The Jesus Mindset

Let me tell you about one of the saddest things I’ve witnessed in my Christian life. It was a Sunday morning TV studio discussion on BBC1 and the subject was the very emotive Creation vs. Evolution debate. As is usual with such discussions, the audience were generally more insightful and Biblically astute than the invited “experts”, but one exchange lives long in my memory. A very prominent Anglican had just been confronted at length by a creationist, who was asking him why he seemed to over-sympathise with the position of the non-Christian evolutionists. The Anglican then turned to his chief protagonist in the debate, a hardened atheist scientist, and said something like this; I feel a greater kindred spirit with you than the creationist over there.

Let’s take a step back and analyse that statement. This Anglican publically stated to millions of viewers that he felt a greater connection to a man who aggressively denied the existence of God than to a man to whom he was connected as a fellow member of the mystical Body of Christ and indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. And what was the basis of this statement? A point of doctrine.

This may seem trivial, perhaps because it is so commonplace these days and at least we are not screaming “heresy” at each other and brandishing weapons, as Christians used to do to drive the point home (sometimes literally!). Yet this seems to be a new development, where we are seen to showcase what divides us rather than what unites us and where issues take priority over absolute truth. In other words, in order to stay relevant to the World in which we live, Christians are entering into the great debates of the day, not as a single unified voice, but boasting a plethora of views and opinions, little different to the broad spectrum of commentary that we see in our daily newspapers and on our TV screens. Current examples of this are the debates over homosexuality, women in leadership and the Israel/Palestine conflict.

We have no problem understanding the variety of opinions over such issues, because our World is no longer as black and white as it used to be, with a deluge of views informed by religion, philosophy, politics, gender, race, culture and whatever newsfeed/blog you subscribe to. Truth is no longer seen as carved on stone tablets, but rather as etched on soft clay, to be stretched and pulled about to fit any mould. This is a given in our age of relativism and feeds the political correctness and tolerance of our Western society, for which certainties are seen as dangerous and fundamentalist and the source of most of the key global conflicts of our day.

But we Christians, we members of the Body of Christ, shouldn’t we be defending absolute truth, shouldn’t we speak in the same voice? After all, don’t we all have the same Holy Spirit living in us? Is he speaking to us all differently? Something is not right here.

I’ve just watched another TV debate, interestingly a revisit of the same subject as above, the Creation vs. Evolution thing. This time the audience were divided into two, facing each other, with the presenter striding between each. Christians were on both sides, but those who sat among the atheist scientists were passionately defending the science but extremely flaky when quizzed on their faith. In other words, if pressed, they would probably declare themselves as scientists who happen to be Christians, rather than Christians who worked as scientists. Their identity was defined by their professional career, rather than their faith.

Many centuries ago, there was a philosopher called Justin, a follower of the Greek thinker, Plato and he was a proud wearer of the philosopher’s cloak, as a badge of his office. As a result of a meeting with a stranger on a beach, Justin converted to Christianity. But he continued to wear his philosopher’s cloak for the rest of his life, an act that proclaimed that he may now be a Christian, but he was still a philosopher. This man is better known as Justin Martyr, one of the Church fathers and a very influential one in terms of the transition of Christianity from its exclusive Jewish origins to an inclusive faith for all. But … and this is a big but … he was still a philosopher, a Christian philosopher.

So what? How is that a problem? Well, a philosopher is, by definition, a “lover of wisdom” and a Christian is “a follower of the Christ”. If we dig deeper we have to admit that the goal of a philosopher is to live his life according to wisdom, wherever it may be found. The goal of a Christian is focussed on a person, Jesus Christ and is achieved through the exercise of faith. So a Christian uses faith to achieve his goal, whereas a philosopher uses his reasoning abilities to achieve the same.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

For Christians, faith is all important. Because, if you don’t believe in God, your wisdom is going to come from other places. James calls this wisdom “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil” (James 3:15), known to us more familiarly as the World, the flesh and the devil

But if you do believe in God, then watch out, there are blessings in store.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
(James 1:5)

