The Renewed Mind
There’s a fight to the death going on inside you right now and there’s no option of retirement! But who’s ﬁghting, and for what?
The battle started the minute you put your trust in Christ and will not stop until death, or the Lord’s Return, when the victory will be finally won – by our glorious Lord Himself. The battle is for your mind!
Philosophers and many others have been pondering for millennia as to what ‘the mind’ really is. Does the mind control the brain or is it just a function of the brain? How does it interact with the personality and emotions? Is it synonymous with what the Bible calls ‘the heart’? Is it just the chemical interactions in the stuff we call ‘grey matter’ – the result of aeons of evolution favouring those whose brains developed the ability to think?
For the believer, the Scriptures must be the source of answers to questions like those, and God has not left us ‘in the dark’– although we do realise that the secret things belong to the Lord our God (Deut.29:29) and that, this side of heaven, we do ‘see through a glass darkly’’and long for that day ‘when we shall know as we are known’ (1. Cor.13:12). For now, to quote Moses again, we must accept that what is revealed is revealed ‘to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.’
Hearts and minds …
The Bible distinguishes between the heart and the mind (and also the soul – another philosophical minefield!). Jesus tells us that: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind (Matt.22:37). When the Lord addresses Solomon in 1 Chron.28:9, He says: And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind. (ESV)
Readers are encouraged to use a concordance to look up the Hebrew and Greek words used for heart and mind in the above verses to see the range of meanings that attach to each of them – that study is well beyond the scope of this article! But the general ‘flavour’ we will detect is that the heart is used to describe the centre of the personality, what drives us, our will as well as our emotions, whereas the mindis where the decisions are made as to how those ‘drives’ are worked out in practical life. I realise that that is a huge simplification, but the introductory point I want to make is that the mind is not autonomous but is something which is subject to internal and external inﬂuences.
The New Testament describes our minds, outside of Christ, as ‘futile’ (Eph.4:17) and ‘darkened’ (Eph.4:18).Our minds are also ‘blinded by the god of this world before we are saved’ (2 Cor.4:4), and even after we are saved, are susceptible to deception by the enemy – see (2 Cor.11:2). Paul also says that ‘we were enemies in our mind’ (Col.1:21) before we were reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
But we can be encouraged that, having believed in Christ, God promises to put His laws into our hearts and write them on our minds (Heb.8:10; 10:16 quoting Jer. 31:33) and that the eyes of our understanding are ‘enlightened by the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph.1:17-18).That ‘understanding’ is ‘given to us by the Son of God’ (1 John 5:20) ‘so that we may know Him who is true’,but we need to ‘prepare our minds for action’(1 Pet.1:13 ESV )and stir them up (2 Pet.3:1).
Renewing of minds
Finally, we note that Paul talks about us being ‘renewed in the spirit of your mind’ (Eph.4:23) and being ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom.12:2), and encourages us that, through prayer and thanksgiving, ‘the peace of God, which surpasses our understanding, will set a garrison around our minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil.4:7 literal translation).
So the question we want to explore is “To what extent is the renewal of our minds our responsibility or is it something which is ‘done to us’”? And these are serious issues.‘For the mind of the ﬂesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace’ (Rom.8:6).‘I the LORD search the heart and test the mind’ (Jer.17:10). ‘All things are naked and exposed to His sight’ (Heb.4:13).
Firstly, let’s note that in Eph.4:23 and Rom.12:2 quoted above, the verb is passive tense – that is, the renewing is something that is done to us rather than by us. The Bible is insistent that this is something the Lord does to us, through His Spirit. As we saw above, He promises to write His law on our minds, as part of His covenanted grace to those who trust in Christ. Paul says in 1 Cor.1:30 that it is ‘in Christ Jesus who of God is made unto us wisdom’ – wisdom being the application of knowledge to the heart and in the mind.
The world in its wisdom ‘cruciﬁed the Lord of glory’ (1 Cor.2:8) and Paul makes it clear in that passage, that the Cross makes a mockery of men’s wisdom and ways of thinking. Our minds are all part of the ‘old self’ that was crucified with Christ, and the recognition of that is a fundamental key to the renewing of our minds, if we are ‘to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Eph.4:24).
Let battle commence!
Secondly, having seen that the mind is subject to internaland external influences, then we can say that the process of spiritual renewal is the mind responding to spiritual influences. However, some influences (the world, the flesh and the devil) can stall the process of renewal and even reverse it!
