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Have You Lost Your Mind?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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June 12, 2023 12:01 am

Have You Lost Your Mind?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 12, 2023 12:01 am

The mind plays an essential role in the Christian life. Today, R.C. Sproul explains the relationship between our thinking and our sanctification: Only when our minds are renewed will our hearts respond to God in love and adoration.

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There can't be anything in the heart that's not first in the mind.

So if you want to get your heart to change, you have to have your mind changed. And that's what Christian sanctification is all about, the renewing of the mind, the sanctification of the mind so that our hearts may respond in love and adoration. Renewing Your Mind gets its name from Romans 12 to 2, where Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Although often overlooked today, we mustn't neglect the role of the mind in the Christian life. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. Ligonier Ministries and Renewing Your Mind exist to help people know who God is, and to know God requires the use of the mind. That's why we must push back against the temptation to shortcut God's design for his people to grow spiritually. You must remember, too, that Jesus said, not only are we called to love God with all of our heart, we're to love Him with all of our mind.

At one of Ligonier's national conferences, R.C. Sproul spoke on the essential role of the mind in the Christian life. He is Dr. Sproul. Have you lost your mind? That's the assignment I've been given to address in this message. Before we do that, let me just have another brief word of prayer. Our Father and our God, we are Yours. We are Yours with our hearts, our souls, our wills, our minds, and we ask that in this time of thinking that You would refresh us in every dimension of our humanity, that when we leave here, we will leave with a deeper understanding of who You are and of who we are and how we can serve You more faithfully. For we ask it in the name of Jesus.

Amen. I've said I think many times that we are living in the most anti-intellectual climate in the history of the Christian church. And what I mean by anti-intellectual is not anti-academic, or anti-technical, or anti-scientific, but anti-intellectual, meaning anti the intellect, anti the mind. There has been an avalanche of criticism resulting in a wholesale rejection of the significance of the mind in living, particularly in Christian living, and God forbid, even within the church. And so what I'd like to do in this opening address of this conference is to look at the relationship of the mind to our bodies firstly, and then look at the relationship between our minds to our wills, and then thirdly the relationship between our minds and our hearts. And so let me start with the first step by looking at the relationship between the mind and the body.

And to begin that, I need your help. I'm going to ask you to do something in just a moment, but I want to assure you and comfort you that what I'm asking you to do is not to make a commitment to anything, or to volunteer for anything, or even to do anything of any substance. Simply what I'm asking you to do, if you will, is raise your right hand.

Now keep it up there. I want you to look around and see how many people have responded to this simple request of raising their right hand. I just wanted to see what was wrong. I thought maybe I was going too fast here. Some of you couldn't get it. All right.

You can put those hands down now. Now what just happened in the last few seconds demonstrates and illustrates one of the most mysterious phenomena that we ever encounter as thinkers and inquirers into reality. I asked you a question. I gave you a suggestion in a word. I gave you a piece of my mind, and I was hoping that with your minds you would understand the request that I made of you, and that so many of you responded to that request by actually raising your right hand gave me some assurance at least that you had at least a basic understanding of what I was asking you to do. But what is even more significant, that is, having understood my request in your minds, you responded with a physical bodily reaction. You had a thought, which I tried to convey to you, mind to mind, an idea about raising your hand, and without coercion and without any difficulty whatsoever, you raised your hand. Now how about that?

I mean isn't that incredible? And now I know what you're thinking. Has he lost his mind that he would give any significance to that? But that question involves the question of the relationship of the mind to the body. How an idea which is nonphysical or mental can give rise to a physical action which is something material. We're talking about the way in which the nonphysical relates to the physical. The mental relates to the material. Well, we're asking the question now of the relationship of mind to matter. Now in our day, it has been said that the last frontier of scientific research and investigation is into the phenomenon of the mind, how the mind functions, how the mind works, where its power comes from. In the second half of the 20th century, we were treated or mistreated, however you look at it, to the school of behaviorism that tried to reduce all mental activity, all thinking, all thought to mere physical, material reactions. You may remember the work of B.F. Skinner, who wrote the well-known book entitled Beyond Freedom and Dignity. And in that work, he argued that our idea of freedom is really an illusion as also is our concept of dignity because we are simply determined masses of matter who have no freedom whatsoever but must believe what we believe according to what we have eaten or according to the physical impulses that have been around us through our lives. And so that even the conclusions we come to in our thinking have been rigidly determined by these material forces. You follow that?

