To experience lasting change, there must be an inner transformation. This will involve “brainwashing,” having our minds continually cleansed and renewed by God's word.
Above illustration by Kevin Carden and purchased from CreationSwap
In the summer of 1978 after my second year of Bible College, a classmate and I completed a summer internship at the Pentecostal church in Bentley, a small rural town in central Alberta, Canada. Our primary responsibility was working with the youth, but we also participated in a variety of other ministries to round out our training. In addition, we both held full-time jobs to make a living and earn money for the following college year. Because I grew up around cattle and had experience haying, I was employed by a local grain farmer in the congregation, while my friend spent most of the summer as a construction laborer.
We shared a basement apartment, along with the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. The apartment didn’t have a washer and dryer, so we used the local laundromat which was less than a block away. We rotated household responsibilities to equally share the load and to provide variety. On one occasion when it was my week to do the laundry, I threw a load of freshly washed jeans, coveralls, and work shirts into a big commercial dryer and threw a load of whites into the now available washing machine.
Later, when I checked on the clothes in the dryer, I noticed some small white sheets of paper flying past the circular glass window. Opening the door to investigate, I discovered they were pages from a pocket New Testament. On further inspection, I found that the cover and other pages had also been tumbling interspersed among the clothes. My friend had forgotten his compact edition of the New Testament in one of his pockets and I didn’t think to check his pockets before throwing our dark clothes in bulk into the washer and then the dryer. While tumbling in the dryer, the wet Bible slipped out of the pocket and came apart, flopping around with the clothes like Bounce dryer sheets.
I felt badly for my friend’s loss, but immediately a Bible verse came to mind and I chuckled to myself. Later, when I brought the freshly cleaned and folded batch of clothes back to the apartment and handed my friend his loosely reassembled New Testament, I contritely explained what had happened. Then with a smirk on my face and a twinkle in my eye, I told him, “The good news is that our clothes are now sanctified because they’ve been washed with water and the Word.” He caught the Scriptural allusion and grinned. My humorous quip is based on an especially meaningful marriage passage in Ephesians 5:25-27.
Ephesians 5:25–27 (NASB)
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
The main application for husbands in this passage is that they are to love their wives with a sacrificial love. After making this point, the apostle Paul then describes the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love for the church. Christ “gave Himself up for her [speaking of His death on the cross], so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
Sanctification, as noted in a previous blog, basically means to be “set apart” unto God. It also conveys the concept of being made holy. Depending on the context, Scripture uses the term in both an instantaneous sense or a progressive sense. At salvation, an aspect of sanctification instantly takes place simultaneously with justification. When we repent, turning from our sin, and believe, placing our faith in Christ and committing to follow Him, we are cleansed from sin and stand holy in Christ, being set apart to follow, obey, and serve Him. But sanctification also refers to the continuous and progressive process of being separated from sin and unto God as we grow in holiness and are changed little by little into the image of Christ.
In Ephesians 5:26, Paul connects sanctification with Christ’s sacrificial atoning death through which the church is cleansed. The verbal phrase “having cleansed” comes from the Greek katharizō, meaning “to cleanse, to purge, to purify.” We get our words catharsis and cathartic from this word - often referring to an activity that helps one purge or release pent up or painful emotions resulting in renewal or healing. We also use these terms medically for purging agents, such as a laxative, as well at the derivative, catheter, a tube for purging the bladder. Enough said.
In Scripture, katharizō is most often used to refer to cleansing from sin and moral evil. In Ephesians 5:26, Christ’s sanctifying and cleansing work comes through “the washing of water with the word.” In this context, this cleansing is a completed action. We experience this cleansing when we believe the Gospel (the preached word) and are forgiven, being born again through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:5-7; Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are extremely clear that we are “saved” or “born again” through believing the gospel, often referred to as “the word,” “the word of truth,” or “the word of God” (Romans 1:16, 10:10-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Ephesians 1:13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25). The Gospel results in us being cleansed from sin as we experience the amazing forgiveness of God through faith in Christ (Acts 10:43, 15:9).
So sanctification and cleansing certainly have an instantaneous aspect, placing us positionally in Christ without spot or wrinkle. Yet, sanctification and cleansing by the word are also ongoing in our lives until we are fully without spot or wrinkle, not just positionally, but also in practice. The teaching of Christ along with the rest of the Scriptures will continue to purge us of sin as we confess any incongruency in our lives and align our thinking, attitudes, words, and behaviors to God's word. This cleansing and sanctifying power of God's word is attested to in other passages.
