Should Christians retrain their brains?
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
To adequately address this question this answer is quite long and divides into four parts, each of which should be studied in the order it appears below. It is recommended that you fully read all biblical texts mentioned. They are, after all, most important.
Part 1: What does the Bible teach about transformation?
The Bible speaks of three distinct aspects of transformation or renewal:
 The renewal that takes place at Christian conversion
This transformation is instantaneous and permanent. It is called being ‘born again’ or ‘regenerated’, and is something that is done by God and by God alone.
It is being born ‘again’ or ‘from above’ [John 3:3,5].
It is being born ‘of the Spirit’ [John 3:8]
It is being ‘born of God’ [John 1:13; 1John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18]
It is being ‘born again … through the living and enduring word of God’ [1Peter 1:23].
It is rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5].
This renewing work of God consists of both a change in or to us and a change in or to our relationship or standing with God.
The change in or to us
As a result of this work of God we who were previously rebellious are now repentant [Acts 5:31; 2Timothy 2:25].
As a result of this work of God we who previously did not believe in him now believe in him [Ephesians 2:8].
As a result of this work of God we who were previously ‘dead in transgressions’ [Ephesians 2:1,5] are now made ‘alive with Christ’ [Ephesians 2:5]. Because we have Jesus Christ we now have life whereas those without Christ do ‘not have life’ [1John 5:12]. We now have eternal life, having crossed over from death to life [John 5:24].
As a result of this work of God, we who were previously blind to the truth now can see the ‘light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ [2Corinthians 4:4-6]. What was previously impossible for us as ‘natural’ [that is unregenerate] humans is now possible because ‘God has revealed it to us by his Spirit’ [1Corinthians 2:6-16].
The change in or to our relationship or standing with God
As a result of this instantaneous, complete and permanent work of God the standing or relationship of the human with God changes from:
Prohibition to free, permanent access [Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 2:18]
Rejection to adoption as sons [Ephesians 1:5]
Enmity to reconciliation [Romans 5:10]
Alienation to peace [Colossians 1:20,21]
Culpability to forgiveness [Colossians 2:13,14]
Guilt to acquittal (justified) [Romans 4:5]
Cursed to redeemed [Galatians 3:10,13]
Condemnation to freedom from accusation [Romans 8:1; Colossians 1:22].
There is another God-given and God-driven instantaneous and permanent change that occurs at conversion [Ephesians 1:13] that is both a change in or to us and a change in or to our relationship or standing with God: that we who were previously ‘without God’ [Ephesians 2:12], are now not only reunited with God, but are also indwelt by God through his indwelling Spirit [John 14:15-23].
 The renewal that is on-going throughout the Christian life
From the point of initial conversion, at which all of the above changes are permanently wrought by God, God is engaged in transforming the believer. This progressive work, sometimes referred to as ‘progressive sanctification’, is never completed in this life. It is also a work in which the believer is personally involved, and in which believers, by their obedience or disobedience, have some impact on the rate and the degree of transformation that occurs. About this on-going renewal the Scripture teaches:
The agents of this on-going transformation are the Spirit of God and the Word of God:
2Corinthians 3:18 teaches that as we contemplate Jesus Christ the indwelling Holy Spirit is transforming us into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.
Colossians 3:10 teaches that the ‘new self … is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’.
Ephesians 5:18-22 describes the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer, which are roughly parallel to the description of the results of the Word of Christ in the believer in Colossians 3:16-17.
Galatians 5:22,23 list the ‘fruits of the Spirit’.
Ephesians 4:10-16 gives an extended description of the combined impact of the gifts of the Spirit to the church and the resultant teaching of God’s truth in the church – unity, stability and maturity.
1Thessalonians 2:13 teaches that the word of God ‘is at work in you who believe’.