It is rather like the process of digestion. The body is programmed to digest food in a certain way – breaking down food into amino acids for absorption into the blood stream, from which our cells take the amino acids and build the proteins of which we are made. Similarly, the mind takes the inputs we give it and is programmed to process those inputs in order to shape our thinking, opinions and, ultimately, behaviour.
While you can’t change the way your body processes food, you cancontrol the ‘raw material’ that you give it, i.e. what you eat! If you give it healthy food, it will tend towards a healthy body, growing normally; poor or small amounts of food tend towards sickness and limited growth. So, if we give our minds spiritual inputs, it will tend towards spiritual thinking and behaving, and growing ‘in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet.3:18). So the challenge is, what sort of raw materials are we allowing into our minds?
It’s a joint effort!
We must recognise that this is a spiritual process – not the result of an Aristotelian elevation of the mind to the highest level of the soul where it controls desires and passions – that can cause spiritual pride. We must also avoid the opposite extreme – despising the mind and intellect in a false humility. I’ve had a foot in both camps at different times and know how damaging those attitudes can be, both to self and to others! ‘
Renewing the mind’ is a process where the Spirit of God takes the things of God (i.e. the Scriptures) and reveals them to the soul, as this glorious passage from 1 Corinthians 2 confirms:
‘But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit:for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. … Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual … For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.’ (1 Cor.2:9-16)
Who can have a higher aim or privilege than to have the mind of Christ? And this is our spiritual heritage and is the goal, for which we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! Spurgeon tells of visiting an elderly lady living in a hovel with a beautifully framed piece of paper on the wall above her bed, where she was confined due to sickness. He commented on it and she said that she didn’t know what was on it as she couldn’t read. He read it, and it was a bequest of great riches to her, and she was living in poverty because she didn’t know enough to claim her heritage!
Oh Beloved! Let’s claim our heritage – a renewed mind, ‘That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.15:6).
But does that mean we just sit back, ‘let go and let God’? By no means!! We are active participants in the battle, whether we know it or not! We are to ‘let this mind be in you’ and to ‘take captive every thought’. How? In the next article, we’ll explore this further.
The battle for our minds has already been won, praise God! But it’s still raging …
So what’s our part in the battle, if we already have the mind of Christ? Is the renewing of our mind solely the work of the Holy Spirit?
As we saw above, ‘we have the mind of Christ‘ (1 Cor. 2:16). The renewed mind is part of the new man (or better, the new humanity, the new creation), but we note from other Scriptures that we are instructed to ‘let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 2:5), and to be ‘renewed in the spirit of your mind’ (Eph. 4:23). Is this a contradiction? Or yet another mystery we won’t understand this side of heaven?
Certainly not! The confusion is in the English language where we have a single word to represent at least 19 shades of meaning in Greek. Thankfully we have the work of scholars like James Strong and W. E. Vine, whose concordances will shed light into our minds through the work of the Holy Spirit, illuminating the Scriptures!
The word for ‘mind’ in Phil.2:5 would be better translated as ‘mode of thinking’ as it indicates the exercise of the mind (Strongs G5426). The word for mind in the other two verses quoted above relates to the mind as an object – the place where the thinking takes place, the intellect (Strongs G3563).
Eph. 4:23 tells us that there is a spiritual element to the mind which needs to be renewed, as part of the process of sanctification which is the outworking of the Gospel received and applied to the heart and life. This ties in with Romans 12:1-2 ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, [same word as in Eph. 4:23] in order to prove [test, discern, approve – an activity of the mind] what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God’. 1
Worship with the mind
We are to worship God ‘with all our heart … soul … mind’ – yet another word for mind which means “deep thought, properly the faculty (mind or its disposition), by implication its exercise: – imagination, mind, understanding” (Strongs G1271). Do we worship God with our minds engaged with God?
One of the dangers of modern ‘worship’ is that of ‘mindless’ repetition of phrases with very little Bible truth in them – but it has ever been thus! As the Lord Jesus Himself said to His generation in Matt. 15:8 (quoting Isa. 29:13), ‘This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’
A mature mind
We must ‘go on to maturity’ (Heb. 6:1 ESV) and this is the result of having our ‘powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.’ (previous verse), and yes, that involves work – studying the Scriptures – in ’church’, on our own, with the help of others, using books and commentaries, and other helps.
