Transformed by the renewing of your mind

The mystery of salvation involves complex yet simple mental processes. These God-given principles of the mind enable us to turn from sin to holiness, follow the Biblical injunction to walk with God, and differentiate between truth and error. Without these mental processes we cannot be reached even by God; with them we stand apart as being for whom Heaven gave its all.

W. B. Quigley is an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial/ Stewardship Association and a special contributor to MINISTRY.

God has placed within the fabulous, computerlike mechanism of man's brain certain great capacities by which we receive salvation. Without these mental processes we cannot be reached by the loving solicitude even of a saving God. With them we stand apart from the rest of the animal creation as that race of beings for whose redemption heaven poured out its choicest lifeblood.

First, there is the amazing principle of transformation. "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind," the apostle counsels (Rom. 12:2). Scripture and psychology confirm that "there is no limit to the usefulness of one who, by putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God." (E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 250, 251). We are changed by beholding, "into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18).

The power of the human mind to turn life around from sadness to joy, from failure to victory, from death to life, from sin to holiness, is inestimable! Christian salvation is dependent upon the mental absolute of faith to grasp the unseen and conceptualize victory. When the trembling believer reaches out the hand of faith, there is One who takes that faltering hand, and a lifting power is inaugurated that can change human life beyond all recognition and grant new life and power to the believer. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).

The Greek word for "transformed" in Romans 12:2 expresses the concept of complete transformation, not unlike the brilliant change of an ugly caterpillar into a graceful butterfly resplendent with all the colors of the rainbow! The gospel of Jesus Christ can so flow into one's highest intellectual centers of control that the life is turned around beyond all recognition. The new birth is a miracle, but this miracle is not solely some mysterious element which, like the injection of a miracle drug, mystically brings new life and spiritual capacity for fellowship with God. Rather it is, at least in part, the outworking of principles which are residual and universal in the human mechanism.

For example, we who deal with the principles of salvation have experienced the power of the will. No one has ever yet come to Jesus in new birth reality until the will was placed on the side of Christ in obedience and enthusiastic surrender to salvation's divine principles. And once a person's mental powers are brought to the place where salvation in Christ becomes the craving, the hourly desire, the highest ambition, transformation occurs.

Napoleon Hill, in his book, Think and Grow Rich, made two basic assertions. The first is: "Thoughts are things." Like money in the bank, good thinking is an asset that can give life, strength, and success. Like debt and liability, negative thinking destroys. The second principle is: "What ever the mind of man conceives, and believes, it can achieve." So powerful is this principle that even the physical body follows the mental direction so that a person's physique is changed into the same image as his thoughts! Ellen G. White makes a remarkable application of this principle: "Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death. Disease is sometimes produced, and is often greatly aggravated, by the imagination. Many are lifelong invalids who might be well if they only thought so. ... Many die from disease, the cause of which is wholly imaginary. Courage, hope, faith, sympathy, love, promote health and prolong life. A contented mind, a cheerful spirit, is health to the body and strength to the soul. 'A merry [rejoicing] heart doeth good like a medicine.'" —Ministry of Healing, p. 241.

In spiritual change, the mental principle must continue to reach upward and grasp the realities of the spiritual kingdom, so that continual change can occur. Genuine conversion is needed, not once, but daily. Divine grace must be received daily, or no man will stay converted.

Secondly, there is the principle of vicarious experience. Our walk with God, in essence, is one that is imagined. Imagination is the ability of the human mind to project into reality that which has only been on the film of thought, and the mind can conceive imagined experience to be at least as real as an actual physical experience can be. Psychological testing has confirmed this. Vicarious experience is the principle by which the reader of a book inserts himself into the plot so that he is there! A number of years ago I read the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl and his companions on the balsa log raft by which he crossed the Pacific just as ancient Indians had done centuries before. My pulse quickened as I transferred the thoughts he had put on paper to my own mind and "experience." Experience? Yes! Because I was now "there." I was catching the flying fish that had landed on the deck! I was excitedly watching the huge deep-sea creature that followed the raft nose-to-stern for days, menacing eyes staring at us, threatening an imminent upset of our fragile craft with one mighty heave! Yes, I was there! By vicarious experience, of course.