The foundation of this on-going transformation (the basis from which it operates) is the permanent transformation already established at conversion by the work of God:
Romans 12:1 – ‘Therefore, I urge you in view of God’s mercy …’
Ephesians 4:1 – ‘… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received …’
Ephesians 5:1 – ‘… as God’s dearly loved children …’
Ephesians 5:8 – ‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light …’
Colossians 3:9,10 – ‘…you have taken off your old self … and have put on the new self …’
The motivation and example/pattern of this on-going transformation is the action and attitude of God that resulted in the permanent transformation established at conversion:
‘Love each other as I have loved you’ [John 15:12]
‘… forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ [Ephesians 4:32]
‘ … live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us’ [Ephesians 5:2]
This progressive work of transformation is the work of God, but it is a work in which he engages us. It is always his work, but he does not do it apart from our involvement.
Philippians 2:12,13: ‘… continue to work out your salvation … for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’
Hence we are warned against grieving and quenching the Spirit:
Ephesians 4:30: ‘And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’. This command is in the context of the kinds of words that come out of our mouths – words that destroy or words that build people up.
1Thessalonians 5:19: ‘Do not put out the Spirit’s fire’ – which is about our response to the word of God.
We are repeatedly reminded of our dependence on the Word of God and the need for submission and obedience to the Word or God:
Check these Scriptures:
Although we are involved co-operatively in it, this moral/spiritual transformation cannot occur apart from the activity of Word of God and the Spirit of God.
 The final transformation
1John 3:2 refers to a final transformation that takes place when Jesus Christ returns: ‘… we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ At that moment every element of moral imperfection that remains in us, every bit of sin that remains in us, every bit of doubt that remains in us, will be instantly removed. This final and complete transformation is also taught in:
Philippians 1:6: ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’
Jude 24: ‘To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault …’
On that day we will stand in God’s presence, not only with our sin forgiven, but with sin totally removed from our thoughts, words and actions. Until that day, although our sin is forgiven, we are still sinners who sin [1John 1:8-2:2].
This final transformation is entirely the work of God. It is he who on that day makes ‘all things new’ [Revelation 21:5].
Part 2: The human condition that makes the transforming action of God indispensable
 Human inability
The sovereign, pro-active and transforming work of God is necessary because the Bible teaches human inability -
Romans 3:10-18 sums up all that Paul has taught in the preceding two chapters, affirming that ‘there is no one who is righteous’, ‘there is no one who does good, not even one’ and describing the general inability of humans to do what is right and their common propensity to do what is wrong.
Romans 3:19,20 points out that ‘the law’ was never meant to be used as a check list to affirm our good, but rather to expose and define our bad – ‘through the law we become conscious of sin’.
In Romans 5:6 Paul defines our human condition as ‘powerless’, and further states that this is what we were when Christ died for us. In addition we were ‘sinners’ [verse 8] and God’s ‘enemies’ [verse 10]. God acted to rescue us when we were not only incapable of rescuing ourselves, but also opposed to being rescued by him.
In John 3:3 Jesus stated very clearly that unless we are ‘born again’ we cannot see the kingdom of God, and in 3:5, unless we are born again we cannot enter the kingdom of God. In both the ‘cannot’ translates the negative ‘ou’ followed the verb dunamai – which speaks of power and possibility. Jesus is stating the sheer impossibility of any human being seeing [that is understanding] the kingdom of God and entering the kingdom of God. Human mind and human effort simply do not have what it takes.
In John 15:5 Jesus taught ‘without me you can do nothing’. Again dunamai is the verb used. Jesus’ statement is strong: Without him, apart from him, it is not possible, it is not within our human power or ability, to do anything. Without him the only thing it is possible for us to do is ‘nothing’. Nothing at all.
In Romans 8:7 and 8 Paul, using the word ‘flesh’ to refer to the human being without God, states two impossibilities: the human being left to himself, does not and cannot submit to God’s law, and the human being left to himself, cannot please God. Again in both statements dunamai is the verb. It is simply not possible. It is not within the power of a person disconnected from God to submit to God’s law, and it is simply not within the power of that person to please God.
