3-1-1 "To be spiritually minded": The Essence Of Christianity

The state of our hearts, what we think about, is of supreme importance. We all carry on conversations with ourselves, often involving us imagining certain situations and how we would speak or act to a person. The intended result of all our trials and experiences, of our belief in all the true Bible doctrines which comprise the good news, is that we should become spiritually minded. This is the end result of believing; membership of a denomination, Bible reading, believing the right doctrines... all these things are only means to an end, and that end is to develop the mind of Christ, to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). The wicked will be rejected for the state of their hearts, rather than their specific actions; hence God’s summary of why He rejected the wilderness generation was that “It is a people that do err in their heart” (Ps. 95:10). Similarly, God could have condemned Babylon for a whole host of sinful actions; but His essential, repeated reason was because of how they spoke in their hearts (Is. 47:10; Zeph. 2:15; Rev. 18:17). And He gave the same reason for His condemnation of Tyre (Ez. 28:2) and Edom (Obadiah 3). The more we come to know ourselves, the more we will perceive the importance of self-talk. I take Ecclesiastes to be Solomon’s self-examination at the end of his life. Five times in this short book he describes how “I said in my heart...” (Ecc. 2:1,15 [twice]; 3:17,18). As he looked back and analyzed how and why he had lived and been as he had, he appreciated that it was all a result of his self-talk, how he had spoken to himself in his mind. His introspection reveals just how we talk to ourselves- e.g. “I said in my heart, “Go on now, I will prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure”” (Ecc. 2:1). We all talk to ourselves; and the records of the Lord’s wilderness temptations are an amazing psychological window into the self-talk of God’s very own son. As we know, He answered every temptation that arose within His self-talk with quotations from Scripture. He lived out in reality David’s words: “Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin” (Ps. 119:11- cp. how God’s word was in the heart of men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Jer. 20:9; Ez. 3:10). This, then, is the ultimate fruit of familiarity with Scripture, of the “daily reading of the Bible” which has been the catchcry of every serious Christian community.

We need to let passages like Eph. 5:3-5 have their full weight with us. Fornication, covetousness, all uncleannes should not be "named amongst us", in the same way Israel were not to take even the names of the Gentile idols onto their lips (Ex. 23:13)- "but rather giving of thanks", knowing that those who do such things will not be in the Kingdom of God. A thankful attitude, thinking and speaking of those things with which we will eternally have to do, is to replace thinking and talking about all the things which shall not be our eternal sphere of thought in the Kingdom age. And yet our generation faces the temptation like none before it- to privately watch and read of those things, vicariously involved in them, whilst being under the illusion that we're not actually doing them ourselves. For this is what the entertainment industry is based around.

There's a strange juxtaposition of ideas in Jer. 4:12-14. Jeremiah promises that Yahweh's horrendous judgments will come upon His people, through chariots, clouds and whirlwind. But for what? Because of the wickedness of Judah's heart / mind. No other God, no penal code, would stipulate such extreme judgments 'merely' for an internal attitude of mind. The pinnacle of Judah's sin was that "it reaches unto your heart" (Jer. 4:18). This is all how seriously God views the state of the human heart.


Knowing the truth about Satan leads to us being far more in touch with ourselves, aware of the nature of our thought processes and the crucial importance of our own personality and character. "Self-talk is based on your beliefs. And what you truly believe is manifested both in your inner and oral conversations" (1). All the angst expended in worrying about an external personal Devil is put into self-control and personal spiritual development. For we are to be in a living personal relationship with the Father and Son, responding to them both in absolutely unique ways. For there are as many responses to Jesus as there are human fingerprints. And it is this personal, deeply internal response to them which becomes sidelined if we are mere spectators at a show, watching some cosmic battle play itself out up in the sky.

It would be fair to say that the Biblical Devil often refers to our self-talk- the very opposite of the external Devil idea. Jesus pinpointed the crucial importance of self-talk in His parable of the rich fool, who said to himself that he had many goods, and discussed with his own “soul” the need for greater barns etc. (Lk. 12:17-19). If we at least realize that our self-talk is potentially our greatest adversary [‘Satan’], then we will find the strength to move towards genuine spiritual mindedness, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Paul’s wording here suggests that naturally our “every thought” is not obedient to Christ; and this is his way of speaking about ‘the Devil’.

