Mind your Mind: On The Reverence of God for the Mind

There is a tendency in the modern age, at least in the Western world,  to trivialize the human person. One of the ways we do this is to say, in so many words, that it does not really matter what a person thinks or believes. All that matters is that they behave well. Hence if a person is a good citizen, pays his taxes, does not beat his wife, is kind to children and animals then it doesn’t matter what he believes. But this trivializes us since we were made to know the one, true God, to know the truth and, knowing this truth be set free (Jn 8:32). God’s plan for us is more than good behavior from some humanistic perspective. Rather he offers us a complete transformation, a new mind and new heart that is attained through personal knowledge and experience of him. Now all of this will surely affect our behavior but we must be clear that God is offering us something more than being nice in the sight of men and getting along with people.

One of the ways Scripture expresses what God is offering us at a deeper level is the appeal to the mind that so frequently occurs in the New Testament. The very opening words of Jesus as he began his public ministry announce the invitation to receive a new mind. Sadly most English translations do not well capture what the Greek text actually reports Jesus as saying. Most English renderings of Jesus opening words are “Repent and believe the Good News”  (cf. Mark 1:15; Matt 3:2). Now to most people “repent” means to reform your behavior, to do good and avoid evil, or to stop sinning. That is its most common English meaning. But the Greek word is far richer than this. The Greek word is Μετανοείτε (metanoeite) which most literally means  “to come to a new mind.” It is from the Greek  meta  (hard to translate perfectly in English but it often indicates accompaniment, change, or movement of some sort) and nous or noieo; (meaning mind or thought).  Hence metanoeite means to think differently, i.e. Reconsider, to come to a new mind. So what the Lord is more fully saying is “Come to new mind and  be believing in the Good News”

Thus Jesus is not saying merely that we should clean up our act he is inviting us to come to a new mind that he alone can give us. When we think differently we will surely act differently and hence metanoeite can and does include a notion of reformed behavior. But notice that it is the result of a new mind. When we think differently by the new mind Christ will give us we start to see things more as God does. We share his priorities, his vision. We love what He loves, we think more as He does. This then effects a change in our behavior.

There is an old saying that goes: Sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit. Sow a habit reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny. Notice how it all begins with the mind. Our mind shapes our decisions, habits, character and ultimately our destiny.

The mind is the deepest part of the human person. It is not always possible in Scripture to perfectly distinguish the words mind and heart. Sometimes they are used interchangeably sometimes distinctively. But for our purposes here, the mind can be understood as the quite similar to the heart in that it is at the deepest part of the human person where thought, memory, imagination, and deliberation take place. The mind is not to be merely equated with the brain or simply with the intellect. It is deeper and richer than these. It is not simply a function of the physical body but more fully it involves the soul. The mind is where we live, think, reflect, ponder, remember and deliberate.

Hence, in appealing to the mind, God is offering a transformation to whole human person for it is from within the mind and heart that all proceeds forth. Good behavior is a nice goal but God does not trivialize us but only trying to reform our behavior, He offers much more by offering to reform US.

Thus, what a person thinks and believes DOES matter. In our hyper-tolerant times where tolerance is one of the few agreed upon virtues left, we want to brush aside the details. We are almost proud of ourselves as we affirm that people can think and believe whatever they want so long as they behave well. Well perhaps a person is free to think what ever they please but we are foolish if we think that this does not ultimately influence behavior. Our dignity is that we were made to know the truth and thus to know Jesus Christ who is the truth and the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6). Hence our dignity is not just an outer transformation but an inner one as well. In fact it is an inner transformation that most truly leads to an outer transformation.

Here are a few more texts that refer to the mind as the locus of transformation and and also the main battleground where grace must win. Without a transformed, clear and sober mind we will give way to sin and every form of bad behavior. Transformation starts with the mind. My comments on each text are in red.

  1. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2) Note, transformation comes by the renewal of our minds.
  2. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…..For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools….Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. ….he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom 1:17ff selectae)  Notice here how a suppression of the truth leads to a depraved mind and a depraved mind to shameless and depraved behavior. It begins in the mind which is the real battleground
  3. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (Rom 8:5) Again, the sinful nature proceeds from a worldly mind. Those who have received the gift of the Spirit and embraced it fully have their minds set on what God desires. The remainder of Romans 8 goes on to describe the complete transformation of the human person that results from having a mind set on what God desires.
  4. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 cor 4:4) This text says simply that worldly thinking leads to spiritual blindness
  5. So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way…..put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness(Eph 4:17-24) The bad behavior of the Gentiles comes from a mind that is frivolous and darkened. But the new mind we have received from Christ gives us a new (transformed) self.
  6. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (Phil 3:19) Destruction comes from a mind set on earthly things.
  7. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Heb 8:10) God wants to transform us interiorly not merely improve our behavior. He wants to give us a new mind and heart that have his law written deeply in them.
  8. The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8) When the mind is impure or divided, the ways, the behavior is corrupted.
  9. Therefore, gird the loins of  your mind; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13) A sober and clear mind that assertively seeks God’s will will lead to a self-controlled and hopeful life.
  10. The end of all things is near. Therefore be of clear mind and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7) In turbulent times a clear, sober mind is necessary so as not to lose control of one’s behavior and also to be serene enough to pray.