So there are two kinds of wisdom. James first talks about the signs of the wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil”:

But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

Then there’s the wisdom that God gives to those who believe in Him:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
(James 3:17)

If we look at the heart of these passages in James 3, we can perhaps see a theme developing. The good wisdom is that displayed by Jesus, the Son of God, on his short stay on Earth. The other wisdom, characterised by envy, selfish ambition, boastfulness and which leads to disorder and every evil practice, is that displayed by unregenerate, natural man. The good wisdom is that which is natural to God, the bad wisdom is that which is natural to man. Seeking after good wisdom is putting God at the very centre of our lives, otherwise we are putting ourselves at the centre.

So, returning to Justin, our Christian philosopher and even to our modern day Christian scientists, who we met earlier, we must examine the wisdom that they exhibit in order to ascertain what truly motivates them. Is God at the centre, or is He on the fringes? As Justin continued to wear his philosopher’s cloak since his conversion, that tells me that God was probably not always dead centre and that a little of the other wisdom had gained some degree of a hold over him.

Why is this important? It is very important because Justin, along with many of other Church Fathers, saw no problem in promoting and teaching a Christianity that combined the pure faith of the Jewish apostles of Jesus Christ with the philosophy of Plato in the Gentile Greek-speaking World. His motive was a sincere attempt at evangelism but his method was deeply flawed and, ultimately, disastrous for the Church.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial ? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

The light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing in common with the darkness of the philosophy of Plato, despite Justin and others believing they had points in common. It is true that both emphasise a spiritual viewpoint, in contrast to the materialism in the culture that surrounded them, but, where it is most important, at the very core of their belief systems, is where the differences are clear. Plato’s idea of “God” was unmistakably very different to the Christian one. For that reason alone, Justin and others should have stayed well clear of the Greek stuff.

But they didn’t and neither did the Church Fathers that followed them, or those further down the line, including hugely influential Christian teachers such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and even Martin Luther. And this was despite the very clear warnings of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

Darkness was allowed into the light and dimmed it. It produced Christians who, although may have burned with the light of the Gospel, still had a measure of darkness mixed in with their belief systems. One dominant idea taken in was the dualism taught by Plato, which emphasised the spiritual over the physical, giving rise to division and subsequent conflict in the Church by creating artificial separations between the clergy and laity, the spiritual and the physical, the holy and the profane, heaven and Earth and so on. For a full treatment of the development of these ideas and the harm they did to the Church may I direct you to my book, How the Church Lost the Way.

The other darkness that entered the Church was down to the teachings of Aristotle, the pupil of Plato. It only took hold from the medieval Church onwards, but it held on tight and it still has Christians in a tight grip. (The story of how this happened is told in my other book, How the Church Lost the Truth). It gave priority to the rational mind over the exercising of faith and leads us back to the warnings presented earlier, from the book of James.

But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

This darkness comes from the earthly wisdom that James speaks about. It is allowing ideas from the “World” to enter into the thinking of Christians. In some cases this can be harmless, but when this provides an attack on our faith, then we’re heading for big trouble. This is because that the very essence of faith is that it is unreasonable to the World. For someone brought up in the secular world, the idea of a God is unreasonable, as is the virgin birth, a bodily resurrection, the afterlife, Hell and the whole realm of the supernatural and the miraculous. It is because of this that we have seen the rise of liberal Christianity, providing a compromise between faith and reason, resulting in, among other things, those who wear the cloak of philosophy – or science, or politics, or “what a thoroughly switched-on chap I am” – but who are also Christians. We must return to the absolute centrality of faith, always.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
(Hebrews 11:6)

And what is this faith? It’s not just total faith in God, but total faith in His word the Bible, in His son Jesus and in the workings of the Holy Spirit, even when the rational mind says “no!”

But this faith does not work in isolation. Out of it comes what is increasingly seen as a missing factor in the Church today; our deeds, our actions, our attitudes. James also speaks about this:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

If the good wisdom that we receive from our faith in God does not result in deeds and actions, then we have a man who has lost his reflection, who not only forgets what he looks like, but fails to reflect Jesus himself, surely the goal of every Christian.

