Pastor Mark found himself becoming frustrated as he talked with Jeremy about what was going on in the young man’s life. Jeremy had recently married Hannah. Jeremy and Hannah dated in college, but seven months into their marriage, Hannah was upset with Jeremy’s behavior. He had become more “inconsiderate” toward her and more “insensitive” to her emotionally.
Jeremy: An insensitive husband
Here is an example of what she meant: Jeremy had gone out with some friends from work to celebrate a milestone birthday. He assumed he would be home before Hannah got home from work, so he did not try to contact her about this outing with his friends. She got home and made one of his favorite meals—which she had said she’d do earlier that morning. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s outing went much longer than he anticipated; he lost track of time and arrived home an hour and a half after she had set the table.
Why doesn’t Jeremy get it?
In a few previous conversations with the couple, Pastor Mark had shared with Jeremy what the New Testament says about love. Mark stressed how love is not merely a feeling, but an action. Jeremy admitted that he was not sure what Pastor Mark had in mind, and Mark made some suggestions: be sure to say “I love you” each day; be sure to give Hannah a kiss before leaving for work; send her a card of appreciation occasionally. Jeremy took these suggestions and dutifully used them at home.
Hannah acknowledged that Jeremy had performed these actions, but she still said that Jeremy was “clueless” how to connect with her emotionally. He still did not seem to understand how to respond to her after she had a bad day at work or after her best friend moved out of state. “Why does he have to be so cold, Pastor?”
Jeremy had done what Pastor Mark recommended, but only what Pastor had recommended. Though willing to try Mark’s suggestions, he still failed to communicate to Hannah “I love you.” Pastor Mark could sense Hannah’s frustration and disappointment, and he was left wondering, “Why doesn’t Jeremy get this? How do I help him?”
Knowing the Bible vs. being transformed by it
In such cases we have to ask, Why is there a disconnect between what professing Christians know about the Bible’s content and what they do with the Bible’s content? One theme we find in the New Testament can help us answer this question. Paul mentions it in the familiar passage: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1–2, emphasis added).
I suggest that these inconsistencies in Jeremy’s life and other believers’ lives might result from not understanding how to participate in mind-renewal. Pastor Mark is understandably frustrated, but if he helps Jeremy understand the process of renewing the mind, he can assist him in making those connections between knowing what the Bible says and using what the Bible says to live a “transformed” lifestyle.
How Paul understood mind-renewal
Before I suggest four ways we can help people renew their minds, let’s look briefly at Romans 12:1–2 to be sure we understand what Paul means by “renewing your mind,” and then we’ll consider what it means for how Pastor Mark might help Jeremy or other people in his church. When Paul mentions the mind, he usually does not use it to mean “a person’s mental abilities” without any necessary connection to that person’s spiritual state. Instead, he uses mind to refer to thought processes used either in submission to God or in rebellion against God. In other words, for Paul, the mind is not morally neutral. That is why he urges believers not to be conformed to the world’s ways of thinking, but rather to submit to the transformation of their thinking so that it matches God’s will/purposes for us.
Renewing the mind depends on a relationship with the Holy Spirit
Earlier in Romans, Paul writes, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5 RSV). People’s relationship to the Holy Spirit or to the “flesh” (sinful nature) determines how they think about life and make decisions in their life.
Renewing the mind is something we submit to
When Paul describes what should happen in our lives, he does not say “renew your mind,” as if to imply it’s something we can do on our own. Instead he says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” implying that mind-renewal is a process we submit to. Based on what he says in Romans 8, it is clear that the active agent in the process of mind-renewal is the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, there wouldn’t be any mind-renewal as Paul understood it. Having said this, however, we would be misreading Paul if we conclude that mind-renewal is instant, easy, or unconscious. Paul instructs believers not to be conformed to the world’s ways of thinking, because this process will naturally occur unless they intentionally and continuously submit to the Spirit in the situations they face daily.
How the Spirit leads us in mind-renewal
The Holy Spirit is the active agent in renewing the mind—and His instrument is the Word of God. This is why the writer of Hebrews describes the Word of God as “living and active” (4:12 RSV) and ascribes the words of Scripture to the Holy Spirit (3:7, 10:15–17). When Paul mentions what the Bible is useful for—instruction, conviction, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)—he is implying that the Bible is the Spirit’s instrument for working in these ways in our lives.
How we participate in mind-renewal
How, then, can Pastor Mark guide fellow believers like Jeremy to participate in this Spirit-led process of renewing the mind? How can Jeremy be more consistent in making connections between what he reads in the Bible and what he does in his life? Here are four suggestions:
1. Encourage people to pray
Pastor Mark can remind Jeremy to pray regularly for this blessing. Since the renewing of the mind is something the Spirit does in His people, Jeremy’s prayers will be a reminder that he needs the Lord’s help and an indication of the humble, submissive attitude that is necessary for mind-renewal.
2. Encourage people to discover the value of God’s Word
Pastor Mark can help Jeremy understand how to read the Bible like he might read a treasure map. If most people were given a vague map that they were told could lead to a buried treasure, they would probably invest significant interest, time, and energy into deciphering the map! The writer of Psalm 119 states that he delighted in God’s law because he thought it was “more precious … than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Ps. 119:70, 72).
