Renewing the Mind Reflections

God’s Holiness. III: Holiness and Renewal of the Mind

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:14–19; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

Our previous post showed that Christians are already holy because we have been set apart for God. However, sometimes we do not look holy. We may not feel holy. Perhaps we may feel like nothing has changed in our lives. While our status as Christians is holy people, set apart for God’s glory, our entire lifetime is a process of learning how to manifest His holiness in our lives.

Peter told his readers, “Do not be conformed to your former lusts.” Old habits of thought and behavior have a way of creeping in even after we have walked with Jesus for a while. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to conform to God’s will, not to the ways of the world:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1–2).

This renewal of the mind is a lifelong process. The world continually bombards us with messages that contradict God’s Word and wisdom. Television, radio, music, news media, the Internet, etc., try to tell us what to think and how to feel about everything. Most of what they say gives little concern for what God has to say; some hold God in open contempt.

To counteract the world’s mindset, we must yield to the Holy Spirit as He renews our mind through God’s Word. You can find several articles on this subject here.

The Bible is our primary source for the renewal of the mind. Its words give life, unlike those of an ordinary book. Peter wrote that the Word of God is the imperishable seed through which we are born again (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus said that His disciples are sanctified through His words:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:13–23).

Probably most Christians have a problem accepting these words at face value. “Even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us.” “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them.” I admit it: I do not always feel like I am in Christ to the same extent that He is in the Father. I know my attitude and behavior can sometimes be quite a bit below the level of “godlike.” People do not always see the glory of God in me. Perhaps, no matter how long you have been a Christian, you may say the same thing. But, this is what Jesus says. This is the Word of God. I can choose to believe and accept it or I can deny it. I can seek God’s holiness to be revealed in my life or I can call Him a liar and decide that is impossible. Do we believe that God is truthful? If so, let us seek all that He promises for us!

We need God’s Word to counteract the lies of Satan. The world will continue to bombard us with its propaganda. Also, we have heard numerous messages that diminish our value and potential. We are told to accept sin and spiritual defeat as a normal part of our lives because we are “only human.” To counteract that, we need to spend time reading God’s Word, meditating on it, and studying it, all within a context of prayer to Him. God’s Holy Word, enlightened by the Holy Spirit within us, is vital to produce holiness in our lives.

It can be hard to take God at His Word, especially when He makes such bold statements. Let us not lose heart. Let us hear, read, know, and believe His Word and trust Him to bring it to pass in our lives. If we believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), let us trust Him that He speaks the truth when He speaks about our lives.

In what ways would you like to see God’s holiness manifested in your life? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Holiness, God's Moral Attributes, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rooting Out Pride and Cultivating Humility

To follow up on my recent post about pride and humility, I would like to offer a few biblical suggestions for rooting out pride and cultivating humility. This is not an exhaustive list. The Bible has a lot to say about pride: the word appears about 50 times, depending on which version you are reading. This does not count synonyms (“haughtiness,” “arrogance”) or related vices like self-righteousness or hypocrisy. I guess I should study all of those verses; I had to look up how many times the word appears, so I have a lot to learn!

Prayer: James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated). Prayer prevents pride in two ways. First, it forces us to acknowledge that we need God’s help. Many of my prayers involve situations that are completely out of my control. I cannot control other people’s actions; sometimes I can barely control my own! When I pray for a situation that is beyond my control and the situation turns out okay, I am reminded that Someone greater than me is in control.

Second, when done properly, prayer forces us to face our motives. The Book of Common Prayer contains four daily sessions of prayer known as the “Daily Office.” Three of those include confession of sin near the beginning. Whether you follow a structured form of prayer like the Daily Office or a more freestyle approach, make certain to set aside time at the very beginning for confession of your sins.

Confession sets the tone for our prayers. As we pray, we have to look at ourselves honestly. Where have I fallen short? Where do I continue to fall short? What are the odds that I am going to give in to my weaknesses before I get to the Old Testament reading for this evening? That can set the tone for a related spiritual discipline.

Scripture reading: If I have been forced to focus on my motives during prayer, I am ready to ask myself the hard questions while reading the Bible. What can I learn from this? What is this saying to me? How am I like the person who sinned in this passage? How am I not like Jesus? How am I failing to live by what He said? How can I be more like Jesus, or at least a little bit more like some of the other heroes of the Bible?

If you read a particular passage of Scripture and cannot find a way that you are falling short, thank God for His grace. He is working on you. If you read a passage and can find excuses why you do not have to follow it, admit it for what it is: pride.

