Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Introduction: How Does Systematic Theology Relate to One’s Mind?)

The Redeemed Mind

The Renewed Mind

The Illuminated Mind

The Christlike Mind

The Tested Mind

The Profitable Mind

The Balanced Mind

Systematic theology is entirely about God’s mind as found in Scripture. It is not about what humans think independently apart from the Bible. The necessary characteristics of the Christian’s mind are discussed next because they qualify one to learn and teach Christian theology, whose source is Scripture and whose centerpiece is the triune God.

The Redeemed Mind

As a result of salvation, the mind of a newly redeemed person knows and comprehends the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:6). Whereas this person was previously blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), he or she now possesses “the helmet of salvation” (Eph. 6:17) to protect the mind against the “schemes” (a mind-related term in the Greek, Eph. 6:11) of Satan. No longer is this one left vulnerable against the Devil as before salvation. This new person (2 Cor. 5:17) now has a knowledge of God and his will that he or she previously lacked (1 John 5:18–20).

The Renewed Mind

When a person enters into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this one becomes a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) who sings “a new song” (Ps. 98:1). The mind acquires a new way to think and a capacity to put off old, sinful ways of thinking. Unquestionably, God is in the business of mind renewal for Christians (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10).

The Bible says to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Paul put this concept in military terms: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). How do we do this? Scripture reveals the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:16)—not all of his mind, to be sure, but all that God wisely determined to reveal to us. To think like God, one must think like Scripture. That’s why Paul encouraged the Colossians to let the Word of Christ dwell within them richly (Col. 3:16).

Harry Blamires, an Englishman with extraordinary understanding about the Christian mind, puts this quite well:

To think christianly is to think in terms of Revelation. For the secularist, God and theology are the playthings of the mind. For the Christian, God is real, and Christian theology describes His truth revealed to us. For the secular mind, religion is essentially a matter of theory: for the Christian mind, Christianity is a matter of acts and facts. The acts and facts which are the basis of our faith are recorded in the Bible.

At salvation, Christians are given a regenerated mental ability to comprehend spiritual truth. After salvation, Christians need to readjust their thinking chiefly by mind renewal, using the Bible as the means to do so. The ultimate goal is to have a full knowledge of God and his will (Eph. 1:17–18; Col. 1:9–10).

The Illuminated Mind

The Bible says that believers need God’s help to understand God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:12–13). Consequently, the Spirit of God enlightens the minds of believers, so that they might comprehend, embrace, and obey the truths revealed in Scripture. Theologians call this illumination.

A great prayer to offer as one studies Scripture is, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). It acknowledges an indispensible need for God’s light in Scripture. So do texts like Psalm 119:33–34, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” (see also Ps. 119:102).

God wants Christians to know and understand and obey. So he gives them the help that they need through his Holy Spirit. Believers, like the men to whom Jesus spoke on the road to Emmaus, require God’s assistance: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). God’s ministry of illumination by which he gives light on the meaning of the Bible is affirmed in texts such as Psalm 119:130; Ephesians 1:18–19; and 1 John 2:27.

The truth about God illuminating Scripture for Christians should greatly encourage the believer. While it does not eliminate the need for gifted men to teach (Eph. 4:11–12; 2 Tim. 4:2) or the hard labor of serious Bible study (2 Tim. 2:15), it does promise that there is no need to be enslaved to church dogma or to be led astray by false teachers. Primary dependence for learning Scripture needs to be on the author of Scripture—God himself.

The Christlike Mind

When one thinks like God wants him or her to think and acts like God wants him or her to act, then one will receive God’s blessing for obedience (Rev. 1:3). Spiritually, the Christian will be that obedient child, that pure bride, and that healthy sheep in Christ’s flock who experiences the greatest intimacy with God.

It is brazen idolatry to reject the mind of God in Scripture and worship at the altar of one’s own independent thinking. A believer’s greatest intimacy with the Lord occurs when the Lord’s thoughts prevail and one’s behavior then models that of Christ.

Christians should be altogether glad to embrace the certain and true mind of God the Father (Rom. 11:34), God the Son (1 Cor. 2:16), and God the Spirit (Rom. 8:27). In contrast to Peter, who was tempted by Satan to set his mind on the things of man, believers are to set their minds on the things of God (Matt. 16:23; Col. 3:2). This has to do not so much with different categories or disciplines of thought but rather with the way things are viewed from a divine perspective. Christians should stand in awe of God’s mind, as did the apostle Paul (Rom. 11:33–36).

God’s view is the only true view that accurately corresponds to all reality. God’s mind sets the standard for which believers are to strive but which they will never fully achieve. Put another way, man’s thoughts will never exceed, equal, or even come close to God’s. Over 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah said this very thing (Isa. 55:8–9).