This is the way faith allowed Enoch to walk with God. This is the way faith allows you and me to walk with God.

"No," you say; "we don't walk with God! He's in heaven! " But yes, we do walk with God. We walk with God in vicarious, but very real, companionship.

It is by this vicarious principle that you can break every one of God's Ten Commandments. Turn on the TV set. Watch that movie that was clearly produced to cover all the bases sex, deceit, falsehood, infidelity, profanity, ungodliness, and crime of every form. As you do so, there is a point at which your own nature and character must either accept or reject what is streaming into your mind. If you really love love with all your heart the commandments of God, you will so rebel at this intrusion into the sanctity of your divinely oriented mind that you will react against it. You will stop the intrusion by some deliberate action, even if it is inconvenient to do so. This is the sublime privilege of your will! As you perform this act of your will, a great sense of victory surges through you, bringing assurance that you are progressing spiritually

However, if you are not really in love with God's commandments, it may be that the intrusion is quite acceptable to you. In fact, it may be that you have allowed it so many times that it is quite normal for you to accept it. As the violence, crime, and immorality continue, you become absorbed as by vicarious experience you are "entering into" the action, becoming a participant by imagination.

When we become imaginary participants in any action, we are, essentially and by all rules of the spiritual game, commit ting those acts! This is an important principle of the mind as designed by the Creator. It is also true that we cannot enjoy an imagined experience unless we accept the standards by which the action proceeds. Acceptance of the act of sin occurs when we experience fulfillment in vicariously engaging in the thing we would really like to do. This is the service, both good and bad, which the thought media TV, radio, books and movies provides. Jesus said, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). The Ten Commandments are first broken in the secret recesses of the mind, by imagined experience, before they are broken by physical action. Never is the latter committed before the former. Several of the commandments the first, the fifth, and the tenth in particular are violated almost exclusively by a mental process.

The principle of the mind, therefore, which provides vicarious experience, is very basic to the claiming of redemption's realities. We can walk with God. We can choose the fellowhip of angels, of God, of Jesus, and we can cultivate the presence and power of the Holy Spirit if we choose to use this powerful faculty. Linked with the first principle, the imagination can cause incredible change in human growth and experience. To understand these principles better enables us as Christians to pursue consciously a spiritual growth process and to process the assurance that we have "passed from death unto life." As evangelists, we are enabled to understand, as the Master did, "what was in man."

The third principle is so crucial to the evangelistic process that experientially its action in many cases precedes the full interplay of the other two. It is the principle of conscience. Its cruciality to the evangelistic process can be seen in Christ's dealing with the woman at Jacob's Well. Christ had masterfully turned this forbidding conversation from a casual encounter into a spiritual search. The master Soul-winner knew well better than any of us that somehow He must reach the conscience of this proud Samaritan woman: "Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly." (John 4:16-18).

Until this point the conversation had been confined to symbolic talk about water, everlasting life, the Samaritan-Jewish estrangement, and Jacob's Well. As Christ skillfully incised and laid bare a hurting conscience, the woman sought to hide from the laser beam of the Master's spiritual searchlight, unconsciously sensing that her Visitor had touched the mainspring of her spiritual self.

"Before this soul could receive the gift He longed to bestow, she must be brought to recognize her sin and her Saviour. . . . The listener trembled. A mysterious hand was turning the pages of her life history, bringing to view that which she had hoped to keep forever hidden. . . There came to her thoughts of eternity, of the future judgment, when all that is now hidden shall be revealed. In its light, conscience was awakened. ... As His words to the woman had aroused her conscience, Jesus rejoiced. He saw her drinking of the water of life, and His own hunger and thirst were satisfied." The Desire of Ages, pp. 187- 191.

