Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Understanding In The Mind of the Spirit and The Mind of Flesh

John Scotus Erigena (ca. 810-ca.870) in his work, “On the Division of Nature,” wrote concerning the kind of mind that is able to see the Creator in the things He has made (we call this “natural revelation” or “general revelation). He wrote that we can see evidence of the creator, but are unable to discern the details concerning Him. The details He does give concerning Himself however, are staggering as we are able to scientifically subdivide creation into smaller categories (“essence, genre, species, differences and individuals”, whether things are in motion or immobile). Erigena correctly states that when we look the existence of things, we understand The Creator exists; when we look at the order of things, we can see His wisdom; by the way things move, we can see The Creator is living. This simply means that a mind that can think is able to acknowledge The Creator--but that is all.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:11-16)

Here we have an amazing explanation of how the mind of man works: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14). There is a natural and a spiritual working of mind. One is in the flesh, the other in The Spirit. Understanding of spiritual matters does not come by human reason, so one outside the faith “naturally” responds to spiritual matters with misunderstanding.

The other day I received an e-mail from a fellow with one simple question: “can you speak Arabic?” I cannot speak, read, write, nor can I think in Arabic; however, if I were born and raised in a culture that does speak, read and write Arabic, I would be able to do much more in that language. Creation helps us understand the existence of The Creator (such as my observing Arabic words on page), but to understand The Creator Himself requires that something happen to me spiritually. Knowing things of God is not the same as knowing Him.

Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years’” (Genesis 6:3). Matthew Henry helps us understand three major principles found in this small verse. First, The Holy Spirit speaks to the conscience and convicts of sin for the purpose of turning man from sinful flesh to God. If the Holy Spirit is resisted, quenched and the person would rather stay in his sin, He will not continue His work and the person will die in their sin. Second, all mankind have a corrupt nature and the soul is inclined to stay in sin and oppose the Spirit. When one takes sides in the flesh against the Spirit, the Spirit will withdraw. “None lose the Spirit's strivings but those that have first forfeited them.” Finally, there is a measure of grace in that God does not allow one to die in his sin immediately. God gives space, further opportunity for one to repent and come to know Him fully, that He may be enjoyed forever. “The time of God's patience and forbearance towards provoking sinners is sometimes long, but always limited: reprieves are not pardons; though God bear a great while, he will not bear always.”

The follower of Christ has a responsibility. Since we have received the Spirit of God and understand the things freely given by God (1 Corinthians 1:12), we are to speak and teach in the power of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 1:13), who gives understanding to those who are willing to reason. This may require our reliance on other gifts of the Spirit, such as love and patience, as we persist as long as the Spirit leads.

If you have received the Spirit of God, are you actively engaging others in dialogue, using what God has made known about Himself to make Himself known? We must pray in the preparation, pray in the going, pray in the acting and pray until they know Him. It is entirely possible for one to see and still not be reconciled to God, to have understanding but not understand. It is possible for one to be taught but never learn. A person sees the truth we profess when we engage them in the power of God’s Spirit, doing His Work His Way.

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