Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Christian and Intellect II

"There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love caritas].” [St. Bernard of Clairvaux]
Change is not an easy thing for humans to suffer. We are creatures of habit. Human behavior is driven by a value system that is deeply rooted inside the mind or soul of the individual. We are creatures of habit. Those habits are the things we have come to love dearly. We shop at the same store, eat at the same restaurants, order the same meals, etc. Our responses are very predictable. We can predict how those closest to us will react if placed in certain circumstances. I go to bed at the same time. We go through certain routines the same way every day. What does it take to get us to change our habits? For the most part the answer lies in the consequences. Behavioral science tells us that human beings behave the way they do for the most part because we like the consequences those behaviors produce. To put it in non-technical language, we like what we get when we do what we do. It is that simple. These habits however, do not begin with actions in a vacuum. They begin somewhere else. They begin in the intellect. It is in the intellect that habits of behavior have their greatest hold over our lives. The reason certain behaviors are so difficult to change may be attribute to the fact that we sometimes attempt to change behavior without also changing the intellect. We try to change what we do without first changing how we think. This accounts for more failure in the area of behavior modification than any other single factor.

Biblically speaking, I am not contending that change is limited to the mind. Biblical change involves the whole person and it involves the effort of the Holy Spirit as He applies the opus of Christ’s redemption to our hearts. However, the transforming work of Christ in our lives as we read and apply Scripture involves the mind a great deal more than is emphasized today. In Romans 12:2, Paul says we are to be transformed by the “renewing” of our mind. The Greek word for transformed is where we get our English word metamorphosis. It means to be changed in a manner that is visible to others; to change the essential form or nature of something. How do we do this? Paul says it is accomplished by “renewing” the mind. That Greek word for renew means to renovate. It means to cause something to become new and different. What is that “something” that is becoming new and different? It is the mind! Follow Paul as he says, you must go through a metamorphosis in your person through renovating or making your mind new. A change is wrought in us that is clearly visible to others. However, that change is the result of a renovation of the mind. Hence, the importance of filling the mind with the Word of God cannot be overemphasized. Moreover, we need to keep in constant view that this metamorphosis is one that is visible to all. There is a transformation: it is a change that is unmistakable. The whole point of this series of discussions around the Christian and intellect is that the intellect should change as a direct result of our becoming a Christian. Just as total depravity extends to every area of the human person, leaving nothing that is not affected by its disease, so too does the new birth. Regeneration is a radical change of the entire human person that becomes visible to all. In fact, it becomes more and more visible each day. Moreover, this progressive visibility of change is indelibly connected to the mind, the human intellect.

The Delusion of Neutrality

To illustrate the significance of this section, I will begin with a question: Should you be neutral concerning your Christian faith and commitment to God? Should you even try to be neutral concerning Christ? According to some scholars, the human intellect is morally neutral. The cure for many of life’s woes lay in the process of educating people on how they may effectively manage their life better. All that humans require to address their problems is information. This is borne from the enlightenment idea of autonomous human reason. Man has the intellectual capacity to solve his own problems. If you teach a man to think rightly, he can set the world ablaze with advancements that will benefit all. The problem with this ideology is that it does not take into account that the human intellect is not neutral. Human beings are not born a tabula rasa.

There are groups in the Christian community who have adopted this philosophy of neutrality, reducing the gospel to a mere decision to follow Christ. In fact, one of my favorite songs used to be, “I Have Decided” (to follow Jesus). It is as if all one needs to do is present the case for Christ in just the right way, and an intelligent person will figure it out and make the right choice. Some consider the decision to follow Christ similar to deciding whether or not exit a burning building, or taking the most efficient route on a map to get to a destination. Nothing could be further from the truth. Considering Satan’s work in the human intellect, Thomas Watson wrote, “He rules the understanding. He blinds men with ignorance, and then rules them; as the Philistines first put out Samson’s eyes, and then bound him. Satan can do what he will with the ignorant man; because he does not see the error of his way, the devil can lead him into any sin. You may lead a blind man any whither. Omne peccatum fundatur in ignorantia [Every sin is founded upon ignorance].” [Watson, Thomas. A Body of Divinity, 149] There is no neutrality. Because of the fall, sin has tragically infected the human intellect. There is an inescapable ignorance associated with sin. R.L. Dabney writes, “The views of understanding concerning all moral subjects are perverted by the wrong propensions (sic) of the heart, so as to call good evil, and evil good. Thus “blindness of mind” on all moral subjects results.” [Dabney, R.L. Systematic Theology, 323] The intellect is not isolated from the infectious disease of sin. Morally, the intellect has an anti-God predisposition. Van Til was correct when he said, “There is simply no presupposition-free and neutral way to approach reasoning.” Bahnsen adds, “Especially reasoning about the fundamental and philosophically momentous issues of God’s existence and revelation.” [Bahnsen, Greg. Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, 614]

