LCN Article
The Gift of a Truly Sound Mind

May / June 2020

Wallace G. Smith

Paul describes God’s Holy Spirit as the spirit of a sound mind. What is a sound mind? And how do we nourish and cultivate this gift of God?

During the Pentecost season, we celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to the Church, awed by the fact that He has made us partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)—a privilege none of us have earned.

That Spirit conveys many benefits, some of which Paul listed in a letter to Timothy, encouraging the young evangelist to make the most of what he’d been given: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6–7).

Power, love, and a sound mind are each worthy topics of consideration. But, for this article, let’s focus on soundness of mind. Sound thinking is vital to Christian living, but in very short supply in our world these days. Why is that?

The answer explains a lot about our world and demonstrates what a wonderful gift sound thinking is—a gift not to be taken for granted.

Let’s look more closely at soundness of mind, understanding why truly sound thinking requires God’s Spirit and how we can develop and refine this spiritual gift in our own lives.

Mind Damage

Humanity is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). While this certainly indicates that our form reflects His in a very meaningful way (see “In God’s Image” in the January-February 2016 Living Church News), it also means much more.

When we carefully read the account of man’s creation, we see that humanity reflects God in many ways. Mankind was given dominion over the world’s creatures (Genesis 1:26, 28), just as God reigns in the larger sense over creation (Psalm 24:1). Man was expected to multiply his own kind (Genesis 1:28), just as God is expanding His own family (2 Corinthians 6:18). And Genesis 2 and 3 illustrate that man is a thinking, reasoning, accountable being within God’s creation—unlike any of the animals. However limited we may be, when we look at man’s design we see a sort of intimate self-portrait of God and His Son.

This is why the Eternal can extend the invitation, “let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18)—because He created us with a mind capable of reason and rational thought.

But sin ruins everything—including our ability to think rationally.

In the Garden of Eden, man chose to sin—an abuse of God-given free will—and that choice corrupted him, marring his capacity to reflect his Creator. Of course, we all have made the exact same choice in our own ways (Romans 3:23) and have experienced that corruption. Our spirit suffers, our bodies suffer, and our minds suffer the effects of sin.

Sin’s corruption includes a degradation of our capacity to draw accurate conclusions about the world and ourselves. Such corruption is inevitable when we fail to give God His rightful place at the center of reality: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).

Many scriptures illustrate how sin damages our ability to be truly rational. Consider the current state of the one formerly called Lucifer, now Satan the Devil. Lucifer was created “full of wisdom” (Ezekiel 28:12). Yet God tells him that “you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (v. 17), and Paul says that pride led to the Devil’s condemnation (1 Timothy 3:6).

Satan’s sin damaged his mind such that—even with his firsthand experience of God’s majesty and power—he is now fiercely devoted to opposing Him. Such mind damage—wrought by sin—is rampant among the demons, who know who God is (James 2:19) yet persist in a rebellion destined to end terribly for them.

The human realm fares little better, as the Bible frequently shows. Jesus chastised the Pharisees and the Sadducees for being unwilling to draw correct conclusions from readily available facts (Matthew 12:1–4). A man Jesus had healed marveled at the Pharisees’ inability to accept the truth staring them in the face (John 9:30). Paul speaks of individuals “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” who are “men of corrupt minds” (2 Timothy 3:6–8). And he describes pagan intellectuals as “futile in their thoughts” and given over to a “debased mind” because of their unwillingness to “retain God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:21, 28).

And of course, in our day, we are surrounded by so many unsound minds devoid of God’s Spirit. If you follow any “discussion” of current issues, you know that basic reason and logic—much less true wisdom and understanding—rarely rule the day. The language of Twitter, Facebook, and the like is often that of passionate but irrational thinking. A spirit of wisdom and rationality is clearly not the spirit of the age.

