Can We Really Have the Mind of Christ?

“Do not be children in your thinking.”

It almost feels blasphemous to say. Who are we to suggest that we think the thoughts of the Son of God, that we share a mental fortitude with the pre-eminent Christ? But here is a divine promise. When Christ saves us, he saves us from more than sin and spiritual death. He saves us to a transformed life, with no aspect left behind—not even our minds.

 

The church was in shambles. Jealousy and division ran rampant among its people. Reports of sexual misconduct began to circulate. This body of believers seemed to be racing downhill towards disaster—until they received a letter from a mentor and friend.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church is one of his most scathing in all the New Testament. He addresses a host of issues going on among them. Near the end of his letter, he urges them, “Do not be children in your thinking” (1 Cor. 14:20).

Here you may conjure an image of Paul before the Corinthians at the end of his rebuke, beginning to boil over, and shouting to them, “Use your brain!” And yet, before launching into the thrust of the letter, Paul confesses a surprising truth that belongs to all of God’s people: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

It almost feels blasphemous to say. Who are we to suggest that we think the thoughts of the Son of God, that we share a mental fortitude with the pre-eminent Christ?

But here is a divine promise. When Christ saves us, he saves us from more than sin and spiritual death. He saves us to a transformed life, with no aspect left behind—not even our minds.

More Than Knowing

Paul wrote much about Christians possessing a transformed mind. Perhaps the most well-known passage is found in the beginning of Romans 12:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Romans 12:1–3).

How do we experience this “renewal of mind” Paul speaks of and receive the “mind of Christ”? From the outset, we should recognize that what Paul means is more than head knowledge and mental assent. There were plenty of bright theologians in Jesus’ day called Pharisees, who he considered worthy of scorn. To have a renewed mind, then, is so much more than what we know.

The opening of Romans 12 presents a distinct section in the letter, with chapter 11 ending with a sort of doxology, and the “therefore” of Romans 12:1 seeming to reach back as far as the letter’s introduction. The first eleven chapters of the letter are some of Paul’s richest doctrinal writing of all, a systematic theology primer.

But the fact that the letter does not end there should be enough evidence that Paul’s vision of a renewed mind is more than academics and book smarts. The final five chapters of the letter (Rom. 12–16) explain how we apply the earlier truths in Romans into all of life, taking them from the head to the heart and the hands.

And to begin that section, Paul grounds the discussion in the image of a renewed mind.

The Mind of Culture

In his book The Mind of the Spirit, theologian Craig Keener draws a helpful contrast between the “debased mind” of humanity in Romans 1 and the “renewed mind” of God’s people in Romans 12. When we dig a little deeper into these chapters, we see just how different the mind of culture is from the mind of Christ through a few key contrasts.

In the mind of culture, wisdom is subjective, something you muster up for yourself. Paul says of such people, “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). There is no gratitude because the wisdom of the revelation of God is not seen as a gift. Rather, “They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). They have fallen into a religious perversion that takes the revelation of God for granted, which begins the rapid descent into idolatry (Rom. 1:23).

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