So far in these posts on “renewing the mind” we’ve looked at renewing our imaginations and our practical theology. But now we begin looking at a day-to-day, moment-to-moment process of mind-renewal: how we talk to ourselves.
Mind renewal must necessarily involve a change in the vocabulary of the mind. God is a God who speaks. At times His audible voice is recorded in Scripture. He spoke through the mouths and writings of the prophets. He spoke in the voice of His Son, Jesus. The Scriptures themselves are God’s oracles, His “very words.” Mind renewal must necessarily involve knowing and understanding God’s vocabulary and language.
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Memorizing and Muttering the Word
The psalmists call us by their example to love and ingest the Scriptures like a sweet honey. We read of the blessings of “delighting” in the law of God (Psalm 1:2), of storing up God’s word in the heart (Psalm 119:11) so that we might not sin against Him.
Throughout the ages memorizing the Word of God has been a discipline taught and treasured in the church. From what we know of Galilean Judaism, Jesus would have been raised to memorize the Law and the Prophets, discussing the meanings of Scripture with the rabbis in the synagogue at a young age. All gospel accounts of Jesus’ life confirm that He was indeed a man of the Word. Even the divine Son of God in His humanness had a mind engrossed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
However, memorization and meditation are not merely an internal process. Rather, living life fully engaged with the Word of God will necessarily involve a verbal element. The Hebrew concept of “meditating” on the Scriptures literally means “muttering.” God commanded the general Joshua to verbally mediate on the Torah of Moses: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8, emphasis added).
Why is verbal meditation important? Is it essential to renewing our minds? I believe it is.
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The Heart-Mouth Connection
In the Bible we see a deep connection between the heart and the mouth. Jesus made clear to His disciples that the mouth was a barometer of the heart’s condition: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
The heart-mouth connection is so intricate that the apostle Paul ties together their respective roles in our salvation. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). When the heart is filled with faith in the resurrected Christ, the mouth will naturally overflow with a verbal confession of His lordship.
Holistic mind renewal must involve a verbal element, a renewed self-talk, a renewed language of the mind that influences how we speak to ourselves and others.
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The Silence of Adam
Let’s highlight this by way of example: Consider the importance of the spoken word in the story of our first parents. Adam finds himself face to face with God in the midst of a glorious and beautiful creation. As he explores his world he is told to begin the process of naming the creatures he finds. Who knows how long this process took? But over time Adam begins to mimic the God in whose image he is made. Just as God had spoken powerful words in the beginning—creating matter from nothing, beauty from blackness, and order from chaos—now Adam wanders his world speaking order into it. By Adam naming the animals, he was beginning to rule over and master the created world around him. By the power of the spoken word, Adam is living out his identity as an image-bearer.
Enter the serpent. He attacks Adam’s partner, Eve, and dupes her into eating of the forbidden tree. Moreover, the text says, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). The text is clear that Adam watches the interaction between his wife and the serpent and says nothing. Adam remains silent.
The second Adam, Jesus Christ, won the battle of temptation where the first Adam failed. He was not silent. In the wilderness Jesus spoke aloud the truths of Scripture to Himself and the devil.
This serpent still speaks today. His primary battleground is our minds. His lies, deceptions, and accusations are insidious, and when we believe them we sink deeper into the mire of sin. Only in believing truth do we overcome. But rejecting Satan’s lies and holding to truth is not just an abstract or purely internal process. Like Jesus, we overcome the lies of the enemy by speaking aloud the words of God.
Real mind renewal means that the words of God are not just cataloged in our brains like a Scripture library, but also on the tips of our tongues. This will not only influence the way we talk to one another, but it will change the way we speak to ourselves.
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Renewing Our Self-Talk
What does all this mean, practically speaking?
Take for example confronting a tempting situation. We see the enticement. It registers in our minds. It pulls on our desires. Many times we see the temptations and remain silent. But instead, armed with God’s truth as our mental guide, we can speak aloud to our own ears: “this is temptation,” or “sin will only bring forth death,” or “there is no place for this sin with a child of God.” Speaking aloud we name the temptation as such. We label it. When we do this we become the image-bearers we were meant to be and we walk in the steps of Christ.
Take, for example, the stresses of daily life. An unforeseen circumstance comes our way, bringing with it uncertainty, fear, and worry. We could allow our natural defenses to take over, bringing with them tension and anxiety. But instead, we can speak aloud to ourselves and label this situation according to God’s truth. We may say something like: “God is sovereign over these circumstances,” or “even this situation is being used by God to work together with every circumstance of my life for God’s purpose, to conform me to the image of Christ.”
This practice of labeling and self-talk can be done in all arenas of life, in the little moments of our day. When we practice this our minds are renewed little by little, every moment we choose to speak. By speaking aloud we take captive thoughts of each present moment and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).