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Can the νοῦς [nous] Set You Loose? The Role of the Mind in Sanctification


Norman Vincent Peale once said that the New Testament “contains procedures by which anybody who intelligently applies them can develop power in his mind and personality.”1 Today many popular pastors have also gone this route, believing that victory over sin is in the mind. The believer simply has to have mental cognition of his righteousness in Christ and then he will be free to live according to that awareness.2 Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, speaks of the mind and thoughts of the regenerate person in the process of sanctification quite frequently. The question then is sanctification simply a matter of mind over matter? Can anyone be sanctified by their mind, regenerate and unregenerate? Is sanctification simply the “power of positive thinking”? This essay will look at the verses in Romans that discuss the mind and related terms to see what the role of the mind is in sanctification.

The immaterial person – cognition, thoughts, the mind - is a recurring theme in the book of Romans. The term νοῦς (mind) is used twenty-four times in the New Testament. Of these all but three (Luke 24:45; Rev. 13:18, 17:9) are used by Paul. Nearly a third of these found in the Pauline corpus are in Romans (1:28, 7:23, 7:25, 11:34, 12:2, 14:5). In addition to this term νοῦς, there are several other places in Romans that speak of some type of mental activity that is involved in sanctification. Paul uses the term λογίζομαι in 6:11 exhorting believers to consider or reason themselves to be dead to sin. Further, there is a discussion of the intentions of the mind in 8:6-7, where Paul employs the term, φρόνημα, which is a term only found in Romans. Finally, there is the puzzling passage in 7:14-25 discussing double-mindedness. This essay will look at these passages to gain insight as to how the mind is to be employed in sanctification. It will begin briefly with the unregenerate mind in 1:28 to see if anyone can sanctify themselves with their mind and to show the contrast between the mind of the unbeliever and the believer. In 6:11 we will explore what it means to “consider yourselves dead to sin.” Next will be a discussion of 7:14-25, which will be limited to a study of the implications on the mind depending on the various views of this passage. In 8:6-7 we will look at what a mind is that is “set on the flesh” versus the “mind set on the Spirit.” Finally, in 12:2 we will look at what is meant by renewing the mind and how that aids in sanctification.3 Admittedly, this a fragmented study because it only zeros in on those passages that specifically deal with the mind. Other passages may indirectly speak of the role of cognition. Indeed, this epistle was written so as to be understood by the reader, especially in regards to the believer’s new identity, and many books have been written on the psychology of Paul.4 While this is a phenomenal area of study, this essay will be limited only to a discussion of the mind and related terms as they are explicitly stated in the epistle. Of course the immediate context of these occurrences must be taken into account. The main questions this thematic study seeks to answer are can the νοῦς set the believer “loose” from sin, and if so how does the mind aid the believer in the process of sanctification?

Romans 1:28

Romans 1:18-32 shows how God has given sufficient evidence of Himself through creation. Yet, despite this general revelation, humanity actively rejects God. The unbeliever, having a limited knowledge of God,5 did not lead to gratitude as it was intended, so the thoughts, feelings, and willingness of man6 were darkened (Rom. 1:21). Not thanking God left the reasoning of man futile. Their initial understanding of God became flawed. As man continued downward in the futility of their minds, their bodies and desires became perverted and dishonorable as God continually gave them over7 to their foolish thoughts and acts (1:24-7). The final result was that God gave man over to a “worthless mind” (1:28). While in 1:21 man’s thoughts ( διαλογισμοῖς) were directed towards futile things ( ματαιόω),8 here in 1:28 the unbeliever’s entire mind ( νοῦς) becomes worthless ( ἀδόκιμος). This progression is helpful to understand the mind and how it can degenerate. It begins with a limited knowledge of God but because it fails to thank God, it results in foolishness. That foolishness leads to impure, lustful desires leading their bodies to do dishonorable things. These actions lead to a further degradation of the thoughts of a man, rendering the whole mind worthless. Because mental and moral faculties are affected, resulting in the total degradation of the mind, the mind must include both mental and moral judgments.

Questions Surrounding Romans 1:28

First of all, the power of positive thinking, as espoused by Norman Vincent Peale, does not match up with what Paul tells us here in Romans 1:18-32. The unregenerate person cannot develop power in his mind to do good. The knowledge that God supplies of Himself to humanity is insufficient to bring them to salvation. The person is still held accountable because they took what little knowledge of God they had and rejected it. So, the first understanding of the mind is that only those who are justified by faith in Jesus can be freed from this degradation. A question that will be answered later is how the mind is affected by justification (which in turn affects sanctification). Now does this process of the degradation of the mind occur only in the unbeliever, or can it occur in the believer as well?9 And if it does occur, is God actively giving the believer over resulting in further degeneration, or is the believer protected in some way from complete degradation? Romans 12:2 suggests that it does occur in the believer resulting in the necessity to continually renew the mind. This will be discussed later in this essay.

