Spiritual Fitness #3
“A Well-Balanced Diet for the Mind”
Fitness experts will tell you that exercise is only half of a good program for better health. A well-balanced diet is also essential if we want to perform at a higher level. (And, no, a well-balanced diet is not having a double cheeseburger in each hand!)
The same can be said regarding spiritual fitness as well. We have considered spiritual exercise these past two weeks, and this morning I would like to turn our attention to a well-balanced diet for the mind. My main text comes from Romans 12:2,
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul issues a negative and a positive command in this verse: “do not conform”—the negative—and “be transformed”—the positive. Regarding the first, I like the way J. B. Phillips renders this phrase: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” That’s tougher than it sounds! The world’s mold—society’s idea of what we should think, say, and do—is all around us. We are pressured on all sides to conform, or else feel the consequences of not fitting in.
On the other side, we are to be “transformed.” Warren Wiersbe writes,
The world wants to control your mind, but God wants to transform your mind. This word transform is the same as transfigure in Matthew 17:2. It has come into our English language as the word “metamorphosis.” It describes a change from within. The world wants to change your mind, so it exerts pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit changes your mind by releasing power from within. If the world controls your thinking, you are a conformer; if God controls your thinking, you are a transformer.
Think of an unsightly caterpillar being transformed into a beautiful butterfly. That is the scientific picture of metamorphosis. And that is what God wants to do for us. What are we to be transformed into? Paul answers that question in 2 Corinthians 3:18,
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” [emphasis added].
The goal of the Christian is to become more like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we allow the Holy Spirit to change us from within, we will become more Christ-like, which is what “Christian” really means. But this process is not automatic. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order for this transformation to take place. I believe there are two simple steps toward a well-balanced diet for the mind.
Avoid the Garbage
Like Paul in our text above, I want to approach this matter in a negative and a positive way. Negatively, we must avoid the garbage that is all around us. Back when personal computers were becoming popular, instructors taught the acrostic GIGO to new users. The letters stood for the words “garbage in, garbage out,” meaning that the computer can only operate as well as the data entered into it. If the data is incorrect, the processing of the data will also be incorrect. If a program is corrupted, the output of that program will likewise be corrupted. The same is true of the human mind.
This takes vigilance in our sin-sick world. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
One commentator notes,
Paul was saying that our thought life is a battleground. What we choose to think about, what runs across our mind, what controls us, what predisposes us to behave in a certain way—all are arenas for conflict. We can choose what we allow ourselves to think. We entertain what we choose, and we can refuse what we want. Ask yourself, what do you let into your mind? That will determine your behavior. Battles go on in our thinking, and this is where too many of us will lose the battle.
Practically speaking, how can we accomplish this? We must begin with “taking every thought captive.” Think of the security procedures that will take place this week when Barack Obama is sworn in as our new president. Wherever he goes, guards will be stationed at every entrance. Before anyone is allowed access inside, the guard will examine their credentials and compare that to a list of approved guests. Only when the two match will the person be allowed entrance.
What are the “entrances” to our minds? Technically speaking, all five senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch—bring data to our minds to be processed. But when it comes to our spiritual health, the two most important “entrances” are the “eye gate” and the “ear gate.” What we see and hear carries the potential to shape us more than anything else—and I would guess that, of the two, what we see is more influential than what we hear.
The Bible is clear about the importance of what we see. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:22-23,
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
We must be careful what we allow through our eyes as it will affect our minds. We need to pray, in the words of Psalm 119:37, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things…” (My dad always threatened to print that verse on a card and set it on top of our television set. How that would change the viewing habits of many Christians!)
Think about our world, and the visual assault it makes on the mind of the Christian. Movies, television, magazines, advertisements, and most significantly in recent years, the internet. How can we avoid this moral onslaught? I like how Oswald Chambers interpreted this verse: “This does not mean, ‘keep my eyes shut,’ but, ‘give me the power to direct my eyes aright.’” We need not walk around blindfolded or with a bag over our heads. The idea here is that when we encounter “worthless things,” we are to turn our eyes from it. In other words, don’t dwell on it. Seeing is temptation; the second look or the stare is when temptation becomes sin.
Allow me to be more specific. Men, we are particularly at risk in this regard when it comes to immorality. In our society, sex sells products from shave cream to new cars to just about anything you can imagine! If we allow our eyes to feast on the sensuality around us, our minds will be conformed—squeezed into the world’s mold, as it were.
What can we do about it? How about the commitment of Job recorded in Job 31:1, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” Job knew that he could be tempted in this way, so he was proactive. Rather than waiting for the situation to confront him, he planned ahead. He made a commitment before he encountered the temptation, and that helped him to be successful when he was tempted.
