Philippians 4:8 is one of the most commonly used verses in biblical counseling. In a concise manner, it provides a grid through which our thoughts should be screened. The apostolic exhortation is clear and direct.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
In this compact grid, the apostle commands us to set our minds on positive, Christ-like qualities by using words that were popular in moral philosophy. By doing so, he demonstrates that the believer’s thinking in Christ is now to be different than it was before conversion. The qualities listed here form a comprehensive and Christ-like pattern to set our minds on, which in turn shapes the pattern of our lives, which is why he follows this command with another, “practice these things.”
According to Psalm 19:14, there is no more reliable guide for judging the thoughts of our hearts than Scripture—the objective standard of truth. At the conclusion of David’s exaltation of Scripture as the true revelation of God, David prays:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Therefore, the Scriptures alone provide the sure guide to the qualities which make up the Christian mind. However, as important as all of this is, that is not my primary focus in this short blog post.
From Philippians 4:8, we know very well the what of godly thinking, but often fail to consider the why behind the attention we should give to developing a truly Christian mind. Why does it matter how we think? As long as we do right, or our disciples do their best to stop doing evil and start doing good, does God really care how we think? Why is this so important? Think for a moment about five reasons our thinking matters to God.
- Prior to the new birth, our thinking was futile and our understanding darkened (Eph. 4:17-18). While we were under the dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil, our thinking was vain. It was without purpose from God’s perspective. Even if, in our depraved state, we were pursuing a form of godliness, we were ignorant of true godliness because our understanding was held captive to the darkness and its prince. We did not possess the light of life and could not without supernatural intervention. But something changed.
- At the new birth, we received the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:11). This is truly an amazing and spectacular truth to ponder. Among human beings, only your spirit knows what you are thinking (until you choose to reveal it by your words or actions). Similarly, the Holy Spirit alone knows fully the thoughts of God. That same Spirit dwells within each of us as believers in Christ, and one of His roles is to teach us and lead us into the truth (John 16:13).
- Knowing the mind of God—because He is God—the Holy Spirit has revealed the mind of God in the Scriptures and, therefore, we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:12-16). Knowing the thoughts of God, the Spirit has revealed them to us in words (i.e. Scripture), and it is through His illuminating ministry that we are able to comprehend divine truth. We who know Christ have what we need to know in order to think according to God’s standards. Because the divine author of Scripture now lives within us, we have the ability to know the mind of Christ, which is revealed in the Scriptures. In short, the Bible is the mind of God in written form.
- As new creatures, we are now called to put off our old self, including old ways of thinking, and be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:22-23). Sanctification is not merely–nor even primarily–about outward behavior, but on changing our thinking patterns to match up with God’s Word. As the Holy Spirit—through His words—renews the thoughts of our mind and changes our heart’s desires, we progressively become like Christ in the daily walk of life. We are called to diligently put off the old and put on the new while, at the same time, it is God who works in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
- As we renew our minds with the Word of God, our life is transformed, which results in the fulfillment of the will of God (Rom 12:1-2). Transformation of life and change of heart cannot take place without renewal of mind. That is a foundational truth of biblical counseling. And our mind will never be renewed unto godliness if we are not continually exposing it to the washing of the Word. Therefore, let us be careful to intentionally counsel others with the Word and craft practical application assignments that will lead them into its riches. Let us lead them to the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, by discipling them to feed regularly upon every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
As new creatures in Christ, we have every divine resource at our disposable to be able to develop a truly Christian mind. And, as biblical counselors, we must be forever committed to the supremacy of Christ who is revealed to us in the sufficient Word. Let us continually submit our minds to the authority of the Scripture so that our minds are continually renewed. Then, and only then, will we be able to lead others to do the same.
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Think about excuses from counselees who’ve failed to put sufficient effort toward renewing their minds. How might the reasons given in this post be used to reply to them?