In the fight against sin, the Christian is often advised to “renew the mind.” This phrase is borrowed from the language of the apostle Paul:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
“. . . to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The objective of mind renewal is generally agreed upon: change the way we think and this will change the way we behave. Indeed, Paul promises this very thing: transformation, a new manner of living after the likeness of God.
But what, exactly, is the process of mind renewal? What does it look like?
– – – –
Different Approaches to Mind Renewal
As I’ve befriended different Christians and been a part of diverse Christian communities, I’ve noticed many different attitudes and ideas about the subject of “renewing the mind.”
My friend Scott (not his real name), for example, believes that most of the renewing the mind is a “garbage in, garbage out” principle. He heavily guards how he feeds his five senses. He doesn’t attend many, if any, movies and listens exclusively to Christian music. He is careful to filter his Internet. His home is a miniature shrine to Christian themes: crosses on the walls, a wardrobe of Christian t-shirts, autographed CDs from Christian concerts, and paintings that creatively display biblical scenes and scripture verses. You will probably never find Scott listening to secular radio because he doesn’t want to begin “buying into the subtle lies embedded in our culture.” He reads his Bible regularly and tries to keep his mind swept clean of anything sinful. There is no doubt to anyone around him that Scott is a dedicated and growing Christian.
Then there’s my friend Mike. Mike avidly memorizes scripture. He can not only quote me chapter and verse, he can extensively quote long portions of the Bible. When he prays his prayers are rich with biblical language, and I often hear him launch into one of the psalms (from memory) while praising God. His Bible is well-worn and falling apart. When tempted to sin he will usually begin quoting a Bible passage from memory, to get his mind off the temptation. It generally works. Mike’s mind is constantly being renewed by his constant and diligent meditation on the word of God.
Then there’s Jennifer. She also loves her Bible, but you’ll more likely find her reading the latest commentary or book on doctrine. She is up on what different well-known preachers believe about specific spiritual topics. She believes that correct theology is the answer to correct thinking. When she confronts sin in her life she typically readjusts her focus back on the God of her faith—goes to the heart of what she believes about God. She places her trust in Him, and she gives her heart to Him in worship. Her friends generally think she is too smart for her own good, but there’s no hint of cold orthodoxy within her. She loves theology because she loves God.
Finally, there’s my friend Chris. Chris is a man of constant prayer. He is also a bit charismatic at times, and is always seeking God for a “fresh revelation” of who He is. Chris loves reading his Bible but is not much for “theology” per se. When Chris reads his Bible he patiently waits on the Lord until the Holy Spirit has really “opened” the Scriptures to him, speaking fresh insight into Chris’ mind. His thoughts are always on the things of God, and he often speaks about what God has recently “told” him. Chris is not merely a mystic: he loves truth and runs from spiritual error wherever he finds it. To him, renewing the heart goes hand-in-hand with renewing the mind.
Perhaps most of us have met people who are somewhat like these friends of mine. None of these people came up with a textbook method to renew their mind. They learned these practices from those around them and adapted these practices to their own style.
– – – –
What is the Mind?
When the Bible speaks of renewing the mind we need to answer several key questions: (1) What does it mean to “renew,” and (2) What is the “mind”?
The word “renew” can also be translated “renovate.” The mind is renewed much like a house is renovated. Some rooms need a complete overhaul: old walls need to be removed, new floorboards need to be set in place, doorways and windows need to be remade. Some rooms need new furniture. Other rooms need to be reorganized. All rooms will need a routine dusting and cleaning. Over time, the house of our minds can become progressively renovated.
So what exactly is “the mind”?
We may be accustomed to separating the concepts of “mind” and “heart.” We may think of “mind” as “brain,” our organ that processes information. We may think of “mind” as our intellect and reason, while the “heart” is about emotion and passion.
But the Hebrew authors of scripture (immersed in Hebrew culture and thought) were much more fluid with their language about the inner person than we are today. The mind is not merely a warehouse of cognitive propositions, just as the heart is not merely a soup of emotions.
In Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:23 Paul uses the word νοῦς (nous) which refers to all of our faculties of perceiving, understanding, feeling, judgment, and discernment. So when we are talking about the mind, this includes our memories, imagination, the ways we discern and label our experiences, our world-view, and the sensations of emotion we associate with our thoughts.
– – – –
The Centrality of the Word of God
All approaches to mind renewal center on the Bible as the chief tool we use. Why is this? Because the Word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The text of Scripture contains the oracles, the very words of God. The Bible is not mere words, but is our “very life” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47). The goal of mind renewal is to have a mind like Christ, and nothing gets us closer to the mind of Christ than the word of Christ.
In mind renewal we are not merely called to renovate the house of our minds however we choose, but to custom build our minds with materials made from God’s truth. Everything in our minds must be built from the revelation of truth from the Mind of God—everything from the substructure of the house, to the walls, to the layout of the rooms, to the furniture, to the arrangement of that furniture, to the décor that makes the house familiar and comfortable. In other words, when the mind is truly renovated with the Word of God, it will affect every area, from the words we use, to the way we see the world, to how we organize information, to how we feel.
Jesus held the Scriptures in high esteem, therefore, so should we. What was indispensable to the Redeemer must be indispensable to the redeemed. We must dive into the Word of God with the promise of Jesus’ brother James in mind: “The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). All mind renewal begins with Scripture.