Repentance, Law and the Conflict Between the Two Minds ...

The Mind of the Flesh and the Mind of Christ

William Chamberlain, 1941: The New Testament is the story of clashing viewpoints. This clash occurs along the entire front of human life and thought. Its basic cause lies in what Paul calls "the mind of the flesh."

The Mind of the Flesh

"For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God." - Rom. 8:6-8.

Paul speaks of two characteristics of the mind of the flesh: unwillingness to be subject to the law of God, and inability to be subject to that law (Rom. 8:6,7). The Greek word for "mind," phroneema, which Paul uses here, suggests the "bent of one's mind," one's inclinations. These inclinations are marked by hostility to God and revolt against the law of God. It is this revolt of the natural man that makes the Pauline doctrine of reconciliation necessary. This will be discussed more fully in the next chapter.

The unwillingness of man to be subject to the law of God explains why Jesus demanded repentance as a preparation for the coming Kingdom. A kingdom, with its subjects in revolt, could have neither stability nor peace. Men must reverse their minds before they can participate in God's reign. Without this, they are subversive elements in the Kingdom - enemies, not citizens.

The inability of the mind of the flesh to be subject to the law of God suggests the necessity for the Johannine formula: "Except a man be born again" (John 3:3, A.V.). As stated previously, without the birth of a new nature, men - even religious leaders of the rank of Nicodemus - can neither comprehend nor participate in the reign of God. Does the fact of this inability suggest why the New Testament writers speak of God's giving repentance (Acts 11:18; II Tim. 2:25) unto men?

The phrase, "mind of the flesh," is peculiar to this passage (Rom. 8:6,7). In fact, this Greek word for mind, phroneema, occurs in only one other verse in the New Testament, Rom. 8: 2 7. In this latter instance, it is "the mind of the Spirit." Here again we confront a clash of "minds." The mind dominated by the flesh leads to death, because of its hostility to God; the mind imparted by the Spirit leads to life and peace, for the mind of the Spirit is in harmony with God's mind, and makes intercession for man "according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:27).

The cognate verb, phroneoo is almost exclusively a Pauline word. It always implies a deep-seated mental outlook. Of the twenty-seven occurrences in the New Testament, twenty-four are in the Pauline epistles. One of the three instances not in the Pauline letters is addressed to Paul by the Jews of Rome when they said to him, "But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:22). Here is a clash of viewpoints on the nature of the Christian movement; the Jews of Rome want to know where Paul stands.

The remaining two instances not in the Pauline epistles occur in connection with Jesus' rebuke to Peter near Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus foretold his betrayal, crucifixion, and death. To Peter's shocked exclamation, "Mercy on thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee," Jesus replied, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men" ( Matt. 16:22, 23; Mark 8:32,33). To Peter's mind, the death of Christ would be an unmitigated tragedy; to Christ, it was a fulfillment of God's purpose.

The Cross is the greatest difficulty that the natural man faces in the Christian faith. It is still the primary difficulty that the Jew faces in accepting Christ as Saviour. It is a difficulty that appears again and again in the New Testament. The mind of the flesh cannot understand a suffering Saviour.

Although the phrase, "the mind of the flesh," is peculiar to Rom. 8:6,7, the idea occurs in many places, expressed by a variety of phrases.

Paul spoke of a wisdom of the world that knew not God (I Cor. 1:21); of a wisdom of the rulers of this world who failed to know the "wisdom ... which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: ... for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (I Cor. 2:7,8); of a "fleshly wisdom" as a ground of glorying which he had rejected (II Cor. 1:12). He also spoke of manmade rules for ascetic practices "which ... have .. . a show of wisdom in will-worship, and [mock] humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:23). These are all set in strong contrast with the wisdom imparted by God, with whom the wisdom of this world is foolishness (I Cor. 3:19), and who made Christ to be wisdom to us from God, and righteousness and sanctification to us and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). It is God's purpose to destroy the wisdom of the worldly-wise (I Cor. 1:19).

