The Gospel-Shaped Mind
Knowing the Glories of Christ
China Partnership Pastors’ Gathering | Hong Kong
I said in the previous message that the gospel-shaped mind serves the gospel-shaped heart. Right-thinking about God exists for the sake of right feelings for God. Scriptural doctrine exists for the sake of spiritual delights. The task of the mind is to provide the fuel of truth for the furnace of the heart. And the task of the heart is to burn with white-hot joy in God.
I tried to show how the gospel — especially the death of Christ in our place — makes it possible for people who are depraved and guilty to have everlasting happiness in God’s presence. The best news in all the world is that Christ has absorbed the wrath of God against us, has taken out of us the depraved heart of blindness, and has given us a heart that sees and savors the glory of Christ above all things.
So, the gospel-shaped heart is a heart that cherishes and treasures Jesus Christ more than health or wealth or even life itself. And, therefore, the gospel-shaped heart magnifies the beauty and worth of Christ by being satisfied in him above everything else. God is most glorified in the gospel-shaped heart because the gospel-shaped heart is most satisfied in him.
See and Know the Glories of Christ
Now, we focus on the gospel-shaped mind. In order for the gospel-shaped heart to treasure the glories of Christ above all things, the gospel-shaped mind must see and know the glories of Christ. We can’t love with the heart what we don’t know with the mind. Therefore, the work of the mind to rightly know God is absolutely essential.
A Paradox of the Heart and Mind
I have said that the task of the mind is to provide the fuel of truth for the furnace of the heart. And the task of the heart is to burn with white-hot joy in God. In other words, the mind serves the heart. However, it is not quite that simple. The human mind has its own kind of depravity along with the depravity of the human heart. Both need to be redeemed through the gospel.
There is a paradox here. On the one hand, I am arguing that the gospel-shaped mind serves the heart by providing the fuel of truth. On the other hand, the gospel-shaped heart serves the mind, because the blindness of the mind originates in the hardness of the heart. This means the heart must be changed in order to free the mind to do its work. Hence, the paradox: The heart needs truth from the mind in order to respond properly, but the mind is blinded by the hardness of the heart.
Our Deepest Problem
Let me try to illustrate this paradox with several biblical texts. In John 3:19–20 Jesus said:
This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
In other words, our deepest problem is not that the mind doesn’t have access to light and truth, but that the heart hates the light and loves the darkness. The mind is blinded by the light-hating, darkness-loving heart. So our deepest problem is not ignorance of the light, but hatred of the light. The problem is not that we are in the dark, but that we love being in the dark. This means that if the mind is going to escape the darkness and see things the way they really are, then the heart must be set free from its love affair with darkness and its hatred of the light. For we all know the reality that the mind regularly distorts reality to make it seem to fit the desire of the heart.
“Our deepest problem is not ignorance of the light, but hatred of the light.”
Here’s the way Paul says it in Ephesians 4:18:
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
Notice what our deepest problem is in this text. It is not the ignorance of the mind. It is the hardness of the heart. Do you see the logical connection between those two at the end of the verse? “. . . the ignorance that is in them, due to [on account of] the hardness of heart.” The hardness of heart is the reason the mind is ignorant.
So, Jesus and Paul are saying the same thing: The darkness of the mind is not our deepest problem. The hardness of heart is our deepest problem. And that hardness consists in hatred of the light and the love of the darkness. This is what has to be overcome for the mind to be set free to serve the heart as God intended it. As long as the heart hates the light and loves the darkness, the mind will inevitably twist things to justify the heart’s love of darkness and justify the heart’s hatred of the truth.
The remedy for both the hard heart and for the darkened mind is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes to us in two ways: It comes (1) in the form of intelligible truth for the mind, and (2) in the form of transforming power for the heart. And the gospel exerts itself in both these ways simultaneously. Consider what this looks like in the new birth in 1 Peter 1:23, 25:
You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
So, you see the gospel coming in two ways. “The imperishable seed” refers to the inner transforming power of the Spirit. And then, Peter says that this imperishable seed is bringing about the new birth “through the living and abiding word of God . . . that is the gospel that was preached.” So, on the one hand, there is intelligible truth — the preached gospel — which the mind grasps. On the other hand, there is the imperishable seed of the Spirit at work within us to bring about a transformed heart.
