“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17–24, ESV)
Over the past few months, I have tagged several of my articles as “Renewing the Mind Reflections.” I encourage you to visit that link under “Categories” on my page for more articles on this subject. One blog post cannot cover it all.
Paul uses the term “renewing the mind” or something like it several times in his letters. He also speaks of the “new self” or new man frequently. Here, they come together. The old man—the person who is not “in Christ” or born again—needs an attitude adjustment. Because they are darkened in their understanding, ignorant, and hard-hearted, they are alienated from the life of God. This is why they engage in sensuality, greed, and impurity. We should not be surprised when non-believers live, think, and act like non-believers: It is who they are.
Yet, many of us (most? all?) continue to struggle with sin even years after turning to Jesus. We can shrug it off by saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” Yet, there is a way to win greater victories than we have experienced before.
Paul tells his readers “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, there are several elements of this change: (1) Put off the old self; (2) be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and (3) put on the new self.
At first glance, it sounds like we have to be renewed in the spirit of our minds before we can put on the new self. If we understand putting on the new self as salvation, this can be discouraging. After all, I turned my life over to Jesus over 30 years ago, and I still see areas where I need my mind renewed. I would propose, though, that Paul is not talking about chronological order here. He is emphasizing that these experiences are intertwined: As a child of God, one who is no longer alienated from the life of God (because I have, or continue to, put off the old self and put on the new), I will renew my mind.
Renewal of the mind is a process, but it is essential. When I struggle with sin or other hindrances to my walk with the Lord, there is often some “old self thinking” involved. I may be accepting Satan’s lies about a certain sin (everybody else does it; you really have to do this to make it in today’s world; it’s not so bad) or lies about who I am in Christ. There may be some other lies involved as well.
Paul writes in another verse of Scripture:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
It is easy to recognize that a renewed mind would take on God’s perspective about sin, righteousness, and holiness: for example, the renewed Christian mind recognizes that adultery and fornication are sins, even if the modern world says they don’t really hurt anybody. Reading the Bible may help us to recognize that activities we thought are acceptable may be sinful. However, renewal of the mind goes even further. In Romans 12, Paul follows the previous verse by writing:
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).
Too often, we think Bible reading and its related “renewal of the mind” is only about sin, morality, or perhaps some basic biblical theology. But, it is more: renewing the mind includes gaining a new perspective about who you are. It is also important to gain a new perspective about who God is.
Over 20 years ago, I was struggling with deep depression. One of the tools I used to find remission (I will not claim I am fully healed of depression; it can rear its ugly head when I least expect it) was a new approach to Bible meditation. As I would read the Bible, I would take note of verses that talk about a believer’s status or identity in Christ. I would write those verses on index cards, personalizing if appropriate (e.g., inserting my name in place of generic term for Christians). Then, I would keep that stack of index cards handy; if I had a free moment (for example, stopped at a red light while driving), I would read the next verse and think about for the next few minutes.
My goal was to stop thinking of the Bible as only a book of rules, regulations, and ideas I must believe. It was also God’s message, telling me who He is and who I am. I had to not only believe some doctrines. I had to believe that God is my Father, that He loves me, and that the things He says about His children are (or can be) true specifically about me.
Friends, allow God to renew your minds. Read the Bible. Meditate on it. Recognize what it says about you, and pray that God will make those truths visible in your life. As you allow Him to renew your mind, eventually your perspective will change and your life will follow.
This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.