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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 ,

Dying to Sin

June 2nd, 2017

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… (Romans 6:6 NIV)

The hardest thing for any human to give up is his claim to his own life. This is precisely where the inner spiritual battle is fought, for once we surrender ourselves to God and removed our own hands from trying to control our destiny, we enter into a wonderful freedom. But in trying to hang on to our own rights, our control over our own destiny in opposition to God, we find ourselves blinded, vulnerable to satanic deception and temptation, ripe for the picking.

The scripture says:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12 ESV)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Matthew 16:25 NLT)

Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NIV)

Miles Stanford wrote:

It was on the cross of Calvary that God, in Christ, dealt fully and finally with self, the nature from which all our sins flow. “We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body, [which is the instrument] of sin, might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6, Amplified). The reason there is no other way for self to be denied is that God has done the work in this way: our identification with Christ Jesus in His death and resurrection! It is done; now it is ours to believe.

The battle is down in our hearts where we hold on to our selfishness like a prize. What we must do is to let go of it and give it to Christ. This cannot happen in a vacuum, void of details and circumstances. The battle always will have something specific attached to it. We must let go of our pride like Namaan and humble ourselves and apologize, or let go of our greed like the Rich Young Ruler and give something away, or let go of our strong will like Paul and say, “What do you want, Lord?”

And we must do this every day. Every day we will be tested in someway on how surrendered we are to Christ. To hold anything back from Christ is to not be fully surrendered.

A simple inventory will help us:

  • What things do you possess that are unsurrendered to God? Pray through them all and each.
  • Are you withholding your children from Him?
  • Are you too proud to apologize to someone?
  • Are you bitter because you have not gotten the attention you think you deserve?
  • Are you jealous over someone else’s life or position?
  • Are you unforgiving toward someone who has hurt you?
  • Are you afraid of the cost of leadership? Fearful of rejection or being criticized?
  • Are you selfish with your time and entertainments?
  • Are you proud of your reputation and unwilling to risk losing it for the sake of Christ?

There are many other things that God might put on our minds. All we can do is to confess our weaknesses and sins and surrender them fully and wholly to God. This is the only path of victory over sin for as long as there is one part of our lives unsurrendered, the devil can use that to tempt us and lure us into sin.

The Deeper Christian Life