Are You Mindful of Your Mind?

What is the place of the mind in Christianity? Is thinking relevant to the faith? What, if any, emphasis should we place on the importance of knowledge? Does hard thinking bring any beneficial fruit to the Christian life or is the tree bare, shorn of any value?

If we boil down and distil Christianity the remaining content is not logical argument. Christianity is more than a philosophy, more than a religion. It is more than cognitive assent. It is more than a social club. Christianity is not simply about ritual. It is not just about emotions. It is not just about the mind.

Christianity is a relationship with a God who has made Himself known. It is more than formulas and repetition of rote words; though there are meaningful words and ceremonies. Christianity is something that must be believed, but belief is merely the beginning (though it must continue). Christianity gives true—chiasm bridging—fellowship, but is not merely a fellowship. Christianity is a philosophy, indeed, the philosophy. We, in a sense, worship wisdom incarnate.[1] But still, Christianity is not just a philosophy.

Christianity is not just about thinking and knowing. Yet, thinking and knowing are vital.

The Christian mind is vital because it is emphatic in Scripture.[2] It is vital because Christian living is. It is vital because we are commanded to worship the LORD with all we are, are mind included (Matt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27).[3]

The Christian mind is very important. Yet, where do we see this in Scripture? Why is this the case? And what affect does it have?

The Christian Mind and the Bible

The Bible shows us that the Christian mind is very important.[4] Thinking for Christians is not just theoretical, it is practical. We trust God because we know Him (Ps. 9:10).[5]

God tells us to think. He tells us He will teach us, yet we must learn and not be like animals without understanding (Ps. 32:8-9 cf. 73:22). In fact, we must learn so that we can obey (Josh. 1:8-9; Ps. 37:31; 86:11; 95:10; 119:11, 34).

We are told in multiple passages to relentlessly pursue knowledge/wisdom (e.g. Prov. 2:1-6). We are to seek it as silver and gold. For it is worth more than silver or gold (Job 28:15-19; Ps. 119:72, 127; Prov. 3:14; 8:10, 19).

The Apostle Paul is a prime example of the importance of the mind in the Christian life.[6] He instructs us to take every thought as a prisoner, capture them and make them obey Christ our Master (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5). Knowledge and thoughts are not wrong. They are good when rightly directed. That is, to Christ and His glory (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).

It was Paul’s custom to reason from the Scriptures and prove that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17:2-4).[7] This was not purely academic—it lead to worship or rejection, new life or death—but it was academic. Paul also repeatedly told his disciples to set their minds on God’s truth (cf. Rom. 8:5-6; Phil. 4:8-9; Col. 3:1-2) and not evil things. In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians we often see the refrain “do you not know” (1 Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2-3, 9, 15-16, 19; also Rom. 6:3, 16). In fact, Paul tells us that we cannot be saved apart from some form of knowledge (Rom. 10:13-14, 17).[8] Yet, knowledge is not just essential in salvation but also in sanctification. We are transformed, in part, through knowledge (e.g. Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:10).[9] That is why many of Paul’s prayers have as their goal the increase of knowledge (Eph. 1:17-19; 3:14-19; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-10).

We are to have a zeal for God, but it is supposed to be according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). God rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6), and our seeking of God is, at least in part, through knowledge. Yes, we worship God with our spirit through the Spirit—amen!—yet, we use our minds also (1 Cor. 14:15).[10]

The life of the mind in the Bible is a life supporting organ. Apart from it the Christian would have no life; or, if he did, it would be small, sad, and stunted (1 Cor. 14:20; Heb. 5:11-6:3). Therefore, we must pursue knowledge/wisdom and we must pray for it. Our hands, head, and knees, so to speak, must be weary in pursuit.[11]

The Christian Mind and Worship

The Christian mind is important because it informs our worship; which in turn informs everything we do.

Actually, first and fundamental to everything we do and are, is worship. It informs everything; even our reading of this, what we think of knowledge, and all things in general. We are first and foremost, not thinking or believing beings,[12] but worshipers. We desire, we love. Everything else gets pulled along. Yet, it is knowledge, our minds, which can shape our desires. So that, in part, is why we are exhorted to meditate on God’s truth (cf. Josh. 1:8; Ps. 77:12; 119:15; 143:5; Jn. 17:17). God’s truth is life changing, in part, because it changes us, mainly though changing what we desire, what we see as “the good life.”[13]  

Thus it is difficult to speak on this subject with scientific procession. All these categories—worship, habits/Christian living, the life of the mind—are interrelated; they have a cyclical and reciprocal relationship. They affirm and build upon the other. We tend to think on what we worship and we have habits shaped by what we worship and think on. Then, our habits undergird and support our thinking and worship yet again. And on it goes.[14] This, depending on what we worship, is a vicious or precious cycle.