Dt. 15:9 has Moses warning Israel: “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart”. The Hebrew for ‘thought’ really means ‘word’- the idea is to ensure that you don’t have a self-talk that says… that because the year of release was coming up soon, therefore you would not lend your brother anything, knowing that you had to forgive him the debt in the year of release. Here we have the OT equivalent of the New Testament ‘Devil’. We can control our self-talk, but we must be aware that it takes place. Moses is basically saying: ‘Beware of your own self talk; see how you speak to yourself in unfinished sentences like “The year of release is at hand…”, resulting in you ‘finishing the sentence’ by unkind deeds’.

Perceiving the reality and power of our own self-talk is one outcome of truly comprehending who the Devil is. Ps. 36:1 warns: " Sin speaks to the wicked man in his heart" (Heb.). The path of Cain involved reviling what he did not understand (Jude 10,11). He didn't understand, or didn't let himself understand, the principles of sacrifice, and so he reviled his brother and God's commands, he became a true child of the Biblical Devil- because he didn't understand.

Our self-talk actually defines where we go in our relationships. If we keep reacting to events, encounters, stimulations etc. with the same kind of self-talk, this cuts a groove in our brain as it were, and ends up affecting who we are as well as how we interact with others. It's not really true that certain events make us inevitably act or feel in a certain way. What they do is trigger our self-talk, those attitudes, evaluations, opinions, mental pictures, imagined reactions, which we already have worked out in our previous conversations with ourselves. And it is this self-talk which then dictates how we will feel or act when things happen or are said. If we have a certain ‘self-talk’ opinion of someone and yet speak and act nicely to them, sooner or later we won’t be able to keep up the act any longer. The gap between your real self and the image you project will become so great that all manner of depression, anger and dysfunction will result. I remember underlining a phrase of Soren Kierkegaard, quite stunned by how intensely true it was, and how much truth is compacted by him into so few words: “An unconscious relationship is more powerful than a conscious one”. This says it all. What you say to yourself about your wife, how you analyze to yourself the actions of your child… this has the real power, far beyond any forms of words and outward behaviour we may show. Yet sadly, this world thinks that how you say things is all important; it’s a running away from the importance and crucial value of the real self within. And it’s yet another reason why self-talk is crucial to true, real living and spiritual development. And this is all an outflow from a clear grasp of the fact that the real Satan is the adversary of our own internal thoughts, and not some external Devil or some guy who fell off the 99th floor back in the Garden of Eden. Not for nothing does the Bible at times describe our self-talk as a 'devil', a false accuser. For so much of what we are tempted to think about others in our conversations with ourselves is slanderous, untrue, and negative. Our self-talk tends to over generalize, over-interpret, gets things way out of perspective, magnifying some things and minimizing others. Whereas to have the mind of the Spirit, the mind influenced by God's word rather than the word of our own self-talk, will lead to truth, life and peace. Well does the NCV translate Prov. 4:23: "Be careful what you think because your thoughts run your life". We are to gather together "the loins of your mind" (1 Pet. 1:13), make a conscious effort to analyze our thinking, get a grip on it and gather it together into Christ.

The psychological intensity of our inner battles is recognized throughout Scripture. Take Ex. 23:5: "If you see the ass of him that hates you lying under his burden, and would forbear to help him, you shall surely release it". This Divine law perceived that in such a case, there would be the inner temptation to "forbear" assisting; but no, "you shall surely release it". The very structure of Biblical Hebrew as a language is often instructive as to how God wishes us to perceive things. There is actually no literal word in Biblical Hebrew for 'to think'- instead there is a word meaning 'to say in one's heart'. And there are times when the word is wrongly translated simply "say" (e.g. 1 Sam. 16:6- NEB correctly renders as "thought"). This provides a window into understanding how the Greek logos means both 'speech' and 'reason'; and sets the backdrop for the repeated teaching of Jesus that God counts human thoughts as if they are the spoken word or acted deed. But my point in this context is that the Hebrew Bible continually focuses our attention upon the internal thought processes- for here is the real 'Satan', the real enemy to true spirituality.