Jesus taught His disciples, “Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes [katharizō] it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean [katharizō] because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:2b-3 NASB). Judas having recently left to betray Him, Jesus now acknowledges once again that His remaining eleven disciples are already clean, referring to His words spoken to them in John 13:10-11 while He was washing their feet. Though Christ modeled servanthood in this humble act (John 13:12-17), His comments during the foot washing reveal that His actions were more than just modeling servanthood, they also held deep symbolic meaning. The eleven were clean having been spiritually bathed through repentance and faith while Judas was not clean. Having been bathed, they did not need to bathe again (be resaved), but should their feet become dirtied by walking in this world, they would need to come to Christ for ongoing cleansing of sin in order to maintain unhindered fellowship with Him (John 13:8; 1 John 1:5-9).
Though already clean, the vinedresser, God the Father (John 15:1), will continue to prune (purge, cleanse, purify) the fruitful branches “in the vine” (Christ), so that they may bear more fruit. In other words, the Father will continue to prune and cleanse us of anything in our lives that will prevent us from maximum fruitfulness. To accomplish this, He may occasionally discipline us (Hebrews 12:4-11) or permit trials (James 1:2-4). However, one of the most common and consistent ways the Father will sanctify and cleanse us is through His word.
John 17:17–19 (NASB)
17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
God’s word does much more than bring people to experience the cleansing work of Christ’s forgiveness through the washing of regeneration. It has the power to continually and progressively sanctify us by exposing our sin, correcting errors in our thinking, teaching us truth, and instructing us in righteousness. The ongoing role of God’s word in sanctifying our lives is seen throughout the Scriptures.
Peter calls those who are already born again by the word of God (1 Peter 1:23-25) to now put aside sin and “like new born babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2). God’s word is not only involved in our salvation and initial sanctification, it is also involved in our ongoing spiritual growth and walk with Christ.
In similar fashion, James calls those who were given “birth through the word of truth” (i.e. born again through the Gospel), to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:18-21 (NIV). In other words, "the word planted in" us must grow to bring full deliverance from sin. He then exhorts them, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV).
To make his point, James describes that the one who only hears God’s word, but doesn’t obey it, is like someone who looks in a mirror, seeing what he needs to wash or comb or fix (metaphorically speaking) to become what the Scriptures describe, but then walks away forgetting what he has seen and does nothing about it (James 1:23-24). Looking “intently” at the word and obeying it plays a vital role in our ongoing sanctification (James 1:25).
Image from Berry Patch Blog, December 16, 2018
One of the important ways that God’s word acts as a sanctifying agent in our lives is in the role that it plays in renewing our minds, a key factor in spiritual transformation. Romans 12:2 describes this process of transformation,
Romans 12:2 (NASB)
The apostle Paul identifies two antithetical and mutually incompatible sources that would seek to shape our lives. The world wants to conform us into its image and God wants to transform us into His image.
I’ve always liked the way the J.B. Phillips New Testament translates the first part of this verse, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” There are many ungodly forces in every culture and society. We are to stand strong against all forms of sinful peer pressure and protect ourselves from being shaped by the worldly thinking, values, and behaviors of this evil age (“world” here coming from the Greek aiōn, “age”). Rather than allowing ourselves to be shaped by the advertising, media, political correctness, enticements, ungodly counsel, sinful behaviors, and other worldly influences that are all around us, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
The phrase “be transformed” is the Greek verb metamorphoō, from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” We looked at this word in one of my previous posts entitled, “Transformed into Christ’s Image.” To not be too redundant, in short metamorphoō is a compound Greek word made up of meta, which can mean “changed” or “altered,” and morpho, which means “to form” or “to fashion.” The combined word metamorphoō means “to change form” and is commonly translated “transformed” or “transfigured.”
Having presented our bodies to God as a living sacrifice because of His great mercy toward us (Romans 12:1), we are not to conform to the shaping influences of the world around us, but rather we are to yield to the transforming work of God’s Spirit in our lives. His transforming work is facilitated through the renewing of our minds and the primary instrument that God uses to renew our thinking is His word – “sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth.”
Though God does the transformation, we have an active part to play in renewing our minds. It is our responsibility to spend regular time in the Scriptures so they can do their transforming work. The Scriptures are chockfull of injunctions to hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s word. Jesus said to those who believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31–32 NASB).
"God’s Word purifies our thoughts and motives as we absorb and obey its truths." Charles R. Swindoll
One of the greatest battles we will ever face is the battle for our minds. In fact, the battle is not only for our minds, the battle is also waged in our minds. We are tempted in our minds, we are deceived in our minds, and we are conformed to the world through our minds. The opposite is also true. As our minds are renewed by God’s word, we can be transformed into the image of Christ. The mind, together with the will, affections, and conscience make up the control center of our lives. Whoever influences our minds, influences our lives. If the mind is tempted, and the will doesn’t resist, then the body will carry out the lusts of the mind (Ephesians 2:3).