We are primarily worshiping beings yet what, or who, we worship is informed by knowledge.[15] So, witness Paul on Mars Hill: What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (Acts. 17:23). The problem is not that we are worshipers, but that we worship the wrong things. Thus, knowledge is essential, and I mean essential, nothing else will do. Knowledge, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brings new life through new, and true, worship. People will not be saved and transformed unless they hear and understand God’s truth (cf. Rom. 10:9-18).[16]

Jonathan Edwards helps us here:

“There can be no love without knowledge. It is not according to the nature of the human soul, to love an object which is entirely unknown. The heart cannot be set upon an object of which there is no idea in the understanding. The reasons which induce the soul to love, must first be understood, before they can have a reasonable influence on the heart…

Such is the nature of man, that nothing can come at the heart but through the door of the understanding: and there can be no spiritual knowledge of that of which there is not first a rational knowledge.”[17]

Thus, although we are primarily worshipers, our worship can be fundamentally (re)shaped at it’s core by the purposeful and intense implantation of knowledge. We, as Christians, seek for this knowledge to be thoroughly biblical and obtained by hard work and ultimately implanted by the Spirt for God’s glory. We must be sure in our work—whether scientific, mathematical, sociological, historical, etc.—that in the final analysis we extol Christ who is Wisdom. Knowledge, whatever specific form it takes, should serve to exalt our Lord (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17).[18] However, I do not want to focus on the many different forms of knowledge here; only to say, that they must also exalt Christ.

Because of the interconnectedness of knowledge, desire, and habits we are told to think on, meditate on, percolate in, get God’s truth deep into the core of our being. This is so fundamental because where our treasure is our heart will be also (Matt. 6;21; Lk. 12:34) and out of our heart comes our life (Ecc. 10:2; Matt. 12:34-35; 15:18-19; Lk. 6:45). So, we must treasure the right thing. We must purposely set out affections on Christ and His truth (cf. Rom. 8:5-6; Phil. 4:8-9; Col. 1:-2) and thus be habitually changed to reflect His image.[19]

In short, the mind is important because worship shapes our actions and our mind, through the Spirit’s empowerment, can (re)shape our worship.

The Christian Mind and Christian Living

The Christian mind is important because it leads to Christian living. This is for various reasons. As we have seen, our mind—what we think on, know, understand—changes us by changing what or who we worship and to the degree that we worship. Knowledge, when seen in this light, is truly life changing. Paul, previously Saul, is just one example of this. Paul’s eyes were opened when he was blinded by the Messiah Jesus’ glory. Paul thus worshiped Jesus. Then, he died for Jesus. Paul saw things anew (knowledge) and worshiped Jesus (worship) and thus was radically changed; changed in practice, habits, and in every way (Christian living).

It is when we abide in Christ, in part, through knowledge of Him, that we bear much fruit (Jn. 15:4 cf. 8:41; 15:10; Col. 3:16). Our cognition deeply affects Christian living. So, is your self-control slipping? Maybe you ought to check your mind control? What are you thinking on? What are you teaching yourself? What are you loving?

What we sow in our minds we reap in our actions (see above).[20] Or to say it another way, if we only eat ice cream and cotton candy we can’t expect to be healthy. What we put in our bodies affects our bodies, and what we put in our minds affects our minds. Don’t put junk in your mind.

As I have said, thinking for the Christian is not just theoretical, it is eminently practical. The Christian knows the truth and it sets them free (Jn. 8:32). Yet, the Christian doesn’t just know truth, but reaches out with hands and a heart of love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3; James 2:14-26). We are blessed not just by knowing the truth but by doing it (Jn. 13:17). Our minds inform our singing. We worship with our spirit and our mind (1 Cor. 14:15 cf. Eph. 5:15-20; Col. 3:16). Christian your mind molds you; your worship, the way you live, and the way you die. It is important.

We are told at church, in books, and by all sorts of Christian leaders to read the Bible. But why? Because when the word of Christ dwells in us, makes it’s home in us, we are (trans)formed by it. It becomes our guide, our lamp to light the path (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23), more than beer commercials, sitcoms, and the mall. Scripture, when we gets it deep down into ourselves, will train us in righteousness and make us competent, equipped for every good work. The knowledge of God’s truth leads to paths of righteousness, life, and truth; instead of foolishness, wickedness, and death.

Christian thinking is not to be cold. It is not to stay in the ivory tower. It is to come down with hands of love. Christian thinking must be the furnace driving the engine of love.[21] Thinking is very practical for the Christian, it is integrated into all of life. It is important at the inception and through to the conclusion. Christian thinking is vital because thinking is inevitable. The question is not will we think, it’s will we think Christianly. Will we think in the right way and to the right end?

We must remember, knowledge is not the end in itself. If we have all knowledge and understand the inexplicable yet have not love we gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:2-3). We must remember that now we see in a mirror dimly, but we shall see face to face. Now we know in part; but we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).

