Since I keep saying that I’m going to get back to things and never do, I want to return to a topic I’ve been meaning to bring up again. I think that a drastically overlooked aspect of spiritual growth is an understanding of the intellect, the affections, and the will. Understanding these elements of thinking and doing are like looking under the hood of a car. As Christians we cant rely surely on our pastor-mechanic to do all the work. We need to get our hands greasy and our knuckles bruised if we want to enjoy life as a follower of Christ.
Lets talk about your brains, also known by our fine Puritan friends as the intellect. I’ll define the intellect as that part of the brain that is purely rational, concerned only with the processing of information. It is the intellect that assesses each situation we face and makes conclusions purely on fact. The intellect employs reason to help you make choices. When you are faced with a moral dilemma, the intellect works something like this:
“There’s Bob’s wallet sitting on the table. Bob’s not here. No-body’s watching. Stealing is sinful. I won’t take his wallet.”
Just like that, nice and easy. the intellect is your cold-blooded accountant looking across his desk at you telling you that you can’t buy that new car because there isn’t enough money in your bank account. It’s your mother telling you not to jump off of the roof because you can’t fly. It’s your car refusing to start because it’s out of gas.
I wish you people could meet my mortgage guy. Yeah, HE’S the intellect. No funny stuff. Just the facts, sir.
So how does the intellect fail lead the will correctly? Here are several suggestions:
- Sometimes the intellect can be deceived. For Christians this can be due to bad Bible teaching or mistakes in understanding the Bible. If your premise is faulty, your conclusions will be faulty.
- Sometimes the affections can override the intellect. You may know full well that you are considering sin and fail to act according to the counsel of the intellect because you don’t WANT to. Don’t like the conclusion? Don’t care! (I don’t like Bob so it serves him right!)
- Sometimes the intellect conspires with sinful affections. If you want to sin badly enough, you can convince yourself of a lie. Don’t like the conclusion? CHANGE the premise! (Bob owes me money, anyway!)
The most important part of all of this is that if Christians want to think through temptation correctly, they have to program their intellect with Scripture. If the intellect is like a computer, then refer to the old axiom “garbage in, garbage out” and vice versa. If you want to make good decisions, you have to set all your parameters with the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible is so important because the intellect comes first in the process. Ideally, the intellect should inform the affections and then move the will. If the process begins in error, it is doomed to failure. Likewise, starting the process with the Word is the only hope we have of pleasing God.