A Righteousness by Faith #36: What happens when your mind is right?

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

One group of characters in C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the Dufflepuds. These invisible one-legged dwarfs have an endearing quality. Their conversation is peppered with the obvious. They say things like “Ah, you’ve come over the water. Powerful wet stuff, ain’t it?” and “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”

So is Paul just being a Dufflepud here? I mean, is he just simply reminding us who believe that lost people’s lives are all about death, but we insiders obviously get to live out life and peace? That would just be a repeat of what he said earlier in this letter.

We can miss his point because we tend to apply this verse without checking the context. To get why Paul said this, think about what the Roman church at that time heard him saying.

Paul is explaining to his readers that it is the Spirit— not keeping the Law— that will transform the Gentiles minds so that they live righteous lives.  And this is also true for their Jewish fellow believers. Pursuing another way of being transformed—keeping rules—may sound right in the ears of some believers. But people are only going to become what God intended for them to be by His powerful work in transforming their minds. It’s also inevitable because it is what He has committed himself to do. So instead of pointing to the law, they need to remind each other who—and whose—they are.

Remember, Paul is already deep into his letter. He has rejoiced that the gospel is for everyone because everyone has sinned, both the Jews and Gentiles. By chapter five, he has switched from explaining how all are saved by faith in Jesus to explaining how to live out the life of Jesus by means of the Spirit. It gets a little rocky in chapter seven because the Jewish believers in Rome think the Gentile believers need to get their Christian righteousness act together by keeping the law. Paul crushes this idea by putting his own struggle as a Jew under the law on display. The best the Old Covenant can do is to make you miserable about your inability to be good for God.

Chapter eight introduces the New Covenant way of righteousness. It is the Spirit working within believers. Every good substitute for his work brings death. And here is Paul’s point—if you worry that the Gentile believers are not going to be able to become righteous without keeping all the rules, rest easy. Since the Spirit governs their—and our—minds, they will live out life and peace. They will get it. We will get it. We will be led to it and we will not want to resist the life changes the Spirit brings because he is in charge of our thinking.

This is about being conformed into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Life and peace is about restoration, about wholeness. Since you want to be whole, this is a reminder that you have the Spirit in you and you want to surrender to his control. You want your mind renewed. You want your mindset to be about the things of God and his glory. This is where the Spirit leads you so that your behavior is transformed all by itself.

Which brings me to the issue of being judgmental. We need to gear back on looking down on believers who are not where they should already be in the faith journey. Unwittingly, like the Jewish believers in Rome, we can set people up for long-term failure in their pursuit of God. We do this by encouraging them to clean up their act, expressing unending disappointment about their lives, and pointing them to external standards (rules that we set up) that have no power to change their minds.

If anything, we need to encourage believers to remain in Jesus and keep on being filled with the Spirit. And to love them no matter what, because we need their love too.

One of my heroes of the faith is Bob Childress. A Virginia mountaineer who followed the call of God to prepare for ministry by going to seminary, even though he had never finished high school, he went back to the mountains to bring light into a really dark place. Starting in 1926, he impacted the lives of a whole region with spiritual truth for 30 years. What fascinated me about him was the way he loved people who often messed up after they came to faith. In The Man Who Moved a Mountain, the story of his life, one person who attended one of the 16 churches Childress started and pastored stated that instead of condemning, Bob laughed at them when they fought among themselves like they were children that needed to grow up some more. Kindness and generosity were hallmarks of his ministry.

The result was that in a generation, people who had killed others for vengeance, who sold moonshine and lived in various states of drunkenness, who were plagued by depression and hopelessness, were changed. Not by Bob, but by the Spirit who now governed their minds.

At Bob Childress’ funeral in 1956, two grizzled mountaineers lingered by his gravesite, reluctant to leave. One was heard to say, “Now that Bob Childress is gone, you won’t have another Bob Childress. There just won’t be another.” To which his friend responded, “There won’t never need to be.” This is what happens when the Spirit governs the mind. There is life and peace.

-Steve Smith