What is a Sanctified Imagination, and How do I use it?

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Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by.  I say to myself, “You’re such a lucky guy!  To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.  Out of all the fellas in the world, she belongs to you.”  But it was just my imagination, running away with me.

Many readers of my generation will recognize these lyrics from the 1971 song by the Temptations, “Just my Imagination (Running Away With Me).”  (See video here.)  It comes across as a bittersweet tale about a lonely man.  We feel sorry for him.  He fantasizes about a woman he likes, dreaming about getting married and raising two or three children with her in a cozy little home out in the country, but none of it is real.  Near the end of the song, he confesses, “She doesn’t even know me.”  Wow!  So sad.

I think that many of us are discouraged from using our imaginations, especially as Christians.  Verses such as Prov. 12:11, which states plainly that “those who chase fantasies have no sense”, and Jer. 17:9, which warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things” have been used by some to discourage those of us with active imaginations to stop wasting time chasing dreams or following our hearts. 

However, I think these well-meaning teachers forgot one critical point.  Those of us who have accepted God’s free gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ received a transformed mind and a new heart as part of the deal.  Yes, we absolutely need to grow and mature, but we are not merely fleshly beings.

I am not sure where I got this term sanctified imagination.  I may have picked it up from someone, but I can’t remember who.  It is more or less synonymous with divine inspiration, but not in the way that the writers of the Bible were divinely inspired.  The idea is that we see things through a new lens when we become Christians.

I invite you to explore this topic further with me, as I provide a biblical basis for the concept, show how we can be spiritually prepared to use it, and what it is we should be thinking about.  Let’s go!

Biblical basis for a transformed mind

Let me highlight several verses that support the somewhat radical idea that Christians have access to a powerful tool as a part of their new nature that can be used to glorify God – a sanctified imagination.

  • Jer. 31:33 – “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
  • Eze. 36:26 – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • Joel 2:28 – “Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
  • John 14:26 – Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
  • Rom. 12:2 – “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
  • 1 Cor. 2:16 – “We have the mind of Christ.”
  • 2 Cor. 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
  • 2 Cor. 10:5 – “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Let me summarize.  Part of the New Covenant, as described in Jer. 31:33 and Eze. 36:26 is a spiritual transformation from within that irreversibly alters the hearts and minds of believers from the moment of salvation.  God works in us by grace, and then we pursue Him by grace to grow in Christlikeness.  Jesus taught that our main teacher would be the indwelling Holy Spirit, who would bring God’s Word to the forefront of our minds.  When we meditate on the Scriptures, He teaches us, and we become more transformed into His likeness in our thinking.  We actually have full access to the mind of Christ.  We are new creatures in Christ; we are not the same.  We must actively pursue this sanctification process by faith.

Imagination preparation

Now that we have seen that every Christian has been given a renewed mind as part of being new creatures in Christ, how can we prepare to put this new spiritual capability into gear?  There are two things that we must do: flee from sin and be filled with the Spirit

Paul taught extensively in Romans 6-8 that we have been set free from sin through faith in Jesus.  However, but we will still struggle as believers with desiring to do sinful actions.  Jesus taught this same idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Sinful actions come out of the sinful thoughts in our hearts.  We still need to participate in fleeing from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Paul gives a simple illustration which I believe will help prepare our hearts and minds for a dedicated time to use our sanctified imaginations.  In Col. 3:5-14, we read that we are to put off certain sinful behaviors, and put on more righteous activities.  Paul also commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit in Eph. 5:18, which means that we allow Him to control our thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

Free to dream about God’s purposes

So, what are those activities where we could be using our Christ-centered imagination? 

Here are some examples:

  • Prayer – When we pray, we imagine by faith that God is here and is listening to us
  • Meditating on Scripture – Exploring what it means to us and how we can apply it in our lives
  • Evangelism – Thinking through how to share our faith with a co-worker
  • Reconciliation – Figuring out how to apologize to your spouse or an extended family member
  • Preparing to teach – Rehearsing how to teach a child or a class a biblical principle or passage
  • Mission – Dreaming about how God can use your gifts to make a difference in the Kingdom
  • Creating – Making something special; Michelangelo, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used their sanctified imaginations to create art, literature, and speeches to glorify God

Let me illustrate this last bullet with a fun story from my own life. 

I worked at an amusement park in Kansas City in the mid ‘70s as teenager.  One summer night, when the park was about to close and no one else was around,  I gave a sermon out loud in the children’s petting zoo.  I preached on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats to actual sheep and goats. 

My wife used her transformed mind two years ago to transform our home.  She had a brilliant idea to switch our large family room with our small dining room.  I was a little reluctant to consider this major project at first because I knew how much work and expense it would take.  However, I also knew I could trust her and that God had been leading her to pursue this to accommodate our growing family gatherings in our dining room.  After a few months, the project was completed, and I rejoiced.  I now enjoy our cozy, wee den, which used to be the dining room.

A new spin on this old record

Let me return to our opening song, and see it from a different angle, using just my imagination. 

What if we explored the possibility that this man is a Christian.  Perhaps he is considering the idea (in pure thoughts) that God brought this woman into his life for a purpose.  He has been praying for a wife for a very long time.  He knows she is a single Christian.  Rather than giving up this dream too soon because it is not based on reality yet, what if he continued to think about how he can turn this vision into something real.  Maybe God has laid this special woman on his heart to pursue a relationship with her based on a 1 Cor. 13 kind of sacrificial unconditional love, centered on Jesus Christ.  He then humbly prays for wisdom, asking God to give him the courage to meet her and the opportunity to get to know her better.  Now, there is some power and purpose in his pondering. 

I hope this devotional was helpful to you and will encourage you to develop your own sanctified imagination as you pray, meditate on Scripture, or daydream.  When we actively walk with the Father, abide in Christ, and are filled with the Spirit, our thoughts may very well be holy thoughts.  These inspirational ideas that we come up with can be God’s way of leading us down the paths He has called us to walk.  Over time, we will be able to distinguish between sanctified imaginations that bring glory to God and fleshly thoughts that only bring glory to ourselves and lead to inappropriate actions. 

Dream on!

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Fifty articles posted on this blog have been published on numerous Christian organization’s blogs or websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.