God knows that we are incapable of transforming ourselves at the deepest level. God knows that, left to ourselves we can never achieve the transformation that makes us acceptable to him. That is why transformation at the deepest level, the spiritual level, can only be done by God himself. Unless he does something we are forever lost, we are forever hopeless.
All of this raises serious doubts about the spiritual benefits of humans retraining their brains. But let us hold that question for a while.
 Human pride
We humans do not like this biblical assessment of us. We do not like to think of ourselves as powerless. We assume that we have ability, and we presume to debate God’s verdict that we are powerless. That human pride and self-exaltation which deceived us in Genesis 3 continues to deceive us. We do not like the idea that we have to depend on God. We like to think that we ‘can do it’.
This ‘you can do it’ lie permeates the history of mankind, including religious mankind.
The tower of Babel was built because of this lie of human ability and independence [Genesis 11:4].
The Greek philosopher, Plato, [BC 428-348] taught that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. That is, if there is something that we ought to do, we actually can do it.
Pelagianism, arising from the teaching of Pelagius, a moralist and theologian in the early fifth century, taught that there is a ‘natural, innate, human ability to attain salvation’. In other words, Pelagianism boldly affirms that we can be saved [become acceptable to God] by our own efforts without any divine intervention or assistance.
Rev. Charles Finney, 1792 – 1875, taught that the only thing that makes a person acceptable to God is ‘a repentance that implies a return to full obedience to the moral law’ [Systematic Theology, p402]. In other words, God won’t forgive or justify you unless you first fully obey his moral law. Not only can you do it, but you must do it, before God will save you.
Secular humanism, discarding belief in all things ‘supernatural’, affirms that human destiny is in human hands.
In the secular realm, various schemes are proposed whereby humans are persuaded that they have within their ability the power with which to improve their personal or corporate lives. Here we could mention such books and videos as ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’, ‘A Course in Miracles’ and ‘The Secret’. The last two of these bear similarity to the ‘creative visualization’ techniques of some Buddhist sects, and are popular ‘New Age’ self-improvement methodologies.
Is there any truth in these ‘you can do it’ concepts? At a secular and temporary level, yes. Various methodologies can and do, in a limited way, improve the earthly lives of some people. As self-management tools some of them, or some aspects of them, play a significant and valid role.
Are there any dangers in these methodologies? Yes, there are.
The help they provide is for this life only. They cannot bring us to God. They cannot remove the sin that separates us from God. They cannot secure eternity for us.
They are hampered by that human inability that we have already seen above. They cannot eradicate that intrinsic human imperfection and that intrinsic human powerlessness. Although they may generate a sense of personal achievement, that very sense of achievement can blind us to our true condition as God perceives it. What we achieve in this life by way of personal improvement hides from us our utter spiritual destitution. We see no need for God or for his intervention in our lives.
A further danger lies in the connection of many of these methodologies or programs to psychic or occult ideas. Their New Age/Eastern mysticism association reveals a religious element despite their secular veneer. This psychic/religious element takes the participant far away from the one true God revealed in the Bible.
A ‘Christianized’ version of creative visualization and positivity methods has been adopted by quite a large section of contemporary Christianity under the designations of ‘positive confession’, ‘word faith’ and ‘word of faith’. In this ‘Christianized’ version of visualization and positivity training these techniques have become a substitute for prayer, and faith in the power of our words of faith replaces faith in God. In clear contrast to Christ’s statement that ‘without me you can do nothing’, Christianized positivity teaching asserts that God can do nothing unless we enable him or release him by the force of our faith – for example: ‘God cannot do anything for you apart or separate from faith’ [Kenneth Copeland, Freedom from Fear, p11], where ‘faith’ means the force of our faith.
And this leads us directly to the ‘retrain your brain’ question in the Christian context.
Part 3: ‘Retrain your brain’
 The scientific fact of brain plasticity
Advocates of retraining or ‘rewiring’ your brain can be found in both secular and Christian contexts. The science used to support these programs is what is termed ‘brain plasticity’ or ‘Neuroplasticity’. These terms indicate the ability of the physical brain to change.
