We saw that in Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul does not give us a two-step program for personal change, but a three-part process. There are steps we must take: we have to put off old behaviour patterns and put on a new lifestyle. But in the heart of this is the need to “be renewed in the spirit of our minds”. Without a change of mind there will be no real or lasting change of behaviour.
Paul is not playing psychological mind games here, no weird visualization techniques for a leopard imagining that he has no spots. He is clear about the kind of thinking that has to happen in order for there to be a change of mind that leads to a change of behaviour.
The Ephesians to whom he was writing had perfectly good brains, but in their pre-Christian state they were futile in their minds (v.17). In fact, while many of them were highly educated, they were ignorant about what really mattered, due to their hardness of heart (v.18). Futile thought patterns and big holes in their knowledge resulted in poor behaviour. So becoming a Christian involved a new way of thinking and new things to learn. So Paul says this old Gentile paradigm “is not the way you learned Christ” (v.20). He speaks of a new way of learning (in contrast to the futile old way of thinking) and a new content of that learning (where knowing Christ fills the void of their previous ignorance). The change of behaviour is possible because “you have heard about him (new information) and were taught in him (new way of learning), as the truth is in Jesus (new paradigm)” [v.21].
So Paul is not describing the need for a series of lectures to approach behavioural problems cerebrally. He sees the issue as a spiritual matter: what needs to change is the spirit of the mind. But it is not a mystical or ethereal process: it is the spirit of the mind that needs to change – thought patterns, not just spiritual intuitions. A renewed spirit of the mind will enable us to have the mind of Christ, to start to think like him; and then we will start to behave like him.
This is the way Paul works in the whole letter. Ephesians starts with a detailed explanation of who Christ is, what he has done, and who we are in Him. Only then does he tell us how we need to live – and even then we do it only in Christ and as unto Christ. But there will be no true Christian living without true Christian theology. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Our heart must become a thinking centre, a power house of right thinking that will drive the mechanics of godly behaviour.
Apart from Christ, and in particular the knowledge of Christ in the spirit of the mind, there can be no real change. At least, no change that results in genuinely Christian life. To tell people to put off bad behaviour and put on good behaviour is futile unless first we tell them who they are in Christ. Thought patterns control habit patterns; a change of lifestyle can only happen if there is a change of mind in which we stop thinking like Gentiles and start thinking like Jesus.