The ultimate pattern of Christian-mindedness is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul declares, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). How can this be? We have it with the Bible, which is God’s sufficient, special revelation (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:3). In Philippians 2:5, Paul instructs, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” The apostle is specifically pointing to Christ’s mindset of sacrifice for God’s glory (Phil. 2:7) and submission to God’s will (Phil. 2:8). By following Christ’s model, Christians can train their minds to become more like Christ’s.

The Tested Mind

The Christian mind should be a repository of God’s revealed truth. It should not quake, waver, compromise, or bend in the face of opposing ideas or seemingly superior arguments (2 Tim. 1:7). Truth originates not with humans but with God. Therefore, Christians should be the champions of truth in a world filled with lies that are deceivingly disguised as and falsely declared to be the truth.

It was God who invited the nation of Israel, saying, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). The subject matter to be considered was repentance from sin and salvation (Isa. 1:16–20). By application, the same invitation is extended to every person alive. But it will not be without Satan’s roadblocks.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. While a commitment to think Christianly honors Christ, it is not without opposition. Satan would have believers think contrary to God’s Word and then act disobediently to God’s will.

Remember that before one becomes a Christian, his or her mind is blinded by the Devil: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Even after salvation, Satan continues his intellectual rampage. Thus Paul had great concern for the Corinthian church: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Eve had allowed Satan to do some thinking for her. Then she did some of her own thinking independent of God. When her conclusions differed from God’s, she chose to act on her conclusions rather than on God’s commands, which is sin (Gen. 3:1–7).

Satan aims his fiery darts (Eph. 6:16) at the minds of believers (2 Cor. 11:3), making their thought life the battlefield for spiritual conquest. Scriptural accounts abound of those who succumbed, like Eve (Genesis 3) and Peter (Matt. 16:13–23). Others walked away from the fray as victors, like Job (Job 1:1–2:10) and Christ (Matt. 4:1–11). When Christians fall, it is most likely that they have forgotten to wear the helmet of salvation or to wield the sword of truth (Eph. 6:17).

In warning believers about life’s ongoing, never-ending battle with Satan, Paul on two occasions tells about the schemes or designs of the Devil. He uses two different Greek words, but both relate to the mind (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11). Since no one is immune from these attacks, the Christian really does need to heed Peter’s strong encouragement: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13; see 3:15).

So far, this discussion has focused on a preventive or defensive military posture regarding the mind. The majority of Scripture deals with personal protection. However, Paul also addresses how to go on the intellectual offensive (2 Cor. 10:4–5). These offensive “weapons” (10:4) certainly feature the Word of God wielded by a Christian’s mind in the context of worldview warfare. In this context of mind battle, the “strongholds” (10:4) are “arguments” (10:5) and “every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (10:5). In other words, any philosophy, worldview, apologetic, or other kind of teaching that undermines, minimizes, contradicts, or tries to eliminate the Christian worldview or any part of it is to be met head-on with an aggressive, offensive battle plan. God’s intended end is the destruction (“destroy” is used twice in 10:4–5) of that which does not correspond to Scripture’s clear teaching about God and his created world.

In the historical context of 2 Corinthians, Paul opposed any teaching on any subject that had come into the church and did not correspond to his apostolic instruction. Whether an unbeliever or a believer was responsible, whether the idea came from scholars or the uneducated, whether the teaching found wide acceptance or not, all thoughts or opinions that were not for the knowledge of God were to be considered against the knowledge of God. Therefore, they were to be targeted for intellectual battle and ultimate elimination. Thus, in today’s context, all intellectual activities (e.g., reading, listening to the radio, viewing television and movies, studying in formal academia, engaging in casual conversations) must always be pursued using the filtering lens of a Christian theological worldview to determine whether they are allied with the truth of Scripture or are enemies of which to be wary.

The Profitable Mind

Psalm 119 provides detailed insight into a Christian’s new relation to the Bible, which reveals the mind of Christ. First, a believer will develop a great love for and tremendous delight in the Scriptures (119:47–48). Second, a believer in Christ will have a strong desire to know God’s Word as the best way to know God (119:16, 93, 176). Third, knowing God will then lead to a Christian obeying him (119:44–45).

MEDITATION

To hear something once is not enough for most people. To briefly ponder something profound does not allow sufficient time to grasp and fully understand its significance. This proves to be most true with God’s mind in Scripture. Psalm 119 testifies to the importance and blessing of lingering long over God’s Word.

The idea of meditating sometimes lends itself to misunderstanding. Meditation involves prolonged thought or pondering. The American figure of speech for meditating is “chewing” on a thought. Some have also likened it to the rumination process of the cow’s four-stomach digestive system. A vivid picture comes from a coffee percolator. The water goes up a small tube and drains down through the coffee grounds. After enough cycles, the flavor of the coffee beans has been transferred to the water, which is then called coffee. So it is that Christians need to cycle their thoughts through the grounds of God’s Word until they start to think like God and then act godly.