Messianic author J. P McKee says: “When one is new in the faith, we are to be trained in what the NIV says are “the first principles of God’s Word.” These are the basic essentials of learning how to relate to God, loving God, loving one another, serving one another, learning about the characters and people of the Bible. … We learn how to pray. We learn how to demonstrate God’s grace and His mercy to others in the world we live. We learn how to make sacrifices and give Him complete control over our lives. These are the essential things in the faith, and I pray that each one of us has a firm basis in them in our relationship with the Lord.
”However, a critical part of growing in our faith is being able to move beyond these things. These things are certainly not to be negated by moving beyond them, but as we strive for spiritual adulthood the challenges that will be delivered to us will get increasingly more difficult. When we strive for adulthood we should not have to go through the essentials of faith over and over again, specifically because the Holy Spirit has supernaturally empowered us with discernment and reasoning abilities to handle complex situations. These complex situations require us to have a mind and thought life that are focused on the Lord and on performing His work ably in the world in which we live.” 2
Let battle commence!
Part of our spiritual warfare is ‘bringing into captivity every thought into the obedience of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5). In context, Paul is saying that he will oppose the troublemakers at Corinth with spiritual arguments in his apostolic authority. But, as the centurion in Matt. 8:9 knew, in order to have authority, you must be under authority. This is reminiscent of the story of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-16, who when trying to exorcise evil spirits ‘by the Jesus whom Paul preaches’ (v.13), were rebuked by the demon ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ If we haven’t brought our own thinking into captivity to be obedient to Christ, we’re not going to be much help to anyone else, and certainly can’t expect to have authority in the spiritual sphere of our warfare. For example, if you have a problem with controlling your appetite, you probably won’t be able to effectively counsel someone who is struggling with over-eating. Similarly in other areas such as gossip, critical spirit, etc.
We’re not on our own!
But thank God that we are not on our own here! Timothy seems to have struggled with timidity and holding back in his gifting (something I have struggled with over the years), which would make fulfilling his pastoral responsibilities a little tricky! Paul assures Timothy that God has given us a spirit‘of power and of love and of a sound mind‘ (2 Tim. 1:7). He uses a word for ‘sound mind’ (self-control in some versions) that has at its root the idea of the mind/feelings being saved or safe, under control (elsewhere translated ‘sober’), restored and fit for its God-given purpose.
But, although that is a gift from God, he still needs to be reminded and encouraged to stir up the gift, not to be ashamed, and to be ready to share in the afflictions of the gospel – but, again, it is ‘according to the power of God’ (2 Tim. 1:8-10) – which he says in v.7 has already been imparted to us, and in v.9 that this was God’s purpose in eternity, and demonstrated in Christ’s abolition of death and bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel! (v.10)
As we study verses like these and realise the blessings that have been imparted to us through our participation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 3:10), the process of transforming our mind is under way. Going back to the verses in Eph. 4:22-24 mentioned above, the renewing of our mind is an essential step in the process of ‘putting on the new self’ (ESV) which was ‘created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’. Paul’s instructions to the Philippians to ‘work out your own salvation’ (Phil. 2:12 KJV), is preceded by a passage encouraging them to be of one mind in unity and humility, and is followed by the assurance that it is God working in them anyway.
Are you aware of the fight going on for your mind? Are you aware of your part in the battle? Are you aware of the weapons at your disposal? Paul prays that we might have ‘the eyes of your understanding enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe’ (Eph 1:18-19a ESV – modified)
This is indeed glorious! And Paul says that this transformation of our thinking is ‘according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.’ (Eph 1:19b-21 ESV)
Our Lord Jesus is Head of the New Creation, and we are complete in Him (Col. 2:10) with His power at work in us. You are already part of that New Creation – the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17) We are fighting from a place of victory. The war has already been won!
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations in this article are taken from either ‘The Modern King James Version’ or ‘The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible’, both © Jay P. Green, Sr., and accessed through “e-Sword”, a superb (and free! but donations invited) Bible software program/app available from www.e-sword.net (Rick Meyers), incorporating multiple translations, commentaries and study helps, including Strong’s Concordance.
2 Extracted from an article entitled “The Work of the Holy Spirit: Perfection of the Mind”; available at http://messianicapologetics.net/archives/15496 (as at Oct 2018).