Volume 50 | Number 2 | April–June 2022

Inglés Español

The Cultivating of the Mind

By Dr. H. T. Spence

One of sin’s greatest side effects from our past is its influence upon the mind. Sin certainly affects the body. Sometimes permanent damage like sclerosis of the liver from heavy alcohol consumption occurs. Heavy use of drugs can bring permanent damage to the brain. Many immoral sins can transmit diseases that leave permanent side effects upon the body. However, all sins bring some damage to the mind and the thought life of an individual. Perhaps this damage is what haunts us the most.

Note the words of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians:

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course [aion, age] of this world [kosmos, world system], according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh [energizeth] in the children of disobedience. Among whom also we all had our conversation [manner of living, lifestyle] in times past in the lusts [epithumios, the intense burnings] of our flesh, fulfilling the desires [thelaemata, the things fleshly willed] of the flesh and of the mind [dianoion, the repetitive thoughts that had an evil significance in our thinking]; and were by nature the children of wrath [God’s wrath upon us], even as others (2:2, 3).

How do sins and our past lifestyles affect our mind? Although some thoughts are fleeting never to return, other thoughts may recur regularly. Regularly recurring thoughts can spread in our mind with great familiarity and breed imaginations. These imaginations can become so ingrained that they become a part of our daily living.

The Power of Repetitive Thinking

Patterns in one’s process of thinking can eventually spawn other thought proclivities. A child may cultivate a tendency to fear things, perhaps due to either an event in his life or the influence of parents or grandparents given to fear. These fears can easily begin to control the mind. After a while, such thoughts develop a process of habitual thinking and response that becomes very natural to the individual. Eventually, it becomes very difficult to be delivered from a habitual rut of thinking. The ruts of one’s repetitive thinking can become the habitual destiny of his perception of life’s experiences without any prompting.

When the sin principle begins to manifest itself in a child’s life, it is accompanied with thoughts. Sin can be discovered in the natural concourse of life, such as through the eye gate or the ear gate. Such a first-time discovery was never the intentional pursuit of that child. It seems that God has great mercy upon a child discovering a sin. Thank God, sin comes on us gradually rather than aggressively and overwhelmingly.

However, a sin could also be introduced to a child through other influences. How often sins have been introduced to a child through other children (who were themselves introduced to the sin by others). Immoral sins of the flesh will bring about explosions of thought that produce excitement; these excited thoughts return to invite the mind and body to enter that sin again. Such sins become increasingly addictive, consuming more and more time as their drawing power proliferates in the mind and heart. In the natural, it becomes next to impossible to be delivered from the constant return and haunting of such thoughts. Memory becomes more empowered as the frequency of such sins increases. The thought life now feeds the drawing power to the sin. Evil habits of the body result from bad habits of thinking.

One may wonder if continued sinning feeds continued bad thinking or continued flirtatious thoughts feed continued sinning. Eventually, both the cause of the sin and the manifestation of the sin can be declared to be feeding one another. Such a person is truly a slave in bondage to warped thoughts, incapable of escaping their day and night captivity. The apostle Peter speaks of such a mental obsession in 2 Peter 2:14:

Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children.

Such constant thoughts bring a person to a mind bankrupt of any good, where every thought is overwhelmingly drawn to the obsession of the sin. We must remember that every sight and sound in life prompts thoughts. Even smells at times may prompt thoughts leading back to powerful memories or certain sins of the past.

The death of Christ included His bearing of our sins in His own body. His flesh was crucified on the cross, becoming our Old Man. This act of Christ in our behalf provides forgiveness from every sin we have committed and every thought of sin against God. But we must also ask what is the provision within Christ’s great atonement to break the side effect of those sins, especially the side effect of thought hindering our Christian life?

In Proverbs 5, the sage of Jerusalem warned of the dangers the “strange woman” could pose to the young man “void of understanding.” He also declared how such “embracing” (v. 20, both in the act of the flesh and in the thought life) could ruin a young man in many areas of his life. Solomon concludes this chapter with these words:

His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.

Sins in unchecked thought lead to sins of action that can bring lasting bad fruit to the life.

The Power of Christ for the Mind

In Hebrews 8:10, the apostle Paul reveals how the “new” covenant is of greater worth and power:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.

Although the Epistle to the Hebrews does reveal what Israel will come to know when they turn to the Lord with all their hearts, this new covenant is to be known of us now, because we have come to accept this new covenant and have placed our trust in Him! Therefore, the Lord desires at the new birth to begin placing “My laws” into our minds and writing them in our hearts! Also note later in Hebrews 10:16:

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.

In both passages we read of “putting” and “writing” His laws into both the heart and the mind.