Even when language seems rational, applying closer scrutiny often reveals mistaken assumptions at best and cherry-picked facts at worst. How many who scream “Listen to the science!” concerning their claims about evolution or climate change also ignore the science concerning transgender confusion, sexual immorality, and other cultural issues?

And if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, God can help us see evidence of mind damage in our own thinking. How much self-justification do we allow ourselves in order to have our way or excuse our behavior? How often do our own Facebook posts and comments, for instance, look like those of political partisans—contentious, proud, and striving over matters of worldly concern, far removed from the Gospel of the Kingdom? How often do brothers and sisters in Christ seek to “win the debate” or put someone in his or her place, rather than show respect for each other’s point of view?

Such contentions and disputes are of the flesh, not God’s Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:20; Titus 3:9). These patterns of thinking and behavior reveal mind damage, as well.

Healing Available—One of the Precious Gifts of the Holy Spirit

But God has not abandoned us! As we noted at the start, He has given us a spirit of peace and sound-mindedness—in fact, His very own Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7).

But the full healing of our minds doesn’t happen immediately at baptism. If only it did! Rather, it takes time, and we have a role to play. Paul admonished Timothy to “stir up the gift” (v. 6), meaning Timothy had a responsibility to value and nurture what he had been given.

As we strive to use the Spirit of God to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), developing His gracious gift of a sound mind should be one of our goals. If our Father has given us the opportunity to possess a truly sound mind amidst a world lacking one, we must not neglect it! We are obliged to make the most of that opportunity.

Here are seven principles to help us do so.

1. Acknowledge God as God.

As we saw above, Paul warned Roman Christians about the dangers of failing to acknowledge our Creator as God. Although the academically intelligent people he described “knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).

When you truly understand who God is, His existence demands utter devotion and wholehearted worship. Jesus taught that the “first and great” commandment of God’s law is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) and that nothing else can come first in our lives. Our devotion to Christ, His Father, and the Kingdom He is bringing must supersede all other concerns and desires (Luke 14:26; Matthew 6:33).

To commit less than everything to God is to fail to acknowledge who He truly is. Yet, if our perspective does not hold God in His proper place, that perspective becomes increasingly distorted and perverted. As noted earlier, mere awareness of God is not enough. It is the fear of God—regarding Him with a profound, life-changing reverence and sense of awe—that is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). It was only as his fear of God went to the “next level” that Job’s perspective on himself became right and sound (Job 42:5–6).

Just as dancers and figure skaters focus on one fixed point to maintain their orientation as they perform dizzying spins, the fear of God is a fixed point that orients our understanding of ourselves and our surroundings, our relationship to others, and the meaning of our lives.

To maintain and develop a sound mind, we must recognize and increasingly accept the proper role the Almighty God plays in our lives and in the world’s affairs. If we do, our actions and choices will show it.

2. Pursue humility.

The Apostle Paul made a simple but vital observation: “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). This is not an indictment against knowledge; Peter notes that growing in knowledge is expected of Christians (2 Peter 1:5–7). Paul’s statement simply recognizes that the more knowledge we acquire, the greater the temptation to think of ourselves—and our personal conclusions and opinions—more highly than we should.

The Bible gravely warns those who consider themselves wise and prudent (e.g., Isaiah 5:21; Proverbs 26:12; 1 Corinthians 10:12). To think that pride cannot warp our minds as it did Satan’s is foolishness at best, madness at worst.

Philippians tells us, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (2:3) and tells us that this humility characterizes Jesus Christ’s mind (vv. 5–8).

Selfish ambition and being wise in our own eyes are faults that work against sound thinking. If we want to think clearly, we must ask God to help us embrace a humble outlook on ourselves. The more enamored we become of our own reasoning, the more we risk the mind damage that pride always brings.

3. Feed your spiritual understanding.

Some have claimed that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong completely condemned science and the scientific method. He did not! He recognized the wondrous knowledge scientific endeavors have brought to mankind, and he acknowledged the many facets of life they have improved. But he did condemn the rejection of divine revelation, which too often distorts the work of scientists. In this issue’s Editorial on page 3, Mr. Richard F. Ames discusses this vital understanding in more detail.