Fellowship: Few things will tear down our pride like other people. Fellowship with other believers is a key part of overcoming pride. Other people will annoy you. They will reveal where you lack patience. They will expose your weak spots. Sometimes, this is unintentional; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and they will grind your gears in the process. Sometimes, it is intentional and mean-spirited. Jesus calls us to forgive. This will take humility. Sometimes, it is intentional, but with the best of intentions. When somebody lovingly points out your shortcomings or misguided motives, it is an opportunity to learn, repent, and grow.

Over the years, I have known numerous church-hoppers. They do not remain members of a particular church for a long time, but will move on to a new congregation when they feel like “I am not being fed here anymore.” I have also known several people who stopped going to church, even though they say they are still disciples of Jesus. In both cases, they usually leave when a person or teaching attacks their pride. Rather than learn humility, they run. Don’t run; God is working on you. He is just using people to do it.

Shut up and listen: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). You can always learn something. Do not try to show off that you are your Bible study group’s resident theologian or should be the next pastor. Take some time to listen. Understand why people believe what they believe. See if they have some insight that you need. You will probably learn something and grow closer to the Lord as a result.

Finally, measure yourself against God’s standard: Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God, who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ, is our standard. I have sinned because I have not lived up to God’s standard. Whether I am better or worse than another person is not the issue. Even though I have not killed as many people as Hitler did, I still need God’s forgiveness. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). You still have room to grow, and that is okay. It is part of being human. God becomes our standard, so we have eternity to learn and grow.

Somebody has said that humility is an elusive quality: As soon as you think you have it, you lose it. However, rooting out pride and cultivating humility is not a one-time event. You cannot schedule it on Google Calendar and seriously hope to complete the task by January 1. It is a crucial part of our lifetime journey of walking with Jesus and growing in grace.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killer Pride

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble…. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you’” (James 4:1–6, 10; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Is there a sin that is worse than all others? Many Christians think homosexuality or abortion is the worst sin of all. Many will say that premarital sex, smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs are really serious. In most cases, when a person defines certain sins as being worse than others, they will choose one that does not tempt them.

Perhaps one of the worst sins is one that almost all of us have, but few confess. We do not notice it in ourselves, but we recoil when we see it in others. That sin is pride. Say the words “gay pride,” and many Christians will point out how they have combined two things that the Bible calls “abominations” (Leviticus 18:22; Proverbs 6:16–17; 16:15). What about pride in my nationality, abilities, accomplishments? Pride in my family?

Perhaps this is the danger in pride. If we see it in ourselves, we usually think of it as a good thing. I am proud of my grandchildren; isn’t that a good thing? I take pride in my work. I can be proud of my country or proud of my heritage. Here is where the danger lurks. Pride is so prevalent and can become so deceitful that we do not recognize when it has gone too far. Pride in one’s country has led to numerous wars. Pride in one’s family may blind us to their shortcomings or tempt us to justify them when they make mistakes.

Humility is one of the most essential Christian virtues, since it preserves us from the dangers of pride. James tells us to humble ourselves before the Lord. God is the source, reason, and focus of our humility.

Pride and faith simply do not mix. A proud man will not seek God’s help. Pride will tempt a person to try to solve problems on his own before seeking God’s help and wisdom. The proud man will seek God’s help only as a last resort. Pride rejects God’s help. Pride will even deny that we need help from God or anybody else. (After all, what do they know? They’re not as smart as me, are they?)

The proud look is counted as an abomination in Proverbs 6:16–17. Sure, we will keep the homosexual from a place of leadership in our churches. However, if a proud man comes in, boasting of his achievements and abilities, we will probably put him in charge of the Sunday school department; we might make him the new pastor or church board chairman; or, we might give him a thriving television ministry.

The Father and Mother by Boardman Robinson (1876-1952). Anti-war cartoon depicting Greed and Pride as the father and mother of War. First published circa 1915. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Pride is not dangerous merely because it is the absence of humility. Pride is dangerous because it leads to other sins. As James writes, pride leads to greed: I think I deserve something more than you do. This may lead me to go out of my way to fulfill my selfish desires. Suddenly, pleasure-seeking leads to the sin of covetousness, which leads to fighting, quarreling, and eventually murder. Many of humanity’s bloodiest wars were fought over nations’ craving for more land and resources. World War II began when Germany invaded Poland seeking Lebensraum (area to live). Ethnic pride led Hitler and others to believe that they deserved that land more than the people who were already there; tragedy followed.