Word Study of Νοῦς

Νοῦς, as was just discovered, refers to the mental and moral faculties of a person. But where does this term come from? Classical Greek has a variety of meanings, including the “power of spiritual perception” to “disposition” to “insight.”10 Philo, who wrote from c. 20 B.C. –ca. 50 A.D. employed νοῦς as “inner or moral attitude”11 and as “understanding.”12 In the Septuagint νοῦς is found thirty times. The closest equivalent to νοῦς in Hebrew as translated from the Old Testament is לֵב while it is also sometimes translated from לֵבָב. However, these two Hebrew words are often translated in the Septuagint as καρδία (heart). This is because these Hebrew terms referred to the “totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature.”13 Typically, καρδία refers to emotions and feelings while νοῦς refers more to mental activity. Because the Hebrew terms referred to both the heart and mind, a decision had to be made when translated to Greek. When the context in the Hebrew Scriptures referred more to mental activity νοῦς was used, and καρδία was chosen otherwise.14 Stacey also notes that Paul took the original Aristotelian meaning of νοῦς (seat of mental activity) and incorporated some of the Old Testament connotation to it by adding to it a dimension of moral judgment and volition.15 As noted above νοῦς is an almost exclusive Pauline term. Undoubtedly, it is of theological and doctrinal importance to Paul. While νοῦς is incorporating some of the Old Testament meaning, it also has “finer distinctions,” which are necessary for Paul to make his arguments clear.16 Myer’s study shows that Paul uses νοῦς in a variety of ways to suit his purposes from “a faculty of reflexive thought and moral judgment,” to a faculty “which determines the direction and purpose in choices,” and also the “point of contact” with “divine elements,” such as the Holy Spirit.17 This first usage is in view in Rom. 1:28. This word study will help in understanding the remaining occurrences of νοῦς in Romans.

Romans 6:11

Chapter 6 of Romans really begins the topic of sanctification. Typical of Paul’s style, he uses primarily the indicative mood in verses 1-10 and then concludes in 11 with an imperative. 6:11 begins with the pleonastic construction οὕτως καὶ. Οὕτως functions to summarize what was previously stated.18 Καὶ makes the construction emphatic, giving it a translation of “so also.” Moo sees οὕτως as comparative and correlates to 6:10.19 Thus, 6:11 reads: in the same way (that Christ died to sin once and for all but lives for God)20 you also consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. The comparison is difficult because while Christ actually died to sin once and for all, the believer is to consider himself dead to sin. Yet, in 6:2 Paul tells us that we have died to sin. Why doesn’t Paul tell the believer in 6:11 to simply “die to sin” rather than consider themselves dead to sin? This phrase, “dead to sin” ( ἀπεθάνομεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ) is used for the first time in 6:2, and interestingly Paul assumes that the believer already knows this. It must be concluded that this death to sin was explained in chapter 5, since chapter 6 is linked to 5. Chapter 5 explains that the one who has accessed by faith (5:2) the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus (5:10) will reign in life (5:17). Through Jesus Christ the one who obtains this grace by faith, there is a transfer of reign from death (because of sin) to life (5:17). The believer has been saved from the wrath (5:9), the condemnation (5:18), and the reign of death (5:17), which were the results of sin. Paul elaborates on this transfer of reign in 6:12-23. Since 6:11 is not only a comparison to 6:10 but also a summary of 6:1-10, the best way to understand “consider” ( λογίζεσθε) is to understand the purpose of the passage of 6:1-11. Verses 6:1-2 shows that Paul’s concern for believers is why they would continue in sin when they have been freed from it. This is a fundamental question of sanctification. Therefore, Paul’s exhortation to “consider yourselves dead to sin” is not a contradiction of 6:2 but is an appeal to the believer to align himself mentally with the reality of what Christ accomplished. Note Paul did not say “be dead to sin because you have been made to sin.” He uses the term λογίζομαι, which is a function of the mind. This is the first second-person imperative in the book of Romans. In the first five chapters Paul is explaining how God has justified the believer in Christ. Now Paul’s first command to the believer is to consider or reason himself dead to sin. Λογίζομαι has already been used by Paul. In Romans 2:3 it has the force of “think, believe, be of the opinion.”21 In 2:26 most translations translate this occurrence as “regarded.”22 Verse 3:28 has a connotation of “evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider.”23 Chapter four is the “ λογίζομαι” chapter. It is used here by Paul eleven times in twenty-five verses. This chapter employs λογίζομαι as it was historically understood – as an accounting term – “ to place into one’s account.”24 Most translate λογίζομαι in all of these occurrences as “credit” (NET, NASB) or “reckon” (NRSV). The subject in all of these occurrences is God. With all these varieties of uses in Romans (let alone the entire New Testament), just what is the connotation of λογίζομαι in 6:11? Because the subject in 6:11 is the believer, it cannot be said that the believer can credit himself as dead to sin. Chapter 4 clearly establishes that placing righteousness into one’s account can only be done by God and is through the death and resurrection of Christ. The force of λογίζομαι in 6:11 then is similar to 3:28, to consider or regard. However, considering that this is the first second-person imperative in the epistle, 6:11 quite easily can be understood as climactic to all that Paul has written to this point. The connotation of λογίζομαι then goes beyond considering to a “deliberate and sober judgment on the basis of the gospel.”25 The believer is to let his mind dwell on the truths of the gospel as Paul has explained thus far. There have been two ends of the pendulum with many views in between on understanding what 6:11 means. On one end there is the idea that we are not really dead to sin but Paul is telling us to pretend that we are.26 This suggests that we are not really dead to sin, but chapter 5 has just explained how faith in Christ transferred the believer from death caused by sin to life. Thus, pretending is not the right sense here because there is a reality to the believer’s death to sin. Some go too far, though, to suggest that the believer is in actual experience completely free from sin.27 Cranfield suggests that there are several levels to understand being “dead to sin.”28 The first is in a forensic sense, that all of the believer’s sins are bore upon Christ’s body and put to death by Christ’s death on the cross. The second is an eschatological sense, where this death will be fully realized. And there is the moral sense, whereby the believer daily dies to sin. The passage in 6:1-11 clearly speaks of sanctification, the present time of the believer. However, “dead to sin” points back to the first sense, of the forensic or judicial sense. Namely, it speaks of the gospel that Paul has been expounding on.

