The Process of Renewing the Mind (Part 1)

July 20, 2016

Jeff Forrey

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Jeff Forrey

BCC Staff: This post is part one of a two-part series on how we can guide counselees in the critical task of renewing the mind. In this first installment we are introduced to an insensitive husband and the pastor who has the privilege of helping him figure how he needed to change.


Jeremy: An insensitive husband

Pastor Mark found himself becoming frustrated as he talked with Jeremy about what was going on in the young man’s life. Jeremy had recently married Hannah. Jeremy and Hannah dated in college, but seven months into their marriage, Hannah was upset with Jeremy’s behavior. He had become more “inconsiderate” toward her and more “insensitive” to her emotionally.

Here is an example of what she meant: Jeremy had gone out with some friends from work to celebrate a milestone birthday. He assumed he would be home before Hannah got home from work, so he did not try to contact her about this outing with his friends. She got home and made one of his favorite meals—which she had said she’d do earlier that morning. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s outing went much longer than he anticipated; he lost track of time and arrived home an hour and a half after she had set the table.

Why doesn’t Jeremy get it?

In a few previous conversations with the couple, Pastor Mark had shared with Jeremy what the New Testament says about love. Mark stressed how love is not merely a feeling, but an action. Jeremy admitted that he was not sure what Pastor Mark had in mind, and Mark made some suggestions: be sure to say “I love you” each day; be sure to give Hannah a kiss before leaving for work; send her a card of appreciation occasionally. Jeremy took these suggestions and dutifully used them at home.

Hannah acknowledged that Jeremy had performed these actions, but she still said that Jeremy was “clueless” how to connect with her emotionally. He still did not seem to understand how to respond to her after she had a bad day at work or after her best friend moved out of state. “Why does he have to be so cold, Pastor?”

Jeremy had done what Pastor Mark recommended, but only what Pastor had recommended. Though willing to try Mark’s suggestions, he still failed to communicate to Hannah “I love you.” Pastor Mark could sense Hannah’s frustration and disappointment, and he was left wondering, “Why doesn’t Jeremy get this? How do I help him?”

Knowing the Bible vs. being transformed by it

In such cases we have to ask, Why is there a disconnect between what professing Christians know about the Bible’s content and what they do with the Bible’s content? One theme we find in the New Testament can help us answer this question. Paul mentions it in the familiar passage: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1–2, emphasis added).

I suggest that these inconsistencies in Jeremy’s life and other believers’ lives might result from not understanding how to participate in mind-renewal. Pastor Mark is understandably frustrated, but if he helps Jeremy understand the process of renewing the mind, he can assist the young man in making those connections between knowing what the Bible says and using what the Bible says to live a “transformed” lifestyle.

How Paul understood mind-renewal

Before I suggest some ways we can help people renew their minds, let’s look briefly at Romans 12:1–2 to be sure we understand what Paul means by “renewing your mind.” When Paul mentions the mind, he refers to thought processes used either in submission to God or in rebellion against God. In other words, for Paul, the mind is not morally neutral. That is why he urges believers not to be conformed to the world’s ways of thinking, but rather to submit to the transformation of their thinking so that it matches God’s will/purposes for us.

Renewing the mind depends on a relationship with the Holy Spirit

Earlier in Romans, Paul writes, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5 RSV). People’s relationship to the Holy Spirit or to the “flesh” (sinful nature) determines how they think about life and make decisions in their life.

Renewing the mind is something we submit to

When Paul describes what should happen in our lives, he does not say “renew your mind,” as if to imply it’s something we can do on our own. Instead he says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” implying that mind-renewal is a process we submit to. Based on what he says in Romans 8, it is clear that the active agent in the process of mind-renewal is the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, there wouldn’t be any mind-renewal as Paul understood it. Having said this, however, we would be misreading Paul if we conclude that mind-renewal is instant, easy, or unconscious. Paul instructs believers not to be conformed to the world’s ways of thinking, because this process will naturally occur unless they intentionally and continuously submit to the Spirit in the situations they face daily.

How the Spirit leads us in mind-renewal

The Holy Spirit is the active agent in renewing the mind—and His instrument is the Word of God. This is why the writer of Hebrews describes the Word of God as “living and active” (4:12 RSV) and ascribes the words of Scripture to the Holy Spirit (3:7, 10:15–17). When Paul mentions what the Bible is useful for—instruction, conviction, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)—he is implying that the Bible is the Spirit’s instrument for working in these ways in our lives.

Conclusion

With this foundation, in Friday’s post, I will suggest some ways that Pastor Mark can help Jeremy (and others) participate in the renewing of their minds.

Note: An earlier version of this series originally appeared on: http://www.careleader.org/teach-people-renew-minds (May 26, 2016).