Am I going too fast? No, you get that, of course. Now this is one of these cases where a man's argument falls by his own weight because here's a man who said he believes that every idea that you have, every thought that you conceive, every position that you espouse is not the result of free intellectual investigation but simply the result of how many donuts you had for breakfast or what other material causes have operated on you. And yet as he tried to argue that your thoughts are thoughts are simply the results of material determinism, he actually tries to argue that your thoughts are only the result of material determinism, and he's trying to change my mind by what he perceives to be cogent arguments. And I would say to Mr. Skinner, I can't help what I believe.

I can't help that I disagree with you with everything in my being because I had a glazed donut this morning. Other critics have put it this way against B.F. Skinner, that the only thing beyond freedom and dignity are slavery and indignity, so that the idea that we are more than materially determined objects and that there is such a reality as thought that is not materialistically controlled is an idea that is absolutely critical and essential to our Christian experience and to our lives as human beings. The mind is not material. We associate the mind with the function of the brain. The brain is material. The brain can be weighed and measured. The brain does take up space. But we still must distinguish between the thoughts that we have and the organ in our physical body that is related to them. That's most critical, for example, for the Christian who at the heart of our faith is the affirmation that when we die and this earthly tabernacle dissolves and the brain deteriorates into the dust that we continue to have a conscious, awake, personal identity that goes forever.

Forever. I could ask you the question in another way, where do you live? I've asked my students that in the past when they introduced themselves. I'll say, where do you live? And they say, well, I live in Abilene, Texas. I say, well, that's interesting. They say, why?

I say, do you have the attribute of ubiquity or omnipresence? And they look at me strange. They say, what do you mean? I say, well, you tell me that you live in Abilene, Texas, and here you are in Orlando, Florida. Are you not alive now? If your life is contained in Abilene and you're not in Abilene, you must be dead.

And they say, no, no, no, no, no. What I meant by that is my residence is in Abilene. I said, yes, that's what you mean. But where do you actually live? You live wherever you are. And even wherever you are, you live contained within the boundaries of your physical body, which to some degree identifies who you are.

But if you really want to know who I am, and you want to know who you are, we have to do more than give a police sketch of your physical characteristics or to look at your medical records. To know who you are requires getting into the mind, because the chief place where we live is in our minds, in our thoughts, in our thinking. Well, again, what's the difference between our bodies and our minds? I had a professor once who was asked the question of the difference between our bodies and our minds, and he said, what is mind? No matter. Well, what is matter?

He said, never mind. And with that cute little repartee, he was trying to explain to us that we must never, ever, ever confuse the material and the mental. Those of you who are students of the history of theoretical thought know that in the seventeenth century, in the world of philosophy, the relationship of the mind to the body was one of the most penetrating and compelling questions that occupied the investigation of the great philosophers of that period. I'm thinking initially of the mathematician slash philosopher, Rene Descartes, who's famous for his formula, I think, Therefore I Am, nevertheless went beyond that formula and was asking the very question I've been asking, how can a nonphysical reality, a thought, produce a physical reality such as raising your hand?

And vice versa, if when I raise my hand, you slap it, that might provoke some thinking in my mind about you for having injured me in that manner. And so Descartes wrestled, bringing all of the power of his own mind to the question. And he said, we see two categories, the mind and the body. And he said, the body or anything that is material has what he called extension, extension.

That is, it has something that takes up space and can be measured. And that's true of all of us with respect to our bodies. We all have extension. Some of us have more extension than others, and sometimes we have more extension than we would like to have. But he said, unlike the body, the mind is not extended. A thought cannot be put on a scale. It can't be weighed.

You can't use a ruler to measure it. And so he defined the difference between mind and matter as the difference between extension with respect to matter and non-extension with respect to the mind, and then proceeded to his investigation saying, well how can the extended give rise to non-extension? How does that happen? And he developed a somewhat complex theory that he called interactionism. You know, sometimes we think we've explained things by simply describing them.

It doesn't necessarily explain anything. I mean, it's obvious to him at the outset of his investigation that there was some kind of interaction between thinking and action. And then he proceeded to give his theory that the point of transition between thought and action, and action and thought was in the penile gland in the brain, and he said that the transition took place at a point. And now he was relying on his mathematical knowledge.

