Mind your Mind! On the Importance of the Mind to Transformation

In the readings from this Past Sunday St. Paul admonishes us to no longer walk as the unbelievers do, in the futility of their minds….and corrupted by deceitful desires (cf, Eph 4:17ff). I’d like to take a little time in this post to examine the critical importance that the Scriptures place on our minds.

In our times we face many critics of the Church and Scriptures. Some of them are very hostile, confrontational and ridiculing. Indeed, they reserve a special scorn for traditional Christianity, a scorn they would never publicly profess of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist faith.

That said, they do regard what we think as Christians to be important, important enough to try and ridicule and limit in terms of its influence. And we as Christians must heed St. Paul’s warning that we in no way permit them undue influence over that very precious part of us we call the mind.

There are others too in our age who take a less hostile, more “benign” approach which largely considers what anyone thinks to be of little importance, a kind of “who cares, live-and-let live,” pseudo-tolerance that is really more a form of laziness than anything else. So to them, it does not really matter what a person thinks or believes. All that matters is that a person 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. We were made to know the one, true God, to know the truth and, knowing this truth be set free (cf 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 and its deeds proceed 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. And there is a lot of this today.
  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, focused on futile things, and darkened. But the new mind we have received from Christ gives us a new (transformed) self. Note too, the clear warning to us to not live as “Gentiles” do. Here “Gentiles” means unbelievers, for it is clear that many Gentiles did come to faith, and it is to them, that Paul writes to “put off your old self.” Note too the hardened hearts that Paul describes them as having. One of the great issues that I, like you, encounter is that many in today’s secular world have  hardened their hearts against God. I cannot fully tell you the grief that I experience on this blog at some of the comments that come in from many (not all) unbelievers (i.e. atheists, militant secularists, and agnostics). Most of these comments I just delete and you never have to see them. But the darkness of mind, and the hard-hardheartedness that reserves special hostility for biblical, ecclesial or traditional norms, is a very hard cycle to break through. Little conversation can be had in the climate of hostility, cynicism and suspicion that comes when people have hardened their hearts. Some, to be sure really are striving to overcome obstacles so they can understand or come to faith. I do know souls who struggle to believe and actually do seek to understand. And yet too many others do not really come to conversation with actual questions, but, rather to ridicule and vent anger, their minds are closed and they have hardened their hearts.
  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.

So the mind is critical to transformation. Be sober, the devil and the world want access to your mind, want to influence the way you think. The mind is THE battleground, (along with the heart wherein the battle of desire takes place). Mind your mind. Be careful what you think and who and what you allow to influence you. Be devoted to studying the faith and reading scripture. The mind is precious but vulnerable. Mind your mind!

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.