“What is ‘the renewing of the mind?'”
Ro. 12:2 tells us we are to be transformed (“converted”–changed in form) by the renewing of our minds. Here Paul is picking up a theme he established in Ro. 1. There he mentions in four places how twisted, corrupt, deceived, in a word “fallen” the natural minds of humanity are. As such they are unreliable vehicles to receive and process “the truth” as revealed by God through his Christ-centered plan of redemption. Paul tells us elsewhere that “the natural mind can’t understand the things of God.” Therefore these fallen minds must be substantially altered–made “new” in fact–so that humanity can both understand and apply divine truth to the way we live life. The place of the mind is key here.
But so we can see this clearly, let me digress for a moment and explain how I understand the process of God’s power coming to us and saving us.
God is Spirit. When salvation is initiated in us, His Spirit touches our spirit with “eternal life,” conveyed to us by His Spirit. Our spirit is our “innermost being”–the core of our “inner man,” our “hearts.” So when God saves us, something deep within our beings comes alive with God’s life. And though this new life has not yet permeated the whole of our life, we do feel (know) this profound inward change. And immediately the life within our spirit starts to flow over into our “souls”– our created selves, our personalities–the unique mix of will, emotions, and mind that makes us distinctly individual creations. (Those believers who have received new life in their spirits but still have souls that have not yet come under the Spirit’s control are called “carnal” (or “soulish”) in Scripture.)
How the life from our spirits flows out and into all the elements of our soul comes primarily through the mind. A miraculous new thing starts to happen: old patterns of thinking are replaced by new thoughts flowing from the Holy Spirit into our minds. We start to “see” and comprehend these new patterns of thought, which often include personal directives from the Lord. I remember realizing, very early after Christ encountered me, that frequently I was being “talked to” by thoughts that flowed gently but firmly into my mind. It was amazing–so different from my own overly complex, often garbled way of thinking. I came to realize that this was the Holy Spirit talking to me, and as He was doing so, my mind was being used as it was designed by God to be used–as an open receptacle for the thoughts of God instructing, guiding, or simply conversing with me throughout my daily life.
This process of our minds being used to “receive” the thoughts of God is, I believe, one huge way our minds are “renewed,” and through which we are “transformed.” Scripture tells us that those who are “led” by the Spirit are the children of God. So this inward mental phenomenon of “receiving” the thoughts of God into our own thoughts is foundational to the Father-child relationship of conversational interaction that is at the heart of genuine Spirit-empowered Christianity.
The more traditional understanding of how our minds are renewed is also applicable to us. Regular reading/study/meditation on/dialoguing about/hearing teaching on the Scripture saturates our thinking processes in the patterns of God’s truth–His nature and His ways. This is basic training in right moral living that is a fundamental part of our maturation in discipleship. Through this sanctifying process our minds learn and believe God’s truths in Scripture, so that our desire structure (will) and our emotions adjust into alignment with His will as well. Being regularly “in the word” is a lifelong voluntary discipline that helps keep our souls centered in God and His truth, which results in transformed, kingdom living.
So starting from deep within us–our hearts, our spirits–this Scripture-centered focus plus the Spirit-led focus described above work together to renew our minds. This renewal of our minds results in the renewal of our wills and our emotions as well, which produces in us total transformation more and more into conformity not to the world, but to the image of Christ.
Next entry: Are the seven gifts in Ro.12 innate creational gifts that all people possess, or are they spiritual gifts given by God to the redeemed to build up others in the kingdom of God?