J. P. Moreland presents a logical case for the role of the mind in spiritual transformation.
It seemed to be a typical day in Israel and Jesus as he often did was teaching while a group of scribes and religious leaders looked on. While we don’t know exactly what the weather was like on that day–whether it was cool or hot, if there was a breeze or the wind was dead– we do know one thing. We know that the atmosphere was hot as the spiritually dead religious leaders sought to test Jesus and catch him in a trap. A scribe asked, “What commandment is the foremost of all? “
Jesus answered, “ The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. ‘ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ‘ There is no other commandment greater than these. “
It is clear that this is a call to love God with our whole being and this morning we will be investigating one specific aspect of Christ’s command this morning. But before we do, the second commandment is clearly a call to love others in service. Therefore, Keith Johnson is going to come and make you aware of an opportunity to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength by serving others.
Jesus answer to the scribe’s question, Love the Lord your God … would have been familiar to the hearers because Jesus did not come up with this answer on the spot. Instead, he quoted from one of Israel’s greatest passages referred to as the Great Shema. Yet, his answer would have sounded slightly different to his hearers because it s not identical to the great Shema. You see Jesus in all three of the synoptic gospels adds one way which we are to love God that is not mentioned in Deuteronomy 6. He inserts the word mind. He makes it explicit that our minds are an integral part of loving our God. Today we will begin to think about what it means to love God with our minds and look back in history to see some individuals who loved God with their minds as they followed Christ in discipleship. But before we do so, let us engage in worship and in so doing love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We as twenty-first century evangelicals live in a unique time that influences our understanding of Christianity and the Bible. Since we are so influenced by the in which we live, the only way we can evaluate our understanding of Scripture is to look at Scripture and look back at our past. When we do this we become aware of the things that we are doing well and we become aware of places where we may be falling short of the commands of Scripture and that we are out of step with our Christian heritage.
One of the things that I believe is unique to our place in God’s story of his church is that for some reason much of evangelical Christianity has a propensity to devalue the mind because they see the mind as something at odds with true faith and belief in God.
While there are historical and cultural factors that play into this current state, we will not be venturing into them today. Instead, I want to focus our attention on one primary passage and then look back in the history of God’s working in his church for us to see one time where loving God with all our minds was critical for the survival of his church. Open your Bibles to Romans 12 as we look to the Lord in prayer.
As we have already seen today, Jesus states that we are to love God with all our mind, just as we do our heart, soul and strength. Jesus is saying there is something about our mind that is essential for us following him in discipleship. So much so that he explicitly added the word mind to the words of Dt 6.
In light of that I want to take a look at one passage in particular this morning. Romans 12:1-2calls us to give our whole self to God as does the greatest commandment. Let us read it together,
Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God– which is your reasonable service. 12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
The passage starts with therefore, which encourages us to look back for the basis of the coming argument. Cranfield, summarizes the previous chapters as follows
“The first eleven chapters of Romans have already made it clear that the life, which … is the destiny of the man who is righteous by faith, is a life of obedience to God … But obedience required of Christians is not just an obedience in principle. It is rather an obedience of thought and attitude, of word and deed, wrought out in the concrete situations of life.” Cranfield 592-594
In fact, these two verses serve as an introduction to all the things Paul is going to tell us about how we should live. Since God calls us to obedience of thought and attitude, word and deed, lived out in life, Paul exhorts us.
We have to understand what Paul means by exhort or urge. This is not a light exhortation it denotes the authoritative summons to obedience issued in the name of the gospel. It is a call to live for what we have been called and the basis of that call is seen in the next words. But what is the basis for such a call?
Because of all an infinite God has done for us in salvation we should have a response. If the nature of the call and background of the call did not tip us off that the call is going to be a large one, the basis should be it is in the very nature of salvation.
“Which is your reasonable service”
The core of this passage is its call for us to present our bodies as sacrifice to God as stated in verse 1. But what does it mean to present our bodies as sacrifices? At its most basic idea being presented as a sacrifice meant we were no longer own just as a sacrifice that was given no longer belonged to its owner. In addition, a sacrifice was not given partially but wholly. Here Paul uses the word body to depict the whole of our being. The point is that we are no longer our own but belong to God!
Alive most likely refers to life but also to spiritual life–new life in Christ; holy refers to our living; that which God desires.
We are exhorted because of God’s mercy to have the reasonable response of offering our whole beings to Him as living holy pleasing sacrifices. But that is not all, how do we go about making ourselves pleasing sacrifices? There is a first a negative command and then a positive one.
The negative command is not to be conformed. This is a passive verb which means we are not doing anything to cause the conforming, but also carries with it the idea that we are not doing anything to stop its conforming influence. It is allowing it to happen to us.
Passive Imperative again, it is something God can do in us but it is also something we join with him in just like the being conformed to the world. How do we keep from conforming to the world? How do we be transformed?