At a purely secular level, this concept that our brains can change offers some hope in the midst of our human despair. But even so there is some debate among scientists about what parts or what functions of our brains can be retrained. There is also significant disagreement about how much the way we think impacts our physical well-being. So to some extent the verdict is still out on just how much we can retrain our brains and how and how much such retraining of our brain can benefit us.
However, the basic fact that our brains can change is there. And this is probably the reason why such self-help methodologies as ‘the power of positive thinking’ or ‘creative visualization’ or ‘positive confession’ are effective for some people in some aspects of their lives, without any psychic, occult or divine involvement. The brain can and does change. Old habits can be discarded. New habits can be established. Old thought patterns can be removed. New thought patterns can be set in place. The old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is not applicable to human beings – we can effect changes in our lives by changing the way we think. The science of brain plasticity simply gives us scientific explanation of something we have always known.
 Is using the fact that our brains can change, by retraining our brains, good or bad?
Good. If retraining our brains can improve the human lot then, as far as it goes, knowing how to retrain our brain, or, as some put it ‘rewire’ our brain, is a good thing – just as advances in sewerage are a good thing, just as advances in medicine are a good thing, just as improving social justice is a good thing, just as many, many things in this world are ‘good’ things, as far as they go. Many ‘good’ things bring humans a measure of relief from the physical, emotional, mental and social impacts of the Genesis 3 fall. That bringing such relief is valid and permitted was clearly demonstrated when Jesus brought relief to the pain, hunger and disabilities of some of the humans he met on earth. It is also validated by the repeated Scriptural commands to be kind to the widow, orphan and stranger in their distress. Biblically, we are permitted, even commanded, to interfere with various impacts of the fall and by doing so to improve the lives of those around us.
Bad. But none of these good and valid things addresses the issue of human lostness. None of them addresses the issue of human separation from God. None of them overcomes the basic human inability to please God, to satisfy God’s holy standard. No matter how much we retrain our brain, we cannot undo that fundamental issue. We cannot reverse our sinfulness. We cannot undo the deepest and most serious impact of the fall.
Bad. The connection with eastern mysticism, and with psychic and occult belief systems and forces makes some retraining your brain methodologies out of bounds for the Christian.
Bad. Advocates of retraining your brain focus on the positive, encouraging people to think positive thoughts, stop thinking negative thoughts, and so on, with the intended result of a healthier, more peaceful, more productive life – with ‘good’ thoughts wired into your brain. But there is an obvious need for sustained continuity here – for just as positive thoughts will result in a good impact on our brains, so negative thoughts will result in a bad impact on our physical brains. Given the human inability affirmed by the Scripture, the long term potential for failure and the necessity for repeated applications of ‘retrain your brain’ techniques is undeniable. The human sinner, by biblical definition, cannot not sin. And cannot not fail. There will always be that deep human lostness. There will always be those negative thoughts, feelings and attitudes – the kind of thinking forbidden by God that destroys both the human and the human potential. There will always be the need to ‘retrain your brain’ – again, and again, and again …
An issue to be aware of: In its current popular ‘Christian’ expression the ‘retrain your brain’ concept reveals a disturbing association with several of the evidences of human pride listed above.
It reflects the Platonic affirmation that the ‘ought’ implies the ‘can’. Brain retraining videos and writing within the Christian context are littered with affirmations like ‘you can do it’, ‘you can change your own brains’, ‘you can rewire your own brain’. That such promises are made indiscriminately to believers and unbelievers alike indicates that, whatever retraining your brain is, you do not need God [Father, Son or Holy Spirit] to do it for you or even to enable you to do it. You can do it all by yourself [as long as you follow the steps provided by the retrain your brain teachers.]
