That belief predicates behavior is an axiom of truth I learned early on in my ministry. It was a favorite phrase of my mentor. The concept behind the thought is thoroughly biblical. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Clearly, from a scriptural point of view, what we believe determines the way in which we behave. It therefore greatly behooves us to believe correctly in order to behave correctly.
The Scriptures are explicit in their declaration that the properly attuned mind is critical to living the Christian life in a manner that would please God. Sadly, we are living in days where in order to justify certain sins the mindset of some professing Christian leaders has been to dismiss any reasonable responsibility for the way one thinks.
We should consider that within the ranks of the evangelical church there have been a number of leading pastors and theologians who have come to the false conclusion that sexual orientation (a state of mind) is something that individuals cannot control. In other words, they believe that a person who has same sex attraction (SSA) is born with that as an orientation. If this is so then it means that they should not be held accountable for thinking in accordance with their alleged orientation.
This needs to be examined in light of Scripture which clearly contradicts that conclusion. For example, we know that if we are to follow Christ, we must strive to be more like Him. The key to acting like Christ is thinking like Christ which is one of Paul’s main points in the book of Philippians. He says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5).
Paul was admonishing us to think like Jesus and to develop the same type of attitude that He had. Another version translates the verse, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (NIV). Bob Utley frames it this way: ““have this attitude in yourself” – This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Believers are commanded to continue to think (phroneō) like Christ. The goal of Christianity is Christlikeness in thought and deed” (emphasis mine).[i]
The only way we can have the transformation necessary to live in a Christ honoring manner is to renew our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). This is the only way we can fulfill the will of God for our lives. Paul tells believers here not to be conformed (suschematizesthe) to a worldly standard but rather to be transformed (metamorphousthe) by that renewal. In Second Corinthians, Paul clarifies that the renewal of the inner man should take place, “day by day” (4:16).
We know that thought precedes action and that is why Paul was insistent on this point: you can never live the life of a Christian until you genuinely have the mind of a Christian. How we think is critical to our success in living the way Paul instructs us to live. The truth is, the only One to ever measure up fully to the standard was Christ Himself, so Paul sets forth the mind of Christ as our supreme example (Phil. 2:1-17). He will follow this instruction by using Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples, showing us that we, too, can live godly lives that honor the Lord (Phil 2:19-30). The excuse that many have is, “Well, I’m not Jesus.” No, you are not, but with the help of the Holy Spirit you can grow to be more like Him. We should never lose sight of the goal, being “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).
Growth in Christlikeness is directly related to how we think. In fact, overcoming sin, living the contrary life of holiness and being effective in our service for God are all based on the way we think.
Consider Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian church, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).
The Christian faith is an intimate relationship of the heart and mind, yet we live in a physical world that requires our bodies being brought into subjection and being yielded to the lordship of Christ. The Christian life is a war, and that war must be waged in our bodies (Eph. 6:10-18; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; 1 Pet. 5:8-10). It would help us to understand the basics of spiritual warfare; otherwise, we will be rendered useless in the area of service through our spiritual gifts. The Bible teaches us that there is a battle going on for control of our soul. The center of our being is our soul. Your body, which houses the soul and spirit, becomes subject to temptation of the world and the devil.
Decisions are made in the soul, the seat of our mind, will, and emotions. We can obey the Spirit, a godly influence, or we can obey the flesh, the world, or the devil through our senses (the body). Sin attacks on every level! Sin is supernatural, from the devil or his demons. It is social, from the world. And it is selfish, or personal, from the flesh (1 John 2:15-16, 4:1; James 4:1-10; Eph. 6:12; 1 Pet. 5:8). Don’t spend forty years in the wilderness defeated by the enemy and missing God’s best for your life.
Of course, the cause of our problem is sin! We are attacked and often fall into the “trap of temptation.” This creates a downward path that can lead to our destruction. At the very least, it defeats us in our attempts to serve God through our spiritual gifts.
The chart above represents what I call the path downward. It all begins with unconfessed sin. We start with a thought that gives way to an act of sin. We develop an attitude about our sin that includes our justifying the acts of sin on one basis or another. This is our human reasoning working with influence from the enemy. Sadly, we fall into habits that we find very hard to break. Often, by the time a sin has become a habit, we recognize it as sin and try through willpower and other means to rid ourselves of it. This usually proves futile.
Once the habit develops into a stronghold (2 Cor. 10:3-6), the enemy often has us hooked. At this point, one may hate the sin but will feel powerless to overcome it. Willpower and self-help programs are ineffective in overcoming the enemy. But there is good news. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). If you are saved, you have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He can lead you to overcome the enemy. If we are to get the victory over sin, we must win the battle for the soul, and the process is that we must renew our minds! Since sin starts with a thought, we must go to the root of the problem.
The only way to behave in a godly manner is to think in a godly way. This presupposes our premise, that belief predicates behavior! We must control what we allow into our minds, and we must think like God thinks; which means saturating our minds with God’s Word. That is what Paul is getting at in Romans 12:2 when he commands, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
The view espoused by many evangelicals today that allows someone to believe they can think sinful thoughts and at the same time maintain they are right with God is unbiblical and should be cast aside as a lie from the enemy. We must maintain with the Apostle Paul that the goal for every believer is to, “Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth” (Col. 3:2). Paul goes on in that chapter to remind us that we are to “put to death” evil actions including “passion, evil desire and covetousness” (2:3-11).
As “the elect of God,” we are to think and live as the “holy and beloved” of the Lord. The key to success in this most important spiritual discipline is to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).
Ultimately the goal is to continuously be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” That can only be done if we “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1). Truly, belief predicates behavior. May our minds be constantly cleansed by the washing of the water of the Word (Eph. 5:26).
[i] Robert James Utley, Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, Then Later, Philippians), vol. Volume 8, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1997), 180.