Scripture commands believers to meditate on three areas:

       1.    God (Pss. 27:4; 63:6)

       2.    God’s Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2)

       3.    God’s works (Pss. 143:5; 145:5)

All 176 verses of Psalm 119 extol the virtue of living out the mind of God. Meditation is mentioned at least seven times as the habit of one who loves God and desires a closer intimacy with him: “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.… My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (119:97, 148; see also 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 99). In contrast, an aspect of Eve’s sin can be attributed to her failure to adequately meditate on God’s clear and sufficient word (Gen. 2:16–17).

Meditating on God’s Word will purify the mind of old thoughts that are not of God and reinforce new thoughts from Scripture. It also puts a protective shield around the mind to block and reject incoming thoughts that contradict God. That is the scriptural process of renewing the mind.

THINK ON THESE THINGS

Someone has suggested that the mind is the taproot of the soul. That being so, one needs to carefully and nutritionally feed his or her soul by sinking one’s taproot deep into God’s mind in Scripture. One may ask, “What food will feed my soul?” Paul’s menu for the mind includes thought entrées that are (1) “true,” (2) “honorable,” (3) “just,” (4) “pure,” (5) “lovely,” (6) “commendable,” (7) “excellen[t],” and (8) “worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8). In meditating on God’s Word and thinking on these things, Christians will avoid setting their minds on earthly things (Phil. 3:19) and prevent being double-minded (James 1:6–8).

The Balanced Mind

Are divine revelation and human reason like oil and water—do they never mix? Christians have sometimes reached two erroneous extremes in dealing with divine revelation and human reason. On one end of the spectrum is anti-intellectualism, which basically concludes that if a subject matter is not discussed in the Bible, then it is not worthy of serious study or thought. This unbiblical approach to learning and thinking leads to cultural and intellectual withdrawal. At the opposite extreme is hyper-intellectualism, which embraces natural revelation at a higher level of value and credibility than God’s special revelation in Scripture; when the two are in conflict, natural revelation is the preferred source of truth. This unbiblical approach results in scriptural withdrawal.

Both errors must be rejected. The believer must appropriate knowledge from both special and general revelation. However, the creation and our faculties of reason and deduction by which we study the creation (i.e., general revelation) are fallen, fallible, and corrupted by sin. Scripture, on the other hand, is infallible and inerrant and therefore must take precedence over general revelation. Where the Bible speaks to a discipline, its truth is superior. Where the Bible does not speak, God has given us the whole world of creation to explore for knowledge—but with the caveat that man’s ability to draw conclusions from nature is not infallible like God’s Word. This is especially true of thinkers who continually reject their need for Christ’s salvation. This does not necessarily mean that their facts are wrong or even that their basic ideas are in error. However, it does guarantee that their worldview is not in accord with God’s perspective, and therefore, their conclusions ought to be subjected to a critical evaluation according to Scripture.

Unmistakably, from the perspective of a Christian worldview, believers are to engage their own minds and the minds of others to the best of their ability and as opportunity allows. However, several wise cautions are in order:

       1.    Becoming a scholar and trying to change the way one’s generation thinks is secondary to becoming a Christian and changing the way one personally thinks about Christ.

       2.    Formal education in a range of disciplines is secondary to gospel education—namely, obeying the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) and taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, to every creature.

       3.    General revelation points to a higher power, while special revelation personally introduces this higher power as the triune God of Scripture, who created the world and all that is in it (see Isaiah 40–48, where Yahweh reminds Israel of this critical truth) and who provided the only Redeemer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

       4.    To know about the truth is not nearly as important as personally and redemptively being in fellowship with the Truth, Jesus Christ (John 14:6), who is the only source of eternal life.

       5.    The New Testament church was not mandated to intellectualize their world, nor was this their practice. Rather, they “gospelized” it by proclaiming the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all without distinction, from key political leaders like King Agrippa (Acts 25:23–26:32) to lowly imprisoned slaves like Onesimus (Philem. 10).

       6.    To moralize, politicize, or intellectualize society without first seeing spiritual conversion is to guarantee only a brief and generally inconsistent change that is shallow, not deep; temporary, not lasting; and ultimately damning, not saving.

It bears repeating that both special and general revelation are necessary for cultivating a biblical mind-set. However, the study of special revelation is the priority, followed in the second place by learning from natural revelation. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 3:12; 4:29–34), wrote the same advice almost three thousand years ago. His are the most authoritative statements on the subject of the mind and knowledge, since they are Scripture (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; see also 1 Cor. 1:20–21).

The alpha and omega of Christian theology is a knowledge of God (2 Cor. 2:14; 4:6; Eph. 1:17; Col. 1:10; 2 Pet. 1:2–3, 8; 3:18) and a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:1). Above all, at the very center of a Christian worldview is the Lord Jesus Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Nothing can be fully understood if God is not known first.[1]


[1] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 52–59). Crossway.