Paul wrote to the church at Rome for people to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Romans 12:2) He doesn’t say “transform yourselves by renewing your minds.” Only God can change a mind. This explains why Paul wrote to Timothy that God has “not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) When God is present in a mind, it begins to flow with a new kind of thought. But there is a role for us to play. We can, by choice and by our actions, invite God to be present in our mind. Or we can close the door to him. It all depends on what kind of mind we want to cultivate. So let’s walk through three options.
1. Maybe your goal is debauchery, lechery, and depravity. It’s not hard to cultivate a mind like this. You can do it. Just be careful about what you do and don’t put into your mind. The moods that will dominate your life are resentment, anxiety, unsatisfied desire. The key to maintaining this inner life is found in Psalm 10:4, “In their pride the wicked do not seek him; In all their thoughts there is no room for God.” It’s not hard to cultivate this kind of mind. All you have to do is avoid contact with anything that would disrupt this flow of thoughts. Avoid Scripture, avoid wise and honest people who know you deeply, avoid honest self-examination, avoid contact with people in need who might move you to compassion. Mostly you have to make sure that in your thoughts there is no room for God.
2. If your goal is to have a mediocre spiritual life, you can do a half-and-half deal. The Bible talks about this. One writer speaks of a condition called “double-mindedness.” In the Jewish tradition it is called the yetzer hara, the wayward heart. Jesus himself refers to a church suffering from what he called “lukewarmness”; it is neither cold nor at the boiling point. It doesn’t experience any change of properties. This condition enables you to get the worst of all worlds: you experience a kind of chronic, low-level, hidden debauchery so you’re frustrated by all the fun you think that major-league debauchery professionals are having. Yet you get just enough spiritual-religious input so you have chronic, low-level guilt about the amount of depravity you are maintaining. How do you pursue this goal? Get sporadic spiritual input. Go to church sometimes. Read the Bible once in a while — but without clarity about how you want it to shape your mind. Pray sporadically — when you’re in trouble. But then mostly fill your mind with the things that everybody else in our culture fills their minds with. Just keep spiritual channel-surfing.
There is a third alternative.
3. Make your mind the dwelling place of God. The goal here is to have a mind in which the glorious Father of Jesus is always present and gradually crowds out every distorted belief, every destructive feeling, every misguided intention. You will know your mind is increasingly “set on God” when the moods that dominate your inner life are love, joy, and peace — the three primary components of the fruit of the Spirit. God is never more than a thought away. To make my mind a home for Jesus, I deliberately fill my mind with the kinds of things God says are important. Paul puts it like this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)