If we keep telling ourselves something about ourselves, we’ll act accordingly. So much depression and anger is caused by people speaking negatively about themselves in their self-talk: “I’m bad, I’m no good, I can’t make the grade...”. There’s a huge amount of negativity in the world, and increasingly the value of the individual is glossed over- we’re treated as nobodies, and it rubs off. But our self-talk should be based around the unspeakable joy of knowing that we are in Christ, that we are secure in and with Him. As we wait in line at the supermarket checkout, we can be telling ourselves: “He... loves me, yes me... I will be there”. And pounding in our brain as we find ourselves caught up in yet another traffic jam can be the urgent reminder: “He died for me... tormented by flies probably too... He had me in mind”. Or recite a Bible verse to yourself... whatever, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1 JB Philips). This positive self-talk will enable us to maintain our basic human dignity, as well as our faith and spiritual integrity, in the face of rejection, slander and breakup of human relationships.  It’s all too easy to be negative. Moses said within himself “I am a foreigner in this land”- and his self-talk led to the very public ‘word’ of naming his son ‘Gershom’ (Ex. 2:22). David kept telling himself that Saul would defeat him: “David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam. 27:1). And he acted accordingly, and his negative self-talk led him into a faithless situation. Yet it seems that David later perceived his error, and the importance of self-talk. For in the Psalms, he characterizes the wicked in Israel as being distinguished by what they say in their heart, in their self-talk. Take Psalm 10: “He has said in his heart, “I shall not be moved”... he has said in his heart, “God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see it”... he has said in His heart “You (God) will not require it”” (Ps. 10:6,11,13). Notice how effectively the wicked man prays to God in his thoughts- “You will not require it”.

How could David be so confident that he knew what was going on in the hearts of others? Surely because he perceived that actions are so certainly the fruit of self-talk, that he could reason back from the words and behaviour of the wicked to know what their self-talk must be. So certain was David, as the Lord Jesus was later, that thoughts are directly reflected in words and actions. For sure, the wicked whom David observed would have denied that they said such things about God. Especially would they have denied David’s confident assertion in Ps. 14:1 that “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God”. For atheism was unheard of in early Israel; it was a perversion of far later times. But their actions reflected a deeply internal assumption that God doesn’t actually see and know all things; that He’s simply not watching when we sin. And the self-talk of the wicked is effectively that ‘There’s no God out there’. Like David, the Lord Jesus saw through peoples’ actions to the self-talk behind it. He observed the body language of the Pharisee, despising the repentant woman; Lk. 7:39 records that the man “said within himself... ‘She is a sinner!’”, but “Jesus answering said unto him...” (Lk. 7:40). The Lord perceived the man’s self-talk, and responded to it. For Him, the Pharisee’s unspoken words were loud and clear, and Jesus acted as if He was in a conversation with the man. He correctly read the man’s silent disapproval as actually saying something, and responded to it as if in conversation. Of course we could argue that the Lord was empowered by a flash of Holy Spirit illumination to be able to read the Pharisee’s mind; but it seems to me altogether more likely that it was His own sensitivity, His own perception of the other’s self-talk, that enabled Him to know what was being silently said within the man’s mind.

‘Said in his heart’ is a common Biblical phrase (e.g. Gen. 17:17; 1 Sam. 27:1; 1 Kings 12:26; Esther 6:6). Further, there are many instances where we read that a person ‘said’ something; but it’s apparent that they said it to themselves, in their heart. Take Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:20: “But Gehazi said, Behold, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought; but, as the Lord lives, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him”. For sure, Gehazi said this to nobody but himself. Or Moses- he’s recorded as saying “People have found out what I have done!”- surely he said this within himself (Ex. 2:14 GNB). Samuel’s comment about Eliab was likewise presumably to himself (1 Sam. 16:6); Saul’s “I’ll strike [David] to the wall” was surely said to himself (1 Sam. 18:11); likewise his explanation of his plan to trap David via his daughter Michael was all hatched out within his own brain (1 Sam. 18:21); other examples in 1 Sam. 27:12; 1 Kings 12:26 etc. Only God knew what those men ‘said in their heart’; and yet He has recorded it in His inspired word for all generations to see. In this alone we see how ultimately, nothing remains secret; at the day of judgment, what we spoke in darkness (i.e. in our own minds) will be heard in the light of God’s Kingdom (Lk. 12:3). Note how Paul read the Lord’s words here in this way- for he surely alludes here when he speaks of how “the hidden things of darkness” are “the counsels of the hearts” which will be revealed at His return (1 Cor. 4:5). The implications of this are awesome. The thoughts and intents of our hearts in this life will be eternally open and manifest in the eternal light of God’s Kingdom. In that day, our brethren will see every one of our hidden thoughts. To live now according to the principle ‘I can think what I like, but I won’t act like it, for the sake of appearances to others’ is therefore foolish. Who we are now in our hearts is whom we shall ultimately be revealed to be. So we may as well get on and act according to how we really think; for throughout eternity, what we think now will be manifest to everyone, seeing that a man is as he thinks in his heart.


