I recently saw a Facebook post from a young man who spoke of passionately pursuing the Presence of God. While such a pursuit is not only admirable, but crucial to the growing Christian, it was how he was going about it that troubled me. He spoke of “bypassing his mind” in order to “live out of his spirit.” This got me to doing some serious thinking about thinking!
Early in my Christian walk, I was taught that humans are comprised of three parts: body, soul and spirit. As I read the Bible, however, I noticed that soul and spirit are sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture and deduced that we may have simply two parts: physical and spiritual. Then I wondered what Jesus meant by His four-faceted command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and why he distinguished these from each other.
I’ve also pondered what Paul meant by being “in the flesh” as opposed to “in the spirit” and the meaning of his oft-quoted seeming spiritual schizophrenia in Romans 7. Then there is our will, emotions and Paul’s “old nature/new nature” language. Now we’re approaching 6 or 7 parts!
In seeking to understand the biblical writers, I have wondered if they (or God) ever intended us to dissect the human personality like a frog in a biology classroom and define it into oblivion! Maybe I am simply a human “being” and not like a multilayered Russian matryoshka doll leading me to dig deeper and deeper in order to find the “real” me. Am I to think of myself broken up into hermetically sealed compartments distinct and unconnected from each other? How many Dannys are running around in there ?!
Does the Mind Matter?
Returning to our original question about gray matter, consider the following from Prov. 2:1-5:
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”
Solomon goes on to say in Prov. 4:7:
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”
Talk about passionately pursuing God! Take a look at the actions in these passages: “accept,” “store up,” “turn your ear,” “apply your heart,” “call out,” “cry aloud,” “look,” “search,” “understand,” “find” and “get” — THOUGH IT COSTS YOU EVERYTHING!!!
Following Solomon’s wisdom, Paul spoke of being renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph. 4:23) and being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2). He also listed six virtues and told us to “let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8) and after giving some instructions to young Timothy encouraged him to “think on these things” (2 Tim. 2:7).
The bottom line is all true Christians want to sin less and love Jesus more, but how do we do this? Jesus said our love for Him is measured by our obedience to Him (Jn. 14:15, 21) so our will must be involved, which is also true of loving our enemies, regardless of our feelings toward them (Matt. 5:44). But what about our emotions, our “passions”? Are we to suppose that we can think our way to holiness or that loving God consists of simply a succession of one cold, hard moral choice after another? How do we “draw near”( Jas. 4:8; Heb. 10:22) to a God who is everywhere? Or, as one rather cerebral Bible scholar once challenged me, “How can you get closer to God than being “in Christ?” Methinks this thinker was thinking too much!
I am not a big fan of allegorizing Scripture but I must joyfully conclude that the bride/bridegroom metaphor throughout the Bible and the Song of Solomon suggests some degree of “intimacy” with God. Tozer suggested that “nearness is likeness.”
Church history is full of sincere people who have said in one way or another, “there’s got to be more than this.” Early medieval monks made wholehearted attempts at “crucifying the flesh” while they slept on beds of nails, wore coarse clothing, or walked around on their knees. Some Reformers said that the key lies in the need to “consider yourselves dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11). The Pentecostals say we need the power of God. Wesley’s Methodists practiced various “methods” of seeking God revolving around fasting, prayer and spiritual discipline. The Keswick Movement in the UK spoke of the need for a spiritual crisis to ready us for the promised land of God’s Heart.
It has been said that we can miss heaven by 18 inches (heart to head) which is, of course, true if we have some sort of cerebral mental ascent to the truths of Christianity and have never had a transformation within our lives or in our “heart.” However, the biblical writers wanted to convey that the mind and rigorous thinking has much to do with living a “spiritual” life. This applies to all of the above paths to purity.
Furthermore, if we are serious about discipling nations we must present reasons for faith and answers to the questions of our generation (1 Pet. 3:15). We must resist non-biblical dichotomies — Spirit/truth; physical/spiritual; head/heart; corporate/individual; evangelism/social action; sweet bye and bye/raw here — that split our thinking.
As my friends from Asia like to remind me, life is not like a frozen dinner neatly divided up into distinct, neat compartments of entrée, rice/potatoes, vegetable and dessert, but more like a curry stew. It’s all mixed together. All of life is to be under the lordship of Christ. Now that’s something to get passionate about!