For all its centrality to the normal Christian life, the process of sanctification is often elusive if not seeming frustratingly distant. The Christian is called to obey Jesus Christ in lifestyle, thoughts, words, and actions. Yet for some reason, most find themselves disillusioned in this pursuit. Why? In 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 the Apostle Paul says the following:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
How do we get over this frustration? How do we get past the flesh that weighs us down with sin and guilt? Paul offers a bold statement to his audience when he says, “we have the mind of Christ!” The logical question is “what does that actually mean?” Here are 5 key principles of what that means for us.
1. The Mind of Christ is a Gift — The mind of Christ is given to us by God. We do not make it. While we have a stewardship role over the mind, we are not its creators. Like a potter receives clay from the earth and shapes it, his final product can only be as good as the material he began with. God gifts the clay. Yet the raw material is given to the Christian to do something with. Thus the many imperatives to live out the Christian life faithfully and obediently.
2. The Mind of Christ is Shaped Through the Holy Spirit — Typically when we encounter the Christian “mind” (nous) in Scripture, we likewise encounter the Spirit. It seems that in God’s plan, the mind serves as the temple or “most holy place” where the Spirit of God resides. That is why we must keep our temple swept and clear from the impurity of unbelief.
The mind allowing itself to dwell on the impure, lusty, and fleshly things becomes profane, thus defiling the temple of the mind. This defilement is pride. Paul says in Romans 2:8 that those who are “self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” will ultimately meet the wrath of God. Self-seeking is pride, and pride is obnoxious to God. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6 & 1 Pet. 5:5). When our mind is given over to self-seeking (Rom. 2:8) it results in a debased mind. A temple swept clean and abandoned becomes a squatters habitation for every evil thought. The mind is the battle ground for holiness. The Christian’s labor and fight is to joyfully and constantly retain God in his knowledge (Rom. 1:28).
3. The Mind of Christ is Ours to Steward — While a gift granted to us through the Holy Spirit, we are called to mind and tend it. The Christian is called not to mind his or her own business; the Christian is called to mind the business of God. We mind the things of God by stewarding the Mind of God within. In Romans 2:6–11 Paul lays out two forms of “seeking.” There are those who “seek” for glory, honor, and immortality. Then there are those who are “self-seeking.” Our choice is binary. We either serve Christ, or something else. But service to anything other than Christ is “self-seeking”, the worship of self. It is impossible to not worship Christ without ultimately worshipping ourselves.
Romans 12:2 says, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This is an imperative. The transformation of the mind is a commandment! It is not received passively. We are called to obey the commandment by faith. If we do not obey that commandment it may be because we actually do not believe the Gospel.
Our actions witness to our beliefs. If I say to you, “I stuffed ten thousand dollars in your mattress for you,” your subsequent actions will tell whether you trust me. If you do not believe me, you will not look in the mattress. But if you “believe” the word of my testimony, you will.
It is that simple in the Gospel. God has promised you a heavenly kingdom. It is received by faith. If you believe that Gospel promise, you will practice the renewing of your mind through the obedience of faith. If you don’t believe it, you won’t. You will just think to yourself, “ho-hum, hah-hah—I will believe it when I see it—I wouldn’t want to look like a fanatic or anything!” The religious unbeliever wants the veneer of sanctity, never the scorn of being called a fanatic; His is a religion of public sophistication.
Walking in the Spirit is a command to live by faith in the Son of God who gave himself for us (Gal. 5:16). Paul says in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” He tells us what this looks like in Philippians Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Disciplining of the mind through the guidance of the Spirit is the blood sweat and tears of obeying the Gospel.
4. The Mind of Christ is Stewarded by Faith — Many are confused about the role of the Spirit in our sanctification. When struggling with our uncomely habits, we wish the Spirit to flood over our lives sweeping all our bad habits away with the current. Of course it does not happen that way. The Christian life is a narrow cross-bearing road.
As Christians we are mysteriously chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); yet the Spirit does not overpower our will but rather enters into relationship with it. Sanctification is learning to listen to the promptings of the Spirit. In most cases we don’t. Let me offer an example: Recently another minister and I were sharing experiences recently over lunch. One observation he shared was how folks who complemented him on his children’s behavior would then approach for parenting advice. However when he honestly articulated the values and disciplines that they did as parents, it immediately presented an uncomfortable challenge to their lifestyle and they suddenly passed on the advice. Inevitably many would pass on the advice once it challenged their current practice so deeply. Ironically they could see the good fruit of what my minister friend did, but the cost to their own comfort was too high.
This is precisely what we do to the Spirit. We are in a situation and the Spirit comes prompting us, pricking our conscience. It is not that we do not hear the Spirit, we do. We just don’t like what it is saying to us! So we conveniently brush the promptings off as a crazy voice in our head to be ignored. Basically if there is something telling you to do something really self-sacrificial, really challenging to your comfort, it is probably the Spirit.
The Spirit’s role is to point and direct us in the right way, not do it for us. The test of our faith is do we trust God and his goodness enough to listen? If we do not trust that God is that great and that good to offer us more blessings through obedience than through sin, we will not stop sinning. That means we are “self-seeking” rather than God seeking. As long as sin holds out more promise or pleasure to you than godliness, you will not change! The battle of faith takes place between your ears.
5. The Mind is the Wheelhouse of the Body — It is not that we lack desire to obey sometimes, but rather we try to do it in the flesh. We are called to renew the mind which is the wheelhouse and rudder of the body. The unfortunate problem is that our typical response is to over focus on our sin problem rather than get to its root. We fail to realize that our problem areas are actually symptoms, not the root cause. When we throw all our energy into correcting the symptom without addressing the cause, it becomes frustrating. You might be able to suppress a rash through topical creams and lotions a little, but if the root cause is actually a food allergy, no amount of topical care will cure the problem. The only way will be to identify the allergy and eradicate that food from your diet. The sins of the body are the same—they are symptoms of sin in the mind.
The mind is the place where all sin has its root. Whether you have an pornography problem, a lying problem, an infidelity problem, honesty problem etc, those things are just the symptoms—the fruit on the tree if you will. The root problem is within your heart and mind. Within your psyche you have established habits of entertaining what you ought not. Sin of heart and mind is what leads to the various and sundry sins that plague us in our bodily existence. No amount of self discipline will rid you of the symptoms if you do not rectify the root, the sins of the mind/heart. If you don’t get control of your wheelhouse, your boat will drift eventually crashing on the rocks.
This is precisely why so many Christians find spiritual disciplines so exhausting and disappointing. Their focus is on the symptoms and not on the root cause. When you keep trying to pick fruit off a sick tree, it just keeps budding and growing back more sick fruit. You must dig around the roots of your mind and heart, to make the root, trunk, branch, and fruit healthy. This takes time and patience, but will eventually yield the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).