Dear reader, let us carefully note these words. The Lord promises “I will put…,” or He will continue to give into their minds. He promises to continue to write them in their hearts. And He assures them He will be their God. The original Greek wording simply embellishes the fact that God Himself will provide the continuation of giving and writing the deeper we go with and in Him. There is also the powerful revelation given in Romans 12:1, 2:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Paul declares the Lord’s constant transforming of the life through the mind, the thought life! It is through this constant, moment-by-moment renewing of the mind that we can prove or test the will of God of which Paul gives a threefold description of its effect: it is good or beautiful in its purpose; it is acceptable in its living before God; and it is perfect or being seen in stable maturity of living and thinking. This singular will of God is good, acceptable, and perfect. This passage (Rom. 12:1, 2) truly reveals that the mind is the essential key to holy character in the Christian life and to the precious, unique touches of grace and loveliness constantly contributing to the life.

The Essentials of Holy Character and the Exquisite Touches of Grace

Although our thought life is an important part of the essentials of holy character, God’s inward law in the heart and mind seeks to mature us beyond just the essentials. Also needed are the exquisite touches of grace within our minds and hearts. Perhaps Paul’s writing to the Philippians reveals these “exquisites” of His grace:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you (4:6–9).

To the essentials of a constantly renewed mind, the Lord seeks to add such exquisite touches of His divine grace in our minds and hearts. This passage deals with the mind, the thought life, the inner man, and its contemplations.

Once again, Paul reveals that the thought life becomes an integral part of the character and maturity of the Christian’s walk with God. As a pastor of young people, I have often encouraged them that this is the time in their lives to be conscious of cultivating a good thought life. We must not dwell in thought on things that are impure and unwholesome for the life. Even when temptations come, we must not dwell on the temptation itself. The Devil cannot read our minds, but he can project thoughts into our minds. And when he does project such evil thoughts, we must immediately dismiss them from our thinking. To give them audience only weakens us to immediately receive more thoughts from him. A thought presented to me does not become my thought until my will unites with that thought. Such a thought could have commenced from the Devil; but once my will unites with it in my thinking, rather than battling against it, it then becomes my thought. I have willfully made it to be part of my thinking.

We have often reminded our audience that character is a life dominated by certain principles; Christian character is a life dominated by Christian principles. But then there is the word culture. Culture is the outworking of character within. What we are in thought and heart will come out in the way or manner that we live. The word culture literally means the “fineness of feelings, thoughts, tastes, and manners.” It regards the preparation of these things within the life. To cultivate our thought life and our manner of living is very important to the Christian. We certainly understand this important truth in the growing of plants. After preparing the soil and planting the seed, there is the process of cultivating the growth of that plant. How much more important is this truth in improving and developing the education of our minds. To all these things we must invest time, thought, and effort to bring about a desired end. We must cultivate ourselves in a variety of areas to promote growth and development . Even honorable friendships must be cultivated with others.

If these cultivations are admirable in a prepared natural life, then they are equally important for the Christian life. We do not enter the Christian life naturally good. Our previous life before Christ found us was deeply damaged by our sins and ways. Now forgiven by God’s amazing grace, we must begin cultivating a life for God, beginning with the way we think, the way we dress, the way we live, and the way we speak to one another. However, it all must begin with a definite change of heart through Christ coming into the life. A change of mind is a first principle in the transition from the old life to the new life in Christ.

This change or refining of the mind begins with what the Bible calls metanoia (“change of mind ”), the change of perception about God, Christ, ourselves, sin, and the daily living of life. This metanoia that describes a change of our perceptive mind is translated repentance in the Bible. Repentance is the change of mind needed to come to Christ. We must repent of our former ways and thinking about everything. We must be changed unto a new longing for holy character and for the grace of God to enter even into the secondary areas of life for Christ’s glory.

Yes, a change in the way we think of life and living is necessary. This change will manifest itself in areas such as our appearance, the grooming of the body, and our responses in life. But of all the changes that come in being born again, the mind is one of the most important, integral influences to what we are becoming in Christ. Perhaps we must see this in two important areas: what are the essentials, and what are the embellishments of grace for the cultivation of my thought life? Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace o f God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Do we read these words carefully? There is the keeping of the heart and mind through Christ Jesus, for Paul earlier (2:5a) states, “Let this mind be in you” or “Let this process of thinking be in you.” Then in Philippians 4:8 he can state, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true….”

Before we view the list given by Paul, we must observe at the end of the verse two classifications of these qualities: First, there is virtue: “If there be any virtue.” Virtue denotes the fundamental and essential excellencies contributing to holy character. Second, there is praise: “If there be any praise.” Praise expresses those qualities, which while essential, give exquisite refinement to the life. The Christian must see both virtue and praise for the mind and heart.

At the beginning of verse eight is the first group of qualities: whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, and whatsoever things are just (right). Without these three qualities there is no morality and no true religion of heart and life. These are the cardinal virtues of life. They are the warp and woof on which the other qualities are embroidered as godly adornings.

The second group of qualities then follows: whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, and whatsoever things are of good report (admirable). Whatever will add virtue to the foundation of your life and whatever will bring praise are the needed embellishments of the Christian life. These embellishments are the tokens of grace’s continued work in the life. The Christian life is the product of grace in my thought life! But what are these characteristics that are so needed for the refining of my Christian life?

