A young man in Korea asks: “Pastor John, is intelligence required for becoming holy? Smart Christians can think better about God, which gives them better discernment on how to glorify God. And the opposite goes for ‘dumber’ Christians. I think I am wrong, but why?” Pastor John, convince him that he’s wrong, and explain the connection between intelligence and godliness.
He is on to something true. And yet you can’t draw a straight line from intelligence to godliness. So here is what I would say. The human mind is required for becoming holy. It is required for becoming human. In 2 Timothy 2:7, Paul says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
So he is dealing with Timothy as a thinker, as a person with a mind. And so he is calling him, “Use your mind to think over what I say.” He says in 1 Corinthians 14:20: “Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” So he is calling us to be mature through our thinking. Don’t let your thinking lag behind. Grow in grace as you think clearly about the things that I have spoken.
And he says in Ephesians 3:4, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ. Now reading is a task of the mind. It requires that we teach our kids grammar and syntax and that they be able construe lines of thought from one phrase to another, one sentence to another. And therefore Paul says, has clearly connected acts of the mind with being able to grasp the mystery of God. So in that sense this man from Korea is on to something.
“I know of no correlation between intelligence and godliness — so use your mind, but use it to become child-like.”
The Intersection of Mind and Heart
Here is the problem with drawing a line from there to, “Oh, well, then all smart people are godly.” There are so many other factors besides IQ that go into deciding whether a person is holy or not. Other factors like rebellion come into play and may make a person who is very intelligent all the more rebellious, angry, and bitter.
And so I know of zero correlation between intelligence and godliness. In fact, Jesus said in Luke 10:21 that God has “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children,” which, I think, leads us to this paradox: Yes, use your mind. But use it to become an infant. Use it to become child-like.
We use our intelligence, often considered an instrument of independence, to lead us to increasing dependence on God.
I just read this morning in my devotions: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). Which means that the mind, which is usually considered something that makes us independent from the need for somebody else, should be used to show that we are more dependent and child-like when it comes to God and bring us to a place of humility. Only then can the mind can serve godliness. We use our intelligence, usually considered an instrument of independence, to lead us to increasing dependence on God.