March 28, 2023

The Noetic Effects of Sin

Barry Cooper
The Noetic Effects of Sin

What does it look like to love the Lord with all our mind? Today, Barry Cooper shows how sin affects our thinking and how our minds can become aligned with God’s truth.


What would you say is the most important of all God’s commands? Jesus answered that question by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Have you ever wondered what it means to love God—and other people—with your mind? When we think of loving anyone, we usually think in terms of hearts and souls. And we might think about loving someone with all our strength too. But according to Jesus, we should also love God with all our minds.

Well, how are we supposed to do that?

When we see the word “mind” in the New Testament, it’s usually the Greek word nous. It’s the part of us that perceives and understands; it discerns between good and evil. It’s the God-given power to consider, to reflect, to judge soberly, calmly, and impartially.

So to love God with our nous, our minds, is to love Him by engaging with Him intellectually and rationally. The Lord doesn’t want us to switch off our brains and just feel; in fact, as it says in Isaiah chapter 1, He says to his people, “Come now, let us reason together.”

So what does it look like practically, to love God with our minds? Well, to give one example, we have His Word on our nightstand; do we love Him enough to read it and wrestle intellectually with it?

To give another example, what do we habitually think about? Paul says in Philippians that we ought to set our minds on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. This, too, is a way of loving God with our minds.

But doing this, as you probably know by now, is not easy.

That’s because sin affects every part of us: our hearts, souls, strength, and our minds. Like toxic waste dumped at the source of a river, making everything downstream undrinkable, sin affects every part of every human being—including our capacity to think.

So when we speak of “the noetic effects of sin,” we’re talking about the way sin affects the mind. (The word noetic comes from that Greek word nous.)

What’s the scriptural evidence that sin affects the mind? Well, when people turn away from the knowledge of God, Romans says that He gives them over “to a depraved mind.” Second Corinthians says that people’s minds are “hardened” and that “the god of this age has blinded” their minds. Philippians says that their minds are set on earthly things. Ephesians talks about the “futility of their minds” and that they are “darkened in their understanding.”

Now, none of this means that a non-Christian is incapable of reasoning, of course. People who don’t acknowledge God are quite capable of adding two and two to make four, designing rockets that will take a person into space, and understanding how to make an omelette—all this, hopefully, is uncontroversial.

But there’s also a great deal of truth that—because of the noetic effects of sin—remains obscure to the unbelieving mind.

When we’re talking to others about Christ, it’s good to remember that. To be patient. To be prayerful. To be kind. And perhaps recall a time when we ourselves were similarly unable to understand what we now think is self-evident.

We should also be humbled by the fact that the noetic effects of sin are still present to some degree in God’s people. Wonderfully, God is in the process of renewing our minds so that one day they will be completely free of the effects of sin. But we’re very much a “work in progress.” And in the meantime, just because we’re believers doesn’t mean that we can’t learn anything from those who aren’t.

So, when Jesus tells us that the most important command is that we love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, we should remember that sin affects every part of us, including the intellect. And be grateful to the One who came to redeem and renew every part of us—including our minds.