It is interesting that the means of the renewing of our whole being is stated to be the mind.
As J.P. Moreland writes, “He could have said, “Be transformed by developing close feelings toward God,” or “by exercising your will in obeying biblical commands,” or “by intensifying your desire for the right things,” or by “fellowship and worship,” and so on.” 65
Just as Romans 1 has already demonstrated at the beginning of this book, what we think influences everything. It influences our actions.
SO OUR MINDS ARE A KEY FACULTY OF OUR BEING DISCIPLES
Therefore, it is important to understand what the word renewed means. God is not telling us to not use our intellect but that our intellect needs transformation, it needs change, it needs cleaning.
Ephesians 4:23 links renewing with washing of the spirit. It is a change in what is not a recreation. Our mind is not destroyed, it is cleaned to think well and see things the way they were intended to. It is a reversal or Romans 1.
Some of your bibles today may only say approve, they may leave out the word “Test”. The Greek word here clearly denotes an approval that has come from the process of testing and that is why it is translated this way in our translation. Do you see the connection, our minds have to be renewed so that we can use them properly to understand and test and approve God’s will!
The proper use of our minds is key to discipleship! Understand who God is is key because discipleship is following or imitating him. Let’s look to our past to see one such time that the proper use of our minds was essential for the life of Christ’s church.
Some of the earliest struggles in the church came from how to understand certain biblical truths. In fact, one of the earliest struggles is linked to Jesus’ response to the scribe about the greatest commandment in Mark. If you remember Jesus began his answer by saying, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord.” This statement of the oneness of God led to the need for some deep thinking in regard to God is one Lord since Jesus claimed deity, received worship, and stated he was separate from the Father.
So how are we to synthesize these truths and speak accurately about them? And does the way we speak about them matter? There were two groups that began wrongly proposing how we were to understand the existence of God and Jesus yet one Lord. One focused on the unity, the other on the separation. The tension eventually led Constantine to call together a council at the town of Nicea in 325 both to solve this and a few other church issue and in hopes of doing so bringing peace to the Empire. But before we look at the solution, let’s see the problem.
The first group that was wrongly proposing a solution have come to be known as Modalists. They claimed that God exists in the forms, or modes, of Father, Spirit, and Son but he only exists in one form at a time. In other words, there was one God who reveals himself in three modes or forms but never exists in all three simultaneously. The goal of the modalists was to stress the unity of the Father and Son by saying they were the same person.
The second group followed the teaching of a man named Arius and emphasized the separateness of the persons. Arius was a presbyter in Alexandria. He was a student of Scripture and I believe someone who was trying to follow God’s teaching. Based on passages like Proverbs 8:22, John 1:14 (only-begotten), and 1 Cor. 1.24 (Christ is called the wisdom of God) he began teaching that Christ was not equal with the Father but was his first creation.
Arius’ ideas spread because he was a good marketer. One of his most famous slogans was, “There was, when he was not!” He was careful not to use the word “time” because it happened before creation and Jesus was involved in creation. Therefore, the creation of Christ occurred before the creation of time.Arius and his followers not only created slogans but also wrote songs. In fact, in the midst of the council when defending himself Arius broke into song:
The uncreated God has made the Son
A beginning of things created,
And by adoption has God made the Son
Into an advancement of himself.
Yet the Son’s substance is
Removed from the substance of the Father:
The Son is not equal to the Father,
Nor does he share the same substance,
God is the all-wise Father,
And the Son is the teacher of His mysteries.
The members of the Holy Trinity
Share unequal glories.
If Arius’ position was true Mark Noll notes, “He [Jesus] would not have known the inner-most recess of the divine mind. Moreover, as a creature made by God, Jesus was liable to change and … to sin … Jesus was subordinate to the Father, not only in the functional sense that he came to earth to do the Father’s will, but in the metaphysical sense of being a creature subordinate in his essence to the Father.” (52-53 Noll, Turning Points)
A defense of the Christian effort was offered by Athanasius who saw Arius’ teaching for what it was, an assault on the essence of God and the Christian message. Arius’ view was an attack on the nature, person and work of Christ which are key to our faith! Athanasius’ main concern was how could someone other than God pull humanity up to God? How could anyone less than God become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God as 2 Corinthians 5:21 points out?
This was the question to be decided at the Council of Nicea. 318 bishops or pastors showed up for the meeting. After much discussion they nearly unanimously affirmed the point of Athanasius in a creed.
The creed reads:
We believe in one God the Father all powerful, maker of all things both seen and unseen.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten begotten from the Father, that is from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, CONSUBSTANTIAL with the Father, through whom all things came to be, both those in heaven and those in earth; for us humans and for our salvation he came down and became incarnate, became human, suffered and rose up on the third day, went up into the heavens, is coming to judge the living and the dead.
And in the holy Spirit.
