Renewing the Mind
Renewing the mind came to my mind last week when I met with a friend of mine that has been in youth ministry for several years. It seems a couple decades of youth ministry would take its toll on about anyone, and accordingly he was trying to decide what career path God would lead him next. It seems as if everyone is constantly looking for God’s direction, guidance and will. In fact, a few weeks ago I was thinking the same thought, what is God’s will? If I could sum it up in just a sentence or two. Then I was given a wonderful little verse; actually it’s just a ½ of a verse.
It simultaneously intrigued me and set me back. A very simple short verse: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” 1 Thessalonians 4:3. Wow, it seems God was getting straight to the point with me, however, what in the world does sanctified mean? I asked a few Christian friends and they had no idea. Sanctification is the “process of being made holy (God’s nature) resulting in a changed life-style for the believer” (Holman’s Bible Dictionary). In other words, Sanctification is simply the process of our selves (our being) being transformed to God’s nature and when this occurs then our life (actions) change. It is God’s will that my life (my very essence) is transformed to be and think like Him because when this occurs then my actions will accordingly follow suit.
The analysis I went through was very interesting but, quite frankly, after reviewing what I had learned it seemed to be more theoretical rhetoric. If God’s will for my life is for me (my being) to be in process, and this process is for me to be transformed by God how in the world was I suppose to do it? What was I suppose to do? Many believe that the process of being made holy is to try and be as moral as possible. Others believe that being made holy can only be accomplished by God; thus, there’s not a lot I can do about it. What’s my part? What’s God’s part? How do I turn onto the road of transformation?
As I continued my pursuit I found a verse that gave me a glimpse of how I could be transformed. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Now maybe I was on to something. Realizing that “be transformed” was in the passive voice (not active) answered a couple questions. First, “be transformed,” means the process of being transformed is not something I can “do”; it’s only something God can do. This was God’s part. In other words, “be transformed” could be rephrased to say, “Let God transform you”. So it’s God’s job to transform me, but it’s my job to let Him transform me. How can I let Him transform me? Well, the rest of the phrase tells us, “by the renewing of your mind”. Accordingly, if I renew my mind then I’ll be letting God transform me, but God can’t transform me unless my mind is renewed. Now all I have to do is figure out how to renew my mind.
STEP #1 WRITE DOWN YOUR UNHEALTHY EMOTION
We are able to shed some light on how to renew our minds from 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient”. In the Message this passage is explained as “tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” In order to identify the thoughts that need to be taken captive we have to identify which thoughts do not line up with God’s Truth. This is rather simple. When we identify unhealthy emotions like anger, judgment, jealously, inadequacy, and perfectionism etc. we can be sure there is a thought creating the emotion lurking.
Imagine when you were five years old if you were riding in backseat of your parent’s car and someone in the lane beside you flipped you off! Would you get mad? Of course not! You wouldn’t even know what “flipped you off” means. However, with the same scenario fifteen years later your emotion would be totally different. Why? Because at age five your thought was, “that’s a weird way to wave at me, maybe I’ll wave back.” However, at age 20 your thought might be to wave back but with very different intentions and certainly with different emotions. Only our thoughts can create our emotions. So if our emotions are unhealthy we can be sure we have a thought that has not been taken captive. Thus, the easiest way to realize a thought has not been taken captive is to write your unhealthy emotion down on paper and then begin the search for the thought that created the emotion that needs to be taken captive.
As a point of clarification I believe it’s important that for purposes of this exercise that the emotion we are identifying is an unhealthy one. In other words, emotions such as sadness may be considered by some to be negative. However, in the case of a spouse dying, sadness would not be considered negative at all, instead, it would be considered very healthy. It seems the unhealthy emotion in this scenario would certainly be, except under the most extraordinary circumstances, jubilation.
STEP #2 WRITE DOWN THE THOUGHT (the lie) THAT CREATED THE UNHEALTHY EMOTION
Once the unhealthy emotion is identified we simply need to ask ourselves what the thought was that created the emotion. Normally these thoughts shoot into our heads very quickly like lightning, so we have to be very attentive when they occur. These thoughts do not come from deep within us but it feels as if they come from outside of ourselves and attempt to grasp at us. In fact these thoughts that create the unhealthy emotions are coming from outside of us; they are coming from the world…from Satan. Most of us recall the recognizable verse of “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4). It’s imperative we understand when thoughts feel as if they are coming from outside us (from the world), they are not coming from God and are extremely dangerous.
I used to believe these thoughts creating unhealthy emotions were simply thoughts that didn’t serve me well, however, now I believe every thought that creates an unhealthy emotion is a lie! Although a bold statement, I think you’ll soon agree. We know the fruit of the Holy Spirit, or the work which the Holy Spirit’s presence within us accomplishes is “love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self restraint, continence).” (Galatians 5:22-23). So if I have a thought that creates authentic joy it’s reasonable to believe it is coming from the Holy Spirit, which resides in me. However, if a thought creates negative emotions such as pride, envy, jealousy, anger, strife, arrogance, malice etc. we can be sure the thought is not coming from the Holy Spirit, but from the world. And since the Holy “Spirit is the truth” (I John 5:6), we can conclude that thoughts that create unhealthy emotions are lies because thoughts that result in emotions opposite of the natural result or fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot originate from God.
Thoughts from the world (or Satan) are being shot at us daily and sometimes it seems we try to eliminate these thoughts (lies) but they just keep popping up. All of us have experienced an argument with another person like our spouse and during the day we replay the fight in our heads over and over, guessing at what we might have said to get our point across. We want to stop thinking about the argument but just can’t get it out of our mind. This is the experience of many people who allow their thoughts to create havoc in their lives. The goal is to specifically write the thoughts down on paper. By writing them down on paper you will start to obtain control over (or take captive) those thoughts (lies) instead of allowing them to control you (hold you hostage or in bondage).
