The Mind of Death
4th Sunday in Lent – A LSB #’s 613, 610, 924
Text – Romans 8:6-8 NIV
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life & peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
THE MIND OF DEATH
Years ago I read an article, “Charting the Un-churched in America.” I’ll be using numerous quotations from that article & here’s the 1st, “Experts see people looking upward, inward, online & out-of-doors for the comfort, connection & inspiration they once sought in formal sanctuaries. Their ‘spirituality’ is un-hemmed by ritual, by Scripture or theology.”
Later, the reporter concludes, “People want help connecting, creating community & seeing God in other people. But religious institutions have been discredited, so they are trying to do it outside the churches.” Speaking in general, for the people of my generation & following, the concept of do it yourself religion is rather appealing.
For the people of my parent’s generation & older, do it yourself religion would never have entered their minds. Those generations were raised with the idea that religion was something you got in church, & you got it from the pastor or the priest. Your spiritual life was not something that you messed around with yourself.
Today’s generations enjoy messing around with their spiritual lives themselves, & in fact, often trust no one else to do it for them, pastor or otherwise. Between my parent’s generation & mine, there’s been a wholesale shift in the way our society does religion. People are still looking for a spiritual life. Anymore, they just don’t search in the same places.
Whereas in the past, ritual, Scripture & theology were the very structure of religion, today those same concepts are seen as a hindrance to active spiritual life. Whereas in the past religious institutions were seen as the purveyors of spirituality, today those same institutions have been discredited in the minds of many baby boomers. In fact, it’s already cliché to suggest that institutional religion is ‘oppressive, patriarchal, out of date & out of touch.’ Most millennials see them as completely irrelevant.
That willingness to search & do religion on one’s own has brought opportunity for people in the church to show them the love of Christ. Yet that willingness to explore also brings danger to those conducting the search, & the sermon text highlights the chief of those, “The mind of sinful man is death.”
That thought comes from the Bible, & since it’s seen as something that hems in our search many people will reject that thought out of hand. Nevertheless, for those of us still in organized religion, it should be a sobering reminder of the danger that the seekers are facing. The very mind they’re using to conduct this search, can be referred to as death.
Not too many people would knowingly entrust their spiritual lives to something that is death, but the deceptions of Satan are extremely powerful, so the unthinkable happens. Many people who’ve been born into the Christian religion have left it behind, because death has been leading them astray without their knowing it.
Fortunately, the sermon text also speaks of another kind of mind, one controlled by the Holy Spirit, which is referred to as life & peace. When talking of His followers, Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, & they follow Me.” Now those sheep may search out their Savior in order to follow Him, but that’s a different kind of spiritual searching.
They already have eternal life & are merely seeking to live the kind of life that most pleases their Savior. For the one who is not a child of God, but feels something is missing in his life, he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit living within & guiding his mind. One of the ways in which our Lutheran Catechism approaches teaching on these matters is to look at our nature as God’s children in two ways. We refer to the one as our Old Man, the sinful nature, & we refer to the other as our New Man, the saintly nature. When Paul states that the mind of sinful man is death, he’s talking of the Old Man. When he writes of the mind controlled by the Spirit, he’s speaking of the New Man, the one created by God’s means of grace.
The Old Man, the mind of death, is hostile to God, & though it may be searching, the only reason it searches for God is for the purpose of dethroning Him in order to install the Old Man itself as king. The Bible clearly teaches that without Christ, everyone is totally depraved.
But that’s not a word we use today, so here’s a definition. Each of us is born with a deep, wicked, bottomless, inscrutable & inexpressible corruption of our entire nature in all its powers, especially of the highest & foremost powers of the soul in mind, heart & will.
By nature, every one of us inherits from Adam a mind-set that, even in its highest powers & the light of reason, is by nature diametrically opposed to God & His wisdom especially in spiritual matters. Scripture even teaches that of infant children, thus the Lutheran emphasis on infant Baptism, because through it God counteracts the mind of death.
That mind of death places ahead of everything else in life, its own cravings, desires & feelings. Those are the idols of modern America. A woman who was interviewed for the USA TODAY article said this of her & her family:
“We haven’t gone to church since we were children. Our children go to private school, where they learn the philosophy of all religions, & I think that’s enough. They are happiest when we are out looking for adventure every weekend.”
That sounds a lot like, “If it feels good, it must be right, so go ahead & do it.” The person who’s governed by his Old Man is generally unconscious of the death he’s working out for himself. The woman quoted above makes a good illustration of that as she says, “The children are happiest when we’re out looking for adventure every weekend.” She believes in the god called feelings, & as long as her children feel happy, she assumes she’s a good parent. The truth is she’s merely unconscious of the death she’s working out, not only for herself, but possibly her children as well.
A father quoted in the article had this to say, “On Easter, my son & I go camping. You can’t help but be spiritual out there.” He believes he’s teaching his son a catechism of nature. However, what both parents are not realizing is that by themselves, without Jesus, they are powerless against death & against the Old Man within that is rushing them into it.
Without the true Son of God, headlong, full speed ahead, they are aiming straight for death. But Americans don’t like to think of themselves as being under anyone’s control. We want to say, as Frank Sinatra sang it, “I did it my way.”
This notion of individual self-determination is one of the strongest American cultural traits, & it’s one that runs deeply counter to God’s way. In reality, we are slaves to one thing or another: to money or poverty, fame or privacy, love or hate, fear or hope. The difficult truth is that we never had control in the 1st place. We’re born, by nature, with a mind of death.
We don’t like to hear that, because to us, freedom means self-determination, but that far too easily becomes our god. In fact the only being that exhibits total self-determination is Yahweh. For us, self-determination is a mirage; the truth is that we are always under control, the devil’s or God’s. There’s no middle ground of our own, as Adam & Eve sadly discovered.
What the Old Man brings forth in the way of thought & action is, in the final outcome, Death. That’s where we as Christians have opportunities, because we bear the message of Jesus Christ & Life. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, & in that certainty lies a freedom far greater than self-determination provides. Since we were born totally depraved, totally hostile to the source of life, the only choice that self-determination allows is one of death. Sadly, some people are so opposed to God that they willingly choose eternal death in their misguided, arrogant attempts to assert themselves before Him.
Jesus came to set us free, to rescue us, from that mind of death. God Himself died in order that He might destroy the hold that the mind of death had upon us. The ultimate search for spirituality will always end successfully at the empty tomb of Christ. There we see that the mind of death no longer owns or controls those who believe in the Son of God as Savior from sin.
That good news is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: a power even greater than death. In that message a person finds true comfort, connection & inspiration. People searching for true happiness don’t find it for long by looking for adventure every weekend. Spirituality cannot be found without the work of God’s Holy Spirit.
Remember, though the mind of sinful man is death, the mind controlled by the Spirit is life & peace. Amen.
Lord Jesus, think on me & purge away my sin; from worldly passions set me free & make me pure within. Lord Jesus, think on me, by anxious thoughts oppressed; let me Your loving servant be & taste Your promised rest. Amen. LSB 610:1-2
 John 10:27 NIV
 Romans 1:16
Pastor Dean R. Poellet