The Christian’s Mind
Basic nature of one’s mind
The human mind is an amazing organ in the brain of every human being. From the moment of its formation in the human fetus until the death of its human host it processes various types of sensory data from the human’s environment, sends controlling signals to other organs of the human’s body, enables the human individual to form impressions and thoughts regarding what is going on in his or her world and even to form dreams and visions that go beyond one’s sensory data, and to store these impressions and thoughts and dreams as memories that facilitate the processes of learning and motivation for the human individual throughout his or her life, and to express his or her impressions and thoughts and attitudes regarding what is happening or not happening in his or her world in physical activity (behavior) or vocal sounds (including words of learned language). The human mind determines habits and skills for each individual host, and the impressions and thoughts and attitudes that it causes the individual to express are received by other human beings as qualities of character that define the nature of that particular individual in the world of other individuals.
It has been said that “You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are.” This indicates that the momentary opinion that you hold of yourself is not as important in determining your nature as a human being as are the persistent basic thoughts that you harbor in your mind. And these basic thoughts and impressions and attitudes begin to take form early in your development as a human being and they grow in strength through repeated reinforcement from outside sensory input and internal decisions regarding what is important to you and what gives you pleasure in order to meet your ongoing needs and wants. The instructions and modeling of the human being’s parents or guardians provide the initial sources of learning for the individual human being, but it isn’t long before the influences of other relatives, media from the surrounding culture, the use of toys and games and other sources of entertainment and pleasure, and the personal direct instructions from other teachers begin to have their effects on the forming mind of the individual with the consuming brain. And the effects of these various sources of data and attitudes will be present throughout the lifetime of the individual, because your brain is designed to store and to reinforce them. It is well to note that human individuals have some power to make personal choices regarding what they think, what they strive to learn, to what they persistently give the attention of their minds to contemplate and to remember and to repeat and to express, and to basically believe about themselves and their world. Your mind is the center of your nature and identity as a human being.
Jesus' commandment regarding one’s mind
During the course of his public ministry, Jesus had frequent discussions with the Pharisees and Sadducees regarding various points in the Jewish laws that were recorded in their Scriptures in the Old Testament. On one occasion, a Pharisee who was a lawyer addressed Jesus as “Teacher” and asked him this question: “which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered him with this statement: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And he indicated that this “is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:36- 38) In citing this commandment, he was referring to the teaching of Moses to the people of “Israel” that emphasized that “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” To which Moses added this commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4- 5) But note that Jesus revised the concluding phrase in that statement to refer to one’s “mind”. Although these Pharisees and the ordinary Jew understood that the role of one’s “heart” in a human being’s life also included the role of one’s mind, but Jesus clarified the force of this commandment by making a specific reference to the role of one’s “mind” in his citation of this commandment regarding how human beings, particularly faithful Jews and Christians, were to relate to the LORD God. The point of this commandment, as cited by Jesus, is that Christians are to “love” God with all of the willful passion and dedication that they can generate from their total natures as human beings.
But “the natural” human being can’t do this
Paul teaches that the mind of a “natural person”, an ordinary human being, cannot comprehend or understand the “wisdom of God” or what is “revealed…through the Spirit”, because it has not been “taught by the Spirit” to such individuals. Only those who “have the mind of Christ” can understand “the mind of the Lord” and those “things” and “the thoughts of God” that are “freely given” to individuals who are redeemed from their natural state as rebellious sinners “by God” and who are “taught by the Spirit”. (See 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 for this teaching) This teaching makes it clear that a “natural” human being who is living without the indwelling teaching influence of God’s Spirit cannot even understand the spiritual wisdom of God’s mind and laws with his or her “mind” let alone “love” God with the full “might” of his or her devotion. Without the indwelling guidance of the Spirit in the heart and mind of an individual, he or she cannot really know what is “GOOD” (Genesis 2:17) in his or her living situation.
But your mind can be renewed!