Pride may also tempt us to seek friendship with the world, thereby creating enmity with God. We might think we deserve to be liked more than other people are, so we seek their approval. We try to convince others to like and admire us. We can become so convinced that we deserve people’s respect and approval that we might compromise our convictions to fit in. We think we deserve the things of the world and the admiration of others, so pride leads us to avoid God as the source of all that matters.

Do not be fooled. Pride is deadly. It will destroy your relationships. It will lead you away from God. It will kill your soul. Seek to cultivate humility instead.

“The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Foolish Wisdom

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9–16; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Reading Jester.” Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons.

The world thinks Christians are fools. We see that more and more in the media. As I am writing this article, the city where I grew up is hosting a “Pride Festival” as part of a month that many institutions have devoted to celebration of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/etc. lifestyles. Those of us who believe the Bible, and think this is sin, are depicted as haters or ignorant, backwards, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals clinging to old-fashioned misguided morals. According to the world, we are the fools.

This is nothing new. The earliest Christians were considered fools. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 2:9–16 in a segment where he frequently contrasted wisdom and foolishness. The powers of the world thought they were wise and strong and that the Christians were foolish and weak. Yet, Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Paul mentions that the natural man—someone who is not a Christian and therefore lacks the Holy Spirit within—cannot accept the things of God. Yet, many of us spend much of our time arguing moral and social issues with people who cannot understand spiritual truth. We try to explain why homosexuality is a sin to people who cannot understand that marriage is a divine institution mirroring Christ’s relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:32). (I know some Christians who are vocally anti-homosexuality but are not following God’s will regarding sex and marriage in their own lives.) We try to speak out against abortion to a society that cannot recognize the preborn baby as a distinct human life; a growing number of people question the value of any human lives. The natural man simply cannot understand spiritual truth and godly morality. It is like trying to explain quantum physics to a kindergarten student.

This is why Jesus sent us to preach His Gospel and make disciples instead of winning political and social debates (Matthew 28:18–20). People do not go to heaven by not being gay, not having an abortion, not taking drugs, not voting Democrat, etc. It is only through Christ that we receive eternal life. Let us introduce people to Christ, trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives, and pray that they receive forgiveness and salvation by faith in Him. Then, we can begin to see God open their spiritual eyes and give them His wisdom and insight.

Also, Christians need to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our own minds. We need a worldview that is very opposite to that of our unsaved neighbors. Far too many Christians merely baptize secular and worldly values in misinterpreted biblical-sounding jargon and end up looking no different than the world. We justify greed and materialism and get the prosperity gospel. We try to sanctify humanistic pride into the positive thinking theology endorsed by many megachurches and televangelists. Many find the ways that their favorite political party may actually be close to Scripture on some issues, and then we twist Scripture to justify their errors elsewhere, thereby exalting politicians above God Himself. Are we different from the world, or have we found ways to blend in while preserving some of the external features of Christianity? (See here for some other articles about renewal of the mind.)

Paul ends the passage above by saying that “we have the mind of Christ.” As you read the entire book of 1 Corinthians, you will notice that his audience was not a crowd of super-spiritual Christians. In fact, they were usually acting like natural men instead of spiritual people. Much of 1 Corinthians contrasts natural vs. spiritual as well as wisdom vs. folly. Yet, no matter how carnal, worldly, and natural they were acting, Paul says that “WE have the mind of Christ.” Not only Paul, but his carnal Corinthian audience, had the mind of Christ. The Corinthians just did not realize it. They were not using it.

Perhaps modern American Christianity is no better. We have the mind of Christ, but we keep using the mind of the world. We have the Holy Spirit, but we rely on the wisdom and power of the mass media and pop psychology instead of the Spirit, Word, and Power of God Almighty.

Since we have the Spirit and mind of Christ, let us think like Jesus thinks. What would He fill His mind with? What would He read or watch on television? How would He think about a situation? Study His Word to find out.

Let us worship like Jesus worships. See how He worshiped His Father while He was on Earth, and do likewise.

Let us love others as Jesus loves. See how He responded to those who were in bondage to sin. See how He had mercy on those who did not deserve mercy.

Let us forgive as He has forgiven us. I find it really easy to judge those who struggle with sinful habits and addictions until I remember the many sins He has forgiven in my life.