The true, honest, and just things cover our doctrinal thinking, our right relationship to others, and our relationship before God in justification. These are essential qualities. But how do they affect the mind? These are the moral qualities that affect the way I live and the direction of my inner will. These are the essentials of character, for my life must be founded upon right principles. True, honest, and just thinking about all things in my life before God and others is necessary. Without such thinking there is no true religion and morality of life.

But to these essential qualities must be added additional graces of Christian character. Psalm 110:3 speaks of the beauties of holiness; one may be a Christian without these abounding beauties . These graces are the refinement of holy character, the lesser touches by which Christian maturity is shaped, as marble is polished by a thousand little touches. The difference between an ordinary copy and a work of genius lies in minute details which the uncultivated eye might never be able to detect.

Note Christ’s words to the Pharisees in Luke 11:42:

But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

What are some of these things “ye ought to have done”? A quality absent in these Pharisees was true dignity or self-respect. There is a difference between conceit and self-respect. First Timothy 4:12 states, “Let no man despise thy youth.” How do you think about yourself? The Lord always lived before others with true dignity and allowed no person to become too familiar with Him. The disciple that leaned upon Jesus’ breast looked up to Him with sacred awe. Even Paul was a fine example of true manliness: when unjustly imprisoned, rather than sneaking out to run away, he chose to manfully answer (Acts 16:37). The soul in which the Holy Spirit dwells will always carry itself with dignity and sacred loftiness. This is the safeguard of woman and the glory of man.

Modesty of apparel is certainly an important aspect of this truth, for we live in a time when casual living has basically become the sloppy, disheveled, and the unkempt look. Modesty also includes the truth of not thinking highly of yourself; modesty is never bold or forward. When talent and genius begin to show off, the person sinks below contempt. When spiritual gifts and holy services are used to glorify the possessor or the worker, then they become objects of derision and lose their merit. The seraphim in Isaiah 6 covered not only their faces but also their feet with their wings, hiding both their beauty and service.

Additionally, personal habits have much to do with the loveliness of our character. It may not be true that “cleanliness is next to godliness” (some are obsessed with being c lean physically, but not spiritually), but it stands near it. Chewing tobacco, smoking, snuffing, and other unclean habits, may not be the basest of crimes, but they are not among the things that are lovely, venerable, or of good report. We must be ready to lay aside not only defilements but also defects that have become part of our character.

Good manners, refinement, and courtesy are among the things that are lovely and attractive in our Christian example. Although there is an affectation of refinement that is nothing but gloss and counterfeit, the true follower of Jesus will always be gentle and gentlemanly, considerate of others and careful to avoid offense. First John 3:1 reveals how this is to come forth to others:

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

The propriety of good sense, the fitness of things, and always acting with good taste are among the most charming features of a well-balanced character. Second Timothy 1:7 speaks of the spirit of a sound mind. First Corinthians 13:5 declares, “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.”

Added to these refinements of character are fitting speech and a well governed tongue, either in spoken or written words. Proverbs 29:11 sadly reveals, “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” Silence is golden, and a quiet dignity is becoming if without compromise.

Another need of the Christian is cheerfulness of disposition; this also is a revelation of the Christian’s thought life. When you meet some Christians, it is like shaking hands with a corpse. With other Christians, their presence inspires you. Even the countenance of a Christian can speak for God. What a statement given in Judges 8:18, when Gideon asked Zebah and Zalmunna, the enemy of Israel:

What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king.

Oh, that we would have the countenance of a child of the King!

Cordiality and heartiness are other exquisite refinements for the Christian life that come from proper thinking. Such individuals become an inspiration to others. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Rom. 12:10).


Oh, how this list could continue as we read and gather from the exhortations of God’s Word! The Word of God includes sensitivity to others, wisdom in dealing with souls, loyalty to truth, self-sacrifice, devotedness to God, and zeal for the things of God. All these precious embellishments to Christian living must be part of the way we naturally think, avoiding all sense of pretense or artificiality. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

And do we think about ourselves in the presence of God? Do some of us respond as in Psalm 90:7, “For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.” Or do we respond as in Psalm 96:9, “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth?” How do we think about God and His relationship to us?

Matthew 22 gives the Parable of the Marriage Feast. The great need here is a “wedding garment” (22:11). But the child of God longing for greater and deeper living is not simply wanting to wear the proper wedding garment. His heart is longing to be a part of the Bride of Christ. This hope places us beyond a wedding garment to that which is the wedding dress of the Bride of Christ.

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints (Rev. 19:7, 8).

This is what we should be desiring in our Christian life. To be present in heaven one day will be a glorious provision of grace! But to have an “abundant entrance” is what we should be desiring (2 Pet. 1:10, 11)! It is no longer choosing between “good and evil” but between “good and best.” The thought life of a Christian truly is that reality that encompasses the whole of his existence. This is what will reveal the greater, nobler character of Christ in the life—the mind of Christ!