This song says “I’ve got my mind made up and I won’t turn back ’cause I want to see my Jesus someday.” This is a lively Carribean medley by Donnie McClurkin.

18 Replies to “Mind your Mind: On The Reverence of God for the Mind”

  1. Dearly beloved Jesus, by the Precious Blood drawn forth from the Sacred Wounds of your Crown of Thorns, please transform our thoughts and memory, give us a new mind. Amen.

  2. I agree with the need to manage one’s mind in order to follow Jesus faithfully. With that is the need for the shepherds of the Church to teach by words and actions the community the path to faithful discipleship. There have been so many false teachers and prophets who obfuscate the Church’s position specially in the political square. Just recently Keehan claims that she did not know that Obamacare contained provisions to fund abortion with taxes. Is there something wrong with her mind or perhaps with her heart? And further on helping the faithful educate their minds, the bishops and priests need to be mindful that their words and actions are a constant proclamation or teaching of some sort. Mere appearances can be used by the deceiver to confuse and mislead e.g. Obama’s honoring at Notre Dame despite his pronounced support for the culture of death. No matter what the reality is, the perception can be used to send a wrong teaching and confuse the minds of the believers. Then again, perhaps the teachers themselves are confused. Hence the great need for your message Msgr. Pope.

  3. John 9, 39 And Jesus said: For judgment I am come into this world; that they who see not, may see; and they who see, may become blind.
    I have always been interested in this passage and have tried to tie it to your thesis (which i think about a lot). For it would seem that the world wants our minds to entertain i.e. see all things good or bad (really no distinction necessary) and then to accept all conclusions but if we are to love the Lord with all our minds then we must constantly discern. and to stay blind to the accepted norms of our world. I want to somehow think that being blind is a good thing. Narrow mindedness can be a good thing if it is a mind that is filled with Truth. And then closes [insert Chestertonian quote here]). I liked your post Father. Again , these small essays give me hope.

  4. I woke up troubled this morning from events that took place yesterday. This post has served me well in my thoughts and meditations and prayers. It has helped me to remember somethings I had forgotten. Thank you.

  5. Monsignor, I just want you to know I enjoy your analysis of Greek words. I am trying, at home and all on my own to learn New Testament Greek. I appreciate these more detailed analyses of key words.

  6. Monsignor, this is a wonderful reminder that the mind is, indeed, part of who we are and is therefore a means through which we worship God. Too many times I have heard well-intentioned people create this sharp division between mind and heart, to the end that heart, i.e. emotionalism, trumps mind. Yours is an excellent reminder of the role of the mind our lives.

  7. My apologies for making heavy weather of it, Monsignor, but these Greek and English verbs function substantially the same way: (a) with a non-moral sense of “change one’s mind” (the literal meaning of metanoéo is “have an after-thought”), and (b) with a moral application.

    As you say, (b) does include (i) repentance of individual sins (“reform one’s behaviour”/ “stop sinning”, as you put it); see, e.g., Ac.8:22 (“repent of this wickedness”) and 2Co.12:21 (“those who have not repented of [their] impurity”) etc. The verb metanoéo is also used absolutely with reference to sins: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” (Lk.17:3b).

    So metanoéo does not necessarily import the idea of (ii) “come to a new way of thinking”, although in context it must mean that at Mk.1:15 and Mt.3:2, as also at Lk.15.7, 10. By the same token, I think English readers of those passages guess that more is involved in “repent” than just being sorry.

    St. Peter at Pentecost, and later – after healing a crippled beggar – accused his audience of having killed Jesus (“This man . . you killed”, Ac.2:23; cf. Ac.3:15). In the former case they asked what to do and were told: “Repent and be baptized . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Ac.2:38).

    This might be sense (b)(i) or (b)(ii); but consider his reply on the second occasion (Ac.3:19):- “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away”. The verbs here are metanoēsate (repent) and epistrépsate (turn around, return to [God]), and the same combination recurs at Ac.26:20 (in Paul’s mouth). These seem to be two aspects of the radical conversion you discuss: repenting of sin and turning to God. Is not the full movement expressed as grace+repentance+faith+turning-to-God?

