Transforming the mind
By Revd Don MacGregor
Author of Christianity Expanding – Into Universal Spirituality
Human nature is a complex thing, but it is often talked of in two ways - the lower self and the higher self, or the selfish, self-centred nature and the selfless, higher nature, or the ego-mind and the Christ-mind. St Paul talks very often of the flesh and the Spirit, making the same distinction
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)
What does he mean by ‘To set the mind on the flesh is death?’ Not physical death, so what is Paul talking about? I think he is meaning death to the presence of God, the awareness of the divine, death to the life that permeates the whole universe and holds us all in being. The Christian journey is to move from death to recognising the presence of God, from living purely ‘in the flesh’ to an aliveness, and an awakening to the deep love of God that exists at the heart of everything.
Paul recognises the not everyone is there, everyone is at different stages on the path:
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
Are we ready for solid food, or do we still get lost in quarrels, living in the lower self, responding to the ego, letting pride or arrogance get in the way. Me first, selfishness, greed, anger, violence. Can we still identify those elements of lower, self-centred ego-mind in us? How do we match up to Paul instructions to the Colossian Church?
You have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator... Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:10-15)
We are all one in Christ. Once we put on the new self, we have a common bond. We begin to put on those clothes that Paul speaks of, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness (meaning gentleness), and patience. We are changed, transformed.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Paul says it in lots of different ways. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, put on the new clothes, clothe yourself with love, leave the life of the flesh and enter the life of the Spirit. They are all saying the same thing - that following the Jesus path means to awaken to a new way of being that leaves behind the old ego-nature, the selfish self, to enter into the Christ-self.
"For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
The mind of Christ is the Spirit mind, the higher nature, a different level of consciousness. If we can centre ourselves in that level of compassionate loving consciousness, then our whole lives begin to operate in a different way. We begin to see people in a different light, we react differently to what others say. It is a radical way that Jesus taught - a radical love of God and neighbour, operating from a different level of consciousness.
Jesus called this experience, symbolically, the kingdom of God. He invited his listeners to enter into this kingdom of God, which Paul said is to put on the mind of Christ, or to be transformed by the renewing of the mind.
That is what the Christian life is really about – transformation, being changed. That is also what salvation is about. Salvation is not so much about the life to come as the life here-and-now. The word salvation comes from a Latin word meaning wholeness or healing – the same root as we get the word ‘salve’, a healing ointment. In its broadest sense, salvation is about being made whole and healed. Healed in our realionship with God, healed in our relationships with each other and, in an inner sense, with ourselves, an inner healing. It is this transformation to a level of loving compassionate consciousness that the message of Jesus is about. If we look at the Bible, we find the message of transformation expressed in all sorts of different ways. It is about:
- Moving from darkness to light
- Receiving true sight
- Being born again
- Liberation for captives
- Freedom from bondage
- Healing from our infirmities
- Moving from death to life
- Moving from emptiness to fullness
- Being made in the image of Christ, putting on the mind of Christ
So we are to be transformed, saved, rescued, by the renewing of our minds when we give ourselves totally over to God, when we move up to a different level of consciousness, from flesh to Spirit, from self-centred to God-centred, from ego to God. It sounds a bit of a tall order, doesn’t it – but actually, the way to do it is very straightforward,- it is all about walking the Christian path, walking the talk!
That is the reason for traditional Christian practices of prayer, bible reading, worship, and I’d want to add contemplative prayer or meditation. It is to spend time in the presence and awareness of God. What these do is build the form which allows God to work in our lives. If you want to learn to play a musical instrument, you can listen to it being played, you can own one yourself, you can buy all the teach yourself books, you can talk to musicians, but none of that will make much difference until you get to grips with the instrument itself, giving attention to it, regularly, gradually building a relationship with the instrument until you know it intimately, until you love your instrument.
So too with God and putting on the mind of Christ. Following the Christian way is about moving the level of consciousness from flesh to spirit - expressing love for God by paying attention to God. All the things that Christians do are ways of paying attention to God:
- Worshipping together
- Bible study and devotional reading
- Prayer, reflection, contemplation
- Acts of compassion and justice in the world
These are all building the form, which allows our inner selves to be transformed more into the likeness of Christ. Our minds are transformed and renewed, our consciousness moves up a gear, we put on the mind of Christ. Christian practice is about walking with God, aligning ourselves with that compassionate consciousness, and then acting with compassion to bring about peace, and justice in this troubled world. It’s not about believing in God and being a good person – it is about how one becomes a good person through the practice of loving God, becoming a compassionate, transformed, renewed person.
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