Prayer is largely carried out in the mind- how we ‘speak in the heart’ is effectively read as our prayer to God. We find the phrase used about how Abraham’s servant prayed, ‘speaking in his heart’ (Gen. 24:45). Thus our self-talk merges into prayer; Hannah’s “prayer” appears to have been the same (1 Sam. 2:1). Solomon’s prayer for wisdom is described by God as “in your heart” (2 Chron. 1:11). This close link between thought and prayer is developed in the Lord’s teaching in Mk. 11:23,24: “ Truly I say unto you, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be taken up and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he says comes to pass; he shall have it. Therefore I say unto you, All things you pray and ask for, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them”. Our self-talk is to be fantasy about the fulfillment of our prayers. Yet how often do we hit ‘send’ on our requests to God, like scribbling off a postcard, and hardly think again about them?

Our Words

It’s a common mistake in the Christian warfare to think that we can think what we like, but we must strive earnestly to control our words so we don’t let the thoughts out publicly, as it were. Our thoughts are our words; the intention is the action. In any case, there is a Biblical theme that what we say in our heart comes out into the open: “Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand. Then will I slay my brother Jacob. And the words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah” (Gen. 27:41,42). What Esau said to himself became public knowledge through his actions. Haman is described as having ‘presumed in his heart’ to destroy the Jews (Esther 7:5); but the Hebrew word translated “presumed” is also translated “accomplished”. The thought was as if he had done it. Perhaps the Lord Jesus had reflected upon these things, and it was this reflection which led Him to teach that our thoughts are counted as our deeds and words. It all underlines the simple fact that we cannot think one way about a person, and hope that brutal self-control will somehow stop us acting out those thoughts in some way. Perhaps this was one of the many Old Testament examples which led the Lord towards His firm conviction that thought and deed are the same. In passing, let’s not take this as only negative. Our intentions to do good can also, on this basis, be counted as if they were performed. Thus if we have a generous spirit, and would love to be generous to the needy, but just can’t do it- it’s counted as if we’ve done it. The generous poor at Corinth are the parade example: “For if there first be a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has [to give], and not according to that he hasn’t got [to give]” (2 Cor. 8:12).

Nicespeak No More

What we say in our heart may well not be revealed by us public ally in those very words of self-talk. Prov. 23:6,7 warns that a mean person will say to you: “Eat and drink!”, but his heart is not with you; “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he”. In his heart, he’s counting the cost of those vegetables, that meat on your plate, rather hoping you won’t help yourself to too many of the candies he ‘generously’ offers you with his welcoming words. He thinks in a mean way; so this is how he really is. His heart isn’t with you; his words are just nicespeak. Nebuchadnezzar had been warned by Is. 14:13 that the King of Babylon would be brought down because he would say in his heart “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”. Yet the promised fall of Babylon’s King only happened when he said out loud: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”. The record continues: “While the word was in the king’s mouth (i.e. he spoke this out loud), there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken” (Dan. 4:30,31). What was the “it” that was spoken about him? Surely the prophecy of Isaiah 14, which was a prediction waiting for a king of Babylon to come along and fulfil it. So the king’s self-talk was that he would rise up to Heaven; but his actual words were an admiration of his Kingdom as opposed to God’s. And yet he was judged for the self-talk behind his words. And this is the kind of relentlessly analytical judgment which a loving Father applies to us too. The culture of nicespeak comes crashing down before His piercing eyes; for the world teaches us that it’s all about how we put it over, the words we choose, the image we cut; and yet God looks upon the heart. God is the God of all grace; He judges (it’s not that He doesn’t judge- He does!), but with grace. And the extent of that grace becomes the larger, is given greater backdrop, as we appreciate the more how He searches and analyzes our lives constantly, always taking our words and actions right back to their essential root- in our self-talk. And how does He do this? Heb 4:12 answers: For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart”. Through our interaction with God’s word, our deepest self-talk is revealed to us (if we read properly, and not as a conscience-salving dashing through some Bible reading for the sake of it); and yet perhaps it is through our response to God’s word that our thoughts are revealed to God. That’d be to say, that His knowledge of us may not be as it were ‘automatic’, but He uses His word as the means, the mechanics as it were, by which He has such piercing knowledge of human hearts. No wonder we ought to pray before we read Scripture...

