“Ted, you do not have a spiritual problem. You are spiritually strong,” said the lead therapist of a team of counselors who met with me in 2006. My goal in being there was to determine why I struggled with an incongruent issue in my life.
“You test in normal ranges on all of our tests. You are mentally and emotionally healthy,” he continued, “your ability to reason is substantial. If your struggle was spiritual or rational, you would have settled this long ago. But it is neither of those – it’s physiological.”
The doctor continued, “You experienced a traumatic incident when you were a child that you have never addressed. That trauma conflicts so much with who you are, your faith, culture, commitments, and relationships, that you have ignored it until now. But now it’s demanding expression. That’s why you thought it was spiritual. It was so contrary to everything you stand for, you couldn’t imagine it being part of who you are. But it is. It’s physical, and we know how to work with it. You’ll go through trauma resolution therapy while here. It will force your brain to deal with an incident in your life that you’ve resented for over 40 years. Once this is integrated, it will effectively give you relief, and as time passes, that relief will be progressive. This will be an answer to your prayers.”
This conversation changed my life. It gave me the explanation I needed to go forward because it explained so many things Paul said about himself, and it clarified my own growth process in Christ.
I had been confused in 2006 about the events that transpired because I was sincere in my beliefs and commitments, and at that time I thought my sincere devotion was enough to help me overcome anything. I was not a hypocrite or a manipulator. I sincerely loved God, the Scriptures, and the Church. But I struggled with unwanted, intrusive thoughts and compulsions that kept me from fully being the man I wanted to be. When my sins became public in 2006, I readily resigned, confessed, repented, and submitted to church authority. My goal was to grow in sanctification.
Since that time, I’ve become even more convinced that we can do everything Christ wants in our lives if we’ll take responsibility to pursue him at any cost. In my case, it’s been costly, but my prayers have been and are being answered.
So why do we do the things we do? As committed Christians, we hope that all of our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and words are a reflection of Christ’s lordship in our lives. But we human beings are growing and developing, knowing that we’ll only be perfected one the day when we see Jesus face-to-face. But in the meantime, as Paul said, we have opportunity to renew our minds.
Renewing our minds involves neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to structurally change. I think this is the dynamic Paul addressed when he told us to think on certain things (Philippians 4:8), to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), and to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). In other words, we must overcome the natural tendency in our minds that motivates behaviors that are not congruent with our Christian call (Romans 7:14-25, Galatians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 12:7).
For over 2,000 years, Bible scholars have struggled with Paul’s use of the Greek word “sarx” in his writings. This Greek word has been traditionally translated into English as “flesh,” and in some newer translations the “old sin nature.” Both of these translations are, of course, accurate and helpful. But now, with our developing understanding of how brain physiology impacts our lives, the word “sarx” takes on a new depth of meaning.
In Romans 8, Paul exhorts us to be dominated by the Holy Spirit as opposed to our “flesh” or “old sin nature.” Due to advances in neural science, we now understand how biblical references to our minds can improve our brains, and thus transform our lives. Our brains are repositories of natural thinking, survival instincts, unforgiveness, trauma, and fear. They physically store the portion of our lives that we Christians want to crucify in order to live a stronger Christian life. Our minds, our brains, can be rewired so our lives can be transformed. When Christ fills us with his life by his Word and Spirit, our old sin nature and our new nature in Christ conflict. But the potential for transformation is the reality that the Bible encourages, and now we are beginning to understand how that works.
Could it be that Paul meant EXACTLY what he wrote, and that we can, in fact, be transformed in every area of our lives by the renewing of our minds? I’ll write more about this in the future and explain the renewal Christ has given me.