“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
Mind renewal is an essential component of spiritual growth. The principle is easy to understand, but is it easy to put into practice?
Scientists talk about “neuroplasticity” to describe the brain’s amazing ability to alter its structure to adapt to changes within the body or the environment. Brain plasticity underlies your ability to learn new things. New information provokes new changes in the brain’s neural pathways.
How “plastic” is your brain?
For example, do you think it’s plastic enough that you could re-learn to ride a bicycle?
I know what you’re thinking. You learned how to ride a bike as a child, and it’s one of the easiest skills to acquire. But is it, really?
Destin Sandlin is a Christian engineer with a YouTube channel called SmarterEveryDay. He explores different issues related to science and the brain, and in this video, he tries to learn how to ride a “backwards bicycle.” Some welders made a completely normal bike except for one modification: the tire turned in the opposite direction of the handles (i.e., if you turn the handlebar to the left, the wheel turns to the right and vice versa). Sandlin thought it would be easy to learn how to ride it. After all, it’s just a bicycle, right?
To his surprise, it took eight months before he learned how to ride the bike. (By contrast, it took his young son a few weeks to do it.)
The lesson was Sandlin’s brain was not as adaptable—not as “plastic”—as he thought.
How does that impact our understanding of Rom 12:2 or Eph 4:22-24?
Without discounting the role of the Holy Spirit in enlightening and teaching us, let me confess that it usually takes me a long time and a lot of effort, to learn something new—whether theological or parental or practical. And it isn’t getting any easier with age.
Sound familiar? Do you struggle with learning new things, too?
I think that’s helpful to remember because most of the readers of this blog are probably sharing the grace message with their friends, family, and church members. It’s easy to get impatient or discouraged when people don’t “get it” as quickly as you’d like them to. But think of it—on top of all the other things that might hinder a person from understanding God’s grace—all the religious, cultural, educational, and personal baggage we carry— there might be an underlying issue of neuroplasticity, too!
It could very well be that the works-salvation mindset that someone has carried since childhood is written across the neural pathways of his or her brain. People talk about letting the truth “sink in.” Well, the science of neuroplasticity suggests the literal truth behind that expression.
So, what’s the lesson?
Be gracious about teaching grace. Give people (and their brains!) time and opportunity to learn new things about God’s grace and to adapt to that new information—information that may run counter to everything they have learned up till that moment.
Coming to terms with God’s grace may be less “like riding a bicycle” and more “like riding a backward bicycle.”