Chapter 1.
The Mind of Christ

Let this mind be in you.

Suppose Christ broke through the veil that separates the spiritual from the physical and audibly said to you today, "I am going to require you to have My mind in all its fullness. However, I want people to know what a miracle of change I can work, so I am going to reveal to your church what your mind is like right now. Next Sunday, in your church, I am going to take over the morning service and play back for all to hear every thought you had this last week." Would it appall you or delight you if Christ revealed your thoughts?

We unconsciously assume that our outer, physical, visible actions are going to be the basis for our judgment. In the Bible, though, God places the emphasis on the inner, invisible actions of the mind.

You may protest that you have never committed adultery (for example). Yet Jesus said, "But I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). You would have a horror of the thought of murder, but Jesus warned, "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court" (Matt. 5:22). He equated the sin of anger with that of murder. Ahab's greed (1 Kings 21:1-6), a mental sin, preceded the stealing of Naboth's vineyard. (Although it was Jezebel who carried out Naboth's murder, the entire sordid episode started with Ahab's greed; see 1 Kings 21:15-16.) Cain's inner anger and jealousy (Gen. 4:5) anchored in his mind before the outward act of murder (Gen. 4:8). Martha's mental sin of anxiety led to the visible sin of quarreling (Luke 10:38-41).

The mind has always been more important to God than our outward actions. In the Old Testament, the emphasis was on the heart. At times, the Bible uses the word heart where we would use the word mind, as in the injunction, "Apply your heart to discipline" (Prov. 23:12). In the New Testament, Jesus used the word heart in the same sense: "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, 'Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?'" (Matt. 9:4).

Most of us, most of the time, are satisfied if we satisfy the expectations of society and the requirements of God by our outer, visible actions. God looks on the inner; He said, as early as Samuel's day, that "man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). In the more restricted emphasis of the New Testament, we can say "the Lord looks at the mind."

Have you ever evaluated the condition of your mind? Below is an inventory of two opposing sets of mental states. This evaluation is only for your information. Do it in absolute privacy, with no one but the Lord and you knowing your performance at this stage. You will not score the exercise. Its sole purpose is to help you know what your mind is like at present.

As you prayerfully study each item, place a mental mark on the line in the center where you think you would be today. If you believe you would incline toward the left most of the time, determine how far to the left you would be. If you incline toward the right, note where on the line you are. You may find yourself on the left on some items and to the right on others, or even in the middle.

Evaluation of Your Current Mental State


Jealousy or envy ______________ Rejoicing in the success of your brother or sister in Christ
Wanting to get even ______________ Praying for enemies
Bitterness toward God ______________ Acceptance of God's will
Bitterness toward others ______________ Generosity toward others
Sexual lust ______________ Holiness of thought
Lust for position or power ______________ Humility toward others
Hatred of someone ______________ Love of enemy
Anger ______________ Being peaceable
Resentment ______________ Forgiving
Pride in your station in life ______________ Humility before God
Pride in your ability or looks ______________ Not self-centered
Looking down on others ______________ Reverencing God's work in others
Self-love ______________ Selfless love of others
Self-seeking ______________ Seeking the kingdom
Slandering others ______________ Encouraging others
Reliance on self ______________ Reliance on God
Boasting ______________ Pointing to the achievements of others
Unthankful to God ______________ Always thankful to God
Lazy ______________ Hard-working
Undisciplined ______________ Disciplined
Headstrong ______________ Willing to yield to others
Addicted to television ______________ Devoted to prayer
Hunger for things of the world ______________ Hunger for God
Combative, contentious ______________ Yielding personal rights
Compromising ______________ Faithful
Ambitious for self or for family ______________ Ambitious for others
Tendency to lie or pervert truth ______________ Telling the truth even when it hurts
Attention usually focused on the world ______________ Attention usually focused on God

Do you like the current condition of your mind? More importantly, would God like the state of your mind right now? What if it were possible to have a mind like Christ's?

Why Is Having the Mind of Christ Important for Believers?

The Old Testament places little emphasis on our becoming like God while the New Testament reiterates numerous injunctions to imitate God or to be like Christ. In its earliest pages, the Bible tells us that God created us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1). Yet after Adam's fall, the Old Testament has very little reference to our likeness to God and no admonitions to become like Him.

