What Is the Renewing of the Mind?

A critical part of the sanctification process is putting off the old self and putting on the new, “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24). However, this transformation requires first being “renewed in the spirit of [the] mind” (Eph. 4:23). The Apostle Paul taught this same pattern in the book of Romans: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:1–2).

According to this passage, worldliness is primarily a mental disorder; that is, a misuse of the Christian mind. Instead of slothfully conforming our minds to think like the rest of the world, we as disciples of Christ must discipline ourselves to think God’s thoughts according to His Word.

The passage above from Romans begins with an urgent request in light of the mercy of God in bringing the redemption of Jesus Christ to sinners who are worthy of the wrath of God. Paul pleads, “present your bodies.” This passionate plea calls for the offering of the believer’s body to God for the service of holiness. This request is logical, because God owns us. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). This bodily sacrifice, unlike the offerings of the Old Testament, is living. However, in order for this sacrifice to be pleasing to God, it must meet His holy standard, which is both negative and positive.

God’s standard for His disciples is negative in that we must not be “conformed.” The word “conform” comes from a verb which, in this context, means “to form or mold after something.” This word is traditionally translated in the passive voice in Romans 12:2: “be conformed.” This passivity has been popularized by some translations, such as that of J. B. Phillips. However, the Greek form also allows for the middle voice, which would read, “do not conform yourselves.” The middle voice places the responsibility for personal godliness where it belongs—on the shoulders of the disciples who are called to be holy. Consequently, this verse is not only telling us to beware of the world conforming us into its mold, but it also discourages us from patterning ourselves after the world by adopting its values, priorities, and attitudes. Since Jesus died to deliver us from the world, to follow its standards is not an acceptable response to God’s call to holiness. According to Galatians 1:4, Jesus “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”

God’s standard for disciples is also positive: “be transformed.” The Greek word translated “transformed’ comes from the word from which we get “metamorphosis.” John Stott notes that this word

is the verb used by Matthew and Mark of the transfiguration of Jesus. And although the evangelists vary in saying that it was his skin, his face and his clothing which shone, Mark is clear that he himself “was transfigured before them.” A complete change came over him. His whole body became translucent, whose significance the disciples would not be able to understand, Jesus implied, until after his resurrection. As for the change which takes place in the people of God, which is envisaged in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 (the only other verses in which the word occurs), it is a fundamental transformation of character and conduct, away from the standards of the world and into the image of Christ himself.

This complete transformation into the image of Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). However, this work of the Spirit requires personal discipline on the part of the disciple, which begins with renewing the mind, “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.”

The word translated “renewing” means to cause something “to be new and better.” That is, renewing the mind means washing out the worldly ways of thinking which inhabit the Adamic nature by filling it with a new, fresh supply of God’s way of thinking as found in the Scriptures. The “mirror” in which we behold the Lord Jesus is the Word of God (see James 1:23). Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ sanctifies His church by means of “the washing of water with the word.” It is the disciple’s personal responsibility to meditate on the Word of God day and night (Ps. 1) and take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so that what does not glorify Christ may be rejected. Philippians 4:8 provides a great litmus test for all our thoughts: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell [think, meditate] on these things.” Biblical counselors will want to use this verse as a test in order to help their counselees learn to discern their thought patterns. For example, counselors may want to have those who are struggling with impure thoughts print the text of Philippians 4:8 in large letters, frame it, and set it on top of their televisions or computers so that God’s standard becomes the guide for what is viewed. This is merely one example of the use of Scripture to confront existing thought patterns. This discipline of renewing the mind will lead to the promised reward—the full approval of the will of God, that which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

[Excerpted from the book, Counseling One Another]

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