Custody of the Intellect

Paul wrote to the Roman church explaining the problem with the unregenerate human mind. Paul says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:5-8)

The modern idea that the human intellect is ethically neutral is a myth. This idea is borne out of sinful human reasoning. It is modernity’s attempt to displace God with autonomous human reason. Unwittingly, Christians have bought into the idea to a large degree. Examining Romans 8:5-8 provides explicit insight into Paul’s understanding of the subject and God’s revelation about it. Frist, Paul unambiguously says that “those who are according to the flesh” set their minds on the things of the flesh. There are two conditions and only two to be sure. The first condition is to possess an intellect that is corrupted by sin. The intellect that is corrupted by sin is so because of the fall. The human being is helpless in this condition. That is to say that humans cannot change their intellectual condition. The moral quality of the unregenerate human intellect is unholy in every sense. Paul says humans are dead in their trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1) We are not merely sick. Our condition is much worse. We are dead. We are incapable of curing ourselves. Moreover, being dead, we are unable even to cooperate in the remedy for our cure. In addition, our nature is such that even if we could cooperate, we would not. This is Paul’s point to the Roman Christians.

Fleshly people all set their minds on the things of the flesh. They take up godless attitudes and live out those attitudes daily. Fleshly humans, unregenerate people in other words, fix their minds, their hearts, and their desires on sinful, fleshly things. Paul goes on to say that such behavior is antithetical with what Christians do. True Christians (and most people who claim to be Christian are not) set their minds and fix their desires on the things of the Spirit. There are those who live a life and reflect an attitude of worldly thinking and behavior and then there are those who focus on pleasing God with every aspect of who they are. Paul says the mind set on the flesh is death. In other words, eternal life does not reside within those whose lives are defined by fleshly living. John says as much when he says that people who profess Christ and hate their brother are murderers, liars, and do not possess eternal life. Paul then provides us with the reason why this concept is true. He says the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God. Unregenerate humans are hostile toward God. The Greek word ecqra (ECHTHRA) appears six times in the NT. It is used to reference the fact that Pilate and Herod were once enemies but now they are friends in Luke 23:12. In Ga. 5:20 it is listed as one of the works of the flesh. In Eph. 2:15 it is used to describe the commandments that were abolished in Christ’s flesh. James uses it to describe friendship of the world as being hostile toward God. Christianity is an exclusive religion. Those who deny the exclusive nature of Christianity do not understand the Christian religion.

Paul says this hostility of the human intellect results in an unwillingness to submit to the law of God. The person who is living according to the flesh possesses an intellect that is geared to fleshly satisfaction. Hence, such a person is unwilling to submit to the law of God. Conversely, there is no such thing as a fleshly person who IS willing to submit to the law of God. Moreover, Paul not only says that this intellect is hostile toward God and unwilling to submit to the God’s law, he says this intellect is not even able to submit to the law of God. Three things are true here regarding the human intellect in an unregenerate state: first, it is an enemy of God everywhere it is found; second, it is unwilling to submit to God no matter what; third, even if it were somehow willing to submit to God, it does not possess the ability to do so. The Greek word for “able” is dunatai (DUNATAI), and it means “to possess capability (whether because of personal or external factors) for experiencing or doing something.” The unregenerate mind cannot be made a friend, cannot be persuaded to give in to God, and can’t even be equipped with the capacity to possess the ability to do otherwise. Indeed, the condition is hopeless in and of itself. But wait! “Behold, days are coming declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:31, 34) And again, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will become clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

If you have made Christ your Lord and Master, it is only because he chose you, and cleansed you, and gave you a new heart, a new intellect. He washed you clean. You should rejoice with joy unspeakable. However, if you are continuing in a life of rebellion, rejecting God’s love, God’s word, and openly denying Christ with how you live, you should take no solace in these texts. Repentance is called for. Unless you repent of your sin, forsaking all others, you will perish without hope. Going to church, getting baptized, becoming a member, serving, tithing and giving, and whatever else you are doing raises to God as filthiness unless it is accompanied by a genuine commitment of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!

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