While, this is a discussion on the mind, it must be noted that the considerations of the mind in the process of the mind are only as good as the thoughts they dwell on. The reasoning of the mind is the first step in the process of sanctification.29 If understanding is faulty sanctification will be deficient. Thus, pretending to be dead to sin may lead the believer to disillusionment in the Christian life, not fully understanding what Christ has accomplished for the believer. The person who believes they are actually sinless may have to continually construct false ideas of sin in order to say that they have avoided sin, or many take no ownership of their sin, saying it was not the “real me.”30 The proper understanding that a believer must have in 6:11 is to meditate on how God has freed him from sin. They must then live in light of that truth.

Again, this mental first step towards sanctification can only be accomplished in a believer. This is evidenced by the last two words of 6:11, ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. “In Christ Jesus” has been understood in various ways and has different intended meanings depending on context.31 There is both a forensic relationship through Christ as well as an on-going personal relationship with Christ that is in view here. The phrase shows that only those who are united to Christ are able to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God.

So has the mind of the believer been altered because of his union with Christ? Or is the mind of the believer the same as before his regeneration? Back in 1:28 we discussed how the unregenerate mind was left worthless. How does one get from a worthless mind to a mind that is able to ponder the truths of God? 1) In one sense it seems that the mind of the believer is the same as it was before conversion because Paul tells the believer to understand what has happened to him because of the gospel. If the person’s mind was changed, there would be no need to explain to him what had occurred for he would already know. The purpose of Romans is to explain what was accomplished through the gospel and for it to be understood by the reader. The question is can a believer be sanctified without first mentally comprehending the truth of the gospel? There must be some alteration of the mind, though, to get a person with a degenerated, fallen mind to be able to comprehend the truths of God. Although Paul does not address this explicitly, grace must have allowed the worthless mind to have faith in Christ. So, perhaps there is an initial dose of understanding given upon justification that must be cultivated in order for the believer to be sanctified. In other words while a believer may not know much about the gospel, sanctification begins with (and is a continual process of) understanding the gospel and the implications it has for his daily life.

Romans 7:14-25

“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”32-DR. JEKYLL

Robert Louis Stevenson, who grew up in a strict Scottish Calvinist church, identified with the inner struggle of Paul in Romans 7:14-25. So he wrote the infamous Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to express the war waging in his members, whereby the evil desires (Mr. Hyde) sought to overpower and destroy the good (Dr. Jekyll). All of us can identify with this – the conscience struggling to make a moral decision. However, the question for the purposes of this essay is whose mind is being described in 7:14-25? Is it the believer’s mind? Is it the unbeliever’s mind? Can it be both? What follows is not an attempt to answer the “I” question in this passage. Rather, the views will be analyzed in regards to the mind and what each view says about the role of the mind for the believer in sanctification.