The offense of the Cross precipitates this discussion of the two wisdoms. As Friedrich Nietzsche (Jenseits Gut und Bose) has said, "The idea of a God on the cross reversed all the values of antiquity." To the Jew, a crucified Messiah was an odious thought, a stumbling block, a cause for bitterness of soul and bitterness of speech. To the Greek, the idea was a cause for derision, too ridiculous to take seriously. But a third group, those that were called, both Jews and Greeks, found in this message "Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1:24). The wisdom of the world is set in sharp contrast to the wisdom of God, and "the foolishness of God" was seen to be "wiser than men."

But a degree of maturity was required to see the relationship between the two wisdoms. The word of the Cross might be an occasion for blasphemy with the Jew and a cause for tittering with the Greek, but among them that were full-grown, it was recognized as wisdom, "yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought" (I Cor. 2:6). It was God's wisdom foreordained before the worlds. That which enabled men to know "the things that were freely given to us of God" (I Cor. 2:12) was the presence and teaching of the Spirit: "Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them [the old inability of Rom. 8:6,7 and John 3:3,5], because they are spiritually judged" (I Cor. 2:14).

The natural man is defective at this point. Rebirth into a different order, a third race, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, is necessary for insight into these things. To those who were perishing, the Gospel was foolishness; to those who were being saved, it was "the power of God, and the wisdom of God."

The outcome of this defect was that the wise man of this world and the learned scribe were left by the wayside in unbelief. "Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," were called. This is in line with the response of those who should have been guests at the Great Supper (Matt. 22:1-14).

The Epistle of James (James 3:15) speaks of a wisdom that cometh not down from above, "but is earthly, sensual, devilish." Its expression in society is bitter jealousy, faction, confusion, and every vile deed. This has been all too often illustrated in our world. "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy" (James 3:27).

As we have seen, the core of the "mind of the flesh" is hostility to God and inability of itself to change. Its mood is expressed by opportunistic self-seeking, jealousy, quarrelsomeness, strife, confusion, and vicious living." "The works of the flesh," says Paul, "are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21). The "mind of the flesh" and the phrase "in the flesh" are used synonymously by Paul, so we assume that the "works of the flesh" are the expression of the mind of the flesh (Rom. 8:6-8).

The inability of the mind of the flesh to submit to the will of God and therefore please him is met by the work of the Holy Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23). The contrast between "works of the flesh" and "fruit of the Spirit" should be noted. Works suggest effort and striving; fruit suggests spontaneous growth, the expression of life. The plural "works," used by Paul, suggests diversity and disunity; the singular "fruit" suggests unity in achievement. These first impressions are borne out by the fact that the works of the flesh named by Paul are essentially divisive, while the fruit of the Spirit is unifying. The Christian graces, listed as the fruit of the Spirit, are essentially a unity of Christian virtue.

The inability of the mind of the flesh is further seen in the failure of the world's wise men and learned scribes to understand the "word of the cross," and to understand the things of the Spirit in general. Nicodemus, as we have noted, is only typical at this point: Except a man be born from above, by the Spirit, the Kingdom of God is an enigma and an offense. He not only cannot understand it, but cannot participate in it, even in ignorance. In such a state, one may "have a zeal for God" (Rom. 10:2,3), but be so bent on establishing his own righteousness that he becomes a rebel against God, as did Paul. Men of violence still attempt to wrest the Kingdom of heaven to make it fit in with their ideas. However, it is God's Kingdom and he has a way of carrying out his purposes whether we treat them violently or not. Kicking against the pricks does not seem to bring enlightenment; it rather brings resentment against those who have found the Way. Only a new light, a light above the brightness of the noonday sun, helps.

It is well to recall at this point that it was as God presented new light to the world in the Gospel that he also presented the challenge: "Repent ye," change your mind in the light of the new revelation. "The times of ignorance... God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent" (Acts 17:30).

The Mind of Christ

"Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross." - Phil. 2:5-8.

The mind of Christ, according to Paul, represents a completely different attitude. Although he was on an equality with God, he did not grasp the privilege and exploit it for self, nor did he set up in opposition to the Father. On the contrary, he "emptied himself," by "taking the form of a servant, and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself "further" even unto death," the most ignominious death that could be inflicted upon man (Phil. 2:5-11). When all his human nature recoiled from such a death, and he prayed that the cup pass from him, he conditioned the prayer upon its harmony with God's will: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39).

