Leaving aside the problem of evil (which is touched upon in our Skeptic’s Corner), perhaps the biggest barrier erected by our modern minds against a saving knowledge of the truth is the chronic incongruity between (both) our sincere ideals (and our pious rhetoric), on the one hand, and our actual lived experience, on the other. While we may rightly refrain from judging others, it is difficult not to despair in the face of our own failures and inconsistencies.
This general sense of incongruity and personal inconsistency comes to light as follows:
- in the conflict that we experience between the flesh and the spirit (a la Romans 7)
- in the apparent absence (in our personal experience) of anything remotely resembling the promised victory over this conflict (a la Romans 8)
- and in the underwhelming evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (a la Galatians 5).
The purpose of this essay (together with its sequel) is to attempt to remove the aforementioned sense of incongruity (construed as an obstacle to faith) by further illuminating this classic conflict, together with its ultimate resolution. We will attempt to accomplish this by drawing a careful distinction between the carnal mind, on the one hand (together with the order of appearances which is its correlate), and the mind of Christ, on the other (which is itself the order of Being) — and also by showing how those who sincerely desire to transcend this conflict (which arises in the order of appearances) can do so if (and insofar as) they authentically recognize and honor Reality (which IS the mind of Christ).
If that seems like a lot to take in all at once, try breaking it down as follows:
- The order of appearances is generated in, by, and for the mind of the flesh…
- The order of Being, in contrast, IS the mind of Christ, aka Reality or True Nature (in contrast to Fallen Nature).
- The conflict of Romans 7 arises at the point of intersection between these two minds (or orders) as we take our eyes off the Lord and attempt to proceed (in the order of appearances) on the strength of the flesh alone.
- More precisely, the individual who is experiencing the conflict is attempting to replicate, in the order of appearances, an ideal that can only be realized– indeed, IS only realized –by the mind of Christ in the order of Being.
- Deliverance comes when we are able to recognize (and distinguish between) each of these “minds” or “orders” and are willing to give due honor and precedence to the mind of Christ.
- It is at this point that our apparent lives begin to reflect that which we ARE– in Chirst –in the order of Being, rather than our desire to merely appear a certain way (whether in our own eyes, in the eyes of others, perhaps, or even– as we may imagine it –in the eyes of God).
Assuming that is at least partially intelligible, so far so good… Let us consider two additional points of reference that should help to further situate and frame the discussion which is to follow:
1) Just as there are two archetypical men– Adam and Christ –so there are two archetypical minds: that of the flesh and that of the Spirit…
With regard to these two men and their respective minds, it may be helpful to think of the former (the carnal mind) as being entirely oriented towards that which is sometimes referred to as the horizontal dimension, while the latter (the mind of the Spirit) is vertically inclined. Whereas the former tends to think (exclusively) in terms of genealogy and causality and is preoccupied with control in its temporal relationships (perpetually attempting to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future), the latter is, in contrast, steadfastly attuned to our Spiritual origin and destiny (i.e. our eternal life in Christ). As it is written:
- “Marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born from above” (John 3:7).
- “We have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).
- “Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new and all things are of God” (II Corinthians 5:17).
2) The flesh and the mind of the flesh can be fruitfully compared to the “ego” or the “egoic mind” (see also: The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind).
With regards to this second point of reference, more conservative readers may want to consult John Piper’s The War Within: Flesh Vs. Spirit. While this reference to Piper should not be construed as an endorsement of his more general perspective, it is worth noting that he also seems to acknowledge that “the flesh” or “the mind of the flesh” is at least roughly equivalent to the ego.
And when it comes to the egoic mind, generally, let us each simply look within ourselves and observe:
- the running mental commentary that is seldom absent from our lives…
- our personal preoccupation with the story of “me”…
- our preoccupation with manipulating outcomes so as to secure that which is “good”, in our eyes, and to avoid that which we fear or otherwise judge to be “evil”…
- our overarching concern with our personal ambition or success and, generally speaking, with that which enhances our personal prestige…
- and even, at times, our inordinate awareness of and preoccupation with our own personal failures and regrets.
Each of the bulleted items above are– or at least can be and tend to be –a manifestation of the carnal or egoic mind. Moreover, in the New Testament (especially in the gospels and the Pauline epistles), it is repeatedly said that such personal preoccupations must be left behind–that, indeed, even the most innocent of our personal preferences must be subordinated to the will of God as we take up our cross:
- “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…” (Matthew 16:24).
- “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39).
- “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
- “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…” (Philippians 3:7).
In short, whatever the turn of events, His grace is sufficient… (cf. II Corinthians 12:9). We need not lean on our own understanding… (cf. Proverbs 3: 5).
Moreover, in addition to these foregoing points of reference, most of us would also agree that the story of Adam and Eve, the gospel narratives, and the Pauline epistles– together –serve to illuminate our first-hand experience of these two minds and their respective orientations to these two very different dimensions (i.e. the flesh and the Spirit; the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God; time and eternity; fallen nature and True Nature; appearance and Reality; etc).
Perhaps we can agree, as well, that as we (by the grace of God) become more fully aware of (and more appropriately oriented to) these two dimensions, we can begin to properly distinguish between “the carnal mind” and “the mind of Christ” in our own experience–and can, as a result, stay more fully connected to the locomotive of the Spirit (according to Piper’s metaphor) through which we find deliverance from the conflict in Romans 7.