Pre-Christian Paul

This view holds that Paul speaks here of his torment before his conversion. While there are even more modifications within this camp, we will look only at the view that Paul is speaking of himself before his experience with Christ at Damascus and is looking back at his former Jewish legalistic self in light of his present union with Christ.33 This is consistent with our previous discussion of 6:11. Perhaps Paul is dwelling on his former state in light of his present state in Christ. Proponents of this view look to Romans 8, where Paul speaks of the mind set on the Spirit. Because the Spirit is not mentioned in 7:14-25, this passage for these proponents is describing a non-believer. Thus, there are no implications for the mind of the believer according to this view. Although believers struggle with sin, proponents of this view would not see this passage as descriptive of what is happening within them as a believer. Thus, 7:14-25 is of no help to the mind of the believer, except to remind them of where they once were and to be thankful that God has saved them from that struggle.

Post-Conversion Paul

This view sees the aorist tense verbs in 7:7-13 and their shift to the present tense in 14-25 as significant that Paul is now speaking of himself as a believer. Proponents of this view (including Augustine and Luther) see Paul’s struggle as an accurate assessment of one in union with Christ. They see Paul’s “wretched man” statement as not “as bad as it could be, only that it is not as good as it should be.”34 They see the references to the law not being the Mosaic Law but the law of Christ, so Paul is not putting himself back under the Law.35 This view is also consistent with Paul’s exhortation in 6:11 because according to these proponents it shows a proper perspective of what the Christian life looks like as one progresses in his sanctification. The believer, upon genuine reflection of his sanctification, should see that he is still far from the goal. The benefit from this view on the mind of the believer is that believers can identify with this passage. This view gives the believer encouragement to know that Paul also felt this way. It also puts the focus on Christ, as it sheds light on how dependent the believer is on grace to be freed from the struggle within. The danger of this view is that it could lead believers to a negative view of themselves. That is, there is a tendency in the Reformed camp that “normal” Christian experience consists of feeling bad for one’s self. This can be unhealthy and perhaps not the intention of Paul in this passage.

The Rhetorical View

Another view sees the “I” as not autobiographical. Proponents see that Paul includes himself but is not speaking in a purely autobiographical sense. Rather, Paul is describing a person, regenerate or unregenerate, who tries to live righteously through the Mosaic Law. The references to the law are for them is the Mosaic Law, and Paul would not speak of himself as a believer being under the law. The purpose of the passage for these proponents is that anyone – a believer, a non-believer, and Paul himself – who tries to attain righteousness through the Law will become the “wretched man,” fighting an unwinnable fight. There are strengths to this view in reference to the mind, for it includes both the mind of the believer and unbeliever. This is a strength because it seems that both regenerate and unregenerate people have inner struggles of the conscience in making moral decisions. It puts the focus on the Law, trying to please God by following rules, and always falling short. This is in line with the questions asked by Paul in 7:7 and 7:13 – is the Law sin or did it become sin? Paul is answering His own question that the Law is not bad, but it further exposes our sin. Thus, the more one tries to live by the Law, the more sin will be revealed. Another strength of this view is that it sets the believer up for chapter 8, where one learns what it is to set one’s mind on the Spirit. One disadvantage of this view is that it does not adequately answer the use of the personal pronoun, ἐγὼ, especially the emphatic αὐτὸς ἐγὼ in 7:25. Why would Paul be so emotional in this passage (as evidenced by the “wretched man” comment in 7:24) if he were not referring to himself?

Romans 7:23 Exegesis

In the midst of this hotly debated passage, we find another instance of νοῦς in 7:23. Paul says that he sees a “dissimilar law (different from the law of God in 7:22) in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that is in my members.” There are two forces at work in the mind of the believer,36 the law of God and the law of sin. “Members of the body” waging war does not mean that Paul’s hands and feet are attacking his mind. Rather, it is the law of the members, which is further explained as the law of sin in the members. This shows that all the damage caused by the Fall (as described in Rom. 1:18-31) to a person’s mind are still prevalent in the believer. This is the process of sanctification – to renew the mind over and against the sinful desires of the body. Paul has not yet told the believer how to do that, except for briefly in 6:11. At this point Paul is pointing out that there are two forces within the mind of the believer. Myers notes that the stronger of the two desires is the “desire of the members to please sin.”37 This refutes claims that sanctification is simply mind over matter. Even in a regenerate mind sin will be the stronger of the two forces. This truth is reiterated in 7:25, this time transitioning the term “law in the members” to flesh. Paul makes this shift to set up his next discussion, walking by the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