It expresses the Pelagian view that humans are born good, denying the clear biblical perspectives about human inability listed in a previous section of this article. Consider these typical statements from a popular Christian ‘retrain your brain’ presenter:
‘There is nowhere the Bible says you are a mess …
‘People start off correctly, get exposed, wire this in, grow these evil things, conscience becomes corrupted, probabilities become actualities and dominate the thinking pattern, that is why bad people do evil stuff. This is evil, it is not normal. These people were originally good people, who rape babies, traffic girls, make child soldiers, etc …’
‘You are also created in His image and are therefore perfect, with the instilled knowledge of knowing right from wrong and the massive responsibility and gift of being able to choose (Ecclesiastes 7:29; Deuteronomy 30:19). So, it’s not who we are that is the problem; it’s who we have become through the choices we make.’
[Note: I struggled here with the question of whether or not to identify the speaker/writer of these three quotes, and have chosen not to, as an expression of God’s grace. My email conversation with this person’s PR indicates that these quotes from conference DVDs and a blog post do indeed reflect the theology held by this person.]
In these quotes there is a clear denial of the biblical teaching about human inability. Contrary to what is said in these quotes, the Bible does indeed teach that humans are a mess, as we have seen above. The only people who ‘were originally good people’ are Adam and Eve. The only people who were ‘perfect’ were Adam and Eve. That the image of God was seriously impacted by Genesis 3 is obvious in 2Corinthians 3:18 where we are taught that the Holy Spirit is gradually transforming us into that image. Something happened to the ‘image of God’ in Genesis 3 that altered it to such an extent that it has to be restored by the work of God, and it can only be restored in those in whom the Spirit of God has taken up residence. It cannot be restored by humans themselves, no matter how much they retrain their brains.
The changes that entered the world in Genesis 3, as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God make it very clear that something happened here that is far, far more than defective ‘wiring’ or distorted proteins or pathways in the physical brain. Alienation entered at every level – alienation from one’s self, alienation from other humans, alienation from God, alienation from the physical world, alienation from physical perfection and wholeness, and alienation from eternal life. While the first two of these may in a limited way be reduced by ‘retrain your brain’ techniques, the third and last require the death of Christ, and the other two are removed only in ‘the new heaven and the new earth’.
In addition, Deuteronomy 30:19, referenced in the quote above, is a very urgent command; and it is not about choosing or not choosing to retrain our brains or to rid our brains of bad or toxic thoughts, but about choosing between ‘life’ and ‘death’ by either choosing or not choosing God, that is, choosing between the true God and idolatrous gods. The context makes this indisputably clear. What the Bible describes as the ultimate, decisive, spiritual choice that determines our eternal destiny, the ‘retrain your brain’ applies to the multitude of choices the human being makes every day.
To state that the bad choices we have made is all that is wrong with us and is all that has caused the state we are in, is to deny the fundamental human sinfulness taught by the Bible. It gives a false hope, deeming possible what the Bible clearly teaches is impossible.
Retraining your brain is being promoted within the same areas of Christianity that align unashamedly with ‘positive confession’, ‘word faith’ and ‘word of faith’ concepts, and is in these contexts viewed as an expression of and a scientific validation of ‘word of faith’ beliefs and practices. It has the approval of people and organizations publicly aligned with ‘Word of faith’ theology, such as Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Marilyn Hickey, Phil Pringle, Sid Roth, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Joyce Meyer, Oral Roberts University and Hillsong. This strong association and identification with, and affirmation of, ‘word of faith’ theology immediately distances some ‘Christianized’ ‘retrain your brain’ theology from historic, mainstream evangelical Christianity, and also from classic Pentecostalism. This association raises obvious questions about the biblical integrity of some aspects of its teaching and its use of Scripture.
Part 4: Does the Bible teach we should retrain our brains?
In this section, the focus is on this question: If we put aside the platonic, Pelagian and Word of Faith expressions of retraining your brain, are there any biblical perspectives or commands that could be rightly understood to reflect or assume the scientific fact of brain plasticity?
We will look at two important biblical concepts and endeavour to define what relationship, if any, these concepts have to us attempting to retrain our brains.
 The concept of repentance – is it ‘retraining’ our brain?
The concept of repentance permeates the Scripture.