He said because a point is something that takes up space but has no dimension. And so he played with that theory. His disciples came along and said, no, there's not enough God in this theory. We have to see that God is actively involved in everything that takes place in this world, including our thinking. And they were trying to look out for people who were already trying to remove God from the framework of human agency and activity and to get rid of the whole idea of God's providence by which He rules His creation.

And a distinction was made then in the seventeenth century that made its way into our Reformed creeds and confessions that were very important, a distinction between primary and secondary causality. I've illustrated this at earlier conferences, and I'm going to do it again now with a very deep and profound and difficult illustration. So you're going to have to concentrate now intensely if you want to get this. These are my glasses.

Am I going too fast? You got that. Okay.

Now watch what I do, and you will see that at no point does my hand ever leave my wrist. Okay. Careful. I just dropped them. What caused that? Well, the atheists would say there was only one causal agent involved in that, me.

R.C. Sproul made the glasses fall down on the table. Yet the Bible tells us that in Him, that is in God, we live and move and have our being, that I can't move even from the lectern here without the ultimate power of God energizing that activity. I can't live for a second without the upholding power of our sustaining providence of the God who created us in the first place. I can't be independent from God's eternal being. And so what the Bible is saying there is that the primary cause for everything that takes place in this world is God Himself, that whatever power I introduce to the equation is always and everywhere secondary.

It's not the ultimate or the primary cause. And so some of the disciples of Descartes looked at this and said, well, it's not as simple as an interaction between a thought and a material response. But these followers who were called occasionalists said, here's the way it works, that I thought that I made these glasses fall on the table by my own volition, my own power. But actually there was a simultaneous activity where I let go of the glasses, but what made the glasses fall was not the power of R.C.

Sproul or even the power of gravity. It was the power of God that made it happen, and that my action was simply the occasion for God to bring about the action. Now that theory, of course, rescued God and kept His involvement intact, but it seemed to eliminate any significance to our activity. I get this question all the time about the sovereignty of God and His will and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, how much of it is our decision, how much of it is God.

You know how these questions go. But even that theory by the occasionalists didn't solve the equation, although many people who would go to conferences in the seventeenth century and listen to these people argue about this would go away saying, have you guys lost your mind thinking about all this business? Then there's Leibniz who in his monadology introduced the theory that was called the law of pre-established harmony, that God is not simply the occasion for my dropping the glasses, but that occasion that took place was established not a few moments ago when I decided to drop the glasses, but that that was determined in the decrees of God back in eternity. And so the seeming present agreement or harmony between mind and body is something that God established eternally. That didn't satisfy Spinoza, who then gave his substance philosophy, which I won't get into that with the modalities and all the rest, but they were all arguing about the same question. The relationship of mind and matter. How many of you have ever heard anything about David Hume's critique of causality? Let me see your hand.

Alright, that's not completely obscure, is it? But those of you who are students of history and know of the assault that David Hume made on causality, which atheists made much of then and now, was you can't understand it if you didn't understand this prior question. Because Hume was looking at what Descartes was saying, what the occasionists were saying, what Spinoza was saying, what Leibniz was saying, and he said, nobody knows. We can't really perceive the relationship between the mind and the body. We don't know what's making this happen, whether invisible spirits are making me drop my glasses or if God has established it from all eternity.

So it's a fool's errand to even try to explain it, which I really haven't explained, and I really haven't tried to explain. I'm just trying to tell you there's a long-term question about the relationship between thought and action. But from a biblical perspective, we know that there is a relationship and that we're responsible for our actions, and we are told that our actions are determined even within the scope of divine sovereignty and God's providence and His primary causality by how we think. The Bible says, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Now the Bible is aware that the heart is not the organ of thought, that the Bible understands that the heart is the one that causes the blood to channel through our bodies and that the brain is the idea of our mind. But when the Bible says, as a man thinks in his heart, the distinction there, friends, is this, that we have thoughts that pass through our mind.

