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HOW TO DEAL WITH FALSE TEACHING

STUDY 7: UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR MINDS

© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007

Contemporary Christianity displays a serious ignorance of the importance of our minds. One could say that contemporary popular Christianity has for a large part abdicated its mind. In its emphasis on unity, on experience, on feelings and on relationship it appears to have overlooked the biblical emphasis on the truth and understanding of the truth. Those who emphasise ‘doctrine’ or ‘theology’ or even ‘Bible study’ are commonly considered less spiritual than those who have had emotional, ecstatic, subjective or mystical experiences.

Yet throughout the Bible knowledge, understanding and wisdom are given key significance. This significance includes knowledge of the facts and understanding of the facts; it also includes the wisdom to see and implement the significance and application of those facts for one’s life both on the practical and spiritual levels. [Note that the emphasis this study puts on knowledge is not about that level of knowledge that is mere mental awareness; nor is it about human wisdom, for even at its best human wisdom is, according to the Scripture, dark, futile, foolish and worthless.]

The Bible is essentially verbal communication that addresses our minds. It is only after our minds have processed the communicated facts and commands that our emotions are engaged. The exultant joy expressed by the Psalm writers is not stand-alone, nor is it generated by mystical experiences; rather, it arises from facts about God which they knew to be true. God does not desire our irrational allegiance or our unfounded praise, nor does he desire worship that has no objective grounds; rather he has revealed himself in such a way that we know he is worthy of our joyous, exuberant praise, in such a way that our faith is grounded in the truth he has revealed about himself, in such a way that our worship has a solid, permanent foundation unrelated to our transient and variable feelings.

A further word of explanation: We need to remember that the Bible uses the word ‘heart’ in a different way to popular English usage. W.E.Vine sums up the biblical meaning of ‘heart’: “man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements” … it “includes the emotions, the reason and the will”. [W.E. Vine: An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words]

We are not permitted, therefore, to excuse the neglect of our minds by any reference to the Bible’s use of the word ‘heart’, for, in the Bible, this word is inclusive of our mental faculties and reasoning. [Note that Proverbs 23:7 [KJV] locates ‘thinks’ in the ‘heart’. Compare NIV footnote ‘thinks within himself’. The NIV text also connects ‘thinking’ and ‘his heart’. No mention is made of ‘feeling’.]

A. THE OLD TESTAMENT TEACHES THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR MINDS

A.1 Wisdom and understanding are the basis of true faith and godliness

In the Psalms:

The Psalm writers knew the significance of knowledge and understanding:

[One could compile a similar list of references from the Psalms in which worship and praise are grounded in the known facts about God.]

In the books of history:

King David acknowledged that wisdom and understanding were necessary to keep God’s laws:

When Ezra read God’s law to the returned exile only those who could understand were called to hear that law and to commit themselves to live by it:

In wisdom literature:

It was Job’s knowledge of God that determined his life choices:

‘Does he not see my ways and count my every step? …
Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?’ [Job 31:4,15]

It was his knowledge of God that enabled him to respond to his suffering without sin:

And, in the midst of his emotional turmoil, in the midst of life experiences which were shouting at him that God wasn’t there and that God didn’t care, in the midst of his inability to even make contact with God, it was his knowledge of God that kept him faithful.

‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!’ [Job 19:25-27]

‘I know.’ The truth about God was all he had left.

Even in the darkness and aloneness of life when God seems distant and silent, behind the darkness, beyond the silence, the truth about God remained in his knowledge, and to that truth alone Job turned for solace and strength in the midst of intolerable experiences and emotions.

The early chapters of Proverbs focus on the importance of wisdom and understanding:

‘…fools despise wisdom …’ [1:7]

‘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.
For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding’ [2:1-6].

 

‘I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching …
Get wisdom, get understanding; … do not forsake wisdom …
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you.
She will be a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendour’ [4:2-9]

In the prophets:

The prophet Malachi summed up the role and importance of knowledge in describing God’s mandate to the priestly tribe of Levi, and the failure of the priests to live according to that mandate:

A.2 Lack of understanding and discernment leads to godlessness, rebellion, idolatry and the consequent judgment

In the Books of Moses:

Anticipating the future idolatry of Israel, Moses, speaking on God’s behalf, attributed this to the state of their minds:

‘They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them,
If only they were wise and would understand this
And discern what their end will be!’ [Deut 32:28,29].

In the Prophets:

The prophets reveal that lack of understanding was the reason for Israel’s sin and judgment:

A.3 One key purpose/result of God’s judgment on Israel was that they would know that he was the Lord

As the prophets told the people of Israel of the devastating judgment about to fall on them because of their rejection of the knowledge of the Lord and their acceptance of false gods and the messages of false prophets, they indicated that one of the key results of the judgment would be that the Israelites, and the pagan nations around them, would know that God was indeed God and that the word spoken by his true prophets was indeed his word.