This opportunity for self-assertion on the part of Jesus is played upon in the New Testament. The Tempter used it in his approach to Jesus after the baptism: "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matt. 4:3). The force of the conditional clause in the Greek is practically causal: "Since you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." The appeal is," Use your prerogatives to your own advantage." Satan's assumption is that of course all power is used for selfish ends.

This assumption lies very near the heart of The Book of Job: "Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath, on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will renounce thee to thy face" (Job 1:9-11). Privilege, like power, is always used selfishly, so Satan assumed. Even in religion, a man's primary objective is to feather his own nest. When religion ceases to yield dividends, men will cease to be religious. "Doth Job fear God for nought?" According to Satan, Job was the original of the "rice Christian." This is the mind of the flesh exemplified; the ego is the center of all striving, all aspiring, all loyalty. The mind of Christ is the exact reverse.

The Transition Is Repentance

The change represented by the transition from this Satanic philosophy to that of Christ, who emptied himself, is the New Testament idea of repentance. The mind of Christ is patterned after the method of God's dealing with men: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16). Self-giving is the heart of one philosophy; self-protection is the heart of the other.

Jesus made his plea for repentance in varied language, but none was more arresting and forceful than when he said: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:24,25).

To deny self is not synonymous with self-denial. The latter can be too trivial to be serious. To deny self is to dethrone self. It is synonymous with taking up one's cross. Men did not normally take up crosses as burdens - Simon of Cyrene was an exception to this rule. The cross was the visible death sentence of the man who bore it. Dethroning self and taking up one's cross are two ways of saying the same thing: Self is no longer sovereign; Christ is sovereign. This is the basic fact of repentance.

The reason Jesus gave for this counsel was that "whosoever would save his life shall lose it." Self-assertion is the surest method of self-defeat. Self-dethronement is the way to self-realization of the highest sort: "Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it." One may "have" his life and never know the depth and meaning of life until it is surrendered to Christ.

Make me a captive, Lord,
And then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conqueror be.

My will is not my own
Till thou hast made it thine;
If it would reach a monarch's throne
It must its crown resign;

It only stands unbent
Amid the clashing strife,
When on thy bosom it has leant,
And found in thee its life." (George Matheson)

To put the idea in other words:

That soul may last but never lives,
Who much receives but nothing gives."

The Apostle Paul spoke of the death of Christ from this viewpoint: "And he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again" (II Cor. 5:15). The preposition "unto" is used twice in this sentence to translate the dative case. The more correct preposition would be "for." Let us read the quotation, substituting "for" for "unto". "He died for all, that they that live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sakes died and rose again." What a light this sheds on the doctrine of the atonement!

The atoning death of Christ was designed, in so far as it affected men, to put a stop to our living for self and to enable us to begin to live for him who died for us. But one will say: "Why should I live for another? My life is my own. I will live it as I see fit. Why should I live for Christ?" We see the reason in Jesus' words: "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25; cf. Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24).

These are the words of the One who said: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Does this imply that the mass of mankind is lost in self-seeking? "Not thy will, but mine, be done," is the protest of the unregenerate man. Much so-called Christian praying unconsciously seeks to conform God's will to the desires of the one praying. That is why most of us think of prayer in terms of asking God for the things we want. Repentance is the transition to the spirit which prays, "Not my will, but thine, be done." As long as we seek to have our way in the smallest detail of life, we need to "repent."

We have already seen that the same Saviour who came to seek and to save the lost came also to call sinners, which includes all mankind, according to the New Testament, to "repentance" (Luke 5:32). He came that men might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). These are three ways of saying the same thing. Men are lost in self-seeking; they are found, when they come to themselves, in "repentance"; and this self-discovery, by losing self in Christ, is the abundant life.