We can embrace the wisdom of God’s Word or the wisdom of the world that has turned its back on God. One form of wisdom will seem like foolishness to the other. Which is really the wiser choice?

“When the crowns of gold all lay before His feet
Then the worthy Lamb of God is the treasure we will keep
Some may call me foolish—some may call me odd
But I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of men
Than a fool in the eyes of God.” (Petra, “Fool’s Gold,” from the album Back to the Street. Watch a video for this song on YouTube.)

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spiritual Warfare II: Destroying Strongholds with the Sword of the Spirit

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Since we are dealing with a spiritual enemy, our weapons are spiritual. In Ephesians 6, Paul refers to the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” He then urges us to pray. Scripture and prayer are our two primary weapons. The sword of the Spirit is particularly useful for destroying strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Many Christians assume that “strongholds” are sins or temptations that are particularly troublesome to a particular individual. They mistakenly believe that it is something that has a “strong hold” on a person, thereby being something that forces them into bondage. However, this is not what Paul is saying.

A “stronghold” (ὀχύρωμα in Greek) is a fortress or place of refuge. This word appears only once in the New Testament but appears elsewhere in ancient literature. While most ancient authors used it to refer to a fortress, some used it to describe a prison (in which case, Paul is engaging in a play on words when he proposes that we destroy strongholds so that we can take every thought captive). A word study on Biblehub.com observes that, in this verse, the word:

… is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks “shelter” (“a safe place”) to escape reality…. In its use here there may lie a reminiscence of the rock-forts on the coast of Paul’s native Cilicia, which were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. Pompey inflicted a crushing defeat upon their navy off the rocky stronghold of Coracesium on the confines of Cilicia and Pisidia.

People seek refuge in all sorts of lies to justify sin or rebellion against God. It was true in Paul’s day; it remains true in ours. Much of what Paul wrote was in response to lies people chose to believe. First and Second Corinthians contain extended illustrations confronting false ideas and values regarding sexuality, the role of the ministry, suffering, family relationships, giving, etc. People would hide behind excuses to live a life that was not consistent with the will of God. Today, we continue to do so. We find clever excuses, including arguments and lofty opinions, for our sins (often secular worldviews baptized into biblical-sounding jargon). We may justify sexual sin because a pop-psychologist offered an excuse, or because we view ourselves as mere animals, the product of random evolution in a godless universe. We may justify greed or financial dishonesty because it seems like good business sense. The Christian must demolish these strongholds. They are castles built of lies, and they must come down. The strongholds of rebellion must come down so that we can bring every thought and action into obedience to Christ.

The battle must begin in our own minds. We must bring our own thoughts captive to obedience to Christ before we can expect to tear down strongholds in anybody else’s mind. As we study the Bible, we must confront our own thinking, recognize where we are not in obedience to God, and submit our thinking to His. If Scripture reveals sin in our lives, we must tear down the strongholds we have accepted and confess, “You are correct, Lord, and I am wrong. Forgive me and strengthen me to do Your will.”

Christians also have an obligation to tear down strongholds in the lives of other believers:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Many people (including some Christians) think we should never suggest that another person is doing something wrong. They claim that is “judgmental.” This is, in fact, just another demonic stronghold. When Jesus told us not to judge others, He was not telling us we can never correct those who are in sin or claim that certain acts are sinful. The modern secular abuse of Matthew 7:1 is purely a demonic stronghold. The church must repent and tear down that stronghold if we expect to advance the kingdom of God. That is especially true in our dealings with other Christians.

Our weapon and enemy remain the same when tearing down the strongholds of non-Christians, but the strategy may be a little different. Church discipline or reproof of believers is very different from evangelism. In evangelism, our goal is to invite a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clean them up. We focus less on specific areas of sin and more on the fact that everybody needs a Savior. We point to Jesus. We wield the sword of the Spirit to bring a person to a proper understanding of who He is and what He has done for our salvation. However, we must still be ready to attack strongholds. Nonbelievers may hide in strongholds that keep a person from following Christ: “I am a good person. I do not need a Savior. I can go to heaven by doing good things, or at least by not doing anything that is too bad.” Or “Everybody will go to heaven anyway.”

The committed Christian must be a good student of the Bible. He must be diligent to attack the strongholds that have been built in his own heart and mind, and then fearless yet gracious in attacking those in other people’s lives. The enemy of God and of our souls is building strongholds to destroy millions. It is our job to tear them down so that we may build a holy edifice on a firm foundation:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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