In the Old Testament there are two Hebrew words translated by the English ‘repent’. Naham, which indicates a change of mind or disposition, is most commonly used of God repenting – usually in reference to God changing his mind and not bringing about a decreed judgment. It does, on a few occasions, apply to humans. Sub, which refers to turning back or returning, is used or commanded of humans. It was commonly used to recall the Israelites from idolatry back to the one true God.
Clearly humans are commanded to repent. On the surface, this appears to infer human ability to repent – to change their minds, to change their direction, to re-orientate their lives. But there are several Old Testament texts that indicate the inability of the human to do this, and the necessity for an action of God:
Jeremiah 31:18, which literally says to God ‘you turn me and I will be turned’, rendered ‘Restore me, and I will return’ in the NIV. For both the divine and the human action the verb sub is used.
Jeremiah 31:35b: ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’.
Ezekiel 10:18ff: ‘I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them. I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.’ [Read also 36:26,27].
In the New Testament there are two Greek words used to indicate repentance. Metanoeo, which means to change your mind; and, used only a few times, metamellomai, which means to regret, or to have a change in what you care for. Again, this change of mind is something humans are commanded to do, but the New Testament, like the Old, teaches that repentance is something in which the human is dependent on the action of God:
Acts 5:31: ‘God exalted him … that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel’.
2Timothy 2:25: ‘… in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…’.
In addition to the necessity of repentance being enabled by God, there is a further point that needs to be made: that nowhere does the Bible speak of the human ‘brain’. The New Testament speaks of the human nous – which is a reference to our intellect, mind, and understanding [inclusive of thought, feelings and will]. It speaks of the human dianoia – a reference to thought, mind, disposition, understanding. It speaks of the human phronema – our mental inclination or mindset. It speaks of the human phren – our mind, feelings and understanding. It speaks of our phronesis – our mental activity or ability, our intellectual and moral insight. It speaks of the human ennoia – our thoughtfulness, understanding, insight. It uses a verb – phroneo – with a range of prefixes, to refer to the action of our minds. But nowhere does it mention our egkephalos – our brain.
When the Bible commands humans to repent, this is not a command to ‘retrain’ or ‘rewire’ our physical brain. It is a command to change the whole orientation of our lives – to change our mindset/worldview, to change the way we think and feel about God, about ourselves, about sin, and so on.
Once this fundamental change has occurred the fact of brain plasticity falls into perspective: that repentance, which is an essential biblical change to the way we think, the way we view reality, [a change wrought by God], can and will have a significant impact on our physical brains [whether we are aware of that physical change or not].
 The concept of progressive sanctification – is it ‘retraining’ our brain?
The repentance discussed above is the initial act of repentance in which a person changes from rebellion against God and unbelief in God to submission to God and belief in God. By this action a person becomes a child of God and receives the complete salvation package given to all who are ‘in Christ’ on the basis of his substitutionary, sin-bearing death.
This salvation package instantly and permanently changes the relationship of the human with God, and the standing of the human in the presence of God. [See Part 1  above.] From this point onwards until either physical death or the return of Jesus Christ, a process of renewal/transformation is taking place in the believer. This on-going, progressive sanctification is the work of the indwelling Spirit of God and the Word of God, but it is not apart from our human involvement [See Part 1  above. Re-read the texts listed there.]
We, the human believers, are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our minds [Romans 12:2]. This is not talking about rewiring our brains, but about the on-going transformation of our fundamental mental attitudes and perspectives and values. We are commanded not to let the world squash us into its mindset - into the thought pattern of the world, but to ‘be transformed’. This verb is in the Passive Voice – which means that it is not us who is doing the transforming; rather, we are the passive recipients or objects of transformation. The verb is also Present Tense, which indicates a continuing process, not a one-off occurrence. It happens by the renewing [anakainosis – a noun meaning renovation, renewal] of our minds [nous – intellect, mind, understanding, including thought, feelings and will].