The Old Testament emphasis is on the difference between God and man. "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isa. 55:8-9). Apart from Christ, our ways today are not His ways. The Old Testament idea was that God molds us and shapes us from the outside: "We are the clay, and Thou our potter; And all of us are the work of Thy hand" (Isa. 64:8).

The New Testament makes a radical shift in its emphasis. Here God in Christ is made like us: "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same.... Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God" (Heb. 2:14, 17).

After redemption was accomplished, the New Testament picks up the theme from the opening chapters of the Bible, and once more we are to be like God. Paul said, "Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24 NIV, emphasis added). The purpose of the new self is Godlikeness. He told the Colossians, "[You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col. 3:10 NIV, emphasis added). In redemption, we are again in the image of God.

During His earthly days, even before the mighty work of redemption, Jesus said, "It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master" (Matt. 10:25). Specifically, we are now to be like Jesus, who was God made human. He became like us so that we might become like Him. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). John sees an apocalyptic end of the process: "But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is" (1 John 3:2 NIV).

Jesus Himself invites us, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me" (Matt. 11:29). He went from birth to death living our kind of life to give us an example of what God meant man to be. He suffered our kind of temptations (Heb. 4:15). He knew the pangs of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, denial, and betrayal by friends. And in all of that, He invites us to learn from Him.

To help us learn, He gave Himself as our example. To help us learn servanthood, He washed the disciples' feet. Afterward, He told them, "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you" (John 13:15). In the same way, "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). We are to love because that is the example of Christ. Paul told the Ephesians, "And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Eph. 5:2).

Philippians 2:5 tells us that we are to have the mind of Christ. This verse is part of a poem (Phil. 2:5-11) that was originally a hymn. This verse says that we are to think like Jesus thinks. In the original Greek, the command is in the form of the verb phroneite, the plural imperative of the verb phroneo, "to think or to be minded in a certain way." Our mind is to have the same characteristics that Christ's mind has.

The astonishing purpose of the Father was to bring many children into the perfect image of His glorious Son. The New Testament reflects that emphasis frequently.

Jesus told a parable about how God works in process: "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29). The spiritual mind will develop in the same way that a little child's mind develops. Even at spiritual birth, we have the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), but in subsequent growth that mind must contend with established habits, the culture in which we live, and the work of Satan. In us, the mind of Christ matures in a process of growth.

Several passages in the New Testament suggest that the process of our conforming to Christ's image is primarily the work of God (for example, John 15:16; Phil. 2:13). We are the subjects, and God is the active agent. Paul wrote of this perfection as being accomplished in process: "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). Our destiny is to be like Christ. God intends it, and the Scripture directs us to participate in the process of becoming like Him.

Since Christ is divine, we humans cannot be like Him in all ways. We cannot imitate His omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, infinity, immutability, and the attributes peculiar to divinity. On the other hand, in the limitation of His incarnation He did demonstrate specific qualities that we also have in our new nature. We can grow in these qualities: mercy, love, long-suffering, and even holiness and grace. We have to look to those humanly manifested qualities that He expects us to imitate. They are indeed also divine attributes, but they constitute that part of God's nature that He invested in redeemed humanity.

What Is God's Standard for the Mind?

Six times the New Testament describes or implies what the Christian's mind is to be like. In each case the passage mentions the word mind. From these we can derive six adjectives that describe God's ideal for the mind. As you read what the New Testament says about the mind, check your mind to see if these adjectives describe you.

Alive

The first description occurs in Romans 8:6: "For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (emphasis added).

Our first adjective is alive. Harold L. heard me teach the seminar "The Mind of Christ" and made an appointment with me. He was not sure that he really had spiritual life like I was describing. He had made a profession of faith in Christ as a child, but he didn't understand what it meant. He told me, "No change came into my life then. The same sins persisted, and my commitment was entirely perfunctory. I made my profession to please others."

Genuine conversion means a change of life and especially a change with our attitude toward sin. As we talked, it became clear that Harold had not understood that he would have a different attitude toward sin after conversion. Knowing that life in Christ produces a new kind of consciousness of holiness and unholiness, I asked him how he felt when he sinned. He confessed that he had not known sorrow for sins, only regret. Real repentance involves sharing the grief of God over our sin. This turned out to be the first indication he had ever had that life in Christ makes a real difference.