Without input from God, full soundness of mind will elude us, as some truths must be spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). If we want to grow in our ability to think, reason, and discern soundly, we must seek to equip our minds fully with His word’s eternal truths.

How blessed we are to live at a time when the Bible is readily available to so many! King David knew the value of making God’s revealed knowledge a deep part of who we are, writing in Psalm 119, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (v. 11). God’s word was his meditation throughout the day (v. 97) and it brought him understanding that others did not have (vv. 98–100). In fact, a foundational purpose of the New Covenant is the writing of God’s laws and ways in our very hearts and minds so that they become part of how we think and reason (Hebrews 10:16).

Are we working regularly with God as He seeks to write His word in our hearts? To be fully sound, a mind needs ready access to the truths of God!

If we want to rationally understand the world—correctly evaluating ideas, opportunities, situations, and circumstances—we will be faithfully and regularly feeding on God’s revealed word as a source of needed information that is available nowhere else.

4. Train your discernment and practice acting on it.

Scripture praises good discernment and describes it as very valuable (e.g., Proverbs 2:3; Philippians 1:9). But discernment doesn’t develop quickly. It is acquired and honed over years of use: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14, English Standard Version).

Discernment requires practice—actively attempting to distinguish good from evil in the world and in the choices presented to us and, upon discerning, choosing the good.

It is no coincidence that the NAS Greek New Testament explains that the word translated “sound mind” in 2 Timothy 1:7 also bears the meaning of “self-control”—the two are inseparable. Every time we allow ourselves to choose or behave as if there were no difference between the good and the bad or the wise and the foolish, we dull our senses to the distinctions between them.

While there is much pleasure in what is good, there can be much pleasure of a sort in sin, as well—though sinful pleasures are temporary (Hebrews 11:25), leading always to deep regret at a later time, if not immediately. Merely relying on what “feels right” in the moment may very well be a big mistake. If we want a sound mind, it is important that we exercise it regularly by actively seeking to discern the good. Moments when what is right seems “obvious” are often the very moments when mature discernment is needed! Why is it so obvious? What principles of God tell us that? Are there biblical principles that might argue against the “obvious” conclusion?

If following our instincts led to good discernment, there would be no need to exercise our senses in the manner Hebrews 5:14 describes. It takes work and experience, but the result—clear-headed, rational, godly thinking—is worth the investment.

5. Dedicate yourself to truth over falsehood.

Warning: This advice may sound easier than it actually is.

If we want a sound mind, we need to commit ourselves to truth and desire to see things as they truly are. This isn’t just about seeking true facts from trusted sources, though that is vitally important. It also includes refusing to settle for the falsehoods we often tell ourselves.

Sin corrupts us such that truly and deeply desiring truth is not our natural state: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Self-deception is remarkably natural to each of us, and as many (including Mr. Armstrong and Dr. Roderick C. Meredith) have said in the past, Those who are deceived do not know they are deceived!—a warning that includes self-deception. And our astonishing (and frequently unrecognized) willingness to lie to ourselves and justify the things we really want to have or believe is powerfully corrosive to sound-mindedness.

God wove a commitment to truth into His Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). And you are your closest neighbor!

Every “little” lie we settle for, whether a lie about the world around us or about ourselves, distorts our understanding of reality to some degree and makes the truth harder and harder to perceive. Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson once told an audience, “If you tell enough lies, often enough, the truth will become entirely hidden from you—and then you are in hell.”

We cannot retain a sound mind without a determined willingness to live in reality, however painful it can sometimes be. That means we must be willing to sacrifice all our illusions, even our favorites.

6. Seek wise counsel.

Counsel helps us to go beyond the limits of our point of view and life experience—limits we all possess. It is a vital aid to sound thinking, and the man or woman of understanding will put in the effort necessary to diligently seek the advice and guidance of others (Proverbs 20:5). On the opposite end are those who are satisfied with their own counsel: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Proverbs 18:1).

