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Mind Mapping ‘Stinking Thinking’ – Thoughts On How To Change Your Mind

May 7, 2012

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The noetic effect of sin means our thinking can be stinking at times.

Man, born in the image of God, fell into sin.

His fall broke the purity and clarity of the mind God gave him.

He became a walking dichotomy:

God’s creation, but distorted in every way.

One of the ways he became distorted was in his mind.

Part of what alienation from God means is our minds are not right.

Just because a person may know who God is, it does not mean his thinking is inline with God. The worst case we see of this in Scripture are the demons (James 2:19). Having knowledge of God does not guarantee right thinking, which should lead to right faith (Romans 10:17).

Even after we become regenerated and are made right with God, our thinking will still lag behind. Part of the idea implied in progressive sanctification is our thinking will become more and more inline with how God thinks. The implication is our thinking is still not completely right.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Romans 1:23 (ESV)

Noetic effect means poor thinking

The noetic effect of sin means our minds were darkened, futile, and foolish. Paul knew this, as we see in the text above. We also see him giving us some practical advice in Philippians 4:8–laying out a format to help us change our thinking.

Most Christians know their thinking is off. I’m not sure how aware they are of the depth of wrong thinking and/or how to correct wrong thinking. The goal for them–and me too–is to correct poor Bible knowledge and application.

The more precise you are with your theology and its application, the more holy you can be, the more sound you will think, and the more harmony you will experience with others.

While right knowledge and the application of the right knowledge is not everything, it is a big thing. Our faith is altered and corrected in proportion to how we think about God and His Word.

In a typical counseling session part of my job is to help a person correct poor biblical thinking. They may know God, but they are usually not aware of how their thinking has been altered by various negative shaping influences.

I’m not only talking about the foundational shaping influence of not being born again–their previous condition before regeneration, but many other shaping influences which have shaped their minds before and after salvation.

The most obvious influence are the person’s parents. Other influences are their genetic capacities and competencies like IQ. Also, almost all the people I counsel have had some kind of former religious experience. Sadly, this is one of the most powerful and negative effects on a person who struggles with poor theological thinking.

On our poll page you can look at a list of shaping influences and “vote” on the one you believe has been the greatest influence in your life. I’m not altogether thinking about a positive experience. Whether negative or positive, I’m curious to see what has been the primary shaping influence in your life.

Believing, but not really believing

One of the most powerful shaping influences is fear. Fear is the most oft-repeated appeal in the Word of God. Our Father does not want us to fear anymore. He knows we’re all susceptible to fear in many ways.

One of the more common ways a person fears, at least at some point of their spiritual journey with God, is their confidence in God’s Word regarding their salvation. Almost all of us have doubted whether we were genuinely saved.

This is because our hearts were darkened, futile, and foolish. Then God saved us. Even as children of God our minds were not perfected. We were mentally lagging behind in our understanding of the perfect righteousness we received from Christ.

Part of the lagging behind typically means we wonder or even doubt whether God really did save us. In such cases our thinking needs to be changed and brought inline with the Word of God, the new authority over our minds.

I have created a fictional case study below, though I could apply it to scores of people I have counseled, about a person who doubted his salvation. His name is Kelly. In addition to doubting, he came to me struggling with depression and discouragement.

The more we talked the more I realized these were symptoms and not the real thing. Underneath is behavioral responses of depression was a heart of fear. But that was not the bottom of it either.

With more questions and extended conversations, it became apparent Kelly had a culprit that motivated his fear. Kelly was an unbelieving believer (Mark 9:24). Kelly was not completely sure God was satisfied with him, based on the perfect works of Jesus Christ.

Shaped by an approval drive

Kelly came from a legalistic religious culture. It was a fear-based culture of do’s and don’ts, lists, and rules. He practiced his religion with a genuine love for God, but he never could shake this poor theological premise of law keeping.

His religious experience was layered on top of a poor relationship with his daddy. Kelly’s dad was quiet in speech, passive in action, but never withheld his displeasure in his son when he felt Kelly needed correction.

Basically, Kelly interacted with his dad very little, unless he messed up. Then he “got fussed at.” Experiencing love, grace, mercy, and appreciation from another human being was a foreign idea for Kelly.

He brought that kind of thinking into his religious experience–his rule-based religious experience. As you might suspect, being part of a religious movement that placed high marks on performance was perfect for Kelly.

Though his dad never would appreciate him for his behavior, his religious culture did. This is where Kelly excelled. Kelly received a steady diet of rules and regulations through the preaching, which he digested and imitated with zeal.

The more rules he obeyed, the more he felt appreciated. He was told which Bible to read, what kinds of clothes to wear, what types of music to listen to, what places were acceptable to go, what books were permissible to read, and what churches were approved to attend.

He loved it. It worked. He was right with God and man. All he had to do was “hit the marks,” as he put it. Kelly’s religion was ready-made for a person who had a strong desire to please.