STEP #3 WRITE DOWN THE REPLACEMENT THOUGHT (the Truth)
Once we realize that all thoughts that create unhealthy emotions are lies it is time to replace each of the thoughts (lies) identified above with Truth. Replacing thoughts with Truth is an integral part of sanctification (the process of transformation). In fact, Jesus makes this point emphatically when He asks His Father to “Sanctify them by the Truth” in a prayer for His disciples (John 17:17). Becoming prolific at replacing lies with Truth takes first and foremost an openness to the Spirit (this is the source of all Truth), patience, and sometimes, the assistance of a healthy friend is beneficial.
Many times replacing lies with truth can be as simple as writing down the opposite thought of the one identified as a lie. For instance, you may write, “I need to eat less”, in response to your unhealthy emotion of strife. And as a replacement thought you might simply write, “I don’t have to eat less, I can choose to eat more or less, God gives me free will and I enjoy the freedom that comes from God”. Another simple thought you may write that fits this pattern and analogy is, “My spouse should lose weight”, in response to your unhealthy emotion of judgment. As a replacement thought you might write, “Based on the thought patterns, motivation level, and amount of food my spouse devours, my spouse should not be losing a single pound!” I believe it is obvious that the latter thought is not only the truth; it also has the power to dramatically change judgment into acceptance, a characteristic that has an enormous amount of power to influence.
It may seem apparent for those of you who have been down the path of replacing lies with truth that not all thought replacements are as simple as writing the opposite statement. In fact at times it will be imperative for entire paradigms to shift in order to obtain the truth. For example, you may write, “I’m a loser”, in response to your negative emotion of shame towards yourself. Before you write your replacement thought you may have to ask a few questions. For instance, you may ask yourself, “How exactly do I define a loser?” If your answer is, “a loser is someone who people don’t like”, then you have made significant progress. The revelation that, “nobody is liked by everyone” may soon become apparent when you write your answer, and accordingly, you will realize that either everyone is a loser or your definition must somehow be skewed. In fact, as you continue to try and define “loser” you will continually “get stuck”. It is at this point the shift in thinking can occur. A shift from the Spirit. A moment when we open up to the Spirit and are reminded that when we believe in God and ask Him to be a part of our lives we actually become righteous (the standing acceptable to God). Specifically, it is written the righteousness of God is credited “to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24). Thus, if I am a believer it is impossible for me to be a loser, in fact, I become righteous (the standing acceptable to God), and if I’m acceptable to God what makes me think I’m not good enough for myself? Is it reasonable for my conditions of an acceptable self to be higher than God’s? I think not! Now we can document truth. And as a replacement thought you might write, “A loser is an indefinable label that is meaningless for purposes of defining my worth, however, because I believe in God, I have become righteous, acceptable, and loved by the God of the universe”. Once again the replacement thought is true and has the power of God to change our contempt to love.
(For further discussion regarding replacing lies with truth see the “Truth Finding” document.)
STEP #4 CONTINUALLY RE-READ THE REPLACEMENT THOUGHT (the truth)
It is extraordinarily important to realize that the process we have encountered so far is NOT renewing the mind. Although significant progress has been made towards the goal, it is of utmost importance that we are not deceived into believing that replacing lies with truth is the renewal process, it is emphatically not! Replacing lies with truth is revelation not renewal. Revelation is “the content and process of God’s making Himself known to people. All knowledge of God comes by way of revelation” (Holman’s Bible Dictionary). Replacing lies with truth is procuring the knowledge of God (truth) because only truth can come from God. At the point truth is revealed the opportunity for renewal commences. The Greek word for renewing is “anakainosis”. It is important to note that “ana” as a prefix means repetition, intensity, and reversal (Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary). It is the intense repetition of Truth that causes reversal from lies to truth to occur within us and this process is the renewing of the mind. We must never underestimate the power and importance of intense repetition in the process of renewing our minds.
At this point I believe it is imperative to reiterate exactly who is responsible for transformation occurring in a life. Clearly, we can take no credit for transformation; we have no ability to transform. God can transform, Truth can transform, but let us never fall into the mental trap of thinking that we have any power to transform others or ourselves. The only power we have (and even this is God given) is the power to choose. God’s very nature has extended free will to each and every one of us, and accordingly, we must take the initiative to choose to renew our minds before God even has the ability to transform us. In other words, when we choose to renew our minds, our choice allows God (lets God) transform us. If God decided to transform us without our choosing, He, in effect, would be usurping the very thing He created…free will and God cannot usurp Himself. Thus, we must do our part before God can do His part.
Finally, it is my opinion that most believers would agree that transformation comes by way of renewing the mind. The command, “be transformed by the renewing your mind,” in Romans 12:2 is so succinct that it’s very difficult for any believer to disconnect the result of transformation from the method of obtaining it via the renewing of the mind. However, the method by which renewing the mind actually occurs is a very different matter. In fact, although it is apparent “what” we are to do (renew the mind) it has been very difficult for me to find resources specifically addressing “how” we are to renew the mind. I wrote this order to address one way to renew the mind that has had tremendous impact on my life and the lives of people within my sphere of influence. This paper is not documenting a system or method, but instead a discipline. Its not attempting to be comprehensive in its scope, nor is it in any way to suggest the 4 steps identified above are the only or even the best methods by which one can renew the mind. I am simply ignorant of any other method more effective. Instead, it is an attempt to address the obvious “what” and the obscure “how”.