The Enmity Of The Carnal Mind Against God

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. Rom 8:7

Our text this morning from a sermon by George Burder is Romans Chapter 8 verse 7 and the solemn subject before us is: The Hostility to God of the Mind Set On The Flesh.

That the whole human race is deplorably depraved, is a general doctrine of the Bible; and that the mind of man being thus depraved is in a state of opposition to God, is the particular doctrine of the text.

A doctrine which is certainly not very attractive to men in general, but absolutely necessary to be known, if we would avoid the dreadful consequences of that opposition: for, as the apostle states, in the verse before the text—“to set the mind on the flesh is death” --everlasting death and destruction : whoever lives and dies under the power of a carnal mind, must eternally perish.

Now, our text accounts for this; it shows the justice of this awful sentence, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God,” it stands in direct opposition to him, to his perfections, his government, and his whole will; it is not only an enemy to him, but absolutely enmity, hostility itself; and such is its desperate malignity, its irreconcilable hatred, that it cannot be brought into subjection; the heart itself has to be renewed by Almighty grace, before it can be reconciled, or brought over to God.

This is a true but awful picture of man. How different is it from that picture which man draws of himself! For fallen man is proud, and vain, and very eager to justify himself: he cannot, really, say that all is right; he is forced to admit that he sometimes does wrong; but he seems to think it rather accidental than natural. He will admit that he has his frailties and failings, yet maintains that he has a good heart, and sincerely endeavours to do his best.

Now it is essential that these mistakes should be corrected; and that we should trace the streams of vice to their original source; which source you have in the text, “the mind that is set on the flesh”—a mind wholly fleshly and worldly, delighting only in earthly things, and therefore averse to God, and entirely destitute of love to him. This is the subject before us; a subject which may be considered as essential to the very basis and groundwork of all true and vital religion. May the Holy Spirit, who alone truly convinces of sin, and leads to repentance, enlighten and impress our hearts, while we show,

1. That the mind of man is indeed set on the flesh; and

2. That, being set on the flesh, it is in a state of hostility to God.

1. The mind of man is set on the flesh—The mind of every man as he is born in this world.

By the word mind—we are to understand all the powers of the soul; such as the understanding, the will, and the affections; or as it is expressed by the Anglican reformers in the 9th of the 39 articles, “this infection of nature which some do expound the wisdom, some the sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God.”

The mind of man is here said to be set on the flesh because its desires and delights are set on the flesh. The apostle, in this chapter, divides all mankind into two classes, ver. 5, “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.” Our Savior himself makes the very same distinction, John 3. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The natural man is so entirely a stranger to every thing spiritual, and so completely devoted to the pursuit of worldly and sensual objects, that he is called in Scripture flesh. Man is indeed composed of two parts, flesh and spirit; but because his spirit is dead to God, and he lives only an animal life, he is very justly called flesh.

So God said of the whole human race before the flood. “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever,” namely, by the preaching of Noah, “for he is flesh,” that is, entirely corrupt and sensual; and this is the state of every man in the world, unless he is born again of the Spirit of God.

The understanding of man, however rational, is carnal; for this description belongs not only to the abandoned sensualist, who wallows in the filth of grosser vices; but it is applicable to the most learned and intelligent person in the world, who is without divine teaching. And so we read in Colossians 2 verse 18 of the zealous Jewish teacher, or sharp Gentile philosopher, who is “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind;” and, surely, the human mind is never more carnal, than when swelled with self-conceit and proud reasonings opposed to the word of God.

The mind of man is remarkably set on the flesh in its conceptions of the Divine Being, of his worship, and of the way of acceptance with him. Millions of men are, to this day, so grossly carnal, that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Sadly, there are millions of men, called Christians, who bow down to a crucifix, and to images of the Virgin Mary, and dead saints, and pray to them for deliverance. Even among protestants, how many act as if God were a being like to themselves, and hypocritically worship him with the body only, when their hearts are far from him! All this is of the flesh.

How carnal are the ideas of many persons respecting the holy law of God contained in the ten commandments! This Law is “ spiritual,” and requires the love and obedience of the heart: it forbids and condemns the first motions of sin in the thoughts; but many imagine themselves very good, and fulfillers of the law, because they have not committed the acts of murder, adultery, theft, and so on though they have broken the law in the thoughts and wishes of their hearts, thousands and thousands of times.

