Guideline # 4 from Reading the Bible in the 21st Century:
4. The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind. Unfortunately, the tendency of many Christians over the centuries— in a kind of legalistic zeal or ascetic enthusiasm —has been to disparage the body and to condemn natural appetites, per se. This has introduced much unnecessary conflict into the lives of many Christians and has also resulted in both a misunderstanding of and a reactionary rebellion against the biblical condemnation of the flesh (i.e. the mind of the flesh).
One way to compensate for this is to understand that the carnal mind, in scripture, is roughly equivalent to what is referred to, in more modern parlance, as the egoic mind. The egoic mind is the false, mind-made sense of self which attempts to persuade us that we exist separate from God, separate from other human beings, and separate from creation as a whole. The egoic mind is one of the by-products of our having eaten of the forbidden fruit (i.e. the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), as portrayed in Genesis 3. Moreover, the egoic mind is the false self-image which continues to tempt us away from the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Always anxious about the future, the egoic mind is constantly attempting to control and manipulate people and circumstances to its advantage (always judging; always pursuing that which it erroneously judges to good and always attempting to avoid that which it erroneously judges to be evil). And by virtue of the egoic mind, natural appetites are often amplified, multiplied, distorted, and redirected into endless combinations of self-destructive potential. In contrast, by trusting in and relying on the “I Am” presence, we are no longer enslaved by the mind of the flesh as we put on the “new man” which is “created after God in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 KJV ) and which enjoys “the peace which passes understanding” (John 14:27). Consider the following verses in this light:
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:2).
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
If we wish to declare war on our bodies and mistrust every instinct and every appetite as sinful, there will be no end to the conflict (cf. Romans 7). But if we realize that it is “the mind of the flesh”— i.e. the egoic mind —which plots and plans and generates so much sin and suffering in our own life and in the lives of those around us, we can begin to circumvent these conflicts through the power of the Spirit as we trust in and rely on the ”I Am” presence which IS the living Christ. As such, when you read about “the flesh” or “the mind of the flesh” or “the carnal mind” (or “the old man”) in the New Testament, try substituting the word “ego” or the phrase “egoic mind” and see if it makes more sense that way.
[ Editor’s Note: Thanks to Craig Wood for the use of his image, “Ego’s Harvest.” ]