I believe that the New Testament teaches the substitutionary atonement, but there are reaches of thought in the atonement that none of the doctrines formulated by men have yet explored. Too often the substitutionary atonement has been accepted in the spirit of "Jesus paid it all, so there is nothing for me to do." As I understand the atonement, in the light of II Cor. 5:15, Jesus paid it all, so I owe my all to him. Henceforth and forever, I live for him and not for myself. This transformation of mental outlook is the essence of repentance. To repeat, Jesus called for repentance because the Kingdom of heaven was at hand. No other attitude of mind admits one to the Kingdom; with no other attitude can one participate in or comprehend the Kingdom.

This change of mind is often accompanied by travail of soul. A complete reversal of one's standard of values is a soul-searching experience. The reorientation of one's life, with respect to both God and man, will not be accomplished by man's will unaided. The New Testament teaches that God takes the initiative in this reorientation.

The Reorientation of the Mind of Man

It must be said again that the transition from the mind of the flesh to the mind of Christ constitutes the New Testament concept of repentance. Self-assertion gives way to self-surrender to Christ. Hostility to God's purposes and rebellion against his providences are replaced by joyful obedience. Opportunism gives way to selfless service. The inability of the mind of the flesh to do God's will is offset by the empowering work of the Spirit. Man moves into a new world, with a new perspective. Coming out of darkness into light changes all the conditions of seeing.

The Pharisees, vigilant in the defense of their conception of righteousness, came down from Jerusalem to Galilee to keep an eye on this Jesus, this upstart prophet (Mark 7:1-23). When they saw that "some of his disciples" ate their bread with unwashed hands, they were shocked beyond measure. The sin consisted in a breach of the "traditions of the elders." Righteousness, to the Pharisee, consisted in the correct observance of the traditions, the conventions of religion. If these traditions or conventions contravened the law of God, it was too bad for the law of God. All too often the same spirit has entered the Christian Church.

Sensitivity to the conventionalities of society has always led to the externalizing of religion. To externalize religious practice is to destroy its power. What went into a man's stomach was, religiously, more important to the Pharisee than what came out of his heart. How the water is applied in baptism is far more important to some Christians than whether the Spirit of God has a part in baptism. This remark is not directed toward the immersionists alone; I have known some who advocated sprinkling with an almost equal exaggeration of the importance of the method by which the water is applied. I make a plea for the supreme importance of the baptism of the Spirit which accompanies every case of genuine repentance.

We know how difficult it was even for Peter to learn that all foods were religiously clean. There was an equal difficulty for Jewish Christians in understanding how circumcision was set aside. It was no easy transition to move from a ritualistic religion to one where only spiritual values are important.

Such a parable as that of the New Wine in Old Wine-Skins (Mark 2:22) was an effort on the part of Jesus to show that what he offered was something new, filled with ferment. Therefore, the old forms could not contain it. The parable of the Patched Garment (Mark 2:21) taught that worn-out Judaism could not be patched up with fragments of Christian teaching without destruction to both.

There must be a sharp break between the new and the old, because they are hopelessly different. A religion of externalism presents an irresistible temptation to observe the forms of religion to be seen of men. Inevitably, religious life becomes shallow and unreal under such conditions: men become play actors, hypocrites. And yet with the unreality there often goes a fanatical fidelity to forms, to slogans, to shibboleths - a zeal for God which is not according to (full) knowledge: a zeal for righteousness which persecutes the Church. The clash between these two ideas of religion became very violent in the Apostolic Church. In succeeding centuries it has frequently been devastatingly violent in the Church.

Quite unconsciously, the legalist becomes, to himself, religiously more important than God. Returning to the words of the parable, when he prays, he prays "thus with himself"; the Greek says, "To himself," not to God. The mood and emphasis of such a man's prayer is wrong. Its point of reference is all wrong; he thanks God that he is not as other men, instead of acknowledging that he, like other men, is a sinner, needing God's mercy.

Paul had known, as intimately as any man could, what this religion of convention and tradition could do for a man and to a man. It could make him exceedingly zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Gal. 1:14), but leave him an angry, fuming fanatic (Acts 9:1), kicking against the goad (Acts 26:14), frustrated and seeking to overcome his sense of frustration by more intense persecution. It had made him hard and pitiless as he strove to make men blaspheme and deny their Lord, as he hounded them to foreign cities. It enabled him to stand haughtily by as the dying Stephen prayed, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 10:60). As Paul recalled these days, he felt that they disqualified him, forever, for being an apostle, except for the grace of God (I Cor. 15:9,10; Eph. 3:8).