Both of these are miracles because the mind is blind to the beauty of Christ, on the one hand, and the heart is hard against Christ, on the other. Without a miracle of the Spirit, the blind mind will distort the gospel and the hard heart will reject it. But when the miracle of new birth happens, the darkness is removed from the mind, and hardness is removed from the heart simultaneously. When the gospel is preached in the power of the Spirit, the renewed mind transmits the truth of the gospel to the heart in the very same instant that the new receptive heart is making the mind able to see the gospel for what it is.
So, in the miracle of the new birth, God removes both the hardness of the heart and the darkness of the mind. The word of the gospel penetrates the mind and the Spirit penetrates the heart, so that in the same instant, the heart is freeing the mind from blindness and the mind is fueling the heart with truth, and we are born again. Our minds and our hearts become new together.
A Two-Way Relationship
So, when I say that the task of the gospel-shaped mind is to provide fuel for the furnace of the gospel-shaped heart, and when I say that the task of the gospel-shaped heart is to burn with white-hot joy in God, I don’t mean that the influence goes all in one direction — from the mind to the heart. Now, we see that even while the Gospel-shaped mind is supplying the heart with the fuel of God’s truth, the gospel-shaped heart is freeing the mind to see the truth for what it really is — supremely beautiful and supremely valuable.
When we are born again by the Spirit through the word, the heart is freed from devaluing the beauty of God, and the mind is freed from distorting the truth of God. Therefore, the gospel-shaped mind is the mind that has been set free from bondage to deception and distortion, and can now see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ for what it really is (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The Gospel-Shaped Mind Is Indispensable
Now, I return to my basic point: The primary calling of the gospel-shaped mind is to provide the fuel of truth for the furnace of the gospel-shaped heart. I stress this because God’s ultimate goal in the universe is not only that we see him for who he is, but that we savor him as all satisfying. A right knowledge of God does not glorify God until it produces right affections for God.
I would like to spend the rest of our time in this message showing from Scripture that the right use of the gospel-shaped mind is indispensable in serving God’s ultimate purpose, namely, that the human heart would enjoy God as our all-satisfying treasure. I would like to show this from six texts.
“A right knowledge of God does not glorify God until it produces right affections for God.”
The Gospel-Shaped Mind and Salvation
First, Romans 10:1–3:
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [his Jewish kinsmen, see Romans 9:31] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Notice five things about this text:
The people have zeal. Verse 2: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal.” Their hearts are passionate. They are not lukewarm. They are not apathetic. They are sincere and fervent.
Their zeal is for God. Verse 2: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God.” At least this is the label they put on it. They are religious. Their hearts are zealous for God — at least in some sense.
This zeal for God is not based on a right use of the mind. It is not based on right knowledge. Verse 2b: “. . . but not according to knowledge.” The furnace of their hearts is burning, but the fuel is not the fuel of truth. The mind has failed to provide the fuel of truth. And the heart is aflame with a false view of God.
Therefore, they are not saved. Verse 1: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved,” because they are not.
Therefore, it is possible to have a zeal for God and not be saved, because true knowledge of God and his way of salvation is lacking. The mind is failing to provide the fuel of truth for the furnace of the heart.
That’s the first argument: The gospel-shaped mind is indispensable in providing the furnace of the heart with the fuel of truth. There is no salvation without it.
The Gospel-Shaped Mind Fueling the Furnace
Second, 2 Timothy 2:7:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Notice three things:
Using the mind to think about what Paul writes does not replace God’s supernatural work in giving understanding. “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding.”
Faith in the supernatural work of God giving us understanding does not replace thinking about what Paul wrote.
Therefore, both the natural act of thinking and the supernatural act of God’s giving understanding are essential. Or to say it another way: Seeing what is really there in the inspired writings of the apostles and being changed by it in our hearts requires both the natural act of thinking and the supernatural illumination of God.
That’s the second argument: The gospel-shaped mind is indispensable in providing the furnace of the heart with the fuel of truth.