However, if we want to truly increase soundness of mind, we need to seek counsel properly. Sometimes we misuse proverbs about seeking a “multitude of counselors” (e.g., Proverbs 11:14) as a pretense for “shopping” until we find a “counselor” who will justify what we really want to do or believe. It is a prophesied characteristic of this age that people will tend to “heap up for themselves teachers,” looking for someone to tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear (2 Timothy 4:3–4). Such an approach helps us to justify ourselves—either to others or in our own minds—but it is not in the spirit of the Bible’s admonitions.

Truly seeking counsel requires more than putting on a show and more than reaching out only to those who will predictably echo our own desires. It requires seeking out those most qualified to give us the advice we need and willing to disagree with us if need be.

Many in the world live their lives without considering real, substantial counsel. Many, too, are so enamored by their own positions, research, and conclusions that they are ready at the drop of a hat to give counsel, whether asked for or not. Many on Facebook and other social media platforms regularly and forcefully declare to the world their personal conclusions on medical advice, vaccinations, nutrition, politics, biblical doctrine, prophecy—you name it.

The Bible warns, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). However, social media has handed us digital soapboxes and megaphones that have tempted many to cast that good advice aside far too readily.

Cultivating a sound mind involves being far more interested in obtaining counsel than dispensing it. In fact, the counsel of James is exactly this, that “every man be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

7. Be careful of your sources.

One of my favorite math-related stories involves a professor who warned his students that if they began with false information or a false premise, such as assuming “two equals one,” they could “prove” almost anything.

A student then challenged him: “Okay, then start with that and prove you’re the pope!”

After some thought, he responded, “Well, the pope is one person and I am one person—so I and the pope are two. Therefore, since two equals one, I and the pope are one.”

I like that story because it emphasizes something important about logic and reasoning: All reasoning is vulnerable to bad assumptions and bad input. When it comes to thinking, the old maxim applies: Garbage in, garbage out.

Life is complicated, and we often need information we don’t have. Whether we are making nutritional decisions for our family, seeking to understand a difficult passage of Scripture, or trying to make sense of a relationship challenge, it is vital that we feed our minds with solid information from reliable sources.

Regrettably, the Internet has become a veritable Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Too many of us see it as our first stop, and sometimes our only stop, for information—even in our personal Bible study—and forget two important facts: Any fool can post a webpage or YouTube video (and many fools do!), and there is no “truth filter” on the Internet.

God tells us to consider our sources carefully. Paul tells Timothy that “you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14). At a time when prophecy foretells that our informational landscape will be rife with false teachers and false prophets (e.g., 2 Peter 2:1), sound thinking demands not a loosening of our standards for sources, but a tightening!

If you are looking into spiritual matters, are you looking to those whom God has appointed to shepherd you—individuals He holds personally accountable concerning your benefit (Hebrews 13:17)? Or do you look to those who show no sign of godly wisdom and none of the fruits to which Christ pointed us (Matthew 7:15–20)? If you are looking into health matters, are you investigating proven, time-tested resources for information, or do you rely on fringe websites and videos that simply align with tempting ideas you would like to believe?

Life is hard enough to figure out without bad information. If we seek to develop a sound mind and to honor God with our reasoning and conclusions, we will hold our sources to a high standard.

The Mind of Christ

In the end, having a sound mind is part of a much larger goal: having the mind of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5; 1 Corinthians 2:16). We can only have true soundness and peace of mind to the extent that we allow Christ to live within us. It is a lifelong journey—one that takes effort. But it is also a journey in which our vision of the landscape becomes clearer, more accurate, and more vibrant the further along the path we go.

As we thank our Father this Pentecost for the gift of His Spirit, let’s add a word of thanks for one product of that Spirit: the opportunity to escape the confusion and irrationality of this world by developing a truly sound mind.