The Fight Against Lawlessness Must Begin in the Church
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
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Paul’s words are both clear and direct. The carnal, fleshly mind is enmity against God. In other words, the mind that is set on its own way and is controlled by the passion of selfish desire is opposed to God and hostile toward His law. Those of this mind have set themselves up as His enemies. This is why Paul says that individuals in this state cannot and will not subject themselves to the law of God, because they will not obey, submit, or willingly yield to the instructions of God. Consequently, it is impossible for individuals in this state of mind to please God. We have all been in this state of mind, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that these tendencies are still in us. Even Paul, himself, who served the law of God in his mind and inward man, confessed, saying, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is my members” (Romans 7:23). Those who delight in the law of God and, like Paul, seek to serve the law in their minds understand this battle. They are fully aware that the desire of the flesh, the natural man, does not yield so willingly. Every command God plants in our minds, the flesh rails against. Thus, everyday we must seek the strength of the Spirit in order to subject our minds to His law, just as Paul did, as David did, and as Christ did.
When Paul speaks of the carnal mind, it’s necessary to remind ourselves that he is not only referring to unbelievers. Those who profess the faith are also included. Paul wasn’t alone on this. Reading through the prophets, one will find that it was often God’s people who set their minds against God (Jeremiah 6:19; 4:14; Isaiah 65:2). Just as many of the devout Jewish leaders were Jesus’ most vehement opposers, so those who bear His name can be as well. How does this happen? When we reject the mind of Christ and exalt our own doctrines and traditions above God’s. Many of those who opposed Christ thought they were defending God’s word when they were, in fact, defending their own doctrines and traditions. In Mark 8, Jesus addresses this issue with the so-called religious leaders of His time. After these leaders questioned His disciples about not properly washing their hands, Jesus responds with this indictment:
“For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do… All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
Jesus was not the first to call out this pattern; there were others before him, including the prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7; Isaiah 29:13). Both Isaiah and Jesus were speaking directly to the people of God. Let us heed their words and not become ignorant. If we possess the mind of Christ, then we will do the works of Christ, and these works are the commandments of God, not the commandments and traditions of men. Even the most devout fail to distinguish between the two. There are many who will stand before Him on the last day and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name?” And what will His response be? “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). These are tough sayings, but true nonetheless. Attaching Jesus’ name to manmade works, doctrines, traditions, creeds, ministries, and so forth is of no significance if these do not align with the commandments and will of the Father. Jesus did not come to start His own religion, nor did He come to be the poster child for man’s ideals and personal agendas, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they may be. He came to teach and do the will of the Father, and so must those who profess Him as Lord (Matthew 7:21). This only happens when we listen to His word and let it soak into our minds and hearts. Then, we begin to see and understand His will. Paul teaches this when he instructs the church to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Today, there is a battle for our minds and hearts, and not just ours, but the minds, hearts and attention of our succeeding generations. Through social media, Hollywood, the music industry, and even through academia there is siege happening to keep our minds in captivity. The enemy–both physical and spiritual–knows that if our minds can be subdued and entranced, then so can our wills. Thus, the enemy continues to do what he has been doing since the beginning: turning people–God’s people–away from and against the word of God. Why? Because God’s word is the only antidote to deception and lawlessness. Everyday and in every hour, the enemy whispers the same words as he did in the garden: “Did God really say?” These words continue to effectively poison the minds of the vulnerable, the unstable, and the untrained. Yes, his ability to twist and annul the teachings of God is the reason why we are not only seeing our world rapidly decay, but it is also why multitudes continue to walk away from the faith. Even worse, it is why we are even witnessing the moral foundation of so many churches and church goers dissolve into conformity.
All of this will continue to happen unless we learn from the pattern of history. What is this pattern? The further God’s people distance themselves from His law, the more corrupt and degenerate we become. There is, perhaps, not a more pronounced pattern throughout the entirety of the scriptures, and we are now witnessing this pattern in our own times. Jesus warns that it will get worse: “And because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Paul, too, tells us that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, and those people will be deceived who do not receive the love of the truth, who do not believe the truth, but instead have pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Jesus and Paul speak what has always been true, that the dissolution of love, truth, and righteousness is directly correlated to the increase of lawlessness. This is certainly true of the unbeliever, but it is also true of those who believe. This is why Jesus and His disciples continuously warn the church. We, too, wander because we forget the source of these things (love, truth, and righteousness):
What is the truth?
His Torah (John 17:17).
What is righteousness?
His Torah (Hebrews 5:14).
What is love?
His Torah (Romans 13:10).
The proliferation of lawlessness will continue the more the Torah is extracted from our personal lives, from our families, from our communities, from the public square, and more so from the pulpit. The church will not and cannot be a beacon of love, righteousness, and truth if it continues to erase, annul, modify, and teach against the very source of these things. If the people of God are to fulfill their calling (1 Peter 2:9), if we are to stem the tide of lawlessness, we must first recognize our own wandering from the Torah. We must collectively pray for God to turn our hearts and minds back toward His word–the source of truth, love, and righteousness. Then, and only then, will we be able to effectively carry out our role as His royal priesthood (Malachi 2:7). Throughout the scriptures, when the people of God experienced this type of revival, they not only experienced God’s rest and healing, they also became a force to be reckoned with.