Thus, briefly, we have seen that Christian thinking has a very practical impact on Christian living, yet it is not the whole of the Christian life.

Conclusion

The Christian mind is important because (1) there is a huge precedence in Scripture for it, (2) it shapes and informs our worship, and thus (3) it transforms us.

What thoughts do you have? Does the Christian mind matter? If so, what can we do about it? 

_________________________________________

[1] The Word [Logos] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory (Jn. 1:14). In Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). 

[2] Cf. Ps. 9:10; 32:8-9; 73:22; 119:34; Prov. 2:1-6; Is. 1:18; Matt. 13:19; 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27; Jn. 8:32; 13:17; Acts 17:2-4; 20:28; Rom. 6:17; 8:5-6; 10:13-14, 17; 12:2; 1 Cor. 2:6, 14-16; 3:1-2; 14:13-15, 20; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; 5:11; Eph. 1:17-19; 3:14-19; 4:23; Phil. 1:9-11; 4:8-9; Col. 1:9-10, 28; 3:1-2, 10; Heb. 5:11-6:3; 2 Pet. 1:5. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 3). When you look at Scripture and realize it’s teaching on the Christian mind you realize that Mark Noll’s words are right on track.

[3] “Loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things. Treasuring God is the essence of loving him, and the mind serves this love by comprehending (imperfectly and partially, but truly) the truth and beauty and worth of the Treasure. We can’t love God without knowing God” (Piper, Think, 80).

[4] That is partly why it’s vital that Christian leaders know the truth, are able to teach it, and defend it (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15, 24; Titus 1:9).

[5] Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this observation on Matthew 6:30: “Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him…. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them” (See D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960], II, 129-30).

[6] Paul himself had an amazing intellect. He thoroughly knew Scripture but he also knew and incorporated other writings (cf. Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12).

[7] Paul is not the only one that used reason. John wrote a book that we would believe that Jesus is the Messiah (Jn. 20:31). Luke also gave an orderly account so that we may have certainty concerning the things that have been taught about Messiah Jesus (Lk. 1:1-4). “Faith is not credulity. To be credulous is to be gullible, to be entirely uncritical, undiscerning and even unreasonable in one’s beliefs. But it is a great mistake to suppose that faith and reason are incompatible. Faith and sight are set in opposition to each other in Scripture, but not faith and reason” (Stott, Your Mind Matters, 49).

[8] See endnote 14 below.

[9] Paul says that he proclaims Messiah and teaches so that he may present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). Thus our maturity, our (trans)formation, comes partly through knowledge.

[10] Notice that even a Pentecost Peter was using his mind to exegete Scripture. Peter used scriptural proofs and not some vain senseless banter to make his (inspired) point (Acts. 2:14-41).

[11] Of course, we must remember, understanding comes through dual illumination (2 Tim. 2:7).  We think over God’s truth and He gives us understanding. It is our work and it is the Spirit’s work.

[12] See James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.

[13] So, for example, Jn. 14:14 is true not because of some magical incantation but because God changes our desires. When we begin to see that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy our vision of the “good life” is recast and thus are strivings go in a different direction. Instead of seeking our kingdom, our name, we pray in God’s name: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. See also Jn. 17:17; 2 Thess. 2:13b; 1 Pet. 1:22.

[14] Of course, I realize this is very much a simplified version of our internal function. For instance, I realize we are body and soul united, psychosomatic unities. We have emotions. We live in a socioeconomic context. I realize that we live in a spiritual realm.

[15] So are former manner of life was corrupt through deceitful desires, misplaced and misinformed worship, yet we now put off that way of life (mortification) and put on the new way (vivification) through the renewal of our minds through the spirit of our minds (see Eph. 4:20-24 cf. Col. 3:1-17). We use to be confirmed to the passions of our former ignorance but we are told to be transformed through our minds. We are told to prepare our minds and set our hope on the one true God and His truth and not all the deceitful things that vie for our worship (see 1 Pet. 1:13-14 cf. 2 Pet. 1:5; Rom. 6:17). Thus, we purify our souls through obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1:22).

[16] “No speech can be any means of grace, but by conveying knowledge… Therefore hearing is absolutely necessary to faith; because hearing is necessary to understanding” (Jonathan Edwards, “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth”). Jesus Himself tells us that hearing is not enough in itself. One must understand what is heard. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom but does not understand it then the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. (cf. Matt. 13:19).

[17] Jonathan Edwards, “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.” Brother Lawrence says something similar, “We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 54-55).

[18] Yet, not all knowledge is created equal. We see this through the distinctions of revelation. There is general revelation, specific revelation, and the revelation of God in flesh.

[19] “Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 32-33).

[20] John Stott, Your Mind Matters, 58

[21] Piper, Think, 54.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: