Renewing Your Mind

The short answer to how positive change happens in the Christian life is by renewing your mind.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).  Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words expands on the word “renewing” to describe it as “the adjustment of one’s moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon one’s life.”

Now the way we renew our minds, freshen them up to a new way of thinking, open them up to thinking like the mind of God, is through a lifestyle of repentance.  Repentance is a crucial piece of both accepting and living the gospel message.

Repentance (Gk. μετανοέω  METANOEŌ.  meta = change; noeo = to perceive, from the root nous (the mind); i.e. to change the perception in one’s mind) literally means to change one’s mind.  When we first believed and embraced the gospel, we “metanoeō”; changed our mind of resistance to Christ and accepted His offer of forgiveness.

Jesus’ first proclamation of the gospel was, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus was asking His hearers to change their minds about religion – about how to be right with God – and place their trust in the good news; His new message of forgiveness.  He was asking them to join the new kingdom that He was announcing; the kingdom with Christ Himself as head.

But repentance is also key to moving forward after our conversion.  As we live the Christian life, we continue in a lifestyle of “metanoeō”; changing our mind from our old way of thinking and choosing to agree with Christ about anger, gossip, lust, lying, and any number of sins.

These sins were once thought by us to varying degrees to be acceptable because we were interpreting the world though a “world-compatible” mind.  But now we are interpreting the world through the grid of God’s thoughts, through our “God-compatible” mind.  And this change from seeing the world through our old grid of thinking to seeing it with the mind of Christ takes some time and is an ongoing process as we practice abiding in Christ and His instructions to us.

As we repent (change our minds) and learn to live into our new nature, rejecting our old sinful ways, we experience what I call “lived truth”.  We are beginning to live the truth about what God says about you and the world you live in rather than our old worldly ways.  We used to think that:

  • Wealth would bring us happiness.
  • We could step on people to get to the top of …
  • Anger would help us accomplish our goals.
  • A small lie here and there is useful.
  • We have no power to overcome the temptations in our life.

Now, we begin to live the truth about what God says about us and how we successfully operate in His world.  And we now learn and believe and act on:

  • The pursuit of wealth will let you down.
  • Serving others rather than using others is the way of Christ.
  • Anger does not accomplish the will of God or your goals.
  • Lying never fits the need of the moment.
  • You have a new righteous nature with the power to say “no” to temptation.

As we live into these truths, we will literally be changed people.  Our actions will reflect our new and righteous nature.  We will learn to trust God and His promises.  It is all part of the process that we will continue to explore next time.

Your Mind; A Theological History (Excitement Alert!)

As we introduced last time, even when I accept and embrace all the new of my conversion; a new identity, a new nature, a new heart, a new Spirit within, a new self, and a new power over sin, I still have a lingering challenge; my old mind.  Let’s track some theological history regarding the mind.

In the garden, Adam was what I call “God-compatible” in his heart and his mind.  He had a relationship with God.  While little is said about this relationship in the Genesis account, I think we can infer from other Scripture that Adam had an “innocent” relationship with God.  That is, Adam was right with God and had a sense that he was OK.

When Adam rebelled, he was no longer “God-compatible” in his heart or his mind.  He essentially became “un-plugged” from God.  Adam now has a depraved heart and with it, a sin nature.  He cannot know or experience God because his sin nature renders him spiritually dead (Eph 2:1).  Adam’s nature – and the nature we were born with in Adam – is biased toward self and away from God (Rom 3:10).  We now gain a sense of who we are based on other people, and we will do anything we can – manipulate, blame, lie, accuse, hide – to gain a sense from them and within ourselves that we are OK.

In the natural man state, controlled by our deceitful and wicked heart (Jer 17:9), our minds are darkened (Eph 4:18).  As we take in information, it passes through our selfish nature and is stored in our mind.  Our mind is now “world-compatible”, motivating us to act in the sinful ways of the world.  The options in our mind for following God are severely limited by our depraved heart and the sin nature that accompanies it.

But that is all about to change.  When you accepted and embraced the gospel message, you were given a new heart (Ez 36:26) and a new nature; a nature that you literally share with Christ (II Pet 1:4).  A nature that is completely “God-compatible” again.  And this puts you back in a right relationship with God (Rom 5:1) and you know that you are OK.

The key takeaway in this introduction is that all this new, this complete revolution, has happened to you on the inside.  On the outside, which includes our mind and our body, the revolution – completed on the inside – is only brewing.  Your change to a righteous nature and a new heart, instantaneous on the inside, is only beginning to show on the outside.

On the outside (again, this includes our mind), we are still “in Adam” so to speak.  We are still interpreting the world through that old mind, that old natural system, that old worldly way of thinking.  What we need is new information to feed our mind.  Because our mind – though not new – is now “God-compatible” (I Cor 2:16).  Our mind is no longer limited in its movement towards God by a depraved heart.  It can now accept information in keeping with our righteous nature.

So how do we bring the mind along?  The life-giving drumbeat of the New Testament is “renew your mind” (Rom 12:2).  And this renewal is totally made possible because your mind is now “God-compatible”, ready to accept truth.  Living God’s truth will change your life.  Then you will see the revolution within spread to the outside and all of life.  We will continue to uncover how change happens next time.

New Heart, Old Mind

Last time, I ended our discussion with this question.  Is the action of laying aside the old self and putting on the new self a once and done event as easily accomplished as flipping a switch?  Can we simply set the old man aside, and fully step out in the new man forever from this day forward?  The short answer, confirmed by Scripture and our own experience, is no.  But our heart is not the problem.

The word “heart” is the most common description of man’s essence in the Bible.  The heart is the center of our motives, understanding, choices, and actions.  Familiar passages such as Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” describe the unregenerate heart.  And this lost heart, prior to Christ, controls our unregenerate actions.  The New Testament identifies our former heart as the home of our sinful nature and describes the lost as “children of wrath, controlled by their sinful nature” (Eph 2:3).

But that all changed when you accepted Christ’s gift of deliverance.  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you received a new heart and a new nature.  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26).  “Heart of flesh” does not refer to a fleshly heart in the spirit vs. flesh sense.  The term describes a soft warm beating heart in place of our old stone-cold dead heart.  As Watchman Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “The heart, God says, is ‘desperately sick’ and He must do something more fundamental than cleanse it.  He must give us a new one.”

And a new heart we have.  Our old heart, our old self, our old nature were crucified with Christ on the cross (II Cor 5:14, Rom 6:6).  Our old heart was not cleaned up.  It was replaced by a new one, a heart no longer deceitful and wicked, but a heart with the law of God written upon it (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16).  And is it is just one of the “new” we received and celebrate in this list; a new identity, a new nature, a new Spirit, a new heart, a new life, a new self, a new purity, a new birth, a new disposition, and a new power over sin.

The one “new” missing from this list is our mind.  And this is where the problem lies.  Often in the New Testament, right beside the promise of our new self is the instruction to renew our minds.  “In reference to your former manner of life, lay aside the old self…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22-24).

Our old minds have not been replaced.  Our old minds do need cleaned up.  Our minds need to be made aware and enlightened to the ongoing truth and promise of the gospel.  Our minds need to be renewed, made fresh, changed in our way of thinking.  But there is hope and help in this process.  Our old mind has now become what I call “Christ-compatible” (I Cor 2:16).  What this means for the “renewing the mind” process will be the theme next time.

The New Self

As we continue in Ephesians chapter 4, the apostle Paul comes back to the word picture of our “walk” to illustrate living the Christian life.  And he starts with the negative.  “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, darkened in their understanding, alienated from God” (Eph 4:17-18).  (Here “Gentile” refers to those separated from God, not a specific race.)  Paul goes on to explain that although this is how you once lived, “you did not learn Christ in this way” (Eph 4:20).

Paul begins with a contrast.  A sinful lifestyle or “walk” is how you once lived prior to your introduction to Christ.  It is not how you continue to live once you have “learned” Christ; once Christ has entered your life; once you have received all the “new” that changed inside you when you embraced His gospel message.  That sinful past is to reside just there – in your past.

Remember, grace says, “Come as you are to our community of faith.”  There are no rungs on the ladder of righteousness that you have to climb before you are accepted by God or by us, His children.  The only work that God requires to be approved and accepted by Him is the work of faith.  That is, to come with empty hands and accept His gift, His death in your place, for eternal life.

Though you are welcome – and even encouraged – to come as you are, you are not welcome to stay that way.  Your sinful past, marked by a futile mind and a darkness in your understanding is meant to be just that – in the past.  And God’s call to move forward, to break free from the sin of your past, could not be more clear.

“In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit…” (Eph 4:22).  Your old self, your former way of life, your sinful direction…STOP.  Lay them aside.  No longer walk in them.

How is STOP possible or is it even possible?  Let’s continue, “And that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” (Eph 4:23).  Somehow your mind, formed and informed by your past practice of sin, is to be changed; to be transformed; to be renewed; to be made new.  But how does this happen?  We continue.

“And put on the new self…” (Eph 4:24).  Ah, here is some action to take on our part, putting on the new self.  What does this new self look like?  “Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in you in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

You have a new man inside.  A righteous man, a holy man, a man created in the likeness of God.  And it may sound simple to say, but living the Christian life is simply living according to the new man inside.  So with all this righteousness, and holiness, and likeness of God now – yes now, even this minute – living inside of you, is living the Christian life as simple as flipping the switch from the old man to the new?  We will talk about it next time.

Growing Together

We stopped last time at Ephesians 4:13 with a focus on unity and maturity; a plea for growing in Christ together.  The apostle Paul continues in verse 14, “As a result [a result of growing together], we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14).

One picture of a “growing in Christ” community is a community of conviction and balance.  Conviction is an unwavering adherence to the primary doctrines of Christ.  Our community faith is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is built on the foundation of Jesus and the apostles’ teaching.  And this foundation protects us from being “carried away by every wind of doctrine and the trickery of men.”

Our convictions, held in community, are also balanced.  Left to our own whims, personalities, inclinations, and extremes, we can easily go off into doctrinal fads.  We can jump off and on both theological and practical living bandwagons according to what seems most popular or interesting at the time.  But in community, we find a balance that keeps us on a straight path.

So instead of straying in belief or practice, “We, speaking the truth in love, are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).

Wow!  What a summary of growing up together!  Christ is the head.  We are the body; in Christ and empowered by Christ in us.  The whole body is “fitted and held together” – fully functioning as it should – “by that which every joint [every believer] supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.”

This is you and me!  We are the “individual working parts”.  No part is insignificant.  Every part has value.  No part is allowed to languish on the sidelines.  The body needs you.  The body needs us all!

I love the phrase “fitted and held together by that which every [believer] supplies”.  We just returned from our daughter’s wedding outside Houston Texas.  Prior to the event, there was a lot of “fitting and held together”.  A bride in a perfectly fitted wedding dress.  Parents in suits and dresses specific to the occasion.  Grandchildren in matching flower girl dresses, dresses for a special music appearance, and young ring bearers looking dapper in matching bowties and suspenders.  A pastor, a groom, groomsmen, and bridesmaids all beautifully dressed for their part.  And a sharply dressed grandson escorting his Nana down the aisle.

All that fitting together presented a snapshot of a completed picture.  If any of the 30 folks referred to above had shown up in a tee shirt and jeans, something would have been off in the picture.  Each had a “uniform” that was fitting and supplied what was needed to complete the picture.

You have a “uniform”.  Your uniform of good works, your uniform of exercising your gifts for the benefit of the body, your uniform of encouraging fellow believers all contribute to “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  Not only do they contribute, but your gifts and participation are desperately needed.

The passage ends with the simple words “in love”.  Love is, of course, the driver behind this whole growing together enterprise, and a topic for another time.