The mind that is set on the flesh mistakes the Gospel also, as well as the law. The Gospel stands for good news; good news of the love of God to helpless sinners: good news of the atonement made by the blood of Christ: good news of free pardon, holiness, and eternal life, to be had, freely, by all who seek them through faith in Christ! But how carnal are the views of many concerning it! Some understand, by the Gospel, nothing but the history of Jesus Christ, his birth, miracles, death, and so on. Others think the Gospel only a set of good precepts, given by Jesus Christ, showing us how we may make ourselves good, and save ourselves by so doing. Others, even some very learned men, tell us it is a kind of new law, offering us salvation on easier terms than the old law, namely, on the condition of faith, repentance, and sincere obedience.

But all this is a false and a fleshly way of thinking about the Gospel; and fully proves the truth of what the apostle Paul says, 1 Cor. 2. 14. “The natural person (that is the person whose mind is set on the flesh) 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.” This is absolutely true.

Many hear the truths of the Gospel plainly preached for several years, and never understand one of them. To many others, the great doctrines of grace, faith, righteousness, holiness, and the influence of the Spirit, seem nothing but nonsense, and they revile them accordingly. And the apostles say, it cannot be otherwise, “because they are spiritually discerned”—they are perceived, in their divine truth and glory, only by an understanding enlightened by the Spirit of God.

The will of the natural man is also set on the flesh.

The will is that power of the mind by which a person chooses any thing. Now the will of fallen man is perverse, obstinate, and rebellious, “it does not submit to God's law.” (Rom. 8:7) It does not choose those things which are truly good and excellent, but rejects them with disdain; while it chooses those things which are carnal and hurtful; things forbidden by the word of God, and evidently destructive to the souls of men, “you refuse to come to me that you may have life,” (John 5:40) said Christ to the Jews: “We do not want this man to reign over us,” (Luke 19:14) is what many still say.

The affections of the soul, such as hope, desire, and love, are also set on the flesh; and this is the principal intent of the word mind in our text—“those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh’ (Rom. 8:5)—they prefer and pursue carnal and animal gratifications. “What shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear?” (Matt. 6:31) These are what preoccupy persons whose minds are set on the flesh: not, what shall I do to be saved? not, how shall I please and glorify God? no, the world and the flesh are the idols set up in the heart, and to these they bow down. The service of God has no attraction for them. “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” (Job 21:15) but how eagerly do they pursue worldly pleasures and profits! How violently are many set upon the gratification of their appetites and wants!

Such is the strength of their carnal desires, that they break down all fences, human and divine. Lust must and will be gratified, in opposition to reason and religion, and at the risk of reputation, health, fortune, and life itself. What will not poor carnal sinners sacrifice for a little base short-lived indulgence?

How strong is the love of pleasure, amusement, and vain company! How attached are many to show and appearance! while others are more soberly bent upon ruin, by the excessive love of money; determined, at any rate, to be rich: gold is their god; and to this they sacrifice their time, their talents, their strength, sadly, their very souls.

And in this way the world, in some form or other, is the supreme object of a carnal man; he loves the world, and the things of the world, and, consequently, “the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)—Now this disposition is so exactly the reverse of what it ought to be; it so entirely opposes the holy will of God concerning his creatures, that he accounts it hatred and enmity against himself; and this leads us to a second part of our subject, which was to show,

2, That man, being carnal, set on the flesh, is in a state of enmity or hostility against God.

So God accounts it, and we are sure that God judges rightly. (Rom 2:2) In fact, this is the very essence of sin, the sinfulness of sin; the transferring that love, which on all accounts is due to the blessed God, as the most amiable of all beings, to his creatures; to objects, infinitely vile and base in comparison to him. It is turning our back upon him in contempt and scorn, as if he, whom angels adore, was not worthy of our notice.

