Some days I know I need a brain bath. The stains of wrong-headedness; the grime of worldly perspectives; the migraine of bad attitudes; the filth of knuckle-headed desires - these all need to be washed away. But how? Jesus served the disciples with foot-washing. Would he also serve us with mind-washing? Yes, by the renewing of our minds. It is not something that we do to or for ourselves. But it does involve our willing participation (see Peter’s sparring with Jesus on foot-washing in John 13).
Being renewed in our minds has much to do with the truth. Ephesians 4:20,21 (in anticipation of the invitation to “be renewed” in v. 23) mentions learning, hearing, being taught, and the truth. Colossians 3:2 (in anticipation of the promise of renewal in v.10) says to “set your mind on things above, where Christ is.” I think we could even argue that the “Therefore” in Romans 12:1 (anticipating “the renewing of your mind” in v.2) harks back to the arguments of what we should “know” and “consider” or “reckon” in Romans 6. This truth has everything to do with Jesus, and our union and participation in the reality that came to light and life in his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, and in the preaching of the Gospel ever since. Our past, and the release from condemnation, and the expunging of the record of our sins, is bound up with Jesus. Our hope and expectation that this is not all there is; that this world will be released from the grip of sin and death - is wrapped up in the victory of Jesus. Our recognition that we live by Him and for Him comes from the truth that there is a throne that we cannot see, upon whom sits the One whom we love, and under whose feet are all enemies.
Somehow, this truth of Jesus has to be more real and more obvious to us than any other earthly/worldly truths. Whether we have a burning interest in the standings of our favorite teams, or the latest poll concerning the next election, or the fluttering of the stock market like a flag in a fan factory, we must have our eyes and minds first fixed on Jesus. It is our convictions about and impressions of Him that must control our mood and confidence. Romans 6:3 gives us the image of baptism for this identification with Christ. We are to be drenched with him. He is the shower that we take every morning, washing our bodies and clearing our minds from the fog of sleep and confusion. We are not prepared for the day without being clothed in Christ. This is so important, that I risk foolishness to press the point. He is the Alarm clock that rouses us every morning; the constant Companion in the car; the Time clock that records our arrivals and departures; the Desk that reads every one of our reports, and the first One to greet us at the door of our homes. It is this truth of Jesus that insulates us from the lies and deceits of the world.
In addition to being cloaked with the truth of Christ, it is commanded that we take action by “laying aside the old man” (Eph 4:22; Col 3:8,9). It is as simple as saying no (Titus 2:12), and it is as difficult as dying (Mark 8:34,35). But that is what we are to do: to say no to ourselves as we are inclined to follow the ways of the world, and to submit to a crucifixion of self for the sake of the new, post-crucified life.
There is the constant temptation to begin to assume that we “renew our minds” on our own. With regard to the earlier point, it is not so much that we master the truth, as that we are mastered by it. And on this point, we don’t so much crucify ourselves, as submit to crucifixion. Think literally for a moment. If you wanted to crucify yourself, you might nail both your feet first, and then one hand to the cross. But who nails the other hand? There is no hand for the hammer. You can’t do it. It is done to you. And so this art of dying daily to sin; of saying no to the self, is not a case where we drum up enough determination to take ourselves in hand and master ourselves. No, it is more dragging ourselves to God, handing over to Him and His Spirit each one of those things that grips us and pulls us away from Christ. And even as we “present” these things, they cling to us, tearing at our flesh. We don’t want to give them away, or to lay them aside. But we do, for the sake of the renewing of our minds.
This must not be mere theory. Test yourself. To what have you said “no” today? Not sure? Then you stand in need of the renewing of your mind. I am bold to say this because of the absolute fact of daily dirt. In Bible times, the need for foot washing was a given, as is the assumed need of hand washing today. If every shopping cart and stair railing is riddled with germs, then there is certainly no way for you to maneuver your way through your day without being contaminated by sin. And a man or woman who is unaware and unconcerned about his/her own sin simply cannot experience renewal of mind. Do not be so foolish as to think that the Holy Spirit will agree to drop “Holy” from his name for the sake of your unaddressed or closely held sin. So instead, we ask God, by His Spirit to inspect our lives for every trace of sin, to bring it to our attention, so that we might present it for crucifixion. And frankly, many of our sins are more like elephants in the room than some invisible, hidden cell. Whom are we trying to fool?
Let’s close with some review and clarification. This subject of the renewal of our minds is not merely or primarily a human activity. The Gospel teaches us that we must not put confidence in ourselves, but rather in Christ. Just as we do not raise ourselves from the dead (whether physically, or spiritually), so we do not renew our own minds. Galatians 5 helps us here. Remember that there are two lists in this chapter. One is “the works of the flesh.” The other is “the fruit of the Spirit.” On our own, we can do all kinds of dreadful things. But we are not a good-works factory (manufactured behavior). If we try on our own to produce good works, we instead produce only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Instead, the text changes the imagery from a factory to that of a fruit-bearing branch (Galatians 5). The branch (or, you and I) is not the active force in the production of fruit, though it is involved. We are a channel, a territory, in which the Spirit works. And for this to happen, God has planned for the renewing of our minds. But don’t make the mistake. We are not here merely trading self-expression for self-discipline. We are instead rejecting the self-principle in favor of the Spirit-principle.
As the front-door of faith is repentance, the needful activity for being clothed in Christ is to shed the snakeskin of our sins. The needful activity for the renewal of the mind is to submit to the Spirit who, as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, will bless us with a brain bath.