    1. Not sure what your mean by heavy weather but I do think you are sometimes far too particular. Etymology it seems is far less precise than you would wish it to be. You seem to be a bit too particular in your objection. I am not sure why the first meaning of metanoia which is to change one’s mind is so different from the the wording I use which is to come to a new mind. How about a little poetry. The remainder of your objection is curious to me since I admitted that metanoia can and does include a notion of repentence. It was merely my wish for the the readers to understand that the Greek word is far richer than repentance understood only as “cleaing up your act.” To some degree are you not being argumentative here? I am just not sure of your purpose or point in your objection since I think I state what you are saying and only want to enrich people’s understanding of the Greek which is not captured fully by the English word. That word is not inaccurate but the Greek is richer.

      1. I try hard not to be argumentative for the sake of it, Monsignor (and if I over-step the mark I hope you will advise me), but I was taking issue with your main introductory point about the meaning of metanoéo (the precise etymology is not important). You say the Greek is richer than the English word “repent”, and (at its simplest) I was disputing that statement by reference to some NT usages. I was defending the standard translation in the main modern English Bibles of “repent” for metanoéo.

        To elaborate further would be an unwelcome distraction from what you were really driving at in your article, which doesn’t stand or fall on the precise tonal range of “repent” or metanoéo. However, in His initial preaching, Our Lord says “repent AND believe in the gospel”. As I read it, it is the combination of these two ideas (and not any far richer meaning of metanoéo as compared with “repent”) which signifies that a fundamental change of orientation is required – a change of heart (for I can “change my mind” about the most trivial things imaginable).

        That’s all 🙂

  8. Thanks, Monsignor, for this post. It’s an important topic; I suspect that many people, Christians included, don’t realize how important it is to be careful about what we think about, listen to, read about, view on tv or online, etc. It’s helpful to have collected in one place so many scriptural passages that help us focus on this point.

  9. “One of the ways we do this is to say, in so many words, that it does not really matter what a person thinks or believes.”

    In his book “Heretics,” G.K. Chesterton wrote that this was often the attitude in his day (100 years ago). He continued by writing that

    “It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages….But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period.”

    If the intolerance of past ages meant that the life of a heretic wasn’t valued at much, then it seems to me that in our present age the intolerance is of a different kind. Now it is the afterlife–for believer and unbeliever alike–which is accorded no value. This apathy towards belief is a reflection of that, I think.

  10. For this ministry/apostolic work, Deo Gratias! Deeply grateful Monsignor for finding your articles on the New Advent lists. I print them out and carry them about for those “sand between the shells” times, waiting, taking a break, etc. Thank you Good Shepherd!

  11. Wow, posters tempting you to speak ex cathedra? (joke) Now syndication to New Advent? (great news) I’m looking forward to the articles regarding the virtues of humility!!

  12. I agree with other commentators here that I so look forward to these posts – they have enriched my understanding of Scripture, especially as I have no command of biblical Greek, as was the case again for this specific post. What I would wish for, though, is that the academic aspect is enriched with the practical aspect of implementation – the HOW of renewing the mind. That is, in my view, lacking so often and while we may be more enlightened in our understanding, the WAY to change is not addressed and so I continue to flounder.

    I would not be looking any lengthy treatises of the “HOW to change your mind” but would have enjoyed a brief pointer or footnote to effective praying or being provided with a reference to, e.g., Jess Stearn’s “The Power of Alpha Thinking…It would be like taking Jesus’s words “Do this…” and break it into bite-sized learning for people less educated, like me.

  13. I believe equating the mind with the deepest part of the human person and saying it is not simply a function of the physical body but more fully it involves the soul is a dangerous statement. The implication is that once the mind is gone, so goes the person and perhaps even the soul. Hence, mercy killing becomes morally acceptable based some medical definition of brain death. Abortion is OK because the mind is not developed and there is no thought process. Such statements also lead to the popular, but incorrect, believe that we are made up of three substances, mind, body and soul. Again, this leads to all sorts of problems with regard to what it means to be human. I prefer the traditional Catholic teaching that we are composed of body and soul and that the soul has a rational power independent from that of the body. This keeps us clear of the above issues concerning mercy killing and abortion. I would rather say that the rational soul is the deepest part of the human person and that through prayer and meditation it can influence our thoughts and actions. Thus perfecting one’s self involves the work of our rational spirit to sow a thought, that allows the reaping of deeds that lead to a habit and the development of character. When guided by the rational soul and through the grace of God our character becomes a properly formed conscience and our mind unites with our rational soul; thus in spirit and body we become one in Christ.

    1. I think your concern can be addressed by the Holy Trinity. We are made in the likeness and image of God. The Trinity is One God in three Persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, seperate but indivisible. For me, I think the same can be applied to us as Mind, Body and Soul if we are created in His image. Here is an excerpt from the Athanasion Creed for your consideration:

      ‘That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.’

      I’m no theologian, but for me, your concern holds no weight unless it is considered from the position that we are not created in the likeness and image of God.

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