This is particularly evident in Ezekiel, where God states over 60 times ‘then they will know that I am the LORD’ or ‘then they will know that I am the LORD their God’.

So vital is true knowledge of God that he poured out his extreme judgment upon his people to impress that knowledge upon them.

A.4 The new covenant in Christ is anticipated as a time when people will know the Lord

So significant is the knowledge of the Lord that it is a listed as a key feature of the new covenant:

B. THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHES THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR MINDS

Those who value emotions and mystical, subjective experiences above knowledge and understanding fail to realize the significance placed on the mind by Jesus and the apostles. Both Jesus and the apostles were involved in teaching [55 references in the Gospels and Acts]. Both want us to know, to learn, to understand, to remember, to have wisdom and insight. They do not by-pass the mind, rather they address and challenge the mind, indeed they demand the allegiance of our minds. The greatest commandment, quoted by Jesus, included loving God with all our mind [Mat 22:37; Mk 12:30; Lk 10:37].

B.1 The New Testament words

The following notes are abbreviated from W.E.Vines An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. The reader is encouraged to research this book for fuller explanations.

Know, knowledge:

ginosko [most commonly used word – 223 times]

‘to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, understand, or to understand completely … in the past tenses it frequently means to know in the sense of realising. …’

oida

[70 times, including meaning ‘see’]

‘from the same root as eidon, to see, … signifying, primarily, to have seen or perceived; hence, to know, to have knowledge of, whether absolutely, as in Divine knowledge … or in the case of human knowledge, to know from observation …’

epiginosko

[42 times]

[1] ‘to observe, fully perceive, notice attentively, discern, recognize …it suggests generally a directive, a more special, recognition of the object known than ginosko … it may also suggest advanced knowledge or special appreciation …’ [2] ‘to discover, ascertain, determine’

epistamai [14]

to know, know of, understand’

sunoida [4 times]

‘to share the knowledge of, to be privy to … to be conscious of …’

gnorizo

[24 times]

‘to come to know, discover, know, …to make known … [also translated as ‘certify’, ‘declare’, ‘tell’, ‘understand’

gnosis

‘knowledge, especially of spiritual truth’

epignosis

‘exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition … a strengthened form of gnosis expressing a fuller or a full knowledge …’

Mind

nous

‘mind … the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining …’

dianoia

‘literally a thinking through, or over, a meditation, reflecting … the faculty of knowing , understanding or moral reflection …sentiment, disposition … ‘ [This word is used in the command to love God ‘with all your mind’.]

ennoia

‘idea, notion, intent’

noema

‘ thought, design’

gnome

‘a purpose, judgment, opinion’

phronema

‘what one has in the mind, the thought … an object of thought’

phroneo

‘to think, to be minded in a certain way … to think of, be mindful of. It implies moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion …’

anamimnesko

‘to remind, call to remembrance’

hupomimnesko

‘to cause one to remember, put one in mind’

sophroneo

‘to be of sound mind, or in one’s right mind

Learn [verb], disciple [related noun]

manthano

‘to learn, to increase one’s knowledge, or be increased in knowledge, … to learn by inquiry, or observation … to ascertain … to learn by use and practice ‘

mathetes

‘a learner … one who follows one’s teaching …’

Discern

anakrino

‘to distinguish, or separate out so as to investigate … by looking throughout … objects or particulars, hence … to examine, scrutinize, question …’

diakrino

to separate, discriminate … to learn by discriminating, to determine …’

dokimazo

‘to test, prove, scrutinize, so as to decide …’

Judge

Anakrino

‘to examine, investigate, question’

diakrino

‘to discriminate, discern …’

Understand

suniemi

‘… used metaphorically of perceiving, understanding, uniting (sun), so to speak, the perception with what is perceived’

noeo

‘to perceive with the mind, as distinct from perception by feeling’

[Also: ginosko, epistamai, gnorizo – see ‘know’ above.]

All of the above New Testament words give extremely high significance to minds, necessitating and commanding the exercise of our rational, mental functions.

B.2 The significance given to understanding by Jesus Christ

Jesus taught. Even when he performed miracles his purpose was to demonstrate his divine identity; it was never to titivate the senses with the spectacular; indeed he refused to make that kind of sensual appeal to people.

He called disciples. A disciple is essentially one who is learning, one who is being taught. He taught them for three years, and instructed them to teach others. He chided them when they were slow to understand, when they failed to put two and two together and work out the implications of what he said and did.

