I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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 12:1–2 (ESV)
So far we have attempted to understand what it means to live for God through Christ with our heart and our soul. Now we move to the mind.
The mind is the seat of our thinking. The mind includes our faculties for thinking, interpreting, imagining, discoursing, analyzing, meditating, understanding, distinguishing, etc. The potential of the mind is so great as to be well nigh incomprehensible. With the mind, we conceive of things that do not exist and make them so.
Thinking About Thinking
What is thinking? What does it mean to think? It occurs to me that the idea appears so intuitive that a description of thinking is mostly taken for granted.
I am not proposing an entire philosophy of the mind. Nor am I qualified to comment on the brain itself. However, for the purposes of this topic, I think it useful to consider what thinking is from the perspective of sheer experience.
As I experience thought, it seems to be best captured by the term "awareness". This is what we mean by the term "perceive". To perceive is to be aware. It is for something to be present in my mind. So perhaps we could say that thinking involves the presence of ideas in the mind. This means that my mind is not thought itself, but a sort of container or machine for it.
I would also observe that thinking seems to have passive as well as active aspects. I am always thinking in one sense. There is a flow of consciousness, a stream of thought, which courses through my mind and of which I may be more or less aware. But we also talk about "unthinking", "thoughtlessness", "mindlessness", etc. We are able to direct our flow of thought to a certain extent in specific directions by the exercise of our attention.
Of course, the discussion so far begs us to define many more terms, such as "idea", "consciousness", "awareness", "perception", and many more besides. However, for the purposes of this article, I will venture no further in this direction. Instead, I will rely on our shared experience of thinking as it occurs to us and trust that I am describing something held commonly by all sufficient to proceed in our look at how to live for God through Christ with the mind.
The Renewal of the Mind
The most well-known passage on this subject is probably Romans 12:1-2, where we are told to be transformed by the renewal of our minds rather than conformed to the world. This is a command of enormous proportions. The verb is passive, and yet the command requires action on our part. As the mind goes, so goes the life.
How does this help us know how to live for God through Christ with our minds?
The mind is the organizer of information. There is a right way to organize data and infinite wrong ways. Living for God with our mind must mean devoting its form as well as its function to God (a manner of describing it that I probably should have applied to the heart and soul).
Living for God through Christ with our minds does not mean that we only think about God. If God were our only thought then we would not be able to fulfill the commands he gives us because they require concentration on other things.
To live for God with our mind must include the notion of God constituting the organizing principle of our minds. I am referring to the form of the mind. Just like databases are structured by programmers to yield certain types of data in response to queries, our minds should also be structured by God to yield certain thoughts, interpretations, analyses, etc. in response to outside stimuli.
To live for God with our mind then must include the notion of having our minds shaped by Scripture. To use a less figurative term than "shaped", we can use the term "conformed". This is nearly a synonym to "shaped", except that the idea of being conformed to something doesn't only mean physical shape but generally means "compliance". This, in fact, may be the best term of all. Our minds should be compliant with Scripture. Perhaps "compliant" is the best term to apply to the notion of living for God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
What does it mean for our minds to comply with Scripture? It means that all our mind does (function) is in accordance with Scripture. This requires that the form of our minds tend toward fulfilling the proper function.
When we speak of having the proper form and function with respect to our minds, we must reckon with what is called the noetic effect of sin. The noetic effect of sin refers to the effect of sin on our minds. That is to say that our minds have fallen. We do not think the way we ought. Our minds are not shaped by or conformed to Scripture. As such, by definition, our minds are not compliant with Scripture.
This is a much more desperate plight than seems to be commonly recognized. It is incredible to me how complacent Christians in my experience tend to be with regard to their minds. In my experience, there is a tendency to take for granted that our minds work fine, and thus there is a functional denial of the noetic effect of sin. For those of us who have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son, it is imperative that our minds work in accordance with the light and not with the darkness. If we are going to live for God through Christ with our minds, we must recognize the need for change in the way we think.
Where to Begin
Perhaps a good start would be to begin with the fact that we must with our minds no longer suppress the truth as we once did. Yet too many professing Christians still do this. We must rather submit to and even rejoice in the truth.
We must also establish new patterns of thought. We must interpret life according to God's word and no other's. We must analyze situations and circumstances in terms of God's ethic and not our own.
To do these things, we must fill our minds with new data which essentially reprograms our minds. We are like a computer program that has become hopelessly corrupted and God's Spirit uses the Scriptures to restore and renew it.
We must learn to question our way of thinking. Is it not true that we tend to question God far more often than we question ourselves? From where do we derive such misplaced confidence in ourselves?
Our minds are like misshapen and mangled hunks of metal that need to be heated in the forge of God's word and beaten into shape as we learn to know God through his Word as he has revealed himself in it and through it. To learn to live for God through Christ with our minds must begin by submitting the mind in all its form and function to be shaped and directed in accordance with the Scriptures. This is a lifelong task if there ever was one.