Paul’s point in Romans 12:1,2 is that the Christian is to be in a process of constant transformation based on and generated by ‘God’s mercy’ [verse 1]. That is, based on the Gospel, in which human effort and human performance are seen as incapable of securing God’s acceptance [Romans 1:18-3:20], and in which the Gospel is understood to alone be capable of securing salvation [Romans 1:16,17; 3:21-11:36]. Having repented [Part 4  above] and believed the Gospel, that Gospel is now the basis and the boundary of on-going transformation. Out of that new mind, that new attitude of repentance and faith in which we trust wholly in God and his mercy and not at all in ourselves, our whole life undergoes progressive renewal.
Apart from those commands which call us to repent and believe in Christ, the New Testament commands are directed towards this on-going renewal.
We are not commanded to retrain our physical brains. But what we are commanded by the Scripture – things like …
To not let unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only words that will build others up [Ephesians 4:29].
To put to death the things that belong to our earthly nature … and to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, etc [Colossians 3:5,12].
To think about things that are true, noble, right, pure and lovely [Philippians 4:8].
To make every thought obedient to Christ [2Corinthians 10:5].
… such actions, such good and positive changes, will, in terms of brain plasticity, change our physical brains, without our even thinking about retraining or rewiring our brains.
From a biblical perspective, the changing (or retraining) of our physical brain is the result of our Spirit-directed and Spirit-generated obedience to the biblical commands, not the cause of this transformation. While, as noted above, retraining your brain can have some good, but for-this-life-only, effect, it is not another name for progressive sanctification, nor can it replace progressive sanctification. Progressive sanctification is the continuing work of the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
The obvious and important question is not ‘Am I rewiring my brain?’ or ‘Should I retrain my brain?’, but ‘Am I responding appropriately to [= obeying] the commands of the Word and the promptings of the Holy Spirit?’ If we obey the Word and the Spirit prompting us through the Word, our brain will ‘look after itself’.
[But even this ‘looking after itself’ is evidence of the powerfully intricate and complex work of our Creator and Sustainer: Jesus, the Son of God – Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3. Without him, without his cohesive power, without his sustaining word, even brain plasticity would disintegrate and cease.]
To him, not to us, be the glory. In him we trust, not in ourselves.
The simple answer to this Part 4 question ‘Does the Bible teach that we should retrain our brains?’ is ‘No.’ But it does teach us about the work of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, which, as we respond to its instruction and teaching, is transforming us – changing the way we think, changing our attitudes, changing our actions and reactions, changing our hearts and minds.
Conclusion: Is there any valid Christian use of ‘retrain your brain’ programs or methods?
If a ‘retrain your brain’ program, whether secular or ‘Christian’, is free from expressions of human pride and independence [see Part 2], and also free from unbiblical, or anti-biblical elements, such as identified above in Part 3 , the practical advice it offers can provide a helpful tool to assist us to replace non-biblical habits [of thought, word, attitude and action] with biblical habits.
Such programs or methods are no more than helpful tools, and they are not the only helpful tools. As helpful tools, they can help us work towards the changes God commands [see Part 4 ].
They will not and cannot provide instant sanctification. Any expectation of such an outcome runs contrary to the biblical perspective of on-going transformation, and contrary to the biblical perspective that at every moment of our lives we are saved by God’s grace, not by personal performance.
They will not and cannot eliminate the two biblical commands to trust and to obey. They may help us to establish habits of trust and habits of obedience, but they do not replace trust and obedience.
They cannot replace the ‘hard yards’ of living the human life ... those life pressures that challenge our trust and our obedience and send us running to God and his Word to be taught, encouraged and enabled by him, and thereby transformed by him.
They are mere human programs. Any perception of retraining or rewiring your brain that teaches or infers that these human programs give Christians who use them an advantage over Christians who don’t use them is to make God’s gracious work in our lives dependent on human programs – human programs that were unheard of in previous centuries, that are unheard of in some contemporary cultures, including some contemporary churches, and that are inaccessible to Christians who do not have the technological or financial means to use them.