How can this be done? We need to take a long, honest look within ourselves. We need to admit our weaknesses. You know Satan knows our weak points, and those are exactly where he will hit us. We need to recognize where we are tempted and do all that we can to avoid those situations. Maybe that means not watching certain programs on television or movies, perhaps not reading certain magazines, or setting up filters for the internet so that certain types of content are not allowed through. As Wiersbe suggests, “We can’t help being tempted, but we can certainly [keep from] tempting ourselves.”
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13,
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
“A way out”—every temptation we face has a way out. That is a promise from God! We must look for that escape and take it.
Assimilate the Good
Avoiding the garbage is only one part of a well-balanced diet for the mind. We must also assimilate the good. Jesus warned of the dangers of not replacing bad with good in Luke 11:24-26,
When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.
Notice that the house was “swept clean and put in order,” but it was also empty. That is how the evil spirit was able to get more evil spirits and re-inhabit the man. We cannot live in a spiritual or moral vacuum. Whenever we remove something bad from our lives, we must replace it with something good, or the bad will inevitably return.
Just as a healthy diet includes nutrition for our bodies to grow, so a healthy diet for the mind must include mental and moral nutrition. I think a good “menu” for such is found in Philippians 4:8,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
In this text Paul spells out in detail the things we ought to think about as Christians.
Whatever is true. Dr. Walter Cavert reported a survey on worry that indicated that only 8 percent of the things people worried about were legitimate matters of concern! The other 92 percent were either imaginary, never happened, or involved matters over which the people had no control anyway. Satan is the liar (John 8:44), and he wants to corrupt our minds with his lies (2 Cor. 11:3). “Yea, hath God said?” is the way he approaches us, just as he approached Eve (Gen. 3:1ff). The Holy Spirit controls our minds through truth (John 17:17; 1 John 5:6), but the devil tries to control them through lies. Whenever we believe a lie, Satan takes over!
Whatever is noble and right. This means “worthy of respect and right.” There are many things that are not respectable, and Christians should not think about these things. This does not mean we hide our heads in the sand and avoid what is unpleasant and displeasing, but it does mean we do not focus our attention on dishonorable things and permit them to control our thoughts.
Whatever is pure, lovely, and admirable. “Pure” probably refers to moral purity, since the people then, as now, were constantly attacked by temptations to sexual impurity (Eph. 4:17–24; 5:8–12). “Lovely” means “beautiful, attractive.” “Of good report” means “worth talking about, appealing.” The believer must major on the high and noble thoughts, not the base thoughts of this corrupt world.
Whatever possesses virtue and praise. If it has virtue, it will motivate us to do better; and if it has praise, it is worth commending to others. No Christian can afford to waste “mind power” on thoughts that tear him down or that would tear others down if these thoughts were shared.
“That’s great!” you might say, “but where can I find all this? Certainly not in our media!” No, but such a resource is described in Psalm 19:7-9,
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
Notice the similarities: “perfect”, “trustworthy”, “right”, “radiant”, “pure”, “sure”, and “righteous”—almost the same list as in Philippians 4:8! In God’s Word we have a steady supply of wholesome food for the mind. Consider these Scriptures:
Matthew 4:4, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’“
1 Peter 2:2-3, Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Hebrews 5:11-14, We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
So, does this mean we have to bury our nose in a Bible twenty-four hours a day? No. Does this mean we can never watch television, a movie, read a book or magazine unless it is about the Bible? No. But it does mean that we must have enough spiritual nutrition so that we are strong enough when we do encounter the lies of the world that we do not fall victim to them.
If someone came to your house this afternoon and said, “We’d like to go through your house to see what you eat,” would you let them in? Would you allow them access to your pantry, your refrigerator and freezer, and that secret place you stash your goodies so that no one else finds them? Or would you be embarrassed?
What if the Lord came by and said, “I’d like to go through your life to see what you feed your mind upon,” would we likewise be mortified? Let me tell you a secret: He already knows! We aren’t fooling Him; we’re fooling ourselves.
One last thought: How many of you have heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? I remember hearing that as a youngster and thinking I would grow up to be a pickle! While that may not be literally true in the physical realm (though there is a lot of truth to the relationship between what we feed our bodies and how we fare physically), it is very true in the spiritual realm.
The good news is that it is never too late to change our spiritual and mental diet. We cannot erase all that we have fed our minds, but we can counterbalance the damage of moral garbage by replacing it with God’s Word. And we will find our spiritual fitness will improve dramatically!