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Moral Conduct Originates In The Mind

By A. W. Tozer

    It will probably be found at last that there is no sin except sin of the mind.

    It is the carnal mind that is enmity against God, that is not subject to the law of God, neither can be. It should, however, be remembered that when the Bible speaks of the mind it does not refer to the intellect alone. The whole personality is included in the concept. The bent of the will, the moral responses, the sympathies and antipathies are there also, as well as the intellect.

    When God saw the wickedness of man, that it was great in the earth, He saw what could not be seen from the outside, that, as it is rendered in one translation, “the whole imagination, with the purposes and desires of the heart” was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). From this passage alone we may properly gather that sin has its seat deep within the mind where it pollutes the emotions (desires), the intellect (imaginations) and the will (purposes). These taken together constitute what the Bible and popular theology call the heart.

    It is significant that when our Lord describes the stream of iniquity as it flows out of the heart, He begins with the thoughts, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). It is doubtful whether any sin is ever committed until it first incubates in the thoughts long enough to stir the feelings and predispose the will toward it favorably.

    Even the sudden flash of anger, which of all sins would appear on the surface to have the lowest mental content, is anything but a sudden eruption of the emotions. The “quick-tempered” man is one who habitually broods over wrongs and insults and thus conditions himself for the sudden fit of temper that seems to have no mental origin.

    The heart that has had the benefit of broad, sane thinking on moral questions, especially long meditation upon man’s sin, God’s mercy and the goodness of Christ in dying for His enemies, is not conditioned to blow up when occasion arises. The worst reaction to an affront or an injustice will be annoyance or mild irritation, never a burst of sinful anger.

Undisciplined Thoughts in the Heart

    The psalmist exhorts us, “Stand in awe, and sin not; commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psa. 4:4). What can this mean but that moral conduct, good or bad, originates deep within the mind? The thoughts dwell upon an act or course of action with interest and consent; this stirs the affections which in turn trigger off the will to the act under contemplation.

    The sin that follows may be so base, so physical, so obviously “of the flesh” that no one would dream it began as an undisciplined thought in the heart. The rich fool “thought within himself” and as a result took a course that cost him his soul (Luke 12:16-21).

    All our acts are born out of our minds and will be what the mind is at last. This is clearly taught in the Word. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).

    Even repentance must begin with deep, reverent thought. David said, “I thought on my ways, and turned my steps unto Thy paths” (Psa. 119:59), and it is plain that the prodigal son thought things over very seriously before he could get the consent of his will to humble himself and say, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned” (Luke 15:11-32).

    It is something of a happy paradox that while the thoughts deeply affect the will and go far to determine its choices, the will on the other hand has the power to control the thoughts. A will firmly engaged with God can swing the intellectual powers around to think on holy things. Were it not so, Paul’s words to the Philippians would be psychologically untenable: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

    Since we are here commanded to think on certain things it follows that we can command our thoughts; and if we can pick the objects upon which to meditate we can in the end sway our whole inner life in the direction of righteousness.

    It is much more important that we think godly thoughts and will to do God’s will than that we feel “spiritual.” Religious feelings vary so greatly from person to person, or even in the same person, they may vary so widely from one time to the next, that it is never safe to trust them.

    Let us, by a determined act of faith, set our affection on things above (Col. 3:1-2), and God will see to the rest. The safest, and after a while the happiest man is the one who can say, “My heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord” (Psa. 112:7).

    – Reprinted with permission from Alliance Life.