Faith is transformative. Though it may take time for changes to become apparent, a person who comes to believe will be different than he was before he believed. A person who remains unchanged has not believed. This is true whether the object of belief is God or UFOs, though the degree to which one changes will depend on the relative significance or insignificance of the object of one’s faith.
True belief begins to transform a person by introducing a new and cohesive cognitive framework. The believer begins to think in ways that are new to him or her. These new thoughts lead to fresh insights into the way the world works, which makes possible more new thoughts – and so on. In this way, the believer constructs a new lens – German philosophers called it a weltanschauung or worldview – through which he or she sees and interprets the world.
Apart from this change of thinking, changes in behavior will be short-lived. This is why diets don’t work. I can say that I’m going to eat less, but if the way I view food and, especially, the way I view myself doesn’t change, my diet will only last as long as my willpower holds out.
People often think that if they just had more willpower, they could succeed in their efforts to lose weight or stop smoking or go to church. But this is a fallacy. Willpower is to humans what a starter motor is to a car: it gets us going, but it cannot propel us down the road. It takes a bigger motor to do that. For the human, that bigger motor is the mind, not the will.
This principle is apparent in the success of the 12 Step Program. When people “work the steps” they do not increase their willpower, they change their way of thinking. Those who do not succeed in changing their thinking do not continue in recovery.
The Christian faith validates the importance of a change of thinking. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first public address begins with the word, “Repent.” In biblical thought, to repent is not so much to change one’s behavior as it is to change one’s mind, which is what the Greek word translated “repentance” literally means. The call to repent is an invitation to see God, the world and oneself in a new light.
Jesus and the biblical writers believed that human thought had been corrupted. It could still function, sometimes remarkably well – brilliantly, even – but it was no longer trustworthy. Think of a computer hard drive with corrupted sectors. It can still operate, but will sometimes fail to function at the most critical moments.
The answer to the problem of a corrupted mind is first of all repentance – the gift of God that enables people to see with new eyes – followed by an intentional and gradual renewal of one’s thought processes. So St. Paul urges Christians to reject their former “futile” way of thinking and “be made new in the attitude of your minds.”
Only a renewal of the mind can provide a foundation for personal transformation – that is, for lasting positive change. When Paul urges his readers to resist the temptation to conform to society’s expectations, he explains that they can only do so by undergoing transformation, which depends on the “renewing of your mind.”
The transformation that takes place as one’s mind is renewed is a process. “We … are being transformed,” the apostle says, and we can expect the process to continue throughout life. The extent to which transformation can take place in this life is unknown, but the evidence suggests that sweeping change is possible.
From a Christian perspective, the tools of transformation include the Bible, prayer, meditation, solitude and worship. Wisely employed in the context of repentance and the atmosphere of grace, these practices can change a person’s thinking. And to change a person’s thinking is to change the person.
Published first in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/24/13