Looking back at the unregenerate mind in 1:28, it seems that the mind of the believer has been “upgraded.” Prior to conversion, the unregenerate person had some limited knowledge of God. Upon conversion the believer “delights in the law of God” (7:22). Something great and cosmic must have occurred in the mind to cause so great a change. However, the sinful desires remained in the believer. Christ freed the believer from its power, authority, and condemnation. Yet, the sinful desires still reside within us while a new capacity for delighting in the law of God is added in our minds. This seems to be the heart of sanctification and why the mind is so crucial in that process. If there are battling forces in the mind – one for good, the other for evil – then a crucial step towards sanctification is in renewing the mind, empowering it for good. As will be discussed later, the mind of the believer by itself will sin because the law of God in them is weaker than the law of sin. What has happened in the mind of the believer is a new capacity for serving God. However, as will be seen in chapter 8, only the Spirit can overcome the law of sin in the believer’s mind.

Is the Christian mind more schizophrenic than the unbeliever’s mind? Yes. There are two natures in the mind of the Christian, while only one in the mind of the unregenerate.38 Although there may be some struggling in the conscience of the unbeliever, Romans 1:18-31 shows that the unbeliever is in actuality spiraling downward. Further, 1:18-31 shows that the decisions of the unregenerate person are never righteous because they do not please God but man. Thus, the unregenerate mind has only one nature, the law of sin. The regenerate mind carries these sinful desires over (yet is free from condemnation) into its state as a believer. The regenerate person’s mind has the ability to delight in the law of God and still retains its sinful desires. Thus, the Christian mind is dual-natured, while the unregenerate mind has one nature. Perhaps this is why Paul cries, “wretched man that I am!” He understands that as a believer left on his own, he still will choose sin. This is even more tortuous than the person described in 1:18-31 because this time Paul knows what is good and does not do it. This causes great anguish. But Paul immediately thanks God for giving him the ability to serve the law of God with his mind although there is tension with the flesh (7:25).39

Romans 8:6-7

In Romans 7 we found that the mind was given the “capacity to serve God, not the enablement.”40 Now in Romans 8 Paul gives the believer the enabler to serve God, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. While this study is a look at Romans, this teaching of Paul in Romans 8 is entirely consistent with the Gospel writers understanding of the New Covenant.41 Two things must occur for salvation to be complete: 1) Christ’s death and resurrection forgives sin and gives new life; 2) the Holy Spirit then must come to allow internal obedience to God. One without the other would be incomplete. Christ without the Holy Spirit would give forgiveness but no empowerment to serve God. The Holy Spirit without Christ would empower one to serve God but there would be no forgiveness of sins.

It is here in this discussion of the Spirit that we find the term φρόνημα. Φρόνημα is found only here in Romans 8:6-7 in the New Testament. While most English translations use the word mind (NKJV, NRSV, NASB, NIV), φρόνημα is not the mind itself42, but the thoughts of the mind because it comes from the verb φρονέω, “to think” and means the same as the infinitive φρονεῖν used as a noun.43 Thus, φρόνημα is contained within νοῦς. Paul contrasts the person whose way of thinking is fixed44 on the flesh verses the person whose outlook is of the Spirit. As noted above Paul sets up the transition from the law of the members to flesh in 7:25. Flesh is not equivalent to the law of sin in the members. Paul is not teaching Gnosticism. Note that in 7:25 flesh serves the law of sin. Flesh is not sinful, but sin has brought it under bondage.45 However, the law of God in the mind of the believer is not the same thing as the Spirit. Again, the mind of the believer now has the capacity to delight in the law of God, but the Spirit is what enables the mind to serve God. Paul is describing a different battle that the believer must understand for sanctification – flesh versus the Spirit. In 7:14-25 Paul described the believer’s mind in its “natural” state, without the aid of the Spirit. It has the capacity to serve God but is overpowered by sinful desires. In chapter 8 Paul is showing how the believer can overcome its sinful desires – through the Holy Spirit.

Flesh is best understood in what it is being contrasted with in chapter 8. Verse 8:3 highlights this contrast. It says that God accomplished what the law could not because it was weakened by the flesh. While flesh can refer to the whole man (Rom. 7:18), because of the contrast with God, it is best seen as the “creaturely nature of man.”46 Moo speaks of the flesh here as the ‘this-worldly’ orientation” of people.47 Those that live according to the flesh in chapter 8 include non-believers or believers who live according to the values of “this world.”48 Although verse 9 tells us that believers are not controlled by the flesh but by the Spirit, verses 12-14 imply that some believers are living under obligation to the law and not the Spirit. So, if the believer is controlled by the Spirit, how does he then live at times according to the flesh? Verses 6-7 show that when a person sets his mind on death caused by sin (8:6a), when he is hostile to God (8:7a), or when he does not submit to the law of God (8:7b), he is living according to the flesh. The role of the mind in this passage then is to set one’s thoughts on life and peace (8:6b) and to submit to the law of God (8:7b). Strikingly, there are no imperatives in this chapter. Paul does not command the believer to do anything. The implications from this chapter are to realize that as believers our thoughts should be set on the Spirit (as explained above) as we are now “Spirit beings”. The mind is the point of connection with the Spirit. It is where we can process the truth and experience of the Holy Spirit, which in turn allows us to please God. There are no formulas, no specifics on how to keep one’s thoughts according to the Spirit. It seems to be another instance of simply understanding and meditating on this awesome provision of God.

