Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spiritually Minded

To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

                        Romans 8.6 (KJV) 

The Lost Connection

The etymology of “carnality” traces back to the Latin root, caro, or “flesh.” That’s what we understand carnality to mean—indulgence in desires of the flesh or submission to its needs. A number of well-known words, good and bad, descend from caro: caress, carnage, carnation, carnival, carnivorous, incarnate, and charnel. So where did caro come from?. Going one step further to investigate its origin, we encounter a weird leap. Caro derives from the Greek verb keirein, “to cut.” This makes no sense. If anything, association of flesh with cutting gives us shivers.

In Paul’s time, however, when many were bilingual in Latin and Greek, the older word added unique resonance to its stepchild much like someone fluent in English and German gets how zaftig, Yiddish slang for “plump,” relates to saftig, which means “juicy” in Munich. The lost connection between caro and keirein is restored when we hear Paul say, “To be carnally minded is death.” This isn’t a clumsy ploy to coerce Roman readers to shape up or face eternal damnation. (Such a cheap scare tactic doesn’t jibe with his theology of hope and grace, anyway.) Yielding to carnal drives is deadly right now. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God,” Paul contends. (Romans 8.8) Carnality cuts us off from God. It short-circuits His power in us and severs ties to Him. Now the caro-keirein connection makes a world of sense.

On the Upside

As he so often does, Paul hurriedly balances his negative point with its polar opposite. What he least wants to do is cloud the Romans’ minds with defeatism and fear. That’s old-school legalism, and after his bitter history as an “our-way-or-else” Pharisee, Paul despises nothing more than fear-clad compliance. His message consistently witnesses his personal testimony—“I’m free!” Listen to his lead sentence in Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” I know this for myself, he says, and you should know it, too.

Paul habitually prefaces the gospel of freedom with the law of sin and death to divorce following Christ from keeping laws. Legalism focuses entirely on failures of the flesh. Thus, it’s carnal and can’t work because its tireless attempts to legislate behavior inevitably result in defeat. Sooner than we realize, conforming to standards replaces pleasing God. We fly so fast down the slippery slope we’re scared to death and fraught with anxiety. “Now let’s look on the upside” is basically what the semicolon in Romans 8.6 means. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Transformed to Transcend

To understand Paul’s definition of “spiritually minded,” we flip a few pages ahead to Romans 12.2, which says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” To be spiritually minded requires disavowing all thoughts rooted in flesh. And to Paul, governing our flesh to please others and indulging it to please ourselves are one and the same. Neither pleases God because both cut us off from Him by closing our minds to His will.

Spiritually minded believers stay open. They believe in change. They move when and where His Spirit leads, knowing they’re free to do so. Harnessing themselves to hard and fast rules impedes their responsiveness to fresh inspiration and opportunities God provides. They don’t pretend to know exactly what He expects or what He’s up to, but they learn to accept the unprecedented and anticipate the unusual. The spiritual mind renews itself to accommodate renewed thinking. It tests every thought for God’s pleasure, rejecting notions that place pleasing others or ourselves above Him. As a result, it routinely shouts “Yes!” when carnally minded believers shout “No way!” Spiritually minded people aren’t transformed to conform but transformed to transcend, to rise above fleshly conceits to realms of faith, where they find life and peace. In this light, Lent becomes less about what we should and shouldn’t do than how we should and shouldn’t think.

When carnally minded Christians shout "No way," spiritually minded believers shout, "Yes!"

(Tomorrow: Led)

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