Ephesians 4: 22-24
“You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul calls us to remember the divine promises made by Jesus Christ, to open our eyes to the broad horizon that has been placed before us through Christ’s Salvation. The disciple that was once darkness and now is light through the gift of the Holy Spirit, must respond to his vocation to live in holiness and hang tough amidst the difficulties of the spiritual life. He who has been rescued from darkness and called to light must cooperate with God’s gift and work continuously in his personal transformation. St. Paul calls us to be transformed by the “renewal of our minds”.
What does St. Paul mean by the “renewal of our minds”? This phrase is the translation of the Greek word metanoia, which means literally the renewal of the spirit of one’s mind or a change of mentality. St. Paul states that the process of conversion begins by the transformation of one’s mentality, because he conceives the mind as the directing faculty of the human person. In his line of thought, the purification of the mind allows one to discern properly what is truly good and perfect. Thus, when one’s criteria are renewed, the mind can direct the rest of the faculties, such as the passions and will power, in the pursuance of the authentic good, namely, God’s will.
Due to the intellect’s directing role, a change of one’s mentality will also operate a change at the level of the passions and behavior. In fact, metanoia, latu sensu, also involves a change of desires, passions and behavior, but its nucleus is the change of the mind, which directs the rest of man’s faculties. Therefore, metanoia refers to the process of leaving behind one’s distorted approaches to reality, that is, sinful or worldly criteria, and replace them with Evangelical criteria, that is, the mind of Christ.
The transformation of one’s mind includes both our false beliefs or anti-Evangelical criteria, and the distortions in our reasoning or fallacies. The distortions in reasoning are not related to the content of thought, but to the illogical connections we establish in the though process. Hence, metanoia addresses both the formal processes and the contents of thought; in other words, the faulty processes of reasoning and the false beliefs, values or criteria.
The fallacies are the erroneous ways of decoding reality that go against good reasoning; they always carry an illogical approach. For instance, when we infer, deduct invalidly; when we reason through emotion; when we read reality exclusively from our subjective resonance; when we deviate the matter of discussion and skip the line of reasoning, etc. The beliefs are those deep-rooted ways of seeing reality, embedded in our holistic perspective of life, which inspire our thoughts, trigger emotions and direct our actions. For instance, beliefs such as “if you forgive you are weak”, “you can never lose”, “to be respected you have to be aggressive”, “to change the world you need to be violent”, “you must boast about your good works in order to be considered worthy”, “you cannot be happy without money”, “life without pleasure is sad”, etc.
In sum, metanoia is a radical and profound transformation of the mind, heart and conduct. It supposes a thorough examination of one’s life in the light of the Evangelical criteria. It is a true cooperation with God’s grace (without which this transformation would be impossible) in order to answer to his call to holiness.
When we give consent to sinful thoughts, passions or behaviors it is often due to a certain mental distortion, that is, a distorted interpretation of reality. Very often, we are unsuccessful in our spiritual combat, falling again and again in a certain sinful action, because we do not address an underlying belief or pattern of thought that leads us to read reality in a distorted way and act in sinful ways. Sometimes we understand the teachings of Christ and genuinely accept them from the bottom of our hearts, but that is not enough. We need to internalize them, let them inform our minds, make them our own. When his teachings are not internalized, it is very likely that in every day life situations, we react or act in accordance with our habitual distorted patterns of thought. In order to assimilate Christ’s teachings, we need to reflect on them, let them inform our thoughts, and work hard in order to train ourselves in their practice. When we work hard to cooperate with God’s grace in order to internalize Christ’s criteria, we gain awareness of the sinful behaviors that have become habitual or automatic reactions in us, and become capable of bringing them to a conscious and voluntary level where they can be fought efficaciously. Christ’s teachings must be reflected upon and contrasted with the deep-rooted criteria that we have either learned from others or acquired through our history of personal sins. If we just attempt to repress the sinful action through Stoic-like discipline without evaluating our profound distorted beliefs, it is likely that we will fall again and again on that particular sin.
The transformation of the distortions operating in our mind have an overall impact in our lives. They are effective in solving problems in the emotional/affective and behavioral dimensions as well. The objective is to eradicate those beliefs present in our minds which go against the truth revealed in the Gospel, consequently, that go against human nature as revealed by Jesus Christ. The idea is to eradicate those false criteria and replace them with evangelical values, so that they can permeate our minds and inform all our thoughts, desires, emotions, choices and actions. Only then we can experience an authentic conversion.