OVERCOMING THE CARNAL MIND
There are those of our number who effectively deny that our Lord was “tempted in all points like as we are” (Heb 4:15) by claiming that he could never have experienced the “lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16,17), or the internal thought to transgress. In this study, we shall search out Bible Teaching on the matter.
In Romans Chapter 8, the Apostle wrote under inspiration concerning two classes of humanity: “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom 8:5-7). Notice here that it is those who walk “after the flesh” that constitute the “carnally minded”, demonstrating that the “carnal mind” is a natural, fleshly way of thinking, that leads men into a way of life which is “enmity against God”.
Bro Thomas commented on this passage thus:
“The Carnal Mind is an expression used by Paul; or rather, it is the translation of words used by him … it is not so explicit as the original. The words he wrote are … the thinking of the flesh” (Elpis Israel, p89).
The natural constitution of man being “sinful flesh”, the “thinking of the flesh” is his natural inclination of thought towards the fulfilment of his natural lusts. In our previous considerations, we saw that man can naturally produce no good thing, for no good thing dwells within him (Rom 7:18), only Sin (Rom 7:20), that is, “sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3). Even from the womb (Ps 58:3), man is motivated entirely by his carnal desires, and in this respect is no better than the beasts that perish (Ps 40:20). Like the beasts, his grovelling instincts can rise no higher than the lusts of the flesh, for it was by the adoption of a beast’s mind that the first act of sin took place.
The serpent, it is testified was “more subtle that any beast of the field which Yahweh Elohim had made” (Gen 3:1), and it was by hearkening to it’s subtle reasoning that Eve and her husband were induced to transgress the Divine Command. They received the Serpent’s carnal thoughts into their hearts; the result being that by transgression, “the eyes of them both were opened” to a new carnal awareness, and the carnal serpentine mind became infixed within them. By the very nature of things therefore, the unenlightened man “cannot please God”; he walks only “according to the course of this world”, fulfilling “the desires of the flesh and of the mind”, being worthy only of the wrath of God (Eph 2:2,3).
This bestial class of men, the Apostle describes as “they that are after the flesh”, or the “carnally minded”, being related only to “death”, in contradistinction to those who are “after the spirit”, or the “spiritually minded”, who are related to “life and peace”. Rather than to allow the lust of the flesh to lead them into rebellion, this latter class seek to overcome the Carnal Mind, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2Cor 10:5). Having received with meekness the implanted Word (Jas 1:21), they wage war against the flesh, and seek to suppress their carnal desires. The Apostle speaks of this mental warfare, exhorting: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other … “ (Gal 5:16,17).
TWO CONFLICTING MODES OF THOUGHT
There are then, two conflicting minds, or ways of thinking extant within the disciple of Christ. One is hereditary, being derived from the Serpent in the first instance and passed to all men through descent from Adam, whereas the other is derived from the Spirit word being implanted into the heart. And by the very nature of things, there is enmity between the two; they are “contrary the one to the other”. And this enmity subsists between those who are led by these contrary motives, the “carnally minded”, and the “spiritually minded”.
In Genesis 3:15, these mutually antagonistic classes are termed the seed of the serpent, and the seed of the woman: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”. The Serpent stands in Scripture, as the source of transgression, whether it be the creature in Eden, or the diabolos within us. Thus, Bro Thomas wrote:
“the carnal mind, or thinking of the flesh, unenlightened by the Truth is the serpent in the flesh … by a figure, sin is put for the serpent, the effect for the cause; seeing that he was the suggestor of unbelief and disobedience to man, by whom it entered into the world. Hence, the idea of the serpent in the flesh is expressed by “sin in the flesh”, which was “condemned in the flesh” when Jesus was crucified for, or on account of, sin, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Elpis Israel, Pages 91,92).
The seed of the serpent then, are the “carnally minded”, at enmity with the pre-eminent seed of the woman, who destroyed the serpent in his flesh.
But notice here, that speaking prophetically of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the serpent is bruised in the head. The head contains the brain, and therefore the mind; hence we are being taught that the victory against sin would be won by crushing the Serpent-Mind, or the Carnal Mind. In terms which take us right back to the Edenic promise, the Apostle describes that which the Lord crushed, or destroyed in death, as the devil, or diabolos: “forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). Notice the echoes of Gen 3:15 – through death, (that is the smiting of his heel) he might destroy that which has the power of death, (that is the serpent, more particularly, the serpent’s venomous head). The serpent’s head then, is the diabolos, the great enemy within, which entices us to transgress – it is that existing in our mind which renders it Carnal in its operations. (This is further proved in Rev 20:2, where we read of the laying hold of “the dragon, that old serpent, which is the diabolos”).
