Renewal of the worldly mind

Monday 8 August

Renewal of the worldly mind – Discipleship Health

with John Risbridger

It’s great to be with you at New Horizon. It’s our first time and we’re loving the event and what God is doing here.

I love to run, and a few weeks back I was running with an old friend who is a senior Doctor in Nottingham. It was a gentle pace and we were talking non-stop for 90 minutes and, as middle-aged men do, we had a wonderful time putting the world to rights. He told me a fun fact: the ability to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or more is one of the best indicators of survival chances for the next ten years! But it’s also a determinant of good health – i.e. if you keep your balance in good shape you actually increase your life expectancy. He’s a doctor so it must be true!

What intrigued me though, was how this one very specific thing– can you balance on one leg for 20 seconds or not – is hugely powerful – both as an indicator of health and as a determinant of health.

In the same way, the state of our minds is a specific thing but according to the Bible, it is powerful in the Christian life. A darkened mind, Paul says in Ephesians 4, is an indicator of spiritual ill-health. But in Romans 12 a renewed mind is a key determinant of spiritual health, a means of transformation. If your mind is being renewed, your life is being changed.

Ideas matter. How we think matters. Our minds matter.

Way back in 1972 John Stott wrote a little book called ‘Your Mind Matters.’ He said, “God made us in His own image, and one of the noblest features of the divine likeness in our capacity to think.” But in Stott’s view, the Christian world risks elevating religious ritual above rigorous thinking; social activism above theological reflection; and religious experience above biblical teaching.

In 1994, Os Guinness wrote “Fit bodies; fat minds”, challenging us that we have become more obsessed with our ‘abs and cardio’ than with obeying Jesus’ first and greatest commandment, to love God with… our minds. So I’m excited that we are looking at the Renewed Minds at NH this year!

In the Bible, ‘the mind’ includes the intellect but it is much more than just the intellect. It’s more about the way we think and the attitudes that shape our thinking than just our raw processing power. We need Christian academics but it is not just an issue for an elite intelligentsia.

And this week we’re going to see that the renewing of our minds impacts everything; it cultivates holy lives, contributes to good mental health, helps us deal with doubt and crisis, expands missional imagination; and, most of all, takes us on a journey of transformation towards becoming like Christ, so that increasingly we can say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 that we have the mind of Christ.

So let’s dive into the text and see first:

The renewed mind as key to whole life worship Romans 12:1-2

What is the renewed mind?

That word ‘renew’ is freighted (laden) in the New Testament because the whole Bible story ends up with everything in earth and heaven made new/renewed. That’s the great cosmic mission of God, and at the heart of that cosmic renewal, according to Romans 8, is the renewal of our humanity itself, restoring us to be all that we were created to be. As God’s sons and daughters we stand in the new creation to reign with Him.

So fundamentally, the renewal of our minds is about our minds becoming tuned in to that future, becoming conditioned to the life of the Kingdom of God – His reign of justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit – which will come in its fullness when Jesus returns. It is future oriented.

But we need to be clear that this isn’t just learning some rules of how to live and trying a bit harder to follow them. That is the spirit of religion and we default to that. That whole idea is totally foreign to the book of Romans, which teaches that, by itself, the law lacks the power to change the human heart and that power is only to be found in the ‘new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7:6).

So, the renewing of our minds is a work of the Holy Spirit within us, who changes our hearts to beat with the rhythm of the future, with the rhythm of the Kingdom of God.

So Romans 8:5, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

In other words the change in our thinking is linked to a change of our hearts. The Holy Spirit aligns our desires with God’s own desires, He internalises God’s will and wisdom within our hearts so that the very way we think, the values that shape our whole worldview change.

That’s where Paul lands in v2b, “then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good pleasing and perfect will.” Not just having all the right answers. Your whole way of thinking will be transformed so that you will become increasingly able to test and approve what God’s will is.

It’s very close to what Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied about how the new covenant would bring a transformation in our hearts. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33); “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-7). This is the promise of the new Covenant in the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what we are talking about when we are talking about the renewal of our minds.

So the contrast we often make between ‘head knowledge’ and ‘heart knowledge’ doesn’t really work so well here.

The heart in Hebrew thought was not so much the seat of the emotions and feelings… as it was the seat of the intellect, will and intention. You think in your heart, and your heart shapes your character, choices and decisions”

Chris Wright

So this week we’re not aiming to learn a few more facts to make us slightly cleverer Christians; we’re looking for a work of God among us, that deep inside-out change, shaped by the word of God and nurtured by the Spirit of God and bringing transformation at the core of our beings.

How do our minds get renewed?

There is a negative and a positive in v2: the negative is about resisting the attritional influence of a world in rebellion against God – not just its behaviours, but its values, its idolatries and its attitudes.

And the positive is to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. And that is both a command and a passive – in other words the renewing of our minds is a work of the Spirit of God in us (so passive), but we are responsible to learn to attentiveness to His voice, by meditating on Scripture and being responsive to His presence. We are responsible to nurture this transformation by dwelling on His beauty and contemplating His glory.

Why is it significant?

Because this is how we grow as whole life worshippers, which is the key idea of these verses. Read v1 – and feel how tangible this is – offering our bodies not just our lives in some vague ethereal way but our 24/7 flesh and blood, concrete daily existence being for the pleasure and praise of God! And it turns out that the key to offering our bodies in worship to God is the renewing of our minds by the word and Spirit of God. Otherwise our activism becomes moralistic religion. It is meant to be rooted in and growing out of this deep work of God in us when He is renewing our minds.