Jesus and the Use of the Mind
Third, we’ll look to Luke 12:54–57. I’ve heard people say that reasoning with syllogisms is a Western way of thinking. That it’s not universal. It is just one cultural way of thinking. But in other cultures, it might not be a valid way to think, which casts a shadow over the entire exhortation to think over what the Bible says.
You remember what a syllogism is: It is two premises and a conclusion. For example:
- Premise one: All men are mortal.
- Premise two: Plato was a man.
- Conclusion: Therefore, Plato was mortal.
I think that kind of syllogism it is built right into the structure of reality and is valid everywhere. One reason I think this is the case is because people rely on that kind of thinking everywhere, whether they know it or not. And another reason I think this is the case is because Jesus assumed the validity of this kind of reasoning. He even held people accountable to use it. For example, Luke 12:54–57 says:
Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”
“Jesus himself criticized his own generation for failing to use their minds properly to see spiritual reality.”
Do you see how they are using the syllogism in their daily lives?
- Premise one: When clouds arise in the West, it is going to rain.
- Premise two: Clouds are arising in the West.
- Conclusion: Therefore, it is going to rain.
Jesus saw that they knew how to use their reasoning powers perfectly well when their own worldly interests were at stake. And, therefore, he called them hypocrites when they didn’t use the same reasoning powers when it came to spiritual matters like who he was and what a unique time in history it was.
So, my third argument that we should use our gospel-shaped mind to provide truth to the heart is that Jesus himself criticized his own generation for failing to use their minds properly to see spiritual reality.
“Do You Not Know?”
Fourth, thirteen times in his letters, the apostle Paul asks the question, “Do you not know?” Implying if you use your minds to know what you ought to know, then it would radically affect your heart and behavior. For example:
- Do you not know that you are God’s temple? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
- Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1 Corinthians 5:6)
- Do you not know that we are to judge angels? (1 Corinthians 6:3)
- Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:15)
The point is this: If you were using your minds as you ought, in order to know the things I have told you, it would make a huge difference in your lives. “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).
So, my fourth argument for using the mind to fuel the heart is that Paul insisted that right knowing was essential to right living.
The Work of the Mind and the Task of the Teacher
Fifth, in Ephesians 4:11–12, Paul tells us that the risen Christ gave teachers to his church.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
He also said that the overseers or elders of every congregation must be apt to teach or gifted and able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2).
What is the job of a teacher in the church? The job is to read and understand God’s word, and then explain it to others so that they understand and are changed by the word. Teaching involves the work of the mind to understand truth, and then to make it plain to others. God planned that his church would be led by teachers. Therefore, the work of the mind is essential if the church is to be transformed into the image of Christ.
The Mind and Reading
Sixth and finally, we look to Ephesians 3:4. It is God’s plan for the centuries of church history, until the Lord Jesus returns in glory, that his truth would be preserved for the church in a book — the Bible. The implications of this simple fact are enormous. One implication is that knowing God demands reading. Either you must read or someone must read for you. And reading is a profoundly intellectual act. It involves thinking. And the more careful the reading, the harder the mental work.
“Knowing God demands reading. And reading is a profoundly intellectual act.”
Here is an amazing text from Ephesians:
By reading this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ. (Ephesians 3:4)
Just think of it. The ordinary work of the mind called reading becomes the means of seeing into the very mystery of Christ that God gave the apostle Paul.
And it is precisely in seeing this mystery — the unsearchable riches of Christ, as they are called in verse 8 — that our hearts are transformed. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “Beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree.” Seeing the glories of Christ through reading changes us at the root of our being.
This means that the right use of the gospel-shaped mind in reading Scripture is an essential means of fueling the heart so that it is transformed into a heart that treasures Jesus above everything.
Created to Treasure God
I conclude, therefore, God has created us with a mind for thinking and a heart for feeling. Further, he intends for the gospel-shaped mind to continually provide the fuel of truth for the furnace of the heart so that the heart would blaze with love to God — that it would treasure God above all things with all-satisfying joy.
Therefore, brothers, spare no effort with your mind to supply the fuel of truth from God’s word, not only to the furnace of your own heart, but also the furnace of your people’s heart, because our aim is to bring our people into such a deep satisfaction in God that they will be set free from the fleeting pleasures of this world, and will show that God, in Christ, is infinitely more beautiful, more valuable, and more satisfying.