Conscience is defined by Webster as "an inward faculty that sits in judgment on the moral Tightness of thoughts, words, or actions, independent of the individual's desires or inclinations, based on previously established ethical (or moral) standards." It is important that, as soul-winners, we recognize the implications of this definition. As humans, we are all "consciencebound. "Everyone is a product of what he has accepted thus far in his life. Early training, parents, educational exposure, and the choices made, with their attendant rationales, have composed for each of us a conscience. This conscience is an inner court of judgment, and we base decisions upon it. We can accept all intrusions into the mind with ease, if they do not violate this court of judgment which our past life has set up. If, however, an unacceptable intrusion occurs, either revulsion or painful acceptance follows. Often the pressure of other persons or a state of weakness causes us to accept what we would not if we were strong.

Everyone born into the world has a conscience with a "clean page." As life develops, from the first primitive glimmer that differentiates between a right or wrong standard, a conscience is erected. It has nothing to do with Christianity. Communists have consciences. Criminals have consciences. Hitler had a con science. No human being has ever been born who did not have, by the very nature of his being, an inner "court of judgment" by which accepted standards sat in judgment on his actions. A person may have no scruples to prohibit him from taking human life, but that is not to say that no other standards govern his life. The conscience which has been educated to adopt God's standards is without doubt the most enlightened, but it is only one of many molds which different cultures, religions, political systems, and family orientations give to the conscience. Of the ancient heathen, whose consciences were far from that of a Christian, Paul said, "the times of this ignorance God winked at" (Acts 17:30). And although this phrase cannot adequately cover all that is involved in God's judgment of us, it is theologically true that God honors the conscientious orientation of a person who faces His inexorable judgment, and He makes His divine decisions based on His knowledge of that person's experience and what use he has or has not made of his opportunities for advancement.

An example of a non-Christian con science can be seen in a youth who has been trained from his earliest days to function by standards designed to further the aims of a totalitarian society. He is totally, selflessly dedicated. An admirable quality? Yes. His conscience leads him to intense application for a "noble" cause! He has read, studied, labored, and disciplined himself to be a leader. If slippage occurs in this dedication, his conscience bothers him to call him back into line. Taking human life is no principle of conscience to him; rather, the highest good of the state and the fulfillment of its objectives is a higher principle. Therefore, no twinge of conscience occurs if he orders the execution of a traitor. But his parents, also dedicated to the state, are one of his great loves. Deep in his mind (conscience) are the principles they taught him. Honest work and loyalty to comrades and above all, the great good of a future society built on socialist principles a "kingdom" if you please these are the standards of a con science just as responsive, just as painful when violated, as the Christian's conscience!

Today in America we speak of reaching the "secular mind." The erudite of the proud cities live by the rules of today's materialism. They know no Ten Commandments, no Saviour, no Bible, no church. What can be done to reach them? One thing is true whatever is done must reach the conscience. Perhaps that suave, erudite secularist was educated to acknowledge the great philosophers as his norm for life's principles and thus the highest principle to him is humanitarian good. The plays, the operas, and the theater that he frequents deal with the human problem. (Don't forget that there is a conscience in every theatrical portrayal!) As the soul-winner discovers the nature of the conscientious standards by which this individual functions, he is in a position to begin building that bridge that will lead inexorably to the Author of all good principles.

Edward R. Murrow, before his death, wrote a book and later a sequel, entitled This I Believe (Simon and Schuster 1954), in which he summarized the faith of the world's great personalities. Amazingly, practically none of them espoused the Christian faith. But nearly all held a strong faith in humanity for which they labored, sacrificed, and exerted their influence. Conscientious response came from standards involving the plight of humanity. Though not called by Christian terms, they were on the same track as was Christ when He looked down to this benighted planet and decided to die for mankind! Some of the greatest deeds for humanity have been performed by self-sacrificing non-Christians. Some of the most moral people of the world are not Christians!

Some of the most immoral acts of history were performed by Christians in the name of Christianity! This paradox spurs us on to discover what principles make the secular mind function so that we can construct the oftentimes short bridge to unite it with God. We must find this conscience and build a bridge to Christ!


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W. B. Quigley is an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial/ Stewardship Association and a special contributor to MINISTRY.

October 1982

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