This conduct must surely be sinful in the highest degree, for guilt necessarily arises in proportion to the baseness of the offender, and the dignity of the person offended. An insulting behaviour to a servant is a fault, to magistrate it is a crime, to a king it is treason. What then is it to God,—the benefactor, the ruler, the Father of men? To forsake him, to take part against holiness and godliness, in which he delights, is to become a rebel and “a hater of God;” this is enmity against God; and this is the attitude of all unconverted sinners.

Let us consider some instances of this, in the dislike which carnal men have for the perfections of God—to the worship of God—to the Laws of God, and to the people of God.

The carnal man, the man whose mind is set on the flesh, takes no pleasure in the perfections of God; he thinks that God is altogether like himself, or rather wishes that he were so. That glorious attribute, holiness, is peculiarly repulsive to him; he cannot bear to think that God is so strict and severe as to hate and punish every sin, but would reduce him to his own standard.—The justice of God he opposes and denies, and will by no means believe that he will eternally punish sin, although he has solemnly declared that he will: and so, the sinner denies the truth of God. If Jehovah say, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden... lest you die,” the carnal mind, tutored by Satan, says, “I will not surely die,” (Gen 3:3-4) but will be wiser and happier by my sins. True holiness consists in the restoration of the divine image in the soul; but the carnal mind turns with disgust from God, and does not want to imitate his perfections.

The mind that is set on the flesh has a great aversion for the spiritual worship of God. That which constitutes the joy of holy angels and redeemed sinners, is an intolerable burden, and therefore wholly omitted, or very carelessly performed. Some do not hesitate to ridicule the joys of glorified saints, as if it were only “sitting on white clouds, and continually, singing psalms;” and they will say that they can conceive of no heaven superior to the pleasures and amusements of this world. If such persons do find themselves in a church, their wandering eyes, their inattention, prove that their hearts are not there: and the person that can easily support the fatigue involved in securing a given amusement, is extremely tired with an hour in the house of God.

See them engaged in the amusements of sports or travel or culinary pleasures, and their eyes sparkle with deight; they anticipate the pleasure before it arrives, and eagerly talk of it when it is past. But, at church, they are listless, and indifferent; they day-dream or sleep; and no part of the service gives them one moment’s pleasure but the words of dismission. And in this way they serve their God, in a way that they would be ashamed to serve a fellow-man and they spring from church, like a bird from the cage, glad that their confinement is over, and that worldly conversation, lunch, or some other amusement, may better occupy their carnal mind.

As to private devotion, they know little or nothing of it. It is, perhaps, wholly omitted for years together; or when conscience and fear make them drop on their knees, the tedious task is soon concluded. They have no communion with God, nor do they conceive that it would give them any pleasure.

Our text points out the hostility of the mind set on the flesh in its opposition to the law of God—"it does not submit to God's law.” The law of God is holy, and just, and good; it requires only that we should love him supremely, and our neighbour as ourselves. God certainly has a right to require this; and it is our most reasonable service; but the mind set on the flesh refuses submission. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” is the language of every sinner, as well as of Pharaoh. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light; but, as the prophet says, they “turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.” (Zec 7:11) They consider the law of God, as a hard restraint upon their corrupt inclinations, their worldly interests and sensual pleasures.

Nor is the enmity of the carnal mind against the Gospel less than that against the law. The Gospel is a glorious dispensation of grace and mercy towards ruined sinners, in which infinite wisdom, justice, holiness and mercy are wonderfully united: a system every way honourable to God and suitable to man, and therefore worthy of all acceptation. But the mind that is set on the flesh opposes even this. The proud pharisee disdains to submit to the righteousness of Christ; the carnal man of the world, intent upon his land, his oxen, and his farm, begs to be excused: the vain philosopher, puffed up with his mental advancements, objects to all its humbling doctrines; and in this way, all agree to reject the council of God against themselves.

The mind set on the flesh betrays its inward hostility to God by a settled contempt and hatred against his people. God has a people in the world, “called and chosen and faithful:” (Rev 17:14) they are a separate people; and distinguished by their attachment to his word and ways. This very circumstance makes them offensive to carnal men; for “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12) Now the mind that is set on the flesh is the very principle of persecution. This has been the source of opposition to the church of God in all ages, from the time of righteous Abel to the present moment; but we are not to be offended at this. Our Lord has said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) And so, "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you." (1 John 3:13) Let this comfort the people of God with respect to their crosses.

