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The Battle for Our Thoughts

November 20th, 2017

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6 ESV)

We have a real problem with our thought life. Here Paul is in complete agreement with what we read from Moses in Genesis 6: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5 ESV).

The original Greek of Romans is clear enough, but it is challenging to translate. The thought in the original Greek that we struggle with to translate is phronema in the noun form, and phroneo in the verb. The shared meaning of these words is our thoughts on their most basic level – the innermost thought on the deepest personal level. The verb appears in verse five, “set their minds on the things of the flesh” or “do mind the things of the flesh” (KJV). The noun is in verse six, “to set the mind on the flesh” or “to be carnally minded” (KJV).

This is one spot in scripture that perhaps the Amplified Bible, that seeks to give every nuance of the original language, does the best job of translation, or paraphrasing the passage:

5 For those who are according to the flesh and are controlled by its unholy desires set their minds on and pursue those things which gratify the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit and are controlled by the desires of the Spirit set their minds on and seek those things which gratify the [Holy] Spirit.

6 Now the mind of the flesh [which is sense and reason without the Holy Spirit] is death [death that comprises all the miseries arising from sin, both here and hereafter]. But the mind of the [Holy] Spirit is life and [soul] peace [both now and forever]. (Rom. 8:5-6 Amplified Bible)

Left to their own, our thoughts run toward evil, which is why we need the Lord to lead us in a new direction. The biblical explanation is that this happens only by the Spirit. We cannot dedicate ourselves into a new type of thinking, nor repent ourselves there, nor discipline ourselves there. All of these things are helpful tools – dedication, repentance, and discipline – when they are placed in the hands of the Spirit. But the power to change our thoughts at their most basic level is not ours.

Paul expressed the frustration that we all feel in the second half of Romans 7, that he did the things he hated to do, due to sin in him, or the flesh in him.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:21-25 ESV)

The celebratory exclamation at the end of this passage proclaims the victory in our hearts that comes through the gospel of Christ, that by the power and presence of His Spirit in our lives we receive a new nature, “The new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). God is ready, able, and willing to change our thoughts. We must take the step to receive His grace in Christ and to surrender to Him. The mind at its most basic level must be surrendered to the Spirit.

How we defeat this process is to hold on to secret sins, for they reveal our thinking at its most basic level. Whether it is a hidden stash of alcohol, a hidden desire to view pornography, a hidden bitterness and unforgiveness, jealousies and hatred, lusts for power, or whatever, the secret sin that we treasure and do not forsake utterly reveals our thinking at its most basic level – the innermost thoughts of our hearts. This is where the battle is fought, and we must let the Spirit search our hearts for every unpure thought or value.

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. (2 Cor. 10:4-6 ESV)

The mind set on the Spirit, or to be spiritually-minded, as it is used here in Romans 8, does not mean that we think some spiritual thoughts or remember some scriptural promises, while we entertain lusts and prideful diversions – especially secretly. If our secret thoughts are unsurrendered we will not walk in the life and peace of the Spirit.

This calls for us to regularly pull aside and pray and surrender to God. We cannot do this unless God searches our hearts, and He works on His schedule, not ours. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6), is the command of Scripture. Take time to let God speak to you on His terms, in His timing. Always be ready to listen, and to obey.

Spiritual Maturity, The Deeper Christian Life ,

Patience: A Key Trait of Successful People

May 29th, 2017

A fool lets fly with all his temper, but a wise person keeps it back…Do you see someone who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:11,20 NET)

The Book of Proverbs teaches us godly principles of life. To read from it daily instructs us in the manners and key traits of successful people. God does want His children to succeed in life and we do this on at least three levels: inwardly with ourselves, outwardly with our careers and relationships with others, and upwardly in our thoughts and attitudes toward God.

The trait of patience is a key trait of successful people. They must learn to wait. They must learn the value of delayed gratification. They will express this value in any number of ways: the willingness to undergo years of schooling and training for their career; the willingness to do tedious and careful work under control when everyone is insisting that they hurry it up, the willingness to lay foundations in their heart and in their work even though it takes extra time; the willingness to bear with the failings of those around them, even their own failings, in order to teach and train and prepare someone (or themselves) for future success.

Patience is an expression of faith, especially faith in God. It is the faith that somethings are more important than immediately having something inferior or showing progress to others. So it values such matters as love, inner peace, Integrity, honesty, compassion, maturity, and righteousness. The key characteristic of Christians who are growing in this trait is regular time with the Lord in prayer and devotion. They make (1) the upward growth with God their first priority, (2) their inner growth in themselves the second, and (3) then and only then they place the outer growth of relationships and career as their priority. Mature people are honest people and they seek to be somebody inwardly before they are propelled into positions of leadership.

There are times and situations, of course, that demand immediate actions, that call us to respond quickly, and people of action get things done. Calm reflection in the face of a burning house is ludicrous. But successful people are able to distinguish between emergencies and normality. The fool always sees the house on fire, always lives in a panic, always gives into the demands, constantly lives in the fear of failure. Think of the fireman, or the emergency medical personnel, who are the most help in an emergency and have gone through years of training and constant preparation just for such events.

The one who lives in constant fear, in a constant state of impatience, has failed first within his own soul in the neglect of inner soul growth, and he has failed more significantly in the neglect of growth in his relationship with God. If on the other hand we can make these two the matters of first importance – specially our relationship with God – if we can succeed first upwardly, then inwardly, then we will be prepared to succeed outwardly with others and in our careers.

A close friend asked me to pray for him not long ago because he had received an invitation to serve as worship leader of a great church with a famous pastor. (I will omit their names.) At first he was honored and excited for this opportunity – who wouldn’t be? Then I asked him about his inner motivations and about what was God saying to his heart. The famous pastor, like all men, may die, or, even worse, may have a moral failing. Is the calling to the large church more than a mere desire to be in a position of fame and notoriety? He may go and see that his life, his family, and ministry have been thrown into a situation similar to Job. If God is calling him, he should go, but if it is impatience, a desire for personal glory, or any selfish or fearful motivation, he should decline.

All good things that are worth doing in life seem to be hard things to do, and they demand mature and patient people to accomplish them. The difficult circumstances and the hard jobs need people who do not panic in the midst of storms, who calmly keep their eyes on Jesus and trust in His acceptance of them, that lust not after fame or fortune or power, who stand secure in the love of God and are willing to obey Him even if all others oppose them.  No one ever truly succeeds in life until he has first succeeded with God through faith in Christ, and secondly has put his own heart before the Lord to grow and mature. Then and only then are we ready to tackle the difficult and challenging. Successful people do things not so that they will look good, but because they are important things and must get done.

Impatience is a sign of immaturity. Patience is a sign of maturity. As Rudyard Kipling wrote:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Authenticity in the Faith, discipleship, Spiritual Maturity , ,