We see from this then, that the crushing of the Serpent’s head, is a graphic depiction of the overcoming of the mind of sin, by one who had the power to suppress it, and finally take it victoriously to the grave. But for the mind of the flesh, or the Serpent-Mind to be crushed by the Lord, it must have existed within him! There are those who would recoil in horror at the suggestion of our Lord possessing the Carnal Mind, for how could our Lord Jesus have anything within him which was “enmity against God”? But put it another way, did the Lord Jesus have the diabolos, or “sin in the flesh” within him?
Undoubtedly he did, as we proved earlier, for how else could he have destroyed it by dying? How could he have condemned it, if it were not there to condemn? And will any deny that the diabolos or the Devil, is the great enemy of God, bringing it’s possessors to rebel against Him?
The simple truth of the matter, is that by descent from Adam through Mary, the Lord Jesus was “made sin” (2 Cor 5:21), by being made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), in order that His Father could “condemn” and “destroy” sin in the flesh, or the head of the serpent within him. Being “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4), he physically inherited the diabolos, and therefore experienced the “thinking of the flesh”. He was “tempted in all points like as we are” (Heb 4:15), something which just could not have been possible if he did not ever experience the “lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). There are those who claim that the Lord, by his Divine Parentage, was born with a mind which only inclined towards the things of God; that he would automatically seek to obey his Father, so that any temptation to sin could only come from outside. But let them hear the Apostolic testimony: “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb 4:8). Even though he were a Son, he was not innately “programmed” to obey – he “learned” obedience through a lifetime of suffering.
If it could be said of his brethren that within them “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal 5:17), the same must be true of the Lord who partook of “the flesh”: “forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood he also himself likewise took part of the same” (Heb 2:14). Is the flesh of the Children “sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3)? Then he also himself likewise took part of the same. And on what “flesh” does the diabolos primarily operate, to induce transgression? The brain, that special organisation of “the flesh” into thinking substance – the mind consisting of those thoughts this “flesh” generates. The brain-flesh of all Adam’s progeny, being by it’s very nature “sinful”, so it was also in the case of our Lord.
But whereas “the children” are “yet without strength” (Rom 5:6) to overcome their natural minds, the Lord Jesus was made strong (Ps 80:17) by his Divine Begettal for this purpose. It was there within him – he had the potential for it to develop into sinful actions, or “the works of the devil” (1Jno 3:8). He had the potential for it to develop into its most advanced stages of degeneracy, as witnessed in the basest of men around us, whose only desire is to satisfy their grovelling instincts before they perish. It is this advanced state that we referred to earlier as being developed through “constantly succumbing to sin in the flesh”; by this means, the thinking of the flesh will so develop that it will dominate our minds to the exclusion of things spiritual. But this never happened with our Lord – he possessed the mind of the flesh, but it never possessed him. He had by inheritance the carnal mind, but he was never “carnally minded”, for he was “made strong” by His Father to overcome it.
Whereas in the Garden of Eden, we witness the failure of man to resist the serpent, in the Garden of Gethsemane we witness the greatest struggle between the Flesh and the Spirit ever, as our Lord subjected his own natural will to that of His Father. Let those who deny that the Lord ever experienced the thinking of the flesh, hear the anguish of one who prayed “with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7) “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).
Here, we see the Flesh and the Spirit, and the enmity between the two – the natural will of Christ that the cup of suffering be taken away, and the Will of His Father that he should drink therefrom. And here we see the thinking of the flesh, the Carnal Mind restrained and overcome by the loving obedience of our Lord to his Father. The Spirit prevailed, for in our Lord Jesus, the mind of the flesh was allowed to develop no further; it was led into captivity during his life, nailed to the Cross during his Crucifixion, and finally “condemned”, “destroyed” and “bruised” in his death.
Let us therefore not detract from the great victory of Christ, by diminishing the virulence of the enemy within him, but rather behold the reality of what he achieved. We have within us a great enemy, the serpent within, which is the root of all iniquity. And the Lord Jesus, as “the Captain of our Salvation” (Heb 2:10) also possessed this same enemy in order that he might destroy it utterly, and “crush” it in death. Although he were a Son, yet he subjected himself to a lifetime of suffering, that he might learn obedience, and become a faithful servant to his Father. Let us therefore take heed to his example: “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God thought not equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross …” (Phil 2:5-8).