Romans 12:2

Paul has just explained how marvelous the mystery of the grafting in of the Gentiles to the blessings of Israel (11:17). At the conclusion to chapter 11 are praises to the Lord for His “depth and riches and wisdom and knowledge” (11:33). Following this are two quotes from the Old Testament, the second of which (11:35) is from Job 41:11, which reads “Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him?” Romans 12:1-2 serves as the proper response in light of God’s mercy and praiseworthiness. It begins with the inferential conjunction οὖν, which looks back not only to chapters 9-11 but to the entire epistle thus far.49 The exhortation here in 12:1 to present50 ourselves in service to God is out of gratitude for Him for what He has done for us. This is evidenced by διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ (by the mercies of God)51 and the conjunction looking back to all God has done for the believer as explained by Paul so far. Gratitude is the only proper motivation for serving God because people will not serve Him with “sufficient zeal, until they properly understand how much they are indebted to His mercy.”52 As 11:35 shows, no one can give first to God so that He has to repay us. Instead God lavishly gives to us, and we serve Him out of gratitude. Paul exhorts the believer to present his body to God as an offering,53 one that is living54, holy, and pleasing to God. It is in light of this that we come to another occurrence of the mind. Romans 12:2 tells the believer to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This verse is linked to 12:1 with καὶ, which is appropriate because the call to presentation in verse 1 is “foundational to this resultant duty of inner transformation.”55 In 12:1 Paul uses the aorist active infinitive παραστῆσαι, but in 12:2 he switches to the present passive imperative μεταμορφοῦσθε. The command to “be transformed” is in a continuous present sense. We are to be continually transformed. This transformation is in contrast to being conformed by this age or world. This world is opposed to God and is characterized by sin and death. Συσχηματίζεσθε, taken from the noun σχῆμα, connotes something that is outward.56 This outward conformity from the world is in contrast with the transformation that is to take place from within. Believers are not to allow themselves to be conformed by the world but transformed by the renewing of their minds. W. E. Vine gives a comprehensive definition of mind here: “the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining.”57 As we discovered in Romans 7 the mind of the believer has the capacity for the things of God, but only the Holy Spirit can enable that change, hence the use of the passive voice in μεταμορφοῦσθε. The mind has an active role in that transformation, evidenced by the use of the dative of means. Therefore, the mind must be intentionally renewed in the power of the Spirit. Also, μεταμορφοῦσθε is in the second-person plural. This suggests that mental renewal can only occur in a community of believers, “not simply as a private transaction.”58 The purpose of renewing the mind is to test and prove the will of God. Transformation is about complete change, so mental renewal involves understanding the truths of God and applying those truths.59 The mind is the link between the proclamation of God – the gospel, His truths revealed in His word – and the ability to live in light of those truths. The implication is that believers are to live in a constant cycle of attaining and affirming the truths of God as proclaimed in the Bible (mental renewal) and then going out and proving His will by our actions. The mind as described above is not only where thoughts dwell; it is also the place where actions are determined. Νοῦς is never neutral. “By νοῦς is meant “not the mind or the intellect as a special faculty, but the knowing, understanding, and judging which belongs to man and determine what attitude he adopts.”60 This is consistent with our discussion of the mind to this point. The unregenerate mind is bent on evil; it is not morally neutral. The mind of the believer has two competing forces where the sinful desires overpower the mind that delights in the law of God. However, the Spirit overpowers the sinful desires. The role of the mind is to actively set its thoughts on the will of God – that which is good and well-pleasing and perfect – and to determine courses of action to prove the will of God in the believer’s life.


