It is interesting that who we are to be comes through how and what we think. That is, what we think determines what we do and what we do demonstrates who we are. There are many who would say that what I have just said is in line with the secular psychological called cognitive-behaviorism. But the passage above (and many many more in the Bible) says that we are to change the way we think about ourselves and the world, and then in the light of our new thinking act in accord with that new thinking. I’m not sure what these critics want us to do instead, but it is important to know that what Paul is teaching here is very different than what the world teaches when it wants to apply cognitive-behavioral theory. The difference is faith.
Here’s how it works: first, the information contained in the Bible about God is only information to the unregenerate mind. When a non-Christian comes to their Christian buddy for marriage advice, for example, and they ask how they can have a marriage like the Christian, the Christian will take them to all the wonderful passages in the Bible related to marriage. But when the non-Christian hears the wisdom of God applied to marriage, all they are gleaning is information. They are getting nuts and bolts and nothing else. When the non-Christian hears the truths of God they might feel compelled to do what it says (because they see the results in their Christian neighbor’s life), but because there is no power, there can be no transformation. This is because to the non-Christian they are only hearing good information. One major reason it never becomes more than good advice is because what they want is the good fruit of a godly life, not the godly life itself. What they want is good advice, what they need is good news.
This become clearer when we remember that the command that summarizes the law is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Lk. 10:27). A person who does not belong to God, who has not surrendered his life to God cannot really obey this command. And this is because he is his own god. He thinks he is the center of the universe. So when he hears the command to love his wife, in the context of a terrible marriage, he can try all he wants, but instead of desiring God’s glory what he really wants is relief from his situation.
For the non-Christian who wants to follow God’s commands, in order to have a marriage like his neighbor’s he can never really do it. His motives are all turned around. He wants to do what is right for his own ends, not God’s ends. This being the case, God does not give he any power, comfort, or even real desire to do the command. This is what cognitive-behavior psychology is all about. And while it obviously helps some people temporarily, it can never lead them to Christ or salvation, or even permanent personal change.
Second, thinking Biblically is not cognitive-behaviorism because the words of God are not simply information to one of his children. The word of God is information, in a sense, but more importantly it is food. Jesus said, Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4). What he is saying is that there is a kind of food that is good for the body, but there is also a kind of food that feeds the soul of man. This food is the word of God. When a Christian, who loves God and desires to serve him reads his Bible, he is not simply packing his brains with facts and religious information, he is eating. He is feasting at the table of God. In the same way that hamburgers nourish the body, the Word of God nourishes the man of God. The eyes see the words, the mind changes and the body reflects those changes. On one level it appears to be the information that does the changing, but information alone can never change the heart of man. Only God can change the heart of man and he does it by means of our interacting with the Bible (eating) as we read it and as it transforms our minds. Biblical information that goes into our heads and transforms our minds, then comes out our fingertips and we live the life we’ve studied.
The essential difference between cognitive-behavioral theory and God’s way is that one is done by works, the other by faith. One seeks to grind it out, the other relaxes and lets God do the actual transforming. One struggles and grunts, the other rests and trusts. The commands of God are not burdensome to the man of faith (1 Jn. 5:3), but they are impossible for the man who desires to do them on his own.
So here’s the deal: go back and read that beginning text again. Better, get your Bible out and read it there instead. Keep reading. Read in faith. Apply it in faith. As you read trust that God will be using the words to nourish your soul by changing your mind and then your behavior as well.