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Doctrine and mind-renewal

October 2014 | by Paul Wells

Countries are not Christian; only people are, and they become Christian by believing biblical truth through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul makes mind-renewal the lynch-pin for Christian living: ‘Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2).

The new birth brings us into spiritual standing with the living God and it never happens without a change of mind. The mind is an agent in ongoing transformation. Our feelings roller-coaster and our will wobbles like jelly, but our knowledge of biblical doctrine becomes clearer as divine truth cuts deeper into our lives.

Should sin derail us momentarily, doctrine is our hidden witness, correcting us via a biblically informed conscience.

God’s mind

One thing that we forget is that God too has a mind, a divine and infinite mind, characterised by holiness, light, infinite wisdom and knowledge.

God is the ultimate criterion of all truth, but he made us creatures with some of the attributes and complexities of his mind. In spite of the infinite difference, man has a mind that can think thoughts about God, distinguish truth and error, right and wrong, and talk to God in prayer.

God also controls events in this world, because he controls human minds and their workings, whether it is the mind of Adam, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, the enemies of Jesus, or Saul when he persecuted the church.

Sin has disastrous consequences on the contents of our minds. We don’t know what the human mind was like before the Fall and rebellion against God. We do know that sin affects our choices, desires, memories and affections in a very concrete way. In their sinful state, our minds thrash about and are at enmity with God (Ephesians 2:11ff).

Through the renewal of the mind, what was sin-dominated is restored to some semblance of normality, although the final big change of mind awaits the resurrection body.

Faith in Christ is a change of mind. Before we believed, our self was everything, God nothing; we didn’t even know it and lived for ourselves (1 Corinthians 2:14). Once we became believers, God was everything to us; we started to want to please him and our values changed. We had ‘the mind of Christ’.

Changed heart

One day in the future, we will be entirely his, like Jesus and with him. When God’s Word changes hearts, it changes people. The heart acts on the mind, and the mind expresses new will to please God: heart + mind + will = new feelings and desires.

So David prays: ‘O God create in me a pure heart, renew in me a good spirit … Give me the joy of your salvation and may a good will uphold me’ (Psalm 51:12-14). God’s Spirit does not give nice feelings, but speaks to our spirit and regenerates our mind, because our heart has been changed.

‘You have been regenerated by an incorruptible seed, by the Word of God’ (1 Peter 1:21). In this new condition of heart, we begin to appreciate biblical doctrine for the truth it is. What was ‘double-Dutch’ before, becomes starkly meaningful.

Because of this, the apostle Paul gives two exhortations to get our minds on track. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 he encourages us to ‘take every thought captive to obey Christ’, and in Colossians 2:8 he says, ‘ See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit … and not according to Christ’.

This does not happen by some kind of osmosis. Biblical doctrine trains our minds in three complementary ways. First of all, we learn, little by little, to fix our thoughts on the Lord Jesus. We fill our minds with fine thoughts of his beauty. He shows us what true humanity is and, as we meditate on Jesus’ life, we start to be more and more like him.

The image of the Lord Jesus is formed in us, through love of the truth (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). What is the mental content of the image? It is the Lord Jesus himself, his person and work.

Renewed mind

Secondly, a mind renewed by the truth becomes biblically critical of this-worldly vanities. Jesus is Lord over all and we look at everything from that perspective — to make him Lord of our lives. We work to distance ourselves from what we were like before we knew what was wrong with us.

Finally, a renewed intelligence is a mind directed by God and informed by his Word. This leads us to healthy self-examination and criticism of our motives, goals and standards, to bring them into line with what serving Christ demands.

In practice, what God approves, we seek to do; what he loves we seek to love; what is against his truth is our mortal enemy. If the opposite of error is truth, the Christian strives to line his life up with God’s truth and what is right and wrong by his book.

None of this is easy. The Christian life is a fight to the death with our sin, the world and the devil, but in our minds we will know the peace of God and peace with God.

Paul Wells

The author is emeritus professor at the John Calvin seminary in Aix-en-Provence, France; editor of La Revue réformée; and lives in Eastbourne. He recently published Taking the Bible at its Word (Christian Focus, 2012).







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