Maybe dreams that as soon as we wake up, they dissipate. And we may think at the surface level about a multitude of things. But if I want to know what you really think, if I want to know what you really believe, not what you say you believe, not what you affirm on an examination, but what makes you tick, I have to look at your life, I have to look at your life because your life will tell me what you think in your heart. Because that's what God said, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

And so if a Christian is interested in how he lives, he needs first to consider how he thinks and what it is that he thinks. The second question I want to look at briefly is the relationship between the mind and the will. We have a tendency to think about our minds as something that happens here close to our brains, and that the faculty of choosing that we experience is found in the will. Now let me ask you this question. Where is the will located?

Is it like three inches behind your liver or maybe just behind the esophagus? Where is the will? Or to ask in another way, what is the will? And how does the will function and operate?

What is its role in our lives? Well, I think the magisterial work on this question ever written was written by Jonathan Edwards in his book entitled, The Freedom of the Will. And I always encourage Christian people to read Edwards, The Religious Affections, and his Treatise on Original Sin. And if they don't want to read those heavier things, then at least get a hold of his sermons and read those sermons and digest them. But I almost never encourage laypeople to read The Freedom of the Will, because if I do, and they do, I'm afraid they may never forgive me, because you almost have to have a Ph.D. in philosophy to wade through that particular study of the will. It's difficult stuff.

It is. But in simple terms, Jonathan Edwards defined the will in this manner. He said, the will is the mind choosing.

That's interesting to me at least because Edwards is saying, we distinguish between the mind and the will, between thought and choice, but really what the will is, is just one function of the mind. Now you may respond by that and say, well, many of the choices that I make in my life I don't make for mental reasons, but rather I'm driven to make the choices that I make because of physical needs or physical appetites. I get hungry. I choose to eat. I get thirsty. I choose to drink.

What does that have that do with the mind? Now Edwards would not deny that physical appetites and inclinations would be part of the function of choosing. But in the final analysis, for the choice to be made, and especially if it's to be a moral choice, it has to involve a voluntary, conscious choice, and what happens is when I consider my options and my inclinations and my desires, I will choose what my mind deems to be best for me best for me at the particular moment. In fact, he defines the act of choice as doing that which you're most inclined to do at a given moment. And he would say, not only may we choose what we want to do the most at a given moment, but we must choose what we are most inclined to do at a given moment, or we wouldn't make that choice. In fact, you have never chosen anything in your whole life against your will. Every single act that you have done that was a voluntary act, I'm not talking about your heart's beating and involuntary actions like that. You maybe have had a heart attack, which you didn't choose to have at that moment.

But I'm talking about actual choices of moral value and complications, Edwards says, and I believe irrefutably so, that we always choose according to our strongest inclination at a given moment. And I've used the illustration before of Jack Benny. Some of you are too young to remember Jack Benny. Some of you who are old enough will never forget Jack Benny. But there was a time on one of his programs where he was giving one of his monologues, and suddenly this bandit rushed on stage with a pistol and a mask and pointed the gun at Jack Benny and said, your money or your life. And Benny, who was notorious for being a tightwad and being cheap, just stood there like that. And the robber said, what are you doing? I'm thinking it over. But actually, we would say in that case, Jack Benny didn't really have a choice because the gun was pointed at his head.

Well, no. What the gun at the head did was severely restricted his choices to two, hand over the money or get shot. But he still had a choice.

And he maybe was thinking about it this way. Well, if I don't give him my money, he's going to shoot me, and he's going to get my money anyway. So I may as well give him my money. So it would seem to me the thing to do is to hand over the money. Or he could have been this way and saying, he'll get my money, of course, but it'll be over my dead body. I'm not going to capitulate to this coercion. Go ahead and shoot me because I'd rather die than hand my money over to you. Now, which would you do in that situation?

We're not sure what we would do because we haven't been there. But I assure you, and Edwards would assure you, that in that moment you would do according to the strongest inclination that you had. And you'd do it a hundred times out of a hundred. And you say, well, that's not real freedom if I always choose according to my greatest inclination. Like I say, you're here at this conference, and it may be that the last thing, all things being equal, that you wanted to do on this weekend was to come to a Christian conference on the mind. So all things being equal, you'd rather have gone fishing or gone out to play golf.

That would have been my preference. But the problem is you're married. And your wife said, honey, I want you to go to this conference with me.

