He’s not your ordinary chess player gazing at a chessboard and plotting his next move. Like all of Body Worlds’ anatomical exhibit of real human bodies, his skin has been completely peeled away to expose muscles, tendons, and ligaments. His back has been stripped of muscle down to the nerves of his spinal cord, and his skull removed to show the brain. From head-on, his brain protrudes above his forehead. From behind you can trace the spinal column from the base of the brain down to the first lumbar vertebra, where it branches off in the sciatic rootlets and nerves that travel under each leg to the feet. You can see the dorsal rootlets, dura mater, vertibral artery, and dorsal root ganglion branching to other parts of the body. The obvious? The brain is intimately connected to every part of the body. After all, it takes brains to play chess. Or to do anything with your body.
This lifeless chess player accentuates the unavoidable truth that human beings are far more than mere body—and brain. Physiologically speaking, the brain is central to human existence and identity. It’s hard to imagine that the three-pound human brain—100 billion neurons that handle 70,000 thoughts, regulate 103,000 heartbeats, 23,000 breaths, and more than 600 muscles every day—also plays a central role in determining the nature and value of our lives. Within each brain is a hidden world of thought, which Body Worlds can neither dissect nor display—a world of self-awareness, intellect, reason, imagination, emotions, values, longings, moral discernment, spirituality, convictions, will, personality, and character.
Scripture includes this hidden world of the mind in its picture of the transformed life: “Do not be conformed to this world [aio¯n, age] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, RSV; cf. Eph. 4:23).1 A renewed mind brings transformation of life, despite the incessant squeeze of our contemporary world.
Earlier in the book of Romans Paul traces the downward spiral of humanistic thinking that leads to moral dysfunction and the rejection of God (Rom. 1:18-32). But there is promise that this moral decline can be reversed as we nurture our lives of thought with what is important to God: what is good, acceptable, and morally/spiritually perfect (telos, mature). Which way the scale of moral and spiritual exposure tips determines our battle against Satan: “I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). It’s the principle of moral innocence. No clearer insight into the stewardship of our minds can be found. When we consider how revival and a transformed life intersect within our hearts, our inner life of thought takes center stage.
Retina Display is a brand name used by Apple, Inc., for liquid crystal displays that Apple claims have a high enough pixel density that the human eye is unable to notice pixelation at a typical viewing distance. The term is used for several Apple products, and each is designed for optimum visual experience. But no high-end display matches the phenomenon of the human mind—to see, hear, imagine, feel, or display reality across our consciousness. The real Retina Display is smack between our ears. The tissues of our minds have recorded and stored billions upon billions of memories: the sound of a whisper 30 years ago; the hatred cherished since childhood; the delight never experienced but often imagined; the exact pressure of a single finger on a single string; the precise curve of a lip, a hill, an equation; the scent of a garden; the vision of a blade of grass; all the books read and movies watched, billboard messages seen, radio ditties heard, hymns sung, and prayers voiced. It’s all there. Our minds are living libraries.
The sobering thing is that the sum total of all that we have put into our minds makes up the kind of people we are today and will be tomorrow. We don’t fully understand how this vast living library translates into day-to-day behavior, but we do know that as the years pass, more and more we become “prisoners of our library.” Once images, experiences, and ideas are stored in the archives of our minds, there is no delete button.
With good reason Paul’s warning is graphic: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed” (Rom. 12:2, Phillips).2 He reminds us that an infiltrating force molds and threatens our thinking, character, and conduct. He alludes to the power of social groups, cultural norms, institutions, worldviews, media, entertainment, music, fiction, fashion, sports, and traditions to mold the individual. When Paul contrasts being renewed in our minds with the press of this age, he invites us to be mentally alive to God rather than to the world.
When we meet Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him, our minds acquire a new way of thinking and a new capacity to clean up old ways of thinking. We become new people with new desires and values (2 Cor. 5:17). The very “spirit” of our minds is renewed (Eph. 4:23, NKJV; Rom. 12:2; cf. 1 Cor. 2:12-14; Eph. 1:18, 19).3 Through exposure to Scripture our ability to grapple with moral issues increases (Heb. 5:14). Christ becomes our focus (Phil. 1:21). His cruciform way becomes our way (Phil. 2:1-8; 1 Cor. 2:16). As Jesus nurtured moral innocence, filling His mind with Scripture, ever seeking what was pure and pleasing to His Father and uplifting to others (Luke 2:40), so will we.
We must exercise our new capacity to think, setting our minds on the things of the Spirit rather than on the things of the flesh (Rom. 8:5-8). We must let heaven fill our thoughts and not think only about things down here on earth (Col. 3:2). By beholding Jesus, we will become increasingly like Him in our thinking (2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 12:1-3).
Simply put, some things need to be left unheard, unseen, unread, unexperienced, unspoken, unvisited, unimagined, unknown. Our “thoughts must be bound about, restricted, withdrawn from branching out and contemplating things that will only weaken and defile the soul” (Ellen G. White, Sons and Daughters of God, p. 107). We do this by keeping our minds focused on Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:5-8) and being renewed regularly by exposure to the thinking and will of God found in Holy Scripture (Rom. 12:2; Ps. 1:2; 119:9-16, 99).
Because there is no refuge from the ubiquitous presence of popular culture, we are called to steward our minds. There’s a difference between what we choose to see or experience and what comes to us in the flow of life. Do not be conformed. “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Rom. 12:2, NLT).4 In an age in which everything thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil, Enoch habitually withdrew to refresh his own thought life in God’s holy presence. Surrounded by sights and sounds of vice supported by the wealth and culture of the most highly civilized nation then in existence, Joseph, living in Egypt, “was as one who saw and heard not. His thoughts were not permitted to linger upon forbidden subjects.”5 Moral sensitivity and spiritual influence increased for both as they stewarded their minds for God.
There’s a pop song about a fellow who keeps getting into trouble. “I know what I was feeling,” he says, “but what was I thinking?”
When we consider our thought life, Jesus invites us to ask, “What am I thinking?”