We have seen that the mind is of vital importance in the process of sanctification. The mind of the believer has been given the capacity to delight in the law of God, whereas the unregenerate mind only has a limited knowledge of God and is destined to total depravity. The believer is to use his mind to dwell on the mercies of the gospel and live consistent to what God accomplished for us, releasing us from sin. We find that the Christian mind has two competing forces, the law of God and the law of sin left from our former depraved state. The Christian mind now has the capacity for good but without the Spirit, the law of sin prevails. The Holy Spirit is what empowers the mind to serve God. The mind must set its thoughts on life and peace, in submission to God and not on human or worldly things. The role of the mind in sanctification is to actively seek (enabled by the Spirit) the moral will of God and to determine courses of action that tests and approves the truths of God. Thus, the mind is the medium through which sanctification occurs. It is the point of contact with the Holy Spirit, and when the mind is empowered by the Spirit it steers the members in service of God. We have also gained deeper insight to the questions posed at the beginning of this discussion. Can anyone be saved by renewing their mind? No, only through regeneration by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection can the mind be given the capacity to please God. Is sanctification merely the power of positive thinking? No, while there is some benefit to this, it is futile without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As believers we must focus on the positive, amazing way God has freed us from sin. But even the Christian mind without the Spirit will be overcome by sin. What is the role of the mind in sanctification? Believers must realize that their minds have been enhanced upon their conversion. The believer must utilize his mind in the process of sanctification by feeding it the things of God and not the things of the world that are opposed to God. The mind must be submitted to the Spirit of God so that it can be enabled to serve God. The mind is the headquarters for sanctification. The νοῦς can set the believer loose from sin but only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.


Anderson, Neil T. Victory over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ. Ventura: Regal Books, 1990.

Beker, Johan Christiaan. Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Bertram, Georg. " Φρονέω - Φρόνημα." In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 9, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1967.

Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963. In Cranfield, C. E. B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Vol. I. New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Calvin, John. The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians. Translated by Ross MacKenzie, ed. David W. Torrence and Thomas F. Torrence. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961. In Cranfield, C. E. B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Vol. II. New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Cranfield, C. E. B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Vol. I. New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.

________. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Vol. II. New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.

Danker, Frederick W., Walter Bauer, and William Arndt. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason Leonard Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Hiebert, D. Edmond. "Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1-2." Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (July-September 1994): 309-324.

Johnson, S. Lewis. "A Survey of Biblical Psychology in the Epistle to the Romans." Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1949.

Moo, Douglas J. Romans The Niv Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

Myres, Yancey Carlos. "The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind." Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1959.

New English Translation - Novum Testamentum Graece New Testament. NA 27th ed., ed. Michael H. Burer, W. Hall Harris III, Daniel B. Wallace. Dallas: NET Bible Press, 2004.

Packer, J. I. "The Wretched Man Revisited: Another Look at Romans 7:14-25." In Romans and the People of God. ed. Sven Soderlund and N. T. Wright. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999.

Peale, Norman Vincent. A Guide to Confident Living. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1950.

Philo, and Charles Duke Yonge. The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. New updated ed. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1993.

Stacey, David. The Pauline View of Man in Relation to Its Judaic and Helenistic Background. New York: Macmillan, 1956. In Myres, Yancey Carlos. "The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind." Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1959.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1886. In Kreitzer, Larry J. The New Testament in Fiction and Film. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.

Stoessel, Horace E. "Notes on Romans 12:1-2: The Renewal of the Mind and Internalizing the Truth." Interpretation 17.2 (April 1963).

Vine, W. E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1981. In Hiebert, D. Edmond. "Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1-2." Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (July-September 1994): 309-324.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.

1 Norman Vincent Peale, A Guide to Confident Living (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1950), 151.

2 Neil T. Anderson, Victory over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ (Ventura: Regal Books, 1990), 42-3.

3 Romans 11:34 will not be studied, as it pertains to the mind of God. Verse 14:5 will also not be discussed because it refers to a detailed issue and not to sanctification as a whole.

4 S. Lewis Johnson, “A Survey of Biblical Psychology in the Epistle to the Romans” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1949), 5. Johnson and others have found that there is a psychology prevalent in Paul’s letters, not a secular psychology but a psychology related to redemption.

5 Douglas J. Moo, Romans, The Niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 106-7. Moo shows that γινώσκω in 1:21 speaks of a limited knowledge and is not the same as in its normal usage such as in Gal. 4:9, Phil. 3:8, 10; 2 Cor. 5:16

6 Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 508,1b.

7 Johnson, 114. Johnson notes that παρέδωκεν does not mean that God permitted evil or caused man to be continually evil but that He “positively withdrew His restraining hand.”

8 Danker, Bauer, and Arndt, 621.

9 Romans 8:26-39 suggests otherwise. If one is saved the Spirit is working in them until completion.

10 Georg Bertram, "Φρονέω - Φρόνημα." In Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964), Vol. 4, 951.

11 Philo and Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, New updated ed. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1993), 314.

12 Ibid., 472.

13 R. Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 466, no. 1071d.

14 David Stacey, The Pauline View of Man in Relation to Its Judaic and Helenistic Background (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 226-7. In Yancey Carlos Myres, “The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1959), 15-6.