When we look at the Gospels we discover that there is a great range of evidence that Jesus wants us to engage our minds in relation to the spiritual area of our lives:

About knowing him and his Father:

About knowing and understanding other spiritual truths:

About having the right attitude to his teaching:

About how we should think and live:

B.3 What the apostles said about knowledge and understanding

In the Acts and the New Testament letters we learn that the apostles placed great emphasis on what goes on in our minds. Like Jesus they engaged in teaching; indeed, that was their primary ministry [e.g. Acts 4:18; 5:28,42; 1 Cor 4:17]. Even when they were evangelizing they did it by teaching and explaining facts, not by playing with their hearers’ emotions or by whipping their hearers into ecstasy.

The apostles reminded their hearers/readers of what they already knew:

The apostles challenged their hearers/readers about their attitude to and approach to God’s truth:

The apostles gave serious significance to knowledge and understanding:

The apostles described the critical importance of our minds and our thoughts in salvation:

The apostles taught the role of our minds and thoughts in living as a Christian:

John’s focus on knowing in his first letter:

In 1 John, John speaks of knowing God, knowing that we are ‘in him’, knowing that we are in the last times, knowing all things, knowing the truth, knowing God is righteous, knowing we will be like Christ, knowing Christ came to take away sins, knowing we have passed from death to life, knowing no murderer has eternal life, knowing we are of the truth, knowing that Christ abides with us, knowing the Spirit of God, recognizing the spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood, knowing we dwell in him, knowing that we love God’s children, knowing we have eternal life, knowing God hears us, knowing those who are born of God do not continue to sin, knowing the Son of God has come and given us understanding, knowing him who is true.

C. HUMAN VERSUS GOD-GIVEN WISDOM

In 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 2:16 Paul contrasts secular wisdom and the message of Christ and his cross.

About human wisdom he says:

About the message of Christ [God’s wisdom] and his cross he says:

In describing God-given wisdom Paul does not by-pass the human mental faculties. The difference he takes such pains to describe concerns not the location of the thought processes, but the origin of the thought content.

On the one hand, human wisdom originates in the human mind. On the other hand, God-given wisdom originates with God. The one is human ideas; the other is divine revelation. The one can be understood simply by human thought; the other is only understood by spiritual enlightenment.

Yet the processing of both, the response to both, the understanding of both, occurs in the human mind.

Thus, although God’s wisdom does not originate in our human minds, and although our minds, left to themselves, can never understand it, yet, God has revealed his wisdom to us by his Spirit [2:10], so that ‘we may understand what God has freely given us’ [2:12], so that we can speak ‘in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truth in spiritual words’ [2:13], and making judgments about all things [2:15], because ‘we have the mind of Christ’ [2:16]. [Not the physical mind of Christ, but the viewpoint of Christ, because of the indwelling Spirit – as we understand and believe what he teaches us.]

Jesus, the light of the world, has shined into our darkness, ripping away the blindness. Jesus, the truth, has revealed the Father to us, so that our ignorance of God has been replaced by knowledge of God. That which was once unknowable and indiscernible to us is now known to us.

Our minds, which could previously see things only in terms of human wisdom, and were trapped in its futility, can now increasingly understand the divine perspective, having been liberated by Christ and taught by his Spirit. This liberation from human wisdom, from human ignorance, is a significant part of the deep meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah which Christ applied to himself in the synagogue in Nazareth:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ [Luke 4:18-19].

The good news is preached to us – we who were poor in understanding.

Freedom is proclaimed to us – we who were held captive by human ideas about God and godliness.

The ability to see God’s truth is restored to us – we who were blinded by Satan.

Release from oppression is ours – we who were oppressed by the rigid demands of human religions.

Truly, with the coming of Christ, it is the year of the Lord’s favour. Not only are our sins forgiven in and through Christ, not only are we reconciled to God in and through Christ. But also this: that, in and through Christ we now know God. Not in a mystical, undefined and indefinable way, that can only be subjective and relative, but in an objective, clear-cut, clearly defined and understandable way, that we grasp with our minds as the Spirit of Christ enlightens us.

To this knowledge, to this understanding, and to the implications and practical applications of this knowledge and understanding, the Bible challenges and commands us.

In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...’

In Ephesians 4:17-18 he wrote: ‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.’

In Philippians 1:9-10 Paul prayed for the believers, ‘that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.’ It is instructive that the two aspects of life that many contemporary Christians consider more important than ‘doctrine’ or ‘theology’ [our emotions – ‘love’, and our actions – ‘pure and blameless’] and are here seen by Paul to actually depend on accurate doctrine and theology [‘knowledge’, ‘depth of insight’, ‘discern’].

As Christians we must reclaim the fact that our minds and our thinking are critically important. It could well be that the abdication of the Christian mind in favour of emotion and experience is the reason why contemporary Christianity has been so easily seduced by the many non-biblical perceptions currently embraced by the church.