The Goal of Disciplining the Mind
In Conversion and Discipleship I establish that grace is more than just a passive transformation that God works in us. Here I want to dig into the goal of discipline. Discipline is also grace that enables us to learn from others, utilize our knowledge and understanding, plan and set schedules, and exert effort toward growing in godliness. But how does all of this relate to desires?
We need to remember that all sin is the result of the good desires given to us by God turning bad. In other words, sin is a corruption of good desires. So for example a desire for power or for sex or to succeed can all be good in the right contexts yet devastating in others. When we exercise desires that are in accord with God’s purposes, they can honor God. But when we exercise desires for our selfish purposes, they are destructive.
In addition, we need to recognize that many of our desires are set deeply in our bodies and as a result have a visceral power over us that can overcome our mind and the best intentions of our will. For example, a man can determine in his mind and will not to lust, or gamble, or lie, but his primal urges for sex, money, and esteem and can override his determination. This is why it takes time, effort, and discipline to overcome our sinful desires and why we must train our bodies, wills, and minds in godliness. Even as we mature in Christ, these visceral drives can remain unpredictable and dangerous. Paul speaks of them as the “sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:23 NRSV), and we must not underestimate the power they have over us.
The will depends on the mind to provide it with information. So what we put in our mind matters. Our minds are filled with thoughts and feelings, many of them subconscious, and they inform and effect our willingness to obey the will of God.
I’ll give you definitions of the what I mean by the following terms so we are on the same page.
- Ideas: beliefs based on our life experience and worldview
- Images: concrete and specific pictures or memories
- Feelings: passions and desires.
The goal of disciplining our mind is so that our ideas, images, and feelings consistently match the will of God, because we are seeking to conform our will to his. In his wonderful book the Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard describes it this way: “spiritual transformation only happens as each essential dimension of the human being is transformed to Christlikeness under the direction of a regenerate will interacting with constant overtures of the grace from God. Such transformation is not the result of mere human effort and cannot be accomplished by putting pressure on the will alone” (41).
Note on this construct of ideas, images, and feelings: It comes from Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003), 95–140. See also my exegesis in Bill Hull, Choose the Life: Exploring a Faith that Embraces Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 107–26.
This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.
Image credit: Unsplash.