15 Ibid.

16 Johnson, 112.

17 Myres, “The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind”, 17.

18 Danker, Bauer, and Arndt, 741, 1b.

19 Moo, Romans, 380.

20 cf. Rom. 6:10.

21 Danker, Bauer, and Arndt, 597, 3.


23 Danker, Bauer, and Arndt, 1b.

24 Ibid., 597.

25 C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, vol. I (New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 315. Cf. BDAG, 597, 2.

26 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 139. In Cranfield, vol. I, 315.

27 Anderson, 84-5. Anderson teaches that a person simply has to agree with who they already are. The believer just has to acknowledge the truth that they are actually holy. It should go without saying that the believer is not really freed from sin if they have to mentally agree that they no longer sin. In other words, if Christ actually “zapped” the believer upon conversion to no longer sin, then there would be no need for mentally agreeing with it because the believer would already be sinless. Nothing more would have to be done.

28 Cranfield, vol. I, 299-300.

29 Ibid., 315.

30 Anderson, 82-3. Many of these who teach this idea of sanctification appeal to Rom. 7:17 & 20, viewing sin and flesh as a foreign entity that is not a part of them. Thus, they cannot be held accountable for that sin and must simply continue to believe that they are actually holy.

31 Moo, Romans, 380-1. See footnote 150.

32 Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1886), 108. In Larry J. Kreitzer, The New Testament in Fiction and Film (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 90. Kreitzer looks at how Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was influenced by Romans 7:14-25.

33 Johan Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 241.

34 J. I. Packer, "The Wretched Man Revisited: Another Look at Romans 7:14-25." In Romans and the People of God, ed. Sven Soderlund and N. T. Wright (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 77.

35 Ibid., 80. See also New English Translation - Novum Testamentum Graece New Testament, ed. Michael H. Burer, W. Hall Harris III, Daniel B. Wallace, NA 27th ed. (Dallas: NET Bible Press, 2004), 421, footnote 6.

36 My view is somewhere between the autobiographical post-converted Paul and the rhetorical view. Both seem to allow for the mind of the believer have dual forces at work in his mind. The pre-conversion view is ruled out because it serves no purpose if that is the correct view. Paul would simply be digressing into a personal account of how he, too, was once a no good sinner. This view does not help the believer in their sanctification process.

37 Myres, “The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind”, 43.

38 Ibid., 38.

39 Cranfield, vol. II, 593. Cranfield notes that this verse has been misunderstood that the believer should live in complacence to sin, but Cranfield notes that painful as the tension is there is hope in Christ, thus there is reason for thanksgiving.

40 Myres, “The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind”, 39.

41 Darrell L. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 83-4.

42 New English Translation - Novum Testamentum Graece New Testament, 422, footnote 6. The NET Bible translates φρόνημα as “outlook.”

43 Bertram, "Φρονέω - Φρόνημα." In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1967), 232.

44 Danker, Bauer, and Arndt, 1066.

45 Johnson, 76.

46 Ibid., 83.

47 Moo, Romans, 478.

48 Ibid., 485.

49 Cranfield, vol. II, 595-6.

50 Many have seen this aorist infinitive as a once-for-all action. However, the aorist only presents the occurrence of the action and does not have to mean it should only happen once (ExSyn, 554-5). Cf. Moo, 750.

51 This διὰ + genitive construction either shows agency (by) or means (through), so the mercies of God serve as the agent for our service (NET, NKJV, NRSV) or is the conduit through which we can serve Him (Moo, 748).

52 John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, ed. David W. Torrence and Thomas F. Torrence, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 263. In Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, vol. II, 596.

53 Danker, Bauer, and Arndt, 778, 1d.

54 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 618-9. The participle ζῶσαν is in the predicate position and is best seen as a predicate adjective along with ἁγίαν and εὐάρεστον. This gives the reading more emphasis than the traditional reading “living sacrifice” (NET Diglot, 431, footnote 3).

55 D. Edmond Hiebert, "Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1-2," Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (July-September 1994): 319.

56 Ibid. Cf. BDAG, 981, 1.

57 W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1981), 3:69. In Hiebert, "Presentation and Transformation: An Exposition of Romans 12:1-2," 321.

58 Horace E. Stoessel, "Notes on Romans 12:1-2: The Renewal of the Mind and Internalizing the Truth," Interpretation 17.2 (April 1963): 167.

59 Ibid.: 168.

60 Stacey, The Pauline View of Man in Relation to Its Judaic and Helenistic Background, 226-7. In Myres, “The New Testament Doctrine of the Mind”, 16.

Related Topics: Man (Anthropology), Sanctification