6:5: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Following the observation of man’s wickedness, God declared: “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth…” (Gen 6:7)
The wickedness of man encompasses “very intent of the thoughts of his heart”. It springs from man’s heart. Jesus said in Mark 7:2-23: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
The Bible warns in Jer 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
The Bible says in Prov 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” We are exhorted to “be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.” (Prov 4:23, ERV). Another version renders this passage thus: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” (GNB).
2. Knowing the danger posed by the “thoughts of our hearts and minds”, the Bible urges all who have been baptized into Christ, to “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:2a). The Bible warns in Rom 8:5-6: “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, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
3. What does it mean to “set our mind”? The Cambridge dictionary says: “to decide you are going to do something and to put a lot of effort into doing it.” Thayer defines φρονέω or phroneo as “to direct one’s mind to a thing”. According M R Vincent, “seek marks the practical striving; set your mind (refers to), the inward impulse and disposition”.
This requires conscious decision and effort on our part. It does not happen automatically after one has been baptized. The Bible does not teach that the Holy Spirit will act directly and intervene in our hearts and minds so that we can become “spiritually-minded” instead of being “carnally-minded”. We are exhorted to make the necessary effort to “set our mind” as one would set one’s alarm clock.
4. The Bible implies that the default setting of our mind is one that is fixed or set on earthly things: Eph 2:1-3: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, … 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”
So, if we do nothing or fail to make a conscious effort to re-set our minds, our minds will not be directed to spiritual things.
5. Apostle Paul explained the need for our mind to be renewed or re-set so that our lives may be transformed: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom 12:2)
6. The re-setting of our mind requires us to “put off” certain things and to “put on” the attributes a Spirit-led life.
a. “Therefore, put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him… Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:5-11)
b. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:12-17)
c. Apart from evil desire and covetousness, a common manifestation of a mind that has not been re-set to bear the fruit of the Spirit, is “anger, wrath and malice”. On the point of anger, wrath and malice, the Bible commentator Barnes wrote on Eph 4:26 – “be angry but sin not”:
““Anger” is a passion too common to need any description. It is an excitement or agitation of mind, of more or less violence, produced by the reception of a real or supposed injury, and attended commonly with a desire or purpose of revenge. The desire of revenge, however, is not essential to the existence of the passion, though it is probably always attended with a disposition to express displeasure, to chide, rebuke, or punish; compare Mark 3:5. To a great extent the sudden excitement on the reception of an injury is involuntary, and consequently innocent….
When there is an unforgiving spirit; a determination to exact the utmost satisfaction for the injury which has been done. If people were perfectly holy, that sudden “arousing of the mind” in danger, or on the reception of an injury; which would serve to prompt us to save ourselves from danger, would exist, and would be an important principle of our nature. As it is now, it is violent; excessive; incontrollable; persevered in – and is almost always wrong. If people were holy, this excitement of the mind would obey the first injunctions of “reasons,” and be wholly under its control; as it is now, it seldom obeys reason at all – and is wholly wrong. Moreover, if all people were holy; if there were none “disposed” to do an injury, it would exist only in the form of a sudden arousing of the mind against immediate danger – which would all be right. Now, it is excited not only in view of “physical” dangers, but in view of the “wrongs” done by others – and hence it terminates on the “person” and not the “thing,” and becomes often wholly evil.”
The Bible counsels in James 1:19-20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God”
As James expressed later in his epistle: “My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10)
7. How are we to re-set our mind to seek the things above (Col 3:1)?
a. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)
When we learn to trust God by praying to Him and asking for His grace and wisdom (Heb 4:16; James 1:5), then we will not be “anxious” or easily agitated or worked up, because we have the “peace of God” to guard our hearts and minds in Christ.
b. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33)
When we learn to prioritize the matters of the kingdom of God above all else, then we will seek to do the things that will glorify God (including exercising self-control over conduct such as any inclination to be covetous, or learning to be “slow to anger”).
c. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9)
The Bible teaches us to think or meditate on matters that are “just, pure, lovely, of good report or anything praiseworthy”. In other words, don’t brood over anything that is not just, not lovely, or not of good virtue or praiseworthy.
d. In Col 3:14, the Bible says “above all” that we are to put on love and 1 Cor 13:4-7 describes the attributes of love: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
A person with the default mindset of being carnal or fleshly would not be “loving” in that he: –
i. will not suffer long a perceived wrong or injury done to him,
ii. will not act kindly towards anyone who is perceived to disrespect him,
iii. will behave “rudely” towards anyone who is perceived to have hurt his feelings,
iv. will insist to have things done his own way thinking/believing that his way is always the better or right way without due consideration for others, even that of parents, siblings, spouses or fellow brethren – the Bible says: “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Eph 4:2-3; “be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect” – 1 Pet 3:7, NIV; “willing to yield” (on matters of personal preferences but not to sin) – James 3:17; Rom 14:13,19; 15:2,7),
v. will be easily provoked or upset if they do not get their own ways or if others do not agree with his suggestions;
vi. will think that others are seeking/plotting to do evil to him – “whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmising or evil suspicions” (1 Tim 6:4, KJV) and/or seeking to do evil to others – to return evil for evil;
vii. will not be interested in the truth in any given situation – tending to draw adverse inference (not restricted to just not believing the truth of the gospel)
viii. will not “bear or forbear” any perceived wrong or injury done to him; is distrustful of the actions of others and cannot endure any perceived wrongs done to him.
We will do well to go through the checklist of 1 Cor 13:4-7 to see whether we have made every effort to “put on love” and “walk in love” as defined by God.
e. As we meditate on God’s Word and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5) our minds are being renewed (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:10; Eph 4:13-14) and we would be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18).
8. As our thoughts are brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, we would be led by the Spirit’s teachings and we will bear the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23) replacing “contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions” (Gal 5:20).
This is consistent with the exhortation of the apostle Peter in 2 Pet 1:5-11: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Have you consciously re-set your mind to bring every intent and thought captive to the obedience of Christ? Have we resolved to be led by the teachings of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph 6:17) in how we conduct our lives? Paul wrote thus: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). Have we become more like Christ in our attitude, behavior and conduct? Or, are we still behaving like mere man (1 Cor 3:1-3)?
Let’s resolve to add to our faith all the attributes that are consistent with those professing to be disciples of Christ, and not remain as “babes in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1; Heb 5:12-14). Set our mind on the things above; be guided by the wisdom that is from above, not by earthly wisdom (James 3:13-18).