Your Mind; A Theological History (Excitement Alert!)

As we introduced last time, even when I accept and embrace all the new of my conversion; a new identity, a new nature, a new heart, a new Spirit within, a new self, and a new power over sin, I still have a lingering challenge; my old mind.  Let’s track some theological history regarding the mind.

In the garden, Adam was what I call “God-compatible” in his heart and his mind.  He had a relationship with God.  While little is said about this relationship in the Genesis account, I think we can infer from other Scripture that Adam had an “innocent” relationship with God.  That is, Adam was right with God and had a sense that he was OK.

When Adam rebelled, he was no longer “God-compatible” in his heart or his mind.  He essentially became “un-plugged” from God.  Adam now has a depraved heart and with it, a sin nature.  He cannot know or experience God because his sin nature renders him spiritually dead (Eph 2:1).  Adam’s nature – and the nature we were born with in Adam – is biased toward self and away from God (Rom 3:10).  We now gain a sense of who we are based on other people, and we will do anything we can – manipulate, blame, lie, accuse, hide – to gain a sense from them and within ourselves that we are OK.

In the natural man state, controlled by our deceitful and wicked heart (Jer 17:9), our minds are darkened (Eph 4:18).  As we take in information, it passes through our selfish nature and is stored in our mind.  Our mind is now “world-compatible”, motivating us to act in the sinful ways of the world.  The options in our mind for following God are severely limited by our depraved heart and the sin nature that accompanies it.

But that is all about to change.  When you accepted and embraced the gospel message, you were given a new heart (Ez 36:26) and a new nature; a nature that you literally share with Christ (II Pet 1:4).  A nature that is completely “God-compatible” again.  And this puts you back in a right relationship with God (Rom 5:1) and you know that you are OK.

The key takeaway in this introduction is that all this new, this complete revolution, has happened to you on the inside.  On the outside, which includes our mind and our body, the revolution – completed on the inside – is only brewing.  Your change to a righteous nature and a new heart, instantaneous on the inside, is only beginning to show on the outside.

On the outside (again, this includes our mind), we are still “in Adam” so to speak.  We are still interpreting the world through that old mind, that old natural system, that old worldly way of thinking.  What we need is new information to feed our mind.  Because our mind – though not new – is now “God-compatible” (I Cor 2:16).  Our mind is no longer limited in its movement towards God by a depraved heart.  It can now accept information in keeping with our righteous nature.

So how do we bring the mind along?  The life-giving drumbeat of the New Testament is “renew your mind” (Rom 12:2).  And this renewal is totally made possible because your mind is now “God-compatible”, ready to accept truth.  Living God’s truth will change your life.  Then you will see the revolution within spread to the outside and all of life.  We will continue to uncover how change happens next time.

New Heart, Old Mind

Last time, I ended our discussion with this question.  Is the action of laying aside the old self and putting on the new self a once and done event as easily accomplished as flipping a switch?  Can we simply set the old man aside, and fully step out in the new man forever from this day forward?  The short answer, confirmed by Scripture and our own experience, is no.  But our heart is not the problem.

The word “heart” is the most common description of man’s essence in the Bible.  The heart is the center of our motives, understanding, choices, and actions.  Familiar passages such as Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” describe the unregenerate heart.  And this lost heart, prior to Christ, controls our unregenerate actions.  The New Testament identifies our former heart as the home of our sinful nature and describes the lost as “children of wrath, controlled by their sinful nature” (Eph 2:3).

But that all changed when you accepted Christ’s gift of deliverance.  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you received a new heart and a new nature.  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26).  “Heart of flesh” does not refer to a fleshly heart in the spirit vs. flesh sense.  The term describes a soft warm beating heart in place of our old stone-cold dead heart.  As Watchman Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “The heart, God says, is ‘desperately sick’ and He must do something more fundamental than cleanse it.  He must give us a new one.”

And a new heart we have.  Our old heart, our old self, our old nature were crucified with Christ on the cross (II Cor 5:14, Rom 6:6).  Our old heart was not cleaned up.  It was replaced by a new one, a heart no longer deceitful and wicked, but a heart with the law of God written upon it (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16).  And is it is just one of the “new” we received and celebrate in this list; a new identity, a new nature, a new Spirit, a new heart, a new life, a new self, a new purity, a new birth, a new disposition, and a new power over sin.

The one “new” missing from this list is our mind.  And this is where the problem lies.  Often in the New Testament, right beside the promise of our new self is the instruction to renew our minds.  “In reference to your former manner of life, lay aside the old self…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22-24).

Our old minds have not been replaced.  Our old minds do need cleaned up.  Our minds need to be made aware and enlightened to the ongoing truth and promise of the gospel.  Our minds need to be renewed, made fresh, changed in our way of thinking.  But there is hope and help in this process.  Our old mind has now become what I call “Christ-compatible” (I Cor 2:16).  What this means for the “renewing the mind” process will be the theme next time.

The New Self

As we continue in Ephesians chapter 4, the apostle Paul comes back to the word picture of our “walk” to illustrate living the Christian life.  And he starts with the negative.  “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, darkened in their understanding, alienated from God” (Eph 4:17-18).  (Here “Gentile” refers to those separated from God, not a specific race.)  Paul goes on to explain that although this is how you once lived, “you did not learn Christ in this way” (Eph 4:20).

Paul begins with a contrast.  A sinful lifestyle or “walk” is how you once lived prior to your introduction to Christ.  It is not how you continue to live once you have “learned” Christ; once Christ has entered your life; once you have received all the “new” that changed inside you when you embraced His gospel message.  That sinful past is to reside just there – in your past.

