Mind Renewal and the Spirit of the Mind
Mind Renewal Versus Knowledge Accumulation
In Romans 12:2 it says, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Some people might assume that the renewing of the mind (as depicted in this passage) would mean growing in the knowledge of the Scriptures through Bible study and memorization. It would be an intellectual task to pursue through discipline and self effort with the hope that growing in knowledge of biblical truth would bring about the renewal and transformation.
However, there is a problem with this line of thinking. If growing in biblical knowledge could produce mind renewal and transformation in and of itself, then any unbeliever could expect the same if they applied themselves to intellectually know the truth. The key term in this passage is transformation. Transformation is the sole evidence that mind renewal has occurred. Where there is no inner transformation, then there is no reason to assume that mind renewal has occurred. Having said this, mind renewal must be more than gaining knowledge of what the Bible says, and actually be the means by which transformation is brought about. It is also important to note that transformation is not the outcome of our trying to do what the truth may say. Again any unbeliever can choose to do the truth, and yet not be transformed by it. The mind renewal described in this passage produces transformation as opposed to self effort that is an attempt to conform ones behavior to the truth.
Knowledge Alone Provides No Guarantee of Transformation
It is safe to say that increasing in knowledge is no guarantee of inner change or transformation. Transformation is the outcome of knowing the truth within the heart that goes beyond the intellectual assent of this truth. Intellectually growing in knowledge of the truth can make you smarter, but it provides no guarantee of transformation. Transformation is solely a work of God brought about by His Spirit renewing our minds by His illumination of the truth within our hearts. If our mind renewal does not produce genuine and effortless transformation, then the “renewing” we may experience is not what is described in this passage.
This is not to say that growing in knowledge of the Scriptures does not have value, for indeed it does since “…all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). However, growing in the knowledge of the Scriptures is a starting point when it comes to transformation. Transformation is a work of God that He alone brings about when He shines His light of truth within our hearts. Unless the Spirit opens “the eyes of our hearts” (Eph. 1:18) we cannot have our minds renewed. Whereas, studying and learning the Bible is the outcome of the effort of the person who applies himself to know it. Though there is great benefit in growing in the knowledge of the Scriptures, however, knowledge is no guarantee of transformation since transformation is something that God does and that we receive.
In other places we have discussed the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Because we hold knowledge in both our intellect and in our heart, we also believe in both places as well. Some people do not realize that we believe what we believe in these two different ways. Most people understand that they believe facts and figures with their intellect, but few realize that heart belief is different from intellectual belief. The Bible is clear that a person enters into saving grace because he believes with his heart (Rom. 10:10). We are not saved because we ascribe intellectual assent to the facts of Jesus life, death and resurrection. Secular historians can attest to the facts of the life of Christ, but their acknowledgement of this does not bring about their salvation. Knowing the facts about Jesus is not the same as believing these truths with the heart. Knowing and believing about Jesus does not mean that you know Him.
It is also possible to believe one thing with our head or intellect and hold an opposing belief in our hearts. I can believe with my mind the Scriptures that proclaim God loves me perfectly and therefore, is my shield and protection and yet live my life in fear. If I genuinely believed these passages in my heart it would be literally impossible to ever feel afraid. The fact that I am afraid exposes a contrary heart belief. I can know and believe with my mind that God will “supply all my needs” (Phil. 4:19) and yet worry over my finances. However, if I believed this with my heart, it would be impossible to ever worry over how I would pay my bills. When what we believe with our minds is contrary to what we believe with our hearts, we become double-minded. James the Apostle says that when this is the case we are like the “wave of the sea, driven and tossed…” (Ja. 1:6-8)
Being Renewed in the Spirit of Your Mind
The Apostle Paul explains the necessity of mind renewal in his letter to the Ephesians where he said,
“Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more.
But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” (Eph. 4:17-24)
A book could be written concerning all that this passage contains, but I will offer a brief application for mind renewal and transformation. First, the apostle compares the plight of the gentile unbeliever who has become excluded from the life of God. He landed in this place because he did not believe the truth of God with his heart. They chose to walk in the futility of their own understanding and hardened their hearts toward God so not to hear His voice. As a consequence of this they “became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more…”
However, in contrast to the hard-heartened unbeliever, the man in Christ has taken a different course. Notice what has been accomplished and what is on-going in the life of the believer. First, the apostle makes a disclaimer when he says, “…assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus.” He is assuming that the one he is referring to has already entered into a saving faith and is in Christ. If this is so, then several conditions are already met. One, he has taken off his former way of life, that is, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; and secondly, he has “…put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” These two actions have occurred in the believer’s life in Christ. When a person comes to Christ he is in a fallen state that is described as the “old man.” As a fallen creature he enters into the death of Christ and “dies with Christ” and then shares in the Lord’s resurrection as a “new man” in Christ. The Apostle Paul said it this way,
“…do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:3-7).
Our old man died with Christ -was put off- and we became new creations (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 2:20) and have put on the “new man.” In our day-to-day experience it seems that the “old man” is still alive an well. However, this is all about perspective. When we know the truth of this passage within our hearts and view ourselves as the Father views us, we will be transformed by it.
Renewal in the Spirit of Your Mind
This is where there is a third action presently and progressively occurring in the life of the believer. The believer took off his old self when he died with Christ and has put on his new self since he has been “raised up with Christ” (Col. 3:1) The apostle describes this third and ongoing process when he says, “…you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds…” Mind renewal is an on-going and progressive work of God where He is persuading the believer of the truth within his heart. Notice how the apostle describes this process as being a renewal in the “spirit of your minds.” I am not exactly certain as to what he is describing here, but he seems to be making a clear distinction when he uses the phrase “spirit of your mind” as opposed to just “your mind.” My opinion is that he is drawing a distinction between our knowing the truth intellectually with the mind and believing the truth with the heart or within the spirit or inner man.
It is because we have died with Christ and have laid aside the old self having put on the new self, that we can now proceed to have our hearts renewed with the truth. When this occurs transformation follows. Who and what we are in Christ becomes a living reality as the truth transforms us into His image and we begin to experience the fruit of His Spirit.