He returned on another day and told me, "I am sure that I do not have the life you are describing." Under the prompting of the Spirit, I asked him if he would be willing to forsake his life of sin to accept Christ. He was thoughtful as he said, "I want the life of Christ you are describing. Yes, I will forsake my sins." He bowed in prayer, and I led him through a commitment to Christ.

Believers know that we are dead without Christ and have everlasting life in Him, but Jesus went further than saying we have mere existence: He said that He came so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10). We show this life (or death) constantly by the choices we make.

The mind that is alive chooses the spiritual rather than the fleshly. For example, take our thought life. The world sends a constant barrage of messages to us—politics, world, business, sex, sports, products, and others. God also is sending us messages, messages about His expressed will in the Bible for us, promptings about words to say or not to say, anger to control, or patience to extend.

Our minds are cluttered with information. They race from subject to subject. We can receive these various messages indiscriminately, we can reject some, and dwell on others. Many people choose to follow vacantly the current track of messages coming in, regardless of their source. On the other hand, we can reject some of them or even cut off their source (such as television).

Jesus chose to think about "His Father's business." Satan tried to entice Him to turn stones into bread in the wilderness temptation. In a moment of extreme physical weakness, exhausted and desperately hungry, Jesus made a choice. He said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God'" (Matt. 4:4). In His choice, He demonstrated that abundant spiritual life can overrule and dominate even when the flesh cries most desperately for satisfaction. Do you have this kind of spiritual life?

Peaceful

Romans 8:6 gives us another adjective to apply to the spiritual mind: "The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace." The spiritual mind is peaceful. Paul had said in the previous verse, "Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). Note again that we set our minds. Peace is a fruit, not an attainment. Our work is setting the mind; God's work is the peace.

Sin separates us from God, the source of peace. The Bible tells us, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God" (Isa. 59:2). Jesus wept over Jerusalem and said, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes" (Luke 19:42). He would have been the source of their peace.

Jesus had peace. His life was completely free from sin and the ravages of the world system. He promised rest to the weary and burdened (Matt. 11:28). We find rest by taking His yoke. Tell Him now that you are willing to take that yoke.

Single-minded

Second Corinthians 11:3 provides a third adjective that describes the mind: "But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." Paul is telling us that the mind of Christ is single-minded.

While we live in this world, one of our perplexing problems is becoming distracted, or, as Paul says, being "led astray." Our minds dart off in hundreds of directions during the course of a day. Every student knows that the discipline of attention is an achievement; normally it comes with years of experience.

Jesus' entire life is a flawless example of single-mindedness. When Peter tried to turn Him away from the cross, He rebuked Peter sternly (Matt. 16:23). When He "resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem" (that is, for the cross, Luke 9:51), He was single-minded. At the end of His life, He said that He had completed the work God gave Him to do (John 17:4). From beginning to end, nothing could deflect Him from God's purposes. Are you like that?

Lowly

Paul gives another description of the godly mind in Philippians 2:3: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (KJV). The mind is to be lowly. Believers cannot be humble unless they are lowly; humility follows lowliness of mind. Humility speaks of a relationship to others and to God; lowliness is a state of mind.

We can foster lowliness by concentrating on a genuine appreciation for the person of God. We start there. It gives us perspective. For years I have kept notebooks on the attributes of God and His names. I begin my quiet time every morning by meditating on the attributes of God. I never quite feel prepared to approach God in prayer for the immense work of His kingdom until I find myself in a state of reverence and awe before Him.

Those who met God in the Bible always first experienced genuine terror before Him. This is a godly fear, as opposed to carnal fear. In the Bible those who met God did not need to be convinced of the need for lowliness.

If we were to write a script for how the Son of God would appear, we would not have cast Him as a carpenter. Note whom He chose for friends—fishermen, tax collectors, common people. He submitted to a criminal's death. He was lowly. Pray to have this quality in your life.

Pure

Paul speaks about the mind in Titus 1:15: "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled." Here purity is described as the natural state of the Christian. Impurity is reached by corruption.

In our times, the "natural" spiritual state, or being filled with God's Spirit and growing in Christ, is harder to maintain for several reasons. The first is the constant assault of information on our beleaguered senses. Tempters have always abounded, but they now have resources within our environment to take us into unprecedented realms of sin.