The apostle Paul warns of the danger of ungodly influences on the minds of believers.
2 Corinthians 11:3 (NASB)
3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
Paul was concerned that the minds of the Corinthian believers would be led astray by false teachers just like Eve was deceived by the serpent to eat of the forbidden fruit. Paul knew the mind was a key target of spiritual attack. In fact, in the previous chapter, he describes the spiritual war they were facing with these false teachers. Because it was not a physical war, they must use spiritual weapons to destroy the strongholds of thinking and speculations that opposed God, taking them captive and subjecting them to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3–5 (NASB)
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
Similarly, many ungodly ideological forces are evident in our day. The public battles in politics, in media, in advertising, in education, in big tech censorship, and in nearly every facet of society are for the minds of people. There are voices of every persuasion seeking to win our attention and indoctrinate us to their way of thinking, thereby influencing our loyalties and behaviors. Many of these voices are touting beliefs and ideas that are contrary to God and the truths of His word. They have infected every human institution, including many churches. There is a tide of wickedness, or should I say a tsunami, that has gained momentum in our world in recent years. Sadly, it is sweeping many believers into the devastation of its ungodly ideologies and all manner of immorality and sin.
Paul’s answer is to cast down faulty ideas with truth, something he does throughout this letter. In the immediate context, he warns them about those who preach another Jesus or a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4) and describes these false apostles as “deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15 NASB).
Not only are leaders to cast down false teaching to protect the church from being led astray, every believer has the responsibility in their own lives to cast down the strongholds of any thinking that is contrary to God and His word. We are to personally take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. If we don’t, then worldly thinking will lead us from Christ and into sin.
Identifying and casting down faulty and ungodly thinking is only possible when our minds are renewed by God’s word. In a spiritual sense, we need to be brainwashed. Our brains need to be washed continuously by the word of God because our thinking shapes who we are and every aspect of our lives. As a person “thinks within himself, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
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The plumbline of God’s word needs to be the standard for evaluating the many voices and ideologies of our day so that we can discern truth from error, right from wrong, and good from bad. In addition, we need to know God’s word to properly assess the thoughts and motives of our own hearts. A mind renewed by God’s word enables us to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). His word is able to pierce to the deepest recesses of our hearts.
Hebrews 4:12 (NASB95)
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
We don’t suck darkness out of a room with a vacuum or sweep it out with a broom. Rather, we turn the light on and the light dispels the darkness. Similarly, we don’t suck air out of a glass. Rather, we fill it with water and it displaces the air. By getting into God’s word and letting it richly dwell in us (Colossians 3:16), we will find that it will displace the lies and sinful thoughts that have made strongholds in our minds and illumine our understanding of God's will and His ways.
I personally can testify to the transforming power of God’s word in my own life. Pouring out my heart to God in response to His Word penetrating the depths of my thoughts and affections, has resulted in victory over anger, bitterness, and sinful practices. God’s Word has changed my thinking, my values, my moral standards, and my priorities. It has shaped my relationships, my family, my purpose in life, my world view, and my work ethic. It has given me hope, comfort, and encouragement. God’s Word has brought the convicting light of the Holy Spirit to the deepest recesses of my soul. It has dispelled the darkness of Satanic lies and faulty thinking, and as a result freed me from guilt, depression, and fear. God’s Word has fed me, taught me, and equipped me. It has been one of the primary instruments used by God’s Spirit to literally transform my life.
Closing and Looking Ahead
If we want to be changed from the inside out, then we must allow the Spirit of God to transform our interior world. One critical component of our interior life is our thinking. Without a renewed mind, any positive changes in our lives will be external and temporary. To experience lasting change, there must be an inner transformation. This will involve “brainwashing,” having our minds continually cleansed and renewed by the truth of God's word, to dispel all ungodly darkness in our thinking and to implant God’s perspective on life. To be transformed, our minds must be cleansed of all manner of destructive thinking including haunting memories, evil imaginations, demonically imposed thoughts, negative self-talk, and every lying stronghold that keeps us from becoming all that God wants us to be. This spiritual, psychological, and moral darkness will be displaced as the light of God's word grows brighter and brighter in our hearts dispelling and replacing lies with truth.
Because renewing our minds is such a critical factor in spiritual transformation, in upcoming posts we will further explore the power of God’s word, discuss the sources of our thoughts, describe how thoughts influence actions, and explain a process for renewing our minds with God’s word.
In order to focus my time and energy on other writing projects, video production, and ministry priorities, I will only be posting once each month for June, July, and August. I hope to resume weekly posting again in September. Thanks for your understanding. I will keep you informed as the fall approaches.