And those who say “there once was when he was not”, and “before he was begotten he was not”, and that he came to be from things that were not, or from another hypostasis or substance, affirming that the Son of God is subject to change or alteration these the catholic and apostolic church anathematises.
This creed was expanded on at the Council of Constantinople in 381 and has become know as the Nicene Creed which many still recite today because of it’s importance in Christian discipleship. Let’s read the creed together
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This statement of Christian Orthodoxy has continued to inform centuries of Christians on how we understand the Trinity as one man allowed his mind to be transformed and actively sought to develop the gift that God had given him.
We could continue to trace this path throughout God’s work in his church. In fact, less than 100 years after Constantinople we see the church using it’s renewed mind to wrestle through the question of how we understand that Jesus was both human and divine. If we went further we would see God using the hard deep study of Luther to start the Reformation. If we went even farther, we would see the deep thinking about the person of God institute awakening through the Puritans, and finally we would see in the 60’s and 70’s an new vigor in evangelicalism in men like C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.
If nothing else, we should learn from this as the Bible teaches, that our thoughts always determine our actions and our thought life is key for our sanctification and walk of discipleship. Because of this, I am concerned at the lack of a deep nurturing of our intellect within the church in America. While some may argue that we are able to think as well as our surrounding culture, that is not much encouragement when we consider words like these of R.C. Sproul as quoted by J.P. Moreland:
“We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization … [we] must resist with intensity the anti-intellectual spirit of the world.” (19, Love Your God with All Your Mind)
Is not using God-given minds the way they were intended to be used being conformed to this world? Not thinking deeply on the person of God and all the truth he reveals to us? And I think we are feeling the effects of it.
Let me share one example and demonstrate how this lack of cultivating our mind impacts our ministry to others. This is an election year and as such we are hearing lots of speeches that are meant to give us information about candidates and what they will do. However, in our culture much of what is said in politics seems to be nothing more than emotional rhetoric and buzzwords. I watch and know I am supposed to be feeling something but leave not being able to articulate anything meaningful about what the candidate will do. I leave feeling uninformed and unable to come to any true conclusions and therefore, unable to engage in meaningful conversation about the candidates and issues.
I believe it is the same with our faith. According to a 1980 Gallup Poll, in America “We are having a revival of feelings but not of the knowledge of God. The church today is more guided by feelings than by convictions. We value enthusiasm more than informed decision.” 19, Love Your God with All Your Mind
This lack of knowledge leads to a lack in confidence. When we have a lack of confidence, we fail to engage in talk about anything other than emotion or opinion. When we relegate all thought to emotion or opinion or make it a personal thing, why share the gospel? Yet 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be able to give a defense for the hope that is in us?
Have you ever wondered why true following after Christ seems to be at an all time low? Maybe one of the reasons is our lack of cultivation of our minds. If evangelical Christianity is as influential as we like to think, why does the world look the way it does? Why do we have trouble offering a defense for our hope? Maybe we need to cultivate our renewed God given minds so that we can trust God to speak through us after we have sought to honor him with our minds.
But evangelism isn’t the only place I see the dangers of our lack of cultivating our minds. I see it in our worship, the books we read, and our prayers.
I can not tell you the number of times I have heard good Christians pray to God in modalistic ways. They begin their prayer, “Dear heavenly Father, we thank you for …” and then a few sentences later say, “I thank you for dying on the cross.” The Father did not die on the cross. The Son did. While, this most often is not an intentional act of proposing heresy, it shows a lack of loving God with all our mind even in the way we address Him
Our bookstores (the shack, modalist books and songs)
If we were to take a walk in a Christian bookstore–the place where we should be able to go for trustworthy resources, we would many books that are written by those who espouse such heresies as modalism. In fact, there is a current Christian best-selling book that makes statements that clearly allow people to come to the conclusion that God presents himself in three modes (modalism) and that the Father has died on the cross.
One last place that I see the danger of lacking to develop our renewed Christian mind is in the false dichotomy that has been created between that which is secular and sacred. If all truth is God’s truth, we should seek to grow in our understanding of all areas of truth. And God’s truth impacts our vocation. Not our job. As Moreland has pointed out, a job is something we do to supply for ourselves and others. However, a vocation it is the specific role God has given us to play in life and we should honor God with it as we use our renewed minds. And we much teach our children to do the same.
If we look at our vocation as just a job to get through to supply wants, we conform to the world and fail to honor God with our minds. If we look at college as only a means to get a get a good job, we conform to the world and fail to honor God with our minds. If we look at high school as a way to get into a good college, we are conformed to the thinking of the world and we fail to love God with our minds!
God did not give us the vessel of the mind to keep it empty. He gave us a mind to fill it. To fill it with things properly understood. To fill it with his truth. To see him in our daily lives as we understand our world and see his reflection in it.
Love the Lord your God with ALL of your renewed mind!