And so we have briefly considered the mind that is set on the flesh, and shown its hostility to God. But what words can paint its criminality and vileness? What can be said of it, equal in force to what the apostle says in the text—"it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot;” it cannot be subject; it is not the nature of the carnal mind to submit to God; it is as contrary to it, as light is to darkness. An enemy may be reconciled, but enmity cannot. Nothing can remove it but the divine power of renewing grace, bestowing a spiritual mind upon us.


And now let us pause and reflect. If the mind of man is so set on the flesh, and the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, it is a most serious matter to be considered. whether we are now under the power of it, or happily delivered by grace. Such as the mind is, such will the walk and conversation be. Review characteristics mentioned earlier and ask yourselves how it is with you. The outcome is supremely important, for "those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” ver. 8; but, on the contrary, are under his dreadful displeasure, and liable to his eternal wrath; for “For to set the mind on the flesh is death.” ver. 6

What need then of humiliation! How badly does it suit a fallen creature, with a heart so carnal, to boast of its excellence; and call that a good heart, which the Scripture pronounces to be carnal, and hostile to God. Surely, instead of boasting, the deepest sorrow and shame is more appropriate. We should abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes; for what can be so vile and abominable as this carnal disposition? This is the true source of all our sinful actions: for the carnal walk is produced by the carnal mind; and even they, who may not be chargeable with gross immoralities, may have reason to charge themselves with this awful trait; and if any are disposed to deny that they are carnally-minded, the denial itself proves beyond a doubt that they are altogether carnal. For even the best of men, the most wise, holy and pious, are conscious of the remains of this wretched trait.

"This infection of nature (say the Anglican reformers) does remain even in them that are regenerate;” and the apostle Paul affirms, that "the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit." (Gal 5:17) Indeed, he says of himself, in a comparative, view, “the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh.” (Rom. 7. 14).

"Go,” said a modern writer, “go with the serious Christian where he prays in private, ask him his opinion of the corruption of the heart, and he will tell you that he is deeply aware of its power; for he has learned it from much self-observation, and long acquaintance with the workings of his own mind. He will tell you that every day strengthens this conviction; indeed, that hourly he sees fresh reason to deplore his lack of simplicity in intention, his infirmity of purpose, his low views, his selfish unworthy desires, his backwardness to set about his duty, his languor and coldness in performing it, that he finds himself obliged continually to confess, that he feels within him two opposite principles, and that 'he cannot do the things that he would.'”

This true humiliation of spirit will make the blessings of the Gospel very precious. The consciousness of so much evil, not only in the life but in the heart, will compel us to seek for pardoning mercy, through faith in the Redeemer; and that blood will appear to us invaluably precious, which can, and does, cleanse us from so much sin.

The Love of God will appear, as it is, inexpressibly wonderful, when fixed upon creatures so destitute of anything good; and the grateful language of the saved sinner will be, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?” Are we conscious that “though we were once blind, now we see;” that we can sincerely delight in the perfections of God, in the worship of God, in the law of God, and in the people of God? if so let the pleasing change be reviewed with thankfulness, and the glory ascribed, where alone it is due, to the God of all grace; and let it be our daily business to “walk in the Spirit,” and to produce “the fruits of the Spirit, in all righteousness and goodness.”

There is one other truth which flows from what has been said of the mind set on the flesh, and that is—the necessity of regeneration, or the new birth. For this we have the highest authority. Our Savior said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God:” and when this doctrine was objected to by the carnal mind of Nicodemus, (and carnal minds always object to it) our Lord confirmed the truth of it, by assigning this reason for its necessity --“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;” which shows that as original corruption is conveyed by natural generation, so a saving generation is the effect and product of the Holy Spirit’s operation.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin,” saith the prophet, “or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jer 13:23) Here the difficulty mentioned is only that of breaking off a habit or custom which is considered a second nature; but how much greater must be the difficulty of altering a nature itself, a carnal nature, a carnal mind, the nature which is hostile to God! Surely the power of almighty God is necessary here, even that same power which said, “Let there: be light, and there was light.”

Would that this new creating power may be graciously displayed in changing the carnal into the spiritual mind: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace