Transformation, Part 3 – The Head, The Heart, and the Conscience

crosspost: this article originally appeared HERE.

In Part 3 of this series I’m going to attempt to synthesize Crabb’s and Benner’s change theories and then add some of my own reflections to the discussion.

For me to experience transformation (the ongoing change of my character and desires into the image of Christ), the primary input into my mind must be the Word of God.  I’m not saying this from a “work harder!!” perspective.  I’m saying this from a value standpoint.  The most valuable thing to me, when it comes to the things I choose to consume, must be the Word of God.  When I invite the Word of God (The living Son and His written words through the ministry of the Spirit) to consistently wash over my mind and heart, profound change is accessible.  Abide in Him, He will abide in you, and you will bear much fruit. 

The Word will then filter down through the rest of my soul washing clean my unconscious mind (“In the night also my heart instructs me” – Psalms 16:7), my will (“Not my will, but yours” – Luke 22:42), my heart (“Let us draw near with a true heart…our hearts sprinkled clean” – Hebrews 10:22), and my emotions (“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing…and clothed me with gladness” – Psalms 30:11).  The Word also teaches me how to perceive the world.  As I learn to listen to the Spirit of God, the Spirit interprets the Word and imparts new ways of thinking that align with Christ.  Thus, through His word and the indwelling of the Spirit of God I have been invited by God to perceive the world with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2).

When my reality (my perception of the world) is that of Christ’s, I can perceive God’s goodness and perfect love.  Having perceived and believed that God is truly and totally good I can give my heart in trust to His will and learn to experience the joy of submission.  When I submit to His love, I can surrender my life to His love.  When I have submitted my will to the Father – surrendered to God’s love – I have joined Christ in Gethsemane.  I have been transformed.

We need the Word of God through the Spirit of God to renew our minds.  But we actually need God to give us a totally new heart.  In popular depictions of the heart and mind we tend to see the heart as weak and fickle and the mind as strong and rational (think Star Trek).  But it is actually the heart that ultimately has the strength to determine my life’s direction.  The mind will always be limited by the amount of freedom and protection granted to it by the heart.  I think this, in combination with the total sickness of our fleshly hearts, is why God chooses to give us a new heart.  Our mind can be renewed.  Our hearts must be totally new.  To Ezekiel the Lord said, “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (ESV, Ezekiel 36:26).

Spirituality is a posture of the heart that restfully receives the presence and love of God.  Theology is a posture of the mind that intentionally and meditatively studies and searches the Word and character of God.  As we search we must receive.  As we receive we must heed the call to seek and follow after Jesus.  A transformation of the mind that doesn’t include the heart will grow dry and lifeless.  A transformation of the heart that does not recognize the vital importance of the renewal of the mind will lead to idolatry.  True worshipers of the Father worship in spirit and truth, with both hearts and minds transformed by Christ.

Transformation takes place in the context and with the input of spiritual community.  We are our brothers’ keeper.  The extent to which I am personally open to transformation greatly impacts the extent to which my community can experience transformation.  The converse is equally true.  Our hearts must be made new.  Our minds must be renewed.  His Word among us makes this possible.

I want to add one final wrinkle to the discussion, the role of our consciences.  I’ve been asking God about the conscience lately, asking Him to teach me what it is (I’ll admit, I think I’ve had some confusion around what exactly its role and purpose is meant to be).  We’ve all seen the images of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other – but clearly this is a pretty shallow understanding of the human soul’s conscience.  What I’ve heard Him say in response to my prayer, to the best that I can understand it is this:

our consciences are the way that our minds perceives the spiritual state of our hearts.

My conscience is how my mind views my heart.  Think of it this way, when my mind perceives that my heart is impure, I will not draw near to a pure God.

Apart from Christ, I’m not sure that the conscience can perceive anything other than basic principles of morality.  Thus the great sales pitch of our age (always given with a touch of feel-good morality), “You should do whatever makes you happy, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”  But, because of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit – conviction of both sin and righteousness (John 16:8) – the conscience can become concerned with more than basic principles of morality and actually concern itself with the spiritual state of the heart before God.  Only with a clean conscience can I give myself freely to worship.  And worship, probably more than anything else, is what transforms our hearts.

The book of Hebrews focuses in on this concept in some pretty remarkable ways.  Here are a few key statements about the conscience found in chapters 9 and 10.

  • “For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them.  For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies.” 9:9-10, NLT
  • “Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity.  Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.” 9:13-14, NLT
  • “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” 10:19-22, NLT

Notice that in 9:13 it says that the blood of Christ “purifies our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.”  Our consciences need purification.  Our ability to perceive sin and righteousness must be made new in Christ.  And most importantly, we cannot worship God apart from a cleansed conscience.  Thus, the further developed thought offered a chapter later, “Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean.”  Let us go right into God’s presence.  Let us go right into His house to worship the living God!  Tragically, for so many of us our minds do not perceive our hearts in a way that allows us to enter into our Father’s presence so confidently and boldly.  This is truly tragic.  The sacrifice of Christ is so entirely perfect, powerful, and effective that it not only allows for a renewed mind, and offers us a newly transplanted heart, but His blood even sprinkles clean our guilty consciences!  With a renewed mind, I want to perceive accurately the state of my heart.

These are some of the things I’ve been reading about, meditating on, and learning from over the past several months.  I believe deeply in the hope of transformation in Christ.  I truly believe that God wants to heal and change us.  I believe that he desires for us to be more than conquerors, to be overcomers, and to walk faithfully with Him, abiding in Jesus.  All this, ultimately, is for His Great Name’s sake.  Personal transformation is always for the sake of Christ and the strengthening of His body.

Here’s my final thought for this series.  A perfect Son requires a perfect Father.  Jesus, as the firstborn and perfect Son is the embodiment of our perfect Father.  If we have learned to trust the Son, let us learn to trust our Father and the Spirit who reveals Him and indwells us.  May we receive new hearts from the Father.  May our minds be renewed to have the mind of the Son.  May the Spirit cleanse and redeem our consciences.  May we be changed into His image with transformed minds, hearts, and consciences for His name’s sake.

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