For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, N.K.J.V.)
We don’t have to wonder what the apostle Paul means when he uses the descriptive phrase “spiritually minded.” The man himself explains it. In Romans 8:1 and Romans 8:4, he contrasts walking according to the flesh with walking according to the Spirit. In Romans 8:5, he contrasts living according to the flesh with living according to the Spirit. Also in Romans 8:5, he contrasts setting the mind on the things of the flesh with setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. Therefore, to be spiritually minded is to walk in the Holy Spirit, live in the Holy Spirit, and set your mind on the things of the Holy Spirit.
You’ll notice that Paul’s definition of spiritual mindedness is exceedingly practical. We’re talking “Christianity in shoe leather” here. It’s walking. It’s living. It’s setting your mind. How different this is from some people’s weirdo version of spirituality, which includes: meditation, quests for enlightenment, horoscopes, tarot cards, seances, incense burning, cleansing baths, hallucinogenic drugs, following supposed gurus, etc.
Rather than promote any of that new-agey stuff, Paul says, “Apart from God the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible to be spiritually minded.” This means that the only people on earth who can authentically be spiritually minded are born-again Christians, the people who have God the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them. Everyone else, by default, is relegated to being carnally minded.
And what exactly is it to be carnally minded? The word “carnal” translates the Greek word sarkikos, which can be defined as “having the nature of the flesh.” Okay, so what is the “flesh”? The Bible uses this term in two different ways. First, there are passages in which “flesh” simply refers in a non-judgmental way to the human body. For example, John 1:14 says that Jesus (The Word) became flesh. Second, there are other passages in which “flesh” is used in a judgmental way to refer to the inborn, sinful, God-resisting nature that every human being inherits from Adam, the father of our race. Clearly, Paul is using the latter definition in Romans chapter 8.
What is interesting about the entire chapter is that Paul asserts that the born-again Christian can never again be classified as being “in the flesh.” As he says, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9, N.K.J.V.). This explains how he can also make the statement that anyone who is “in Christ Jesus” will walk according to the Spirit and not the flesh (Romans 8:1). What he’s saying is that even though the born-again Christian will at times manifest some of the deeds of the flesh (the inborn Adamic nature) and in so doing behave carnally (1 Corinthians 3:1), that believer can never again be totally “in the flesh.” Think of it this way: If the Spirit is in you, then you are automatically “in the Spirit.”
Getting back to this business of being carnally minded and acting in the flesh, have you ever heard one person accuse another person of “acting like an animal”? Well, actually, that accusation gets to the heart of how carnal mindedness manifests itself in daily affairs. The carnally minded person is one who moves through life by resorting to the basest of personal instincts just the way an animal does in the wild. An animalistic lifestyle is a self-centered, self-glorifying way of living that relies solely upon the individual’s own desires, abilities, reasoning, and logic. It says, “I’ve got to make my own way in this world and get ahead by any means possible.” It says, “I’ve got to do it to them before they do it to me.” It makes the individual the ruler of his universe, and while the unrestrained freedom and self-expression of that kind of lifestyle might seem appealing, Paul says the end result of it is “death.”
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary remarks on this passage, writes:
The unsaved person does not have the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9) and lives in the flesh and for the flesh. His mind is centered on the things that satisfy the flesh. But the Christian has the Spirit of God within and lives in an entirely new and different sphere. His mind is fixed on the things of the Spirit. This does not mean that the unsaved person never does anything good, or that the believer never does anything bad. It means that the bent of their lives is different. One lives for the flesh, the other lives for the Spirit….To be ‘”in the flesh” means to be lost, outside Christ. The unsaved person lives to please himself and rarely if ever thinks about pleasing God. The root of sin is selfishness — “I will” and not “Thy will.”
Now let’s talk about how we, as Christians, should apply all of this. While there are many different ways by which we can make application, let’s be sure that we don’t forget about the realm of decision making. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard Christians say in regards to making decisions, “God expects us to use our common sense to make decisions.” Every time I hear that a chill runs down my spine because that whole approach to decision making is so much more carnally minded than spiritually minded. It’s so fleshly. As a matter of fact, it’s the same way a lost person makes a decision.
The Christian, on the other hand, should always let God the Holy Spirit do the deciding. This is accomplished by paying attention to the burdens the Spirit gives and by heeding the warning bells that He sets off. Furthermore, no decision should be finalized until the Spirit has provided a deep-settled inner peace regarding the course of action. In this way, the Holy Spirit can control the Christian from the inside out, and that is precisely what He wants to do. Even if what the Spirit is compelling the Christian to decide cuts against the Christian’s carnal, fleshly, leftover impulses from the Adamic nature, he should trust the Spirit to steer him into God the Father’s will. That, of course, is always the best place to be, and it’s a place that simply can’t be reached by being carnally minded.