The Godly Mind

When you think of a godly person, what comes to mind?

Most likely, you’re thinking of someone whose life is free from besetting sin. Or someone who prays frequently and fervently. Or someone who loves to serve other people with tangible acts of kindness.

What you’re probably not thinking of is someone who conducts scientific experiments in a laboratory. Or someone whose nose is frequently buried in a philosophy book. Or someone who furiously scribbles mathematical equations on a chalkboard.

Godliness certainly does include things like holy conduct and vibrant character and selfless service. There’s no doubt about that. But I have to wonder: Is it possible that true godliness is more comprehensive than we often imagine it to be? Might it be that the traditionally conceived categories of “spiritual” pursuits aren’t the whole story of what it means to be a godly man or a godly woman?

When Jesus was asked by scribes about the most important commandment, he responded definitively, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30).

I suspect it’s fairly easy for most of us to understand what Jesus means when he talks about loving God with our hearts, souls, and strength. These things jive pretty well with our familiar definitions of spirituality and godliness. But to love the Lord with our minds? That doesn’t seem to belong with the others. The mind seems too worldly, too earthy, too unspiritual. Surely the mind has more to do with learning a new language or studying the laws of physics than it does with being a lover and worshiper of God, right?

Well, not exactly. While it’s true that the mind can be put to use for selfish or prideful or futile ends, theChristian mind operates in submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. And as such, it is meant to be exercised and employed to bring him glory. As Donald Whitney observes, “What God wants most from you is your love. And one of the ways He wants you to show love and obedience to Him is by Godly learning. God is glorified when we use the mind He made to learn of Him, His ways, His Word, and His world” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 226).

We must realize that we don’t take a “time out” from our spiritual lives when we go to work at intellectual tasks. Study and reflection and exploration and problem-solving—these are concrete ways we can express our love for God. Regardless of your IQ or SAT score, it’s a demonstration of godliness when you cultivate your intellectual gifts, stretch your intellectual capabilities, and utilize your intellectual tools to the praise and glory of the One who gave them to you. For example:

  • If you’re a student gearing up for another year, don’t despise the work God has called you to. In the midst of the textbooks and the labs and the exams, you have an opportunity to love God greatly.
  • If you’re an educator (whether it’s in a kindergarten classroom or a Ph.D. seminar), cherish the task you’ve been given. You get to train young minds so that they can more fully love God.
  • If you’re an engineer or a doctor or an architect (or any other profession that requires mental investment), thank God for the ability to exercise your brain daily—by doing so, you’re being given an opportunity to obey the greatest commandment.

And if you’re none of the above—just a “regular” Christian with no remarkable intelligence to speak of—don’t let that be an excuse. J.P. Moreland argues that “a growing, vibrant disciple will be someone who values his intellectual life and works at developing his mind carefully” (Love Your God with All Your Mind, p. 61). You don’t have to be super smart to do that. Whether it’s reading a book or memorizing Scripture or listening to a podcast—exercising your brain is far more than an intellectual exercise. It’s a spiritual exercise. And don’t we all need a little more of that?

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