The internal awkwardness

He was a quick study. He figured out the ropes and became a top-notch performer in his religious circle–but something was missing. On the inside, Kelly knew his thinking was off.

As he read verses about how his relationship with God was not based upon his works, he became confused. Though his religious culture affirmed a non-works, all of grace teaching, it was clear to him what he did or did not do really mattered. He told me,

How could my works not matter to God when they were the basis for having a relationship with my religious friends?

If I watched the wrong movie or listened to the wrong music or went to the wrong church, my approval rating among my friends tanked.

Without seeking to understand me or help me, they judged me and began to distance themselves from me.

If I did conform, I could enter back into their good graces. If I did not, I was shunned because they said I was a dangerous influence to their friends.

It is so hard to understand. Does God grade me this way? My friends were like my dad. I began to think God was this way too.

It was not long before Kelly’s relationship with God grew cold. In time he chucked his religion altogether and began living a licentious lifestyle. His former religious friends did what he expected them to do: they judged him and then separated from him.

In their minds they were justified in their response to him because they warned him his behavior would lead to sinful living. They affirmed Kelly’s poor thinking–obedience was the path to acceptance.

A crisis in faith

What his friends did not understand was their religion assisted Kelly toward his crisis in faith. In Kelly’s mind his father, religion, friends, and God were all the same: right behavior was a condition for relationship.

  • His dad made it clear: right behavior is a condition for relationship.
  • His religion made it clear: right behavior is a condition for relationship.
  • He assumed in his mind God would only love him if he behaved a certain way.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

By the time Kelly came to me he was spiritually distant, as well as angry and cynical. God was marginalized in his mind. Trust was not a possibility. It was a trifecta of rejection: religion, family, and God–all based on his performance.

Kelly was depressed and discouraged. He had lost hope. We spent hours hammering out a new theology. Though he came to me outwardly distant, it became apparent early on he wanted help. He was in search of the true and living God. He needed a change of mind.

Mind mapping salvation

(See Attachment: Philippians 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. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

I wanted Kelly to have a mind change regarding his acceptance by God. I wanted him to see it was not based on his behavior, but on the behavior of the Son of God.

Kelly’s behavior would never merit a proper and pleasing relationship with the Father, but Christ’s behavior would do that perfectly. I wanted Kelly to properly understand the Gospel.[1]

During one of our counseling sessions I began to map out Philippians 4:8 for Kelly. I wanted him to practically see how to move from bad thinking to biblical thinking. You can actually follow this process with any bad thought you have. Here are the steps I mapped out for Kelly:

Thoughts – What is your unbiblical thought? What is it about your thinking that needs a biblical adjustment? Write it down on a piece of paper. This is represented on the far left of the mind map–the blue oval that has the words My Thoughts written in it.

The particular thought I’m interacting with in this mind map is in the green rectangular box–The thought I am having is whether I’m a Christian or not. You can run any wrong thought through the Philippians 4:8 filter.

Filter – Once you have established the thought you want to change, you now have to see if it fits any of Paul’s six categories: Is it true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and/or commendable?

An unbiblical thought will not make it through this grid. Therefore, in order to press your thought all the way through to the far right of the mind map–Now I can think on it–you’re going to have to adjust your thinking according to the Word of God

Scripture – For Kelly I had to find verses that were true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable regarding this idea of salvation. His thought of losing his salvation was none of these ideas Paul is teaching us.

As you can see I pulled seventeen verses or passages that spoke to this idea of being saved, getting saved, how to be saved, who saves you, and what is required to be saved.

All of the verses affirmed you cannot lose your salvation, it was not based on a person’s works, but was a total reliance on the works of another. Because Scripture is our authority through which we filter our thoughts–see the black box at the top of the mind map–Kelly had a new way of thinking.

All of the verses were either true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. This kind of biblical thinking was a far cry from how Kelly had been thinking.

Excellent and worthy – Based on the authority of God’s Word, Kelly had something to think on that was excellent and worthy of praise. This is represented in the mind map by the two black ovals on the right side of the page.

Think – As you can see, Kelly moved from the left side of the page with his wrong thinking. He began to push through the Philippians 4:8 grid and as he did, his thinking began to adjust according to God’s Word.

By the time he made it to the right side of the page, his thoughts had changed from how they had been shaped because of the fall, bad parenting, and poor religion, to a new kind of shaping by the Word of God.

He repented of his stinking thinking and began to think like an informed biblicist. You can do this too. If you’re not familiar with God’s Word, it may serve you to find someone who is, so they can help you adjust whatever in your thinking needs adjusting.

If you are comfortable enough to do this alone, then go for it. My only appeal would be for you to share how God is changing your thinking. Also feel free to print this mind map and this article so you can interact with both more effectively.

(See Attachment: Philippians 4:8.PDF)