“The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them… and Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around” (2 Chronicles 15:2-4, 15).
Let This Mind Be In You
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” -Philippians 2:1-2
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“The LORD was pleased for His righteousness’ sake to make the law great and glorious.”
Through Isaiah, God told us long in advance, before He came in the flesh, that He would magnify the law and not do away with it. He was going to make it honorable and not contemptible, as some have made it to be. The law is not solely physical, it’s not legalistic, it’s not contemptible, it’s not for the old people of the past; it is an honorable magnification of the mind and the nature of God. This is the mind of God, and this is His character. This is why God purposed to make it great and glorious, because He wants to share His mind with us, and He will, one day, share His mind with all people (Isaiah 2:3; 54:13). This is the mind of Christ, the mind that God intends for us to have. It is for this reason that He says through the apostle Paul,
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”
What kind of mind is God referring to? A lawless or rebellious mind? Obviously not. Christ had a very abiding mind, a disciplined mind, a righteous mind, a holy mind. How do we know? First and foremost, Jesus claimed to be one with the Father, and this is a claim He wouldn’t make unless He was of the same mind, the same heart, and the same understanding as the Father. Jesus indicated this when He said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). Elsewhere, He tells his listeners that He speaks those things which he hears from the Father, does only those things that have been taught to Him by the Father, and He always does what pleases the Father (John 8:26-29). All of these indicate that His mind and His will were in lockstep with the Father. This is the mind that Paul commands us to have in ourselves, a mind that is set on the things above (Colossians 3:1-2). Psalm 1 is a perfect description of this mind: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law He meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). This is what it means to love the Lord with all of our minds–to think continually upon His word, and to ask God in the words of David to “open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from your law… Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:18, 34). This was not only David’s prayer, but it was Paul’s prayer for the church. In like manner, he prays that,
“You (we) may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…” (Colossians 1:9-10).
Sadly, many of the apostle Paul’s own brethren accused him of not worshipping according to the law and steering others away as well (Acts 18:13). Was this truly the case? Would a teacher of the Torah instruct us to have the same mind as Christ and not aim to have this mind in himself? What was Paul’s response to all of this? In Romans 7, Paul gladly proclaims, “I delight in the law according to the inward man,” and “with the mind I myself serve the law of God…” (7:22, 25). Paul, like David, proclaimed his delight in the law of God and even professes to serve the law of God in His mind. Elsewhere, Paul confirms this saying, “according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). Paul’s aim, like that of our Master, was to please the Father. This begins with knowing His mind, His heart, His will, and then striving to have this mind in ourselves. This is what pleases the Father–when we think His thoughts and grow in His understanding. On the other hand, it is difficult to please the Father when we are not filled with these things. Therefore, as His servants we must offer up our minds that they may undergo the transformation process, the process of allowing His Spirit–through reading, through study, through prayer, through meditation, and through obedience–to engrave His word in our minds. This has been the process since the beginning. In the Shema, for example, God’s people are instructed to take God’s word and,
“…teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8).
The Shema is the instruction, the prayer, that teaches our children, that teaches us, what it means to pursue the mind of Christ–how to nurture it, to grow it, and to make it our nature. It is not just reading and meditating, but the Shema reminds us that God’s word must become the substance of our conversations and our relationships. In binding His instructions to our hands and upon our foreheads, the word becomes the motivation for our work and the lens through which we see the world, see others, and see God. This is the process by which God is writing His word upon us and in us. The more it is inscribed on our minds and hearts, the more it becomes the lens through which we interact with creation and the standard by which we govern every facet of our lives–our households, our communities, and our cities, our nation. The Shema is a powerful reminder that God’s intention, from the beginning, was for His instructions to be written in our hearts and minds. Yes, His will has always been to write the mind of Christ in us, but human history has proven the apostle Paul right when he says that “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be…” (Romans 8:7). The issue has never been the words that God intends to inscribe in our hearts and minds; the issue has always been the carnal state of the human heart and mind. Paul confirms this when says, “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good,” and that “the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:12, 14).
When we read the apostles words, we must understand, then, that Jesus came, not to abolish or destroy the law, nor did He come to rescue us from the law itself, but He came to release us from this bondage that came by transgressing His law. This is just the beginning. He also initiated the process of removing the heart of stone and renewing the carnal mind in order to make them fully receptive to His law. The giving of God’s Spirit is the continuation of this process until Christ returns to see it through to completion. All of this has been given to us and is being done in us by God for this very purpose: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts,” and “to cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments” (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27). In the end, when the process is completed, God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah that “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (31:34). Until then, we diligently continue–guided by His Spirit and His word–to encourage and teach one another toward this end:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”