The miserly man we spoke about hasn’t got his heart ‘with you’, Prov. 23:7 warns. The implication is that if our words and actions are truly congruent with our thoughts, then there will be an attractive openness about us which more easily binds us in meaningful fellowship with others. What we all like is someone who is real; the more real, the more credible. We’re too used to seeing through hypocrisy; we want a real person to befriend, to open our hearts to, to bare our self before. And the reason we tend not to do this is because we realize that people aren’t what they seem. 21st century humanity has become too smart at faking it, weaving words, throwing up blinds, building a brilliant disguise. As our interactions between each other these days become increasingly online, they rely more upon written, premeditated words than they do upon spoken words and personal contact. There’s not much we can do about the way society is going, but there is a crying need in this kind of society to be real, to have utter congruence between who we internally are and who we show ourselves to be in the words we tap and occasionally speak.

Some Practical Suggestions

“To be spiritually minded” can’t be achieved by brutally willing ourselves to ‘think spiritually’. If we spend an hour in encounter with a particularly inspirational person; meet a dying person; witness a man being murdered; deeply share another’s joy... the impression remains quite naturally in our thinking. We don’t have to force ourselves to think about these things- they come to us naturally. Perhaps the art of the spiritual life is making all the wonderful things we know come real to us, so that we are deeply under the impression of them in our daily thinking. The breaking of bread is intended as a special gift to us in this regard. Let it have its intended power. "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19) is an inadequate translation of the Greek text- "the words do not indicate a mere memorial meal in memory of a man now dead, but strictly mean "making present reality" of Christ's saving death" (2). So let the bread and ine truly be an aide memoire. That on a Friday afternoon, on a day in April, on a hill outside Jerusalem, around 2000 years ago, Jesus died for me. Three days later, a man dressed as a working man, a humble gardener, walked out of a tomb, perhaps folded His grave clothes first, and saw the lights of early morning Jerusalem twinkling in the distance. And 40 days later ascended through cotton wool clouds and blue sky, with the necks and throats of watching disciples moving backwards as they gaped at the sight; and will just as surely come again, to take you and me unto Himself. These things, and the endless implications of them, are what will fill our minds if they impress us as having really happened. If we believe the Bible is inspired, it will have the result of what Harry Whittaker called “Bible television”; we will see these things as if they happened before our eyes. And yet there are some more conscious things we can do and be aware of in order “to be spiritually minded”:

- Garbage in, garbage out. It’s so true- if we fill our minds with the trashy songs and soap operas of this world, then these are the themes and phrases we will have in our self-talk. And truly “You never go anywhere your mind hasn’t already been”. It’s why I don’t have a TV and don’t listen much to the radio. Use time wisely. Make full use of CDs of Bible talks and readings. Get into Christian music; “speaking to yourselves (a reference to self-talk?) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).

- Read God’s word daily; carry a pocket Bible; grab verses to feed your mind through the course of the day. Stick Bible verses around the house.

- Watch your company; for bad company corrupts good habits, and it’s no good assuming that just because a person is baptized, they’re automatically “good company”.

- If you travel to work, use that time in prayer, reading, listening or meditation.

- Don’t let anything- and demanding daily employment is a classic example- get such a grip on your mind that you have no time for God. It is possible to be spiritually minded in the midst of busy lives.

- Identify and keep away from issues which you know are going to lead you into unspiritual thinking. “I don’t wish to talk about it at the moment” is a perfectly legitimate response.

- Above all, pray to be filled with the spirit / mind of Christ, open your mind to His, open the door and invite Him in... and He will come and dwell with you.

And bit by bit, we will know the truth of Rom. 8:6: “To be spiritually minded is life and peace”. Spiritual mindedness is the seal of the Spirit, the guarantee that we will eternally be there with Christ in His Kingdom; for having "Christ in you" is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). I am stumbling along what has seemed for too long to be just the early part of this road; and I think all of you join me in balking somewhat at the height of the calling. To bring every thought into captivity to Christ; to be able to say with Paul “but we have the mind of Christ”. But I think that Paul got there (in the end), and like me you’ve probably met even a few in your ecclesial experience who apparently ‘got there’ by the end of their days- who had “the mind of Christ”, and whom we laid to rest in sleep knowing that truly, “I knew a [wo]man in Christ”. For all his failure and dysfunction, David is given the amazing acolade- 'a man after God's own heart' (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). And remember, this was God's very own estimation of David. We can, we really can, be 'after God's own heart / mind'. May we find camaraderie and true fellowship with each other as we walk towards that same goal, knowing that “we all, with unveiled face, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (Jesus), are (being, slowly) transformed into the same image, from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).


(1) H. Norman Wright & Larry Renetzky, Healing Grace For Hurting People (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007) p. 105.

(2) Gunther Bornkamm, Paul (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982) p. 202.

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