Jeremy probably does not appreciate the Scriptures the way the psalmist did. Here I am not describing Jeremy’s ability to understand the words on the pages of his Bible. Instead, I am describing the anticipation, diligence, and eagerness with which he approaches his time of study in the Bible. Jeremy should be taught that the more time he devotes to uncovering its riches, the more his values—and behavior—will be changed by it.
3. Encourage people to embrace God’s purpose for renewing our minds
Related to appreciating the treasure of God’s Word is adopting God’s overarching purpose for our lives. Pastor Mark can encourage Jeremy to think about his wife and his marriage the way God does. This will bring about more consistency in how he tries to show love to her.
In more general terms, Paul described God’s purpose for us this way: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). To “do something for the glory of God” means doing it in a way that will enhance God’s reputation or doing it in a way that reveals His character and His agenda. Renewed-mind thinking makes God’s glory the focus.
4. Encourage people to process all of life from a biblical perspective
As Pastor Mark continues to shepherd this couple, he will want to look for ways to broaden their ability to think about life and respond to its challenges from a biblical perspective. He can take Jeremy to Ephesians 5:22–33 and help him see the connections between “being renewed in the attitude of your mind” and loving Hannah as Christ has loved the church.
Jeremy will need mentoring in looking at the disappointing situations that Hannah mentions as opportunities to learn how he can imitate the love of Jesus. And he should be motivated to do this so that his marriage more clearly illustrates how Jesus relates to His bride.
Merely telling Jeremy that his love should be like Jesus’ love—in broad, general terms—will not be effective. Pastor Mark should take specific examples and dialogue with Jeremy about how the sacrificial, sanctifying, and satisfying love of Jesus could shape Jeremy’s specific responses to Hannah. For example:
“Jeremy, although the incident with your buddies is over, it can be a good place for us to consider how you could have had a ‘renewed-mind response’ that would have communicated your love for Hannah more effectively. Hannah was justifiably upset for two reasons. First, you did not try to contact her about your plans after work. Now that you are married, you will need to always consider how a decision of yours will affect your wife. You will recall how Genesis 2:24 describes marriage as a ‘one-flesh’ relationship. That involves two people taking the strands of their individual lives and weaving them together into a tapestry that depicts a mutually interdependent life in which both of them are better able to fulfill God’s purposes for them. Therefore, train yourself to think of Hannah as a part of you. Especially now, at the beginning of your married life, you should start the practice of asking yourself, ‘If I do ___, how could it affect Hannah?’ The more you think of your wife before making decisions, the more considerate you can be toward her.
“The second reason she is upset is because you did not remember that she said she would be cooking your favorite meal. I understand that everyone forgets sometimes. But you already have a track record of forgetting that reflects negatively on your attitude toward Hannah. Thus, you need to pay more attention to what she says so that your forgetfulness is less frequent.
“There are different ways to work on your memory, so we might need to experiment with different options. But regardless of what you try, always keep in mind the reason for doing this: you want to communicate your love for Hannah more consistently, so that she feels cared for and treasured. Remember, you are reflecting the love of Christ as you love your wife! In the future, I suggest you pay particular attention to two things that Hannah might talk about.
“Pay attention to what she says she likes or what is important to her. Write down this information if you need to. Then, look for opportunities to use that information to bless her. For example, suppose she happens to reveal that daylilies are her favorite flower. You might later surprise her with starting a daylily garden in your backyard. Also pay attention to what she has on her ‘to-do’ list. Help her with those chores without being asked. Even if you do not know how to do something—like cook a certain meal—you can contribute something to the effort, like washing and cutting vegetables.
“As you show her your love for her in such tangible ways, she will be able to feel secure in your marriage. And, if you happen to do something that is less than sensitive, she probably will be more willing to accept this as an exception to your usual sensitivity. It won’t be as devastating to her.
“Notice, Jeremy, in these examples you are responding to Hannah’s needs and providing a nurturing relationship for her. This is precisely what Jesus does with His bride. ‘In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church’ (Eph. 5:28–29).
“Now, let’s consider a different type of situation in which renewed-mind thinking will be crucial. Suppose you snap at Hannah when she annoys you. Ask yourself what you would have liked in the situation: Perhaps to be left alone? To be affirmed? To be helped with a task? Then ask yourself, ‘First, is what I wanted glorifying to God? Would He be honored by what I wanted? Second, is my irritated response to her reflecting the character of Christ? If not, then what can I do to rectify the situation?’ Go to her, confess specifically what you did that was wrong, and ask for her forgiveness. Tell her what you intend to do differently so that you won’t be as inclined to to snap at her in anger. Part of renewed-mind thinking is acknowledging your sin before God (and others affected by it) and making appropriate changes, so that Christlike character becomes more and more evident in your life.”
Helping people participate in the renewing of the mind is central to the task of discipleship, because to be a disciple of Christ means learning to think like Him. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1–3). As Jeremy grows in his appreciation of what his Savior has done for him, Hannah will be blessed by a husband who has the heart of Christ for her.
This article explores how Christians might participate in the Spirit-led process of renewing the mind. It uses the example of a young couple to illustrate how renewing the mind can help us live more consistently as the people of God.