The impurity Christians battle today touches primarily two areas. The first is the lust for the forbidden, expressed as a preoccupation with anything unlawful—wrongful sex, horoscopes, soap operas, and other lusts—in short, the desire to express oneself outside the realm of normal Christian activity. The second is the lust for power, expressed either in lust for wealth or for position.

No one ever overcame either of these kinds of lusts without preparation. Purity demands that we know ahead of time what we will do when temptation comes. The ordinary Christian will probably not make a spiritual decision under the duress of temptation. If we understood the dread abyss that temptation itself is, we would cry, as Jesus told us to, "Lead us not into temptation." Satan knows how to introduce temptation into a moment of weakness.

Our safest course is to avoid temptation entirely, but our culture has made that difficult. Strength comes before, not during, temptation. Overcoming is a prior act. Know ahead of time which lusts are your greatest weaknesses. For some lusts you must be prepared to avert your eyes. Others may require that you quote appropriate Scripture. Have certain Scriptures memorized and ready. For other lusts you may go immediately to prayer. Are you prepared before temptation comes?

Sensitive and Responsive

When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection, "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). When He chose the disciples He had recognized in them a quality that made them fit subjects for three and a half years of intensive training. The disciples did not always learn quickly, but they were teachable (as a teacher I have found many students teachable who were slow to comprehend). They at least wanted to learn. They were responsive.

The adjective responsive implies a spiritual sensitivity to God. This responsiveness is a sensitivity that recognizes the distinguishing fingerprint of God. The disciples were sensitive when they asked, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). In this petition, they were not merely envying the ability of Jesus to perform miracles (earlier He had given them authority to heal the sick and cast out demons). Jesus was intensely spiritual, and they wanted that quality of profound spirituality in their own lives.

This quality—responsiveness to God—is indispensable for progress in the spiritual life. We need for God's Spirit to sensitize us to Himself. How can we cultivate that sensitivity? One way is to give God a chance by dwelling in His Word. Specifically, what Jesus "opened their minds" to was Scripture. He wants us to understand His word, and we cannot understand it if we do not spend time meditating on it. Prayer also sensitizes the spirit. When the disciples wanted to imitate Him, it was His teaching on prayer that they requested.

Jesus was sensitive to His Father in the utmost degree. He said, "I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me" (John 8:28). He claimed to see what the Father was doing, to hear what the Father was saying, and to do nothing independently of the Father. He devoted Himself to reflecting the mind of the Father, and His reflection was exact.

As the Father is to the Son, so Christ is to us. He imitated the Father; we imitate Christ. He saw the activity of the Father; we pay close attention to the known earthly activity of Jesus (and, for that matter, also to His present activity). He heard from the Father; we must hear from Him. The Father taught Him; He teaches us. He could do nothing independently of the Father; we cannot function independently of Him. He was very close to the Father; we must remain close to Him. Pray that God will make you more sensitive to Him.

What Principles Govern the Three Actions That
God Has Commanded Us to Take with Our Mind?

The New Testament gives three specific commands—imperative verbs—that concern the mind. These scriptural mandates give us the clues necessary to discern how to think in the same way that Christ thought. The three commands can be classified as the beginning, middle, and ending stages of a process that culminates in spiritual maturity.

The Will Principle

The first principle, or the beginning of the process, is found in Colossians 3:2: "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." Paul is stating a principle—the Will Principle. We must set our mind. Many decisions that could be difficult or confusing in the heat of an emotional or complex situation can be simplified by starting with this command.

The opposite of will is instinct (by instinct I mean unwilled reactions). Major or life-changing decisions are not a problem with animals. With human beings, the will is that part of our mind over which we have control. "We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). The will enables us to obey in spite of feeling. Often we cannot control our emotions, but we always have control over the will. Our identification with Christ must begin here or not at all.

This verb set comes first because Christ identified His will with that of His Father repeatedly. In the last week of His earthly life, as He faced the cross, He said (when some Greeks came to Him), "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name" (John 12:27-28). He openly confessed that His emotions were one place, but His will was another. Every Christian is familiar with His determined plea in Gethsemane, "Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt" (Mark 14:36). Jesus' performance was impeccable because He had set His will from the beginning.

When we set our will and become like Christ, God will purify our resolve. I was once asked to take a position that would involve both personal sacrifice and a large salary cut. It also offered an opportunity to expand God's kingdom in a way that nothing else offered. My feelings said no, but my will chose the will of God. Only the will can choose beyond feelings.