I think these verses are like a heading to the rest of Romans so that the impact fans out into all of life: our attitudes to ourselves and to our gifts (3-8) our relationships, our homes, conflict; our attitude to the state and the future (Romans 13); to dealing with difference in the church (Romans 14); and to cross cultural mission (Romans 15).

So the renewal of our minds transforms the whole of life into worship as we live it all for the pleasure of God. I think that is a beautiful way to live. And that colours, enriches and sanctifies everything! Changing a nappy can be worship; creating wealth can be worship; engaging in politics can be worship; writing accounts can be worship; caring for a sick person can be worship, running can be worship, making art can be worship.

Even their seemingly secular works are a worship of God and an obedience well-pleasing to God.

Martin Luther

What a great way to live! And it begins with the renewing of our minds.

The renewed mind as key to deep change

(Ephesians 4:17-32)

Straight after university I got a place on the grad scheme for training NHS managers and we got to engage with the senior managers in our area. On one occasion a few of us were travelling with one of the CEOs and we were quizzing him about managing change. “You can’t expect to change what people think or believe,” he said, “but you can expect people to change their behaviour.”

Well maybe that’s why the NHS has run into such problems! For sure, it’s the exact opposite change strategy from the one God wants us to pursue in our live which begins with changing what we think and believe and then works out into change of behaviour.

Because the change God wants is not just behavioural change (which rarely lasts anyway) but deep change from a change in our thinking. What Ben Stuart shared on this last night was absolutely brilliant. And Ephesians 4 is deeply in tune with all he said.

Deep change: the challenge of the mind (17-21)

So according to Paul the problem with our humanity is rooted in problems in our thinking. But if the problem is in our ‘thinking’ that’s where the solution must lie. And this gospel truth (23) made them new ‘in the attitude of their minds’.

A few years ago I had some brilliant counselling during a period of depression, which I’ll say a bit more about tomorrow. Part of what it helped me see was that behind each of my disordered emotions, decisions or actions was a way of thinking which had formed that emotion/decision/action.

And gradually I understood that I could only change the surface stuff of emotions/decisions/actions by identifying that underlying thinking that was feeding it all. And having identified it then to challenge it and learn to think differently – which in my case was a lot to do with thinking I needed people’s approval.

It is not just approval. It can be patterns of perfectionist thinking, or controlling thinking. Challenging these deeply ingrained patterns of thinking with the truth about God pushes back on the disorders emotions. And Paul is saying something very similar – not just about disordered emotions but about transformation of disordered lives. Deep change happens by addressing the problem of the mind.

Deep change: the pattern of transformation (22-24)

And the key issue is the issue of identity and how we think about who we are. So there was an ‘old me’ before I came to Christ. But now there is also a ‘new me’, that began to exist the moment I put my trust in Jesus. And this new me is… “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”.(v24). Wow! But which is the real me?” The old me which has died with Jesus or the new me made alive by His Holy spirit? It has to be the new me!

But every time I say “I have a bad temper and so I treat people roughly – I’m just like that, I’ll never change”, I’m saying the real ‘me’ is the ‘old me’. But that can’t be right. God is not like this old self. The new you was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Every time we say “I am addicted to pornography. It’s wrong but it’s just me, I can never change,” we’re saying the old me is the real me. The new me isn’t like that because God isn’t like that.

There is nothing Satan wants more, than to hard wire your brain to think the ‘old you’ is the real you, because if he wins that battle for your mind, he has won the whole battle: you’ll never change.

It gets applied in this simple pattern of transformation in 22-4.

Put off your old self (22) 

I won’t be defined by my past any longer; it has no rights over me because it was crucified with Jesus” and, as Ben was explaining so helpfully, take steps to cut out its influence from your life – a filter on your phone; a habit of breathing slowly before you shoot your mouth off; an unhealthy relationship you bring to an end, etc. But you won’t get deep change if you stop there 

Be made new in the attitude of your minds (23)

Identify the idols of the mind, the way of thinking that feeds the behaviours of your old self and challenge it with the truth of the gospel, asking the Holy Spirit to bring your deep thinking into line with the gospel.

So e.g. instead of “I have to be perfect to be approved”; “God doesn’t accept me on the basis of my performance but on the basis of the finished work of Christ.”

Or for guys instead of building relationships with women based on objectifying them to gratify your desires, “Holy Spirit I want to build relationships of honour, trust and deep respect with the women in my life – not using them for my selfish ends, but celebrating their gifts and seeing them flourish into all God made them to be.” 

Put on the new self 

Embrace the truth that the new you is the true you and so accept who you really are as a child of God in Christ, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. So the true me is not a slave of anger, lust, approval, the need for control etc. It’s in Christ and like God! Wow.

And to this new self, sin isn’t being authentic; it’s a denial of who I truly am! And obedience isn’t repressive; it is being who I truly am! That’s a game changer.

Deep change: the specific realities (25-32)

So v25-32 give five worked examples of how this stuff lands in lived experience.

Truth in conversation (25)

Resolution in conflict (26-7)

Sharing in the community (28)

Grace in conversation (29-30)

Forgiveness in community (31-32)

John Risbridger serves as Minister and Team Leader at Above Bar Church in city centre Southampton. He is also a trustee of the UK Evangelical Alliance which he serves as Chair of Council, and has a long association with the Keswick Convention. Bible teaching and whole life mission lie at the heart of John’s work, alongside a long term interest in the theology and practice of worship (leading to writing “The Message of Worship” within the IVP Bible Speaks Today series). He is married to Alison who works closely with him in ministry, and teaches English to adult speakers of other languages. 

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