With these things in mind, then, let us consider a series of scriptures with which most readers will be familiar, but which they may never have considered in this light. In addition to highlighting the distinction between the flesh and the Spirit, generally, this analysis will also serve to demonstrate that while, in the order of Being (i.e. with regards to our eternal life), Christ (and our creation in Christ) is prior, it is nevertheless the case that in the order of appearances (i.e. with regards to our personal and cultural narratives), Adam (the so-called natural man) comes first.
Referring to these two “orders”, as such, is not without its limitations, but this way of framing the discussion should help to clarify the distinction between these two minds and their respective worlds or kingdoms. With that goal in mind, we will paraphrase the scriptures below by interpolating [in brackets] some references to each of these two “orders”, as follows:
[the order of Being] or [the order of appearances].
As we shall see, the carnal/egoic mind, considers the horizontal/natural/temporal dimension (i.e. the order of appearances) to be the only reality (or the only reality that really matters, at any rate). And when the personal ego or “I” usurps the place and presence of God in our hearts– attempting to rule, instead of being willing to serve –this is the “mind” with which we become wholly identified. As a result, we become fully immersed (or lost) in the (merely) apparent world which is thereby generated.
But it is also the case that we have the mind of Christ and that (in and through Him) we also have access to the vertical/eternal dimension (i.e. the order of Being) in and through the power of the Spirit. As such– insofar as we live and walk in the Spirit — it may legitimately be said that we are crucified with Christ and that we no longer live (which means that the “I” no longer sets on the throne of our hearts, trying to manipulate the flow of appearances), but that Christ lives in us (the One who IS before Abraham was — in the order of Being, as such — in the beginning with God).
Relinquishing the throne of our hearts in this way, we die to “the world” (as represented in and understood by the carnal mind) and become alive to the kingdom of God (which IS the mind of Christ–aka Reality or True Nature).
When it is said that we have access to “the vertical dimension” or “the order of Being”, this is not to suggest that we will have (or should desire to have) imaginal (or prophetic) visions of supersensible realms or celestial beings (or future events). Any such (alleged) experience– and even the desire to experience such things –is usually considered suspect (and rightly so). Without denying or disparaging any experience that may authentically unfold in our lives, we would do well– as a general rule of thumb –to adopt Thoreau’s deathbed observation as our motto, namely, one world at a time!
What is important is not whether we have celestial or prophetic visions, but whether (and to what degree) we see the Reality of the kingdom– here and now —through the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit. For it is by clearly recognizing and honoring this Reality— the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is with us always –that we find deliverance from the Romans 7 conflict.
The ego in Romans 7 may “believe the gospel” and “accept Christ” (perhaps in an intellectual way; perhaps in an emotional way; or perhaps in a way which reflects some combination of the two). And while it may be necessary and appropriate for us, as a community, to acknowledge and affirm that such a one is “saved” and will “go to heaven” when (s)he dies by virtue of such “belief” and “acceptance” (insofar as this kind of intellectual and/or emotional posture reflects a sincere desire to participate in the life of the church), it is nevertheless difficult– when and for as long as the conflict of Romans 7 persists –to acknowledge that such such a one really recognizes and truly honors the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Rather, given the lack of trust and reliance indicated, it would seem to be the case that (s)he is still attempting to understand and control the flow of appearances merely with reference to the horizontal plane–that (s)he is not fully connected, vertically speaking, to the locomotive of the Spirit (referring, once again, to Piper’s metaphor).
NOTE: Piper’s metaphor of the locomotive must not be taken out of context. He is not suggesting that the Spirit somehow gives us brute strength to power through difficulties. Let us remember, rather, that His strength is made perfect in weakness (cf. II Corinthians 12:9). Indeed, Lao Tzu’s water metaphor may be more apt (and may also be more comparable to the living water that Jesus spoke of then is generally imagined).
It is also worth noting that none of this is intended to disparage or discourage anyone’s desire to understand the natural world or to take action on the horizontal plane as long as such understanding and action finds its ultimate inspiration and satisfaction in the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Indeed, it is by virtue of such enlightened action (or inaction, as the case may be) under God, that our lives begin to reflect the kingdom of God into this world, Here & Now. But as with most matters of the Spirit, this too is subject to much misunderstanding…
Finally, the idea of being “vertically connected” can, itself, become a matter of pride–and can itself, therefore, be a kind of spiritual trap (i.e. yet another “achievement” or “identity” for the ego to lay claim to). So perhaps it is with some trepidation that we should speak of these things, fully realizing our many limitations (and personal shortcomings) and without suggesting that our lives, as a whole, necessarily provide a very good example for others. Nevertheless, those of us who have struggled with this conflict over many years– and have reflected rather carefully on the transition between Romans 7 and 8 (both in the text and in our own lives) –are naturally inclined (if not duty bound) to share what we have learned. As such– our personal shortcomings and trepidation notwithstanding –let us continue by working our way through the following scriptures which may be fruitfully understood in light of this general framework:
Two Men ≈ Two Minds ≈ Two Worlds or Two Kingdoms:
The Order of Being & The Order of Appearances
Note: To read the remainder of this essay, please follow the link below and scroll about a third of the way down the page…
–> The Order of Being and the Life of Faith continued….