By Ed Rybarczyk
What does it mean to have the mind of Christ? Is it a matter of having one’s IQ raised upon conversion? Maybe it’s that believers, blessed by God, become walking encyclopedias of knowledge? Or could it be that, as so many church-folk assume, we will finally “know as we are known” (1 Cor. 13:12) and somehow become omniscient? Today I want to explore layers about having the mind of Christ. Along similar definitional lines, there is a great deal of confusion around what it means to be a Christian here in the 21st century. Who really is a member of the body of Christ? A piercing way to answer this goes back to my earlier questions concerning the mind of Christ.
We all know the name “Christian” is not just a label. If one’s confession of Christ is legitimate, there just has to be – following the New Testament itself – proof in the pudding, some kind of discernible difference. If Christianity merely means what every individual person feels it means, then it doesn’t really mean much.
In Philippians, the apostle Paul urged believers to have the mind of Christ. Here’s what Paul said in 2:5-8 (NRSV), “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” The apostle wanted believers to be like Jesus by virtue of embodying the same attitude (in Koiné Greek, phroneite: mindset, attitude, consciousness) that Jesus Himself embodied: total obedience to the will of God coupled with a humble willingness to choose God and His commandments over all else.
And we know that that read – practicing obedience and humility, coupled with a life’s encompassing orientation to God – is the correct read because shortly thereafter, in verse 12, Paul, staying on the same theme, tells the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” a.k.a. work it out with humility. And lest they were still somehow unclear, Paul touches on it yet again in verses 14-15, “Do all things without murmuring or arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” Christians were to have a different foundational orientation to life than non-believers. Paul wanted them to be different from the surrounding prideful and immoral Gentile culture by virtue of their practicing the same humility, the same obedience to godly morality, and the same life-directing orientation to God the Father as did Jesus Himself.
So, the mind of Christ in the book of Philippians? It’s a life’s-orientation, a different frame-of-being than those not indwelt by Christ. An attitudinal frame that is embodied in a bearing of humility, godly obedience, and preferring others over oneself. In an ancient Hebrew biblical light, this all spilled out of the many stories, teachings, and commandments that God opposes the prideful, disdains the boastful, and cuts off the immoral. Jesus Himself fulfilled all the Old Testament commandments and teachings about humility by embodying those in His person. Even though He had pre-existed as God, with God (John 1:1-2; Phil. 2:6), Jesus exuded humility, obedience, and holiness of conduct.
Today we are right to wonder if someone is really a Christ-follower if they exhibit ongoing patterns (this is not about single instances) of pridefulness in one’s own opinions, indifference to the moral teachings of Scripture, haughtiness toward others, or a life-directing orientation that is outside of God incarnate. When earlier in the New Testament Jesus had said, “you will know them by their fruit,” (Matt. 7:16) He was referring to the same measures and filters about which St. Paul admonished in Philippians: humility, obedience, godly living, and directing one’s entire life toward the things of God.
Maybe like me you are watching a fascinating cleaving at work among self-proclaimed Christians. Our epochal cultural turn is overwhelming the identities of even those who grew up in church. The darkness is being thrown into contrast with the light in ways we could never have imagined one short decade ago. Now we observe that millions – no, tens of millions – proclaim they are followers of the Risen One, but their values and lives do not align with that confession. In 2021 the Family Research Council together with the Barna Agency conducted a poll and found out that in America, only six percent of respondents embrace and practice a biblical worldview. Six percent! Wow. That’s a shocker. I might have more generously guessed it would be 30% who follow the biblical worldview.
Just one fair way to sift and discern the quality of someone’s confession is to ask: do they exhibit the mind of Christ? Do they affirm biblical teachings on morality? (Jesus never qualified or erased a single Old Testament moral teaching. On some matters He was more stringent than the Hebrew writings had been!) Do they insist that their own feelings are lord or do they defer to the Lord Jesus Himself? Do they think the grace of Christ is a license to sin? In short, do they bow their knee to the claims of Jesus or do they prop up passing cultural fads as the new Christian norms?
On my theology podcast, I have described our recent enormous cultural shift as being akin to watching a four-mile wide glacier go off a cliff. After decades and decades of near-invisible sliding across the valley floor, that gigantic wall of ice finally plunged over the jagged precipice. It had been moving slowly, almost imperceptibly. But now that it has gone over the cliff, it is pulling anything and anyone nearby over the cliff with it.
Holy God, give us the mind of Christ so that we may remain faithful to You and Your ways!
Ed Rybarczyk, Ph.D., is both an ordained minister and a retired History of Theology professor. He now produces and hosts the Uncensored Unprofessor podcast @uncensoredunprofessor.com. He can be reached at [email protected].