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Do We Need the Holy Spirit In Order to be Mentally Renewed?

Posted on: June 21, 2016

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The key to personal transformation, we learn in Romans 12:2, is mental renewal:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is – that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

In order to be transformed from the world into the character image of Christ, our minds must be renewed. In a number of my past blogs, we have looked at the insights we can get into the mental renewal process from modern neuroscience. We have learned that the brain always changes in the direction of what is put into it, so if we want to change to become more like Christ and less like the world, we must:

  • Guard what we allow into our minds
  • Guard what we allow our minds to create
  • Guard what we allow our minds to dwell on

On the other hand, we must fill our brains with input that encourages Christlikeness.

Having said that, the information we are learning from recent neuroscience about transforming the brain in the direction of how we want to change, is true for non-Christians as well as Christians.

For example, National Geographic Magazine (February 2014) reported that there is an electrical grid in the brain, and when a thought goes through the brain, it takes a specific path along that grid. When a thought goes through the brain more than once, it always takes the same path.

As a result, every time you think a thought, it is like walking across the lawn. If you walk across it once, it makes no permanent impact. But if you repeat the thought over and over again, it creates a path. If you continue to think the thought over and over even more, it’s like pouring a sidewalk. If you continue to think that thought, it’s like paving the road. And eventually, you have a four-lane highway in your mind.

This information is simply “true,” regardless if we are a Christian or not.  So the question arises, “does a Christian need the Holy Spirit to be able to renew his mind, or can he do it on his own, using the techniques described to us by modern neuroscience”?

Well, on the one hand, the process of mental renewal works without being a Christian. Non-Christians are capable of guarding their minds from negative input and filling their minds with positive input, with beneficial results.

On the other hand, Christian mental renewal does require the work of the Holy Spirit, for four reasons:

  1. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), letting us know areas of our life that need correction. A non-Christian has a conscience, but not the Holy Spirit. The conscience only works out of cultural input.   Today’s popular culture is not convicted that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, so, those embracing modern culture would not renew their minds against that value. But a Christian has the Holy Spirit who uses the Scripture and convicts us of the need for moral purity. Without the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, we would be adrift on a sea of moral relativity.
  2. The Holy Spirit also reveals the deeper truths of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:12-16), and without that ministry to us, we would remain mired in ignorance and shallowness. So, since we all need to change in the direction of greater spiritual depth, we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us to illuminate our minds to deeper truth. Otherwise, we wouldn’t perceive areas of needed growth.
  3. The Holy Spirit strengthens us as we endeavor to change. In Ephesians 3:16, Paul prays that we would be “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,” that we would comprehend truth and experience spiritual growth. So, it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to change in the direction of the spiritual truth that we increasingly grasp.
  4. The Holy Spirit leads us. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” This is a very general statement, but nevertheless sheds additional light on the spiritual transformation and growth process. The Holy Spirit leads us in that process.

There is “mental renewal,” and there is “Christian mental renewal.” So, Christians do need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us if we are to have our minds renewed in such a way that it leads us to Christlikeness. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, spiritually. The Holy Spirit guides and empowers the process. As we do our job of going through the disciplines of mental renewal, the Holy Spirit does His job of energizing and empowering our disciplines, and by His grace, we are changed into the character image of Christ.

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