Remember, grace says, “Come as you are to our community of faith.”  There are no rungs on the ladder of righteousness that you have to climb before you are accepted by God or by us, His children.  The only work that God requires to be approved and accepted by Him is the work of faith.  That is, to come with empty hands and accept His gift, His death in your place, for eternal life.

Though you are welcome – and even encouraged – to come as you are, you are not welcome to stay that way.  Your sinful past, marked by a futile mind and a darkness in your understanding is meant to be just that – in the past.  And God’s call to move forward, to break free from the sin of your past, could not be more clear.

“In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit…” (Eph 4:22).  Your old self, your former way of life, your sinful direction…STOP.  Lay them aside.  No longer walk in them.

How is STOP possible or is it even possible?  Let’s continue, “And that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” (Eph 4:23).  Somehow your mind, formed and informed by your past practice of sin, is to be changed; to be transformed; to be renewed; to be made new.  But how does this happen?  We continue.

“And put on the new self…” (Eph 4:24).  Ah, here is some action to take on our part, putting on the new self.  What does this new self look like?  “Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in you in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

You have a new man inside.  A righteous man, a holy man, a man created in the likeness of God.  And it may sound simple to say, but living the Christian life is simply living according to the new man inside.  So with all this righteousness, and holiness, and likeness of God now – yes now, even this minute – living inside of you, is living the Christian life as simple as flipping the switch from the old man to the new?  We will talk about it next time.

Growing Together

We stopped last time at Ephesians 4:13 with a focus on unity and maturity; a plea for growing in Christ together.  The apostle Paul continues in verse 14, “As a result [a result of growing together], we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14).

One picture of a “growing in Christ” community is a community of conviction and balance.  Conviction is an unwavering adherence to the primary doctrines of Christ.  Our community faith is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is built on the foundation of Jesus and the apostles’ teaching.  And this foundation protects us from being “carried away by every wind of doctrine and the trickery of men.”

Our convictions, held in community, are also balanced.  Left to our own whims, personalities, inclinations, and extremes, we can easily go off into doctrinal fads.  We can jump off and on both theological and practical living bandwagons according to what seems most popular or interesting at the time.  But in community, we find a balance that keeps us on a straight path.

So instead of straying in belief or practice, “We, speaking the truth in love, are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).

Wow!  What a summary of growing up together!  Christ is the head.  We are the body; in Christ and empowered by Christ in us.  The whole body is “fitted and held together” – fully functioning as it should – “by that which every joint [every believer] supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.”

This is you and me!  We are the “individual working parts”.  No part is insignificant.  Every part has value.  No part is allowed to languish on the sidelines.  The body needs you.  The body needs us all!

I love the phrase “fitted and held together by that which every [believer] supplies”.  We just returned from our daughter’s wedding outside Houston Texas.  Prior to the event, there was a lot of “fitting and held together”.  A bride in a perfectly fitted wedding dress.  Parents in suits and dresses specific to the occasion.  Grandchildren in matching flower girl dresses, dresses for a special music appearance, and young ring bearers looking dapper in matching bowties and suspenders.  A pastor, a groom, groomsmen, and bridesmaids all beautifully dressed for their part.  And a sharply dressed grandson escorting his Nana down the aisle.

All that fitting together presented a snapshot of a completed picture.  If any of the 30 folks referred to above had shown up in a tee shirt and jeans, something would have been off in the picture.  Each had a “uniform” that was fitting and supplied what was needed to complete the picture.

You have a “uniform”.  Your uniform of good works, your uniform of exercising your gifts for the benefit of the body, your uniform of encouraging fellow believers all contribute to “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  Not only do they contribute, but your gifts and participation are desperately needed.

The passage ends with the simple words “in love”.  Love is, of course, the driver behind this whole growing together enterprise, and a topic for another time.

Unity and Maturity

Our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ is a clear picture of how we are walking in our new identity.  It is one of the over-arching messages of Ephesians chapter 4 as Paul begins to describe what a “new identity” life or walk looks like.

Since we are “one body, one Spirit, one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:4-6), let’s “be diligent to preserve that unity” (Eph 4:3).  Let’s do that by practicing our spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire body.  In that way, we will “build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man or woman” (Eph 4:12-13).

What Paul is saying here is, “Let’s grow up together.  Let’s press on to maturity together.  What does this look like in a church setting; in a community of believers?

Arrogant and self-righteous believers – who are not practicing the humility and unity of Ephesians chapter 4 – will look down on those who are less mature.  They will state, or at least imply, that once you reach some righteous standard, once you reach some level of adherence to our rules, you can be accepted as equals; you can be part of our tribe.  This kind of thinking is exclusive, divisive, and the opposite of grace.

And it rejects what God has already called and created.  He called all of us who embrace the gospel message into His family.  In Him, by Him, and through Him, we are equals in the family God created.  As the hymn says, “We all stand on level ground at the foot of the cross.”

So what does a more inclusive, grace-oriented, and accepting unity look like?  As purveyors of grace, we humbly say, “Come as you are.  All are welcome here.  There is no rule-adherence or righteous standard for joining our group and being part of our lives.”  Does that mean we have no standard such that we welcome sinful practices?  No, not at all.  There are righteous standards aplenty in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  But how can we benefit the whole body if we use the standards to block relationships from growing?

Grace does not say there is no standard for obedience.  Grace says, “Let’s proceed to the standard together!  Let’s grow together!”  We are back to the word “together”.  And we will investigate more of what this “together” looks like next time.