After a very lengthy and complete teaching statement about the righteousness of God, his laws, the saving faith of Abraham, the bless of living by faith in Christ, and the failure of the people of Israel to do so (See Romans chapters 1-11), Paul urges his Christian “brothers” to present their “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” as an expression of their “spiritual worship”. (Romans 12:1) And then to resist being “conformed to this world”, but rather to “be transformed by the renewal of” their minds so that they “may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. (vs. 2) The personal sacrifice of your self-centered will and desires and thoughts to God can initiate a transforming change in your mind that will enable you to understand the “perfect” “will of God” and the “wisdom” of his laws and the glory of his grace.
And Paul taught his Christian disciples, and us, that they could be encouraged in their efforts to live “in Christ” by “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” with “humility” in accord with the mind of “Christ Jesus” who took the role “of a servant” by “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8, see also 1 Peter 5:6-9) Later in his teachings to these disciples, Paul emphasized his point that they should “stand firm…in the Lord” and “not be anxious about anything”, but “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:1, 5 & 8) In his teaching regarding how to live in cooperation with the Spirit, Paul indicated that “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace”. (Romans 8:6) According to Paul, what we give the attention of our minds to in our concerns and thoughts has a lot to do with its renewal and transformation into an effective organ for discerning and experiencing the spiritual wisdom of God that is revealed in Jesus.
Peter also taught similar lessons to the Christian disciples who received his letters. He taught them in preparing their “minds for action”, which is required by anyone’s efforts to live a life of faith in Christ, that they are to be “sober- minded”, “as obedient children” without being “conformed to the passions” of their “former ignorance”, which came from their ”natural” minds. (See 1 Peter 1:13- 14) But they are to “be holy” because God who offers them and us his grace in Jesus is “holy”. (vs. 16) And Peter described how “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” that comes through the Christian’s “renewed” mind (accord to Paul) can enable Christians to “become partakers of the divine nature” and to escape “from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (or thoughts and attitudes in one’s mind). (2 Peter 1:2-4) And then he urges them to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love”, because “these qualities” will “keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Conclusion regarding the Christian’s mind
Christians must guard their minds against the corrupting influences of the world’s appealing pleasures and philosophies that can capture their thoughts and wills and bring them into submission to the devil and their own selfish attitudes and decisions. Jesus has indicated that the “great and first commandment” for anyone who wants to live in an acceptable relationship with God is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Paul makes it clear that the “natural” human being can’t do this, and he and Peter provide some specific instructions regarding how human beings can have their minds renewed and be personally transformed so that their minds can receive and understand “the knowledge of God and of Jesus” (2 Peter 1:2) and they can “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) by the indwelling presence of Jesus and the power of his mind and Spirit in them. In order to experience this transformation, Paul urges Christians to present their “bodies”, which includes one’s “heart”, “soul”, and “mind”, as “living” sacrifices that would be “holy and acceptable to God”. (Romans 12:1) And Paul and Peter cite various mental principles of thought and willful “effort” that can enable Christians to “stand firm” and to be “sober-minded” that will keep them from “the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4) and “being ineffective or unfruitful” in their “knowledge” (2 Peter 1:8) of God and of Jesus. And the foundation for these mental principles are the virtues of humble service and love as demonstrated by Jesus in his obedience to God’s will that he die on a cross for the sins of all of human beings. It is necessary for Christians to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) and to focus their minds on the “things” (Philippians 4:8) of God, because it is true that “What you think, you are”, as it has been said. Christians are to love God with all of their minds, and they can only do this if it has been renewed by the indwelling power of the Spirit. You can find more details about the nature of “love” as described in the Bible by reading this statement about “Love” on this website. You can find out more about the important role of the Spirit in the process of mental renewal by reading this statement about “The Spirit” on this website. This statement on Living by the Spirit will give you some detailed instructions for how to enable the Spirit to renew your mind.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.