The River Principle

The second New Testament verb, or command, that is used with the word mind is in Romans 12:2: "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The Christian actually lives in a constant state of renewal! After we give our will to God, we must continue this process.

In the command to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, we have another principle—the River Principle. Our growth is like the flow of a river. Jesus said, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:38). Our problem is that most of us do not work on the River Principle, we work on the Pond Principle. Ponds stagnate, but rivers flow. Ponds become puddles, but rivers become oceans. We are to grow, and our growth is to be God-sized. Even Jesus grew: "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).

The body grows by producing new cells. That newness is a sign of life. Failure to produce newness is a sign of death. A constant renewing is also to characterize the spiritual life. An organism that is not renewing itself is dying. The same principle applies to our spiritual lives.

I have learned to expect spiritual newness. The form of the newness no longer surprises me. Sometimes the newness comes in the shape of new insights. It may come in the form of spiritual energy. At times it is a new and deeper meaning applied to an old familiar verse. Newness may occur as we move into a deeper relationship to the body of Christ or to another Christian. It may involve a commitment of some kind. On other occasions newness takes the form of a renewed strength or a different way to resist temptation. The expression of newness cannot be exhausted or God would not be creative. The river flows. Newness is the way of progress; we are moving from one glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

The Readiness Principle

Our third verb-command associated with the mind takes us to the climax of the process: "Gird your minds for action" (1 Pet. 1:13). In the first century, people wore long, flowing robes. To run or move quickly, a person had to turn the robe into a kind of pantaloon by "girding up" the robe.

This illustrates the Readiness Principle. Our minds are to remain prepared for action. Jesus remained alert, or ready, as various groups tried to trap Him with trick questions in Luke 20:20-40. The "scribes and the chief priests" asked whether Jews should pay taxes to the foreign Roman government. Their trap failed as He answered that they should satisfy both God and Caesar appropriately. When the Sadducees questioned Him about resurrection, He deftly corrected their erroneous ideas about the nature of the future life.

Readiness is being qualified for service. If our will is set and our mind has grown through constant renewal, we will be qualified for any test God allows to come our way.

The Practical Development of the Mind of Christ

Throughout the process of learning to think the thoughts of Christ, our mind will progressively assume the qualities of His mind. Below is a guide to the kind of outlook we will have if we develop these qualities. Start now trying to affirm the propositions on the right.

Adjectives Indications of Continuing Growth
Alive 1. My conscience always responds quickly to the Holy Spirit.
2. I am becoming more conscious of God throughout the day.
Peaceful 3. The joy and peace of Christ are replacing fleshly joys and mental conflicts.
4. I accept the circumstances of my life as being a tool of God.
Single-minded 5. I always consult the Lord when I make a decision.
6. I am learning new things about the Lord regularly that strengthen and confirm the earlier, basic concepts I started with.
Lowly 7. I am growing more humble before God and before others.
8. I am growing less ambitious for self, more ambitious for the kingdom.
Pure 9. I interpret my circumstances in the realization that God is always with me.
10. I know that God works every day, and I recognize the hand of God in my life quickly.
11. I am developing a stronger desire not to sin.
Responsive 12. I am growing in my thirst for God.
13. I am growing in my faith in God.
14. I respond immediately when God speaks to me.
15. I read and memorize the Bible.
16. I spend time in prayer daily.

What do you do with those propositions you cannot now affirm? You do nothing. Only God can change you. God is more anxious for you to have the mind of Christ than you are. Tell God you are willing for Him to change you. He will do what you ask, because conforming you to the image of Christ is His will.

We are to obey these commands then if we are to follow the New Testament exhortations about the mind—set our mind, renew our mind, and gird up our mind. In doing them, we are imitating the example of Christ. As you progress through this book, much of the time you will be engaging in one of these mental operations.

Scripture shows us six qualities our mind is to have. We are to be alive, peaceful, single-minded, lowly, pure, and responsive. In doing so, we are obeying the Scripture and becoming like Christ.

Conclusion

God's goal for me is that I be like Christ. The one aspect of my personality that He will constantly measure for Christlikeness is my mind. He helps in my growth by revealing through His word the expectations He has for my mind. I am assured that I can have His mind because of His office as Savior. Through His word, His work, His grace, and His Spirit, I have the mind of Christ and will grow in it.