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. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We must examine ourselves. Do we truly reflect the Lord’s glory? What does the World see when it looks at us Christians? One is reminded about the old cliché, that the only Bible some see is in the actions of Christians. The World often sees our words, usually in our disputes with other Christians, over worldly agendas that have sucked in the Church, such as homosexuality and women in leadership. But what of our actions? In Western Society aren’t we known more for our “outdated views”, our judgementalism, our irrelevance, than for what should be a natural consequence from the wisdom that comes from God, through faith, as we already saw:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
(James 3:17)

But the reason that it doesn’t is because of that unholy trinity – the World, the flesh and the devil. The temptations of the flesh and the machinations of the devil should be apparent, but what is very rarely addressed are the influences from the World, predominantly from this darkness of Greek thinking that has invaded the Church from the World. James provides us with a very timely warning about this:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

And what are the danger signs? They have to be in our actions. If, in our desire for acceptance and relevance, we show no distinctive in our actions from those who surround us, then are we really following Jesus’ command here?

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Are we allowing the light that shines in our heart to break out and be visible … through our deeds? And, talking about Jesus …

Yes, I’ve finally got there – the Jesus mindset!

Jesus had a certain way of thinking and it makes perfect sense that we should want to know about this and, if possible, to emulate it. This may not be as impossible as it seems if we accept that Jesus was (and still is, of course) a Jew and that he lived at a certain point in history and shared a way of thinking with most of his contemporaries and those who came before him and who inhabited the pages of the Old Testament.

His way of thinking I have called the Jesus mindset but, in reality, it can be also called the Hebraic mindset and even – believe it or not – the Biblical mindset. Of course every Christian believes they have a Biblical mindset, so it’s contentious of me to insist that, what I am describing here is the Biblical mindset. Yet I’m not allowing that to stop me, because of the following statement:

Since the 2nd century, the insinuation of Greek thinking into the Church has been so effective that Christians today, in common with everyone else in Western society, have inherited a Greek mindset that has mostly replaced the Biblical mindset of Jesus, his apostles and the prophets and teachers who inhabit the pages of the Old Testament.

This Greek mindset has, as I mentioned earlier, put man at the centre of our lives rather than God and has given priority to the Greek analytic nature over the faith-driven Hebraic, Biblical nature. To further illustrate the difference we can say the following: the Greek mind says that the things of God must be deduced from our logical minds; the Hebraic mind says that the things of God can only be understood by faith and revelation. Also, the Greek mind says that we should strive for knowledge about God; the Hebraic mind says that we should know God.

The Bible is not a book to analyse and argue over, it is the living word of God that we should believe as a consequence of our faith in God and, very importantly, inform our actions. The Hebraic mindset is all about doing stuff, the Greek way is to constantly think, re-think, analyse and argue, but rarely to allow our thoughts to flow into our deeds.

We must show the World through our actions inspired by the good wisdom that God freely gives us through faith in Him, that there really is something different about us.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead
. (James 2:26)

Let’s start today to purge ourselves of the darkness that has entered our thinking from the Greek world. Easier said than done, of course, but that is why I have written the book To Life! to help you get started in understanding the Jesus mindset.

Returning to the incident at the head of this article in the TV debate, where the Anglican publically stated that he felt closer to the atheist scientist than the Christian brother who he differed with, doctrinally. Hopefully we can now see this as a good example of our inherited Greek mindset, with its emphasis on analysing and thinking, of doctrine over practice. But we can personalise this and ask ourselves that, in our disagreements over doctrine with other Christians, are we more interested in proving our point, or remaining in fellowship? Greek thinking is focussed on being right, Hebraic thinking concentrates on being in right relationships

We are reminded of Jesus’ proclamation on how Christians should demonstrate a good witness to the World around them.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is surely the heart of the Jesus mindset. It’s serious stuff. It’s time to take our faith seriously.