A man "exceedingly mad" against all who differ with him is not likely to exemplify the mind of Christ. It is the way of man to be more intolerant than God. "There's a wideness in God's mercy" which only the mind of Christ understands. The disciples encountered this difference between themselves and Jesus. As we have noticed before, even John fell into this false attitude: "Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us" (Mark 9: 38-40). For Jesus, the test was, "Does the man do a mighty (good) work in my name?"; for John, it was, "Does he follow us?" The mind of the flesh was asserting itself in John.

But there was need for repentance on other occasions, e.g., when James and John are said to have asked Jesus' approval for calling down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village which did not receive him. "But he turned, and rebuked them. And they went to another village" (Luke 9:55,56). Codex Bezae reads: "But he turned and rebuked them and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." Whether this addition belongs in the text or not, it supplies the point of distinction between the mind of Christ and the mind of two of his closest followers: they were of a different spirit. Jesus would leave those who rejected him - possibly another day they would believe; James and John would destroy them. This is merely another example of men of violence wresting the Kingdom to their own standard. It is another evidence of the need for repentance, even in James and John. The achievement of repentance is marked by the two epithets applied to John: "Son of Thunder" and "Apostle of Love." They indicate a genuine reorientation.

Paul, who well knew the spirit that assumed personal righteousness and set all other men at nought (Luke 18:9), could look back on the old life with very clear eyes. He had, as we have noticed before, enjoyed as many religious privileges as any living man -yea, more than most of them: "circumcised the eighth day," and therefore neither an Edomite nor a proselyte; "of the stock of Israel," and therefore one of the covenant people; "of the tribe of Benjamin," and therefore not guilty in his ancestry of revolt against the house of David; "a Hebrew of Hebrews," and therefore not a Hellenistic Jew who had forsaken the language of the fathers; "as touching the law, a Pharisee," and therefore one of the strictest observers of the law; "as touching zeal, persecuting the church," and therefore more loyal to the faith of the fathers than many; "as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless" (Phil. 3:5,6). But these qualifications had not made him acceptable to God.

To repeat, all these assets, so important in the old religion, he now saw as liabilities: "Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil. 3:8,9). All his personal achievements in piety Paul now saw as spiritual liabilities, as refuse, for they kept him from gaining Christ and being found in him - in spite of the fact that he had advanced so far in the religion of his fathers (Gal. 1:14).

To be found in Christ meant that he was a new creature (II Cor. 5:17). Having a righteousness of his own - self-righteousness - kept him from having the righteousness which is a gift from God and which comes through faith in Christ. These things put him in that class of whom Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9: 1 3). They put him in a class with those who thank God that they are not as other men are and then go down to their houses unjustified.

Paul made the supreme sacrifice of all these things that he might "know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means "he might" attain unto the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10,11). This is the supreme example of repentance in Christian history. Paul was very near the mind of Christ, and yet was not quite there: "Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14).

This is the man who tells us that the mind of the flesh is hostility to God, that it can never please God.

This is the man who told the Philippian Christians that they should have the mind which was also in Christ Jesus. He used a present imperative, phroneite they must keep on thinking as Christ did. Repentance, the transition from the mind of the flesh to the mind of Christ, is cumulative, and lifelong, and should be constantly progressing. In the thought of Calvin, repentance ought to extend throughout his (the Christian's) whole life (Institutes 3:3:9). Repentance, as a transition from the mind of the flesh to the mind of Christ, has direction, progress, and destination. If there is a lack of definiteness in any of the three, our repentance is defective.

It is only as we move closer to the mind of Christ that the clash between our wills and the will of Christ is progressively eliminated. At the same time, the conflict within our own beings is reduced. Then Jesus' promise, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27), may become a reality.

Lecture delivered by William Douglas Chamberlain at Columbia Theological Seminary, 1941

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