So now all of a sudden all things aren't equal, are they? Now you have to choose between going to a conference that all things being equal you don't want to attend, and thereby alienating your wife, or submitting to her request, keeping the marital peace, and missing your weekend golf game. And if you're here, it's because you decided the lesser of two evils in these options was to make your wife happy. But however you decided, whatever was your strongest inclination right there was the one you choose. And I've challenged people before to give me one example in your whole life where you made a decision or a choice that was not according to the strongest inclination that you had at the moment, because usually we don't have one inclination or one disposition.

We have many of them. And it's the one that reaches the strongest point that determines what we will do. And we'll say, well that's… if we're determined by our strongest inclinations, doesn't that mean that we're not free?

No. It is a kind of determinism, but it's self-determinism. And self-determination is the very essence of freedom. That's what we want to be free to do, to be able to choose what?

What we want. And again, Edwards was saying, not only do you have that ability to choose what you want, you can't not choose what you want with your strongest inclination. With respect to the things of God, there's our problem that in our natural state we have no inclination for the things of God other than to escape God. I'll look at that more fully, God willing, on Saturday, how we don't want God in our thinking. We don't want Jesus in our lives. So left to ourselves, we are completely disinterested and disinclined in coming to Jesus. And I guarantee you, one thing you can't do is make a decision to change your inclination.

The inclination has to change before the decision will ever change. Now, one last dimension of this element. In the nineteenth century, one of the most important philosophers at the end of the century was a man by the name of Edmund Husserl, who was called the father of personalism. Two of his most famous students he mentored were Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, two of the most important atheistic philosophers of the twentieth century. But in trying to determine what it means to make a person a person and what is personality, Husserl came to the conclusion that what makes for personal existence is what he called intentionality, that what makes a person a person is that we have the ability to act with intention, with intent. Joseph, you know, with his brothers when they're terrified that he's going to punish them for their awful treatment of him, and he weeps with them and he says, who am I to judge you? I'm not God, but you meant it for evil. God meant it for good. There was your intent in this drama, and there was God's intent in this drama. But what Husserl was getting at is that it's intention that defines us, and intention can be found only in the mind. So if you want to change what you mean to do, somehow your mind has to be changed, which gets us to the last point, the relationship of the mind to the heart.

And I'm only going to say one thing about that because I'm going to look at this more closely, God willing, on Saturday. When we wrote classical apologetics several years ago, I made a statement in that book that sounded contradictory. It sounded like I had descended into dialectical theology where I said, in the Christian life we have the primacy of the mind, and in the Christian life we have the primacy of the heart. And people say, wait a minute, R.C., you can't have it both ways. And I said, I can't have it both ways, in the same way, in the same way, in the same relationship.

That would be contradictory. But in one sense, there is a primacy of the mind. In another sense, there is a primacy in the heart.

And what's the difference? When I talk about the primacy of the heart in the final analysis, where we stand before God, it's not what we say or what we affirm in our creeds that will get us into the kingdom of God. God will be looking at the heart. God wants to know, is this heart on fire for Me?

Is there love of My Son in this heart? That's the primary concern we have in the final analysis in terms of the primacy of importance, the heart is greater than the mind. Well, what's the primacy of the mind? Well, the whole point of this conference is to demonstrate that there can't be anything in the heart that's not first in the mind.

So if you want to get your heart to change, you have to have your mind changed. And that's what Christian sanctification is all about, the renewing of the mind, the sanctification of the mind so that our hearts may respond in love and adoration. Let's pray, shall we? Thank You, Lord, that we are so fearfully and wonderfully made that You've given us the capacity to think and that our thought so influences who we are and what we do. Help us not to despise that which is of the mind, but that we might embrace it, seeking to please You by discovering nothing less than the mind of Christ. For we ask it in His name. Amen.

That was R.C. Sproul from Ligonier Ministries 2012 National Conference. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. This message quickly became a favorite from Dr. Sproul, and it, along with 49 other of his beloved messages, have been compiled together on an exclusive USB drive. For your donation of any amount at, we'll send you this USB drive featuring 50 messages from Dr. Sproul. So give your gift at or by calling us at 800-435-4343.

This is a limited edition USB drive from Ligonier Ministries, so respond today. Although there are many beliefs out there, when you boil it down, there really are only two worldviews, one where God exists and one where He is denied. And tomorrow R.C. Sproul pushes back against the atheistic worldview to show how inconsistent and utterly hopeless it is. So join us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-12 02:44:36 / 2023-06-12 02:57:42 / 13

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