Last week we discussed two things:
- Our hearts have been transformed to live a life of self-denial.
- God works in and through us via the Holy Spirit to live a life of self-denial.
We ended the lesson with the following question:
- What role do we play in the sanctification process?
- Today we will begin to answer this question.
1) OUR ROLE IN LIVING A LIFE OF SELF-DENIAL
“…we dare not see ourselves as passive in sanctification” – Michael Horton
Scripture makes clear that action and not passivity is required on our behalf.
- Colossians 3:1–3 (ESV) — 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
- Romans 6:11–13 (ESV) — 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
- Romans 12:2 (ESV) — 2 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.
- Ephesians 4:23–24 (ESV) — 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
- Colossians 3:10 (ESV) — 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
- Philippians 4:8 (ESV) — 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
- 2 Peter 3:17–18 (ESV) — 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
These verses reveal a number of actions required of us.
- They speak of seeking; setting; considering; letting not; putting on; presenting; not conforming; etc.
- But all of these require the use of the mind in our Christian walk.
- What I call right thinking.
- “be transformed by the renewal of your mind”
- “be renewed in the spirit of your minds”
- “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge”
- “set your minds”
- “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord”
Our Action – Put on the New Self via Right Thinking:
- Clearly, God is calling us in His word to renew our minds (right thinking).
- So the action required of us to live a life of self-denial is to renew our minds.
- Renew means to “acknowledge the importance of” and to be “be intent on” – BDAG.
- God will not do that for us.
So, what is it we are to “acknowledge” and “be intent on”?
- The knowledge of God.
- His will; His desires; His character; His mind; His Son; His Spirit, etc.
- We are to think on, know and be submersed in the knowledge of God.
- Put another way, we are to displace our worldly thinking with right thinking.
- And right thinking is grounded in our knowledge of God.
- How can we ever hope to replace our desires with God’s, if we still think like a sinner?
J.P. Moreland warns, “The simple truth is that those who are not thoughtful about the real content of what they actually believe about God will not actually believe very much” – J.P. Moreland.
- In other words, what you believe about God directly impacts your growth as a Christian.
- If you don’t know much, you can’t believe much.
- Therefore, the impact of the knowledge of God is blunted by ignorance.
Importance of Right Thinking:
- The necessity of right thinking is not lost on the likes of Calvin, Dallas Willard, and R.C. Sproul.
Calvin observes that when our effort at self denial, “takes hold of the mind, it leaves no place” for the things that attend a worldly preoccupation of self (2.7.2).
Therefore, “Let this, then be the first step, to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God” – Calvin.
- A pursuit of God’s desires crowds out our desires.
Dallas Willard tells us that:
“The transformation of our thought life by taking on the mind of Christ – his ideas, images, information, and patterns of thinking – opens the way to deliverance of every dimension of the human self from the oppressive powers of darkness” – Dallas Willard.
Sproul says we are in a crisis in our Christian culture.
- He says of our Christian walk that we no longer “get to the heart through the mind”, but we try and “go straight to the heart, which is mindless, and this is fatal to the Christian faith” – R.C. Sproul (White Horse Inn Blog).
- In other words, we try put on the new self via “experience” and not knowledge.
- This goes so far that we even have contempt for the knowledge of God.
- We just want experience.
And even worse, we blame God when we don’t “feel” or have a “desire” to grow in right thinking, and in a life of self-denial.
- We say, “I would do it if He gave me the desire to do it”.
- Or, “God why don’t you give me the desire”.
- We think that the right thing to do should “feel” like the right thing to do.
- God’s Word never advocates this approach.
- In the Kingdom of God on earth, “Right Thinking” not “Right Feeling” is the foundation of our action in sanctification!
- The right feelings might follow, but they can never lead.
In fact, God’s Word is clear:
- Hosea 4:6 (ESV) — 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
- Hosea 4:14b (ESV) — 14b …and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.
- Proverbs 19:2 (ESV) — 2 Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
- Isaiah 5:13 (ESV) — 13 Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst.
Why, exactly, is right thinking on the knowledge of God so important to a life of self-denial?
Because, “The Gospel of Jesus directly repudiates all false information about God and, therewith, about the meaning of human life; and it works to undermine the power of those ideas and images that structure life away from God. But for it to have this effect we must use our ability to think” – Dallas Willard.
- Willard even goes so far as to say, “The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well”.
We simply cannot live a life of self-denial without seeking the knowledge of God; without right thinking.
- The old self is full of wrong and worldly thinking – and feeling.
- It must be displaced and eradicated with right thinking on the knowledge of God.
- The question is do you agree?
- How does your walk show an effort at right thinking?
What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life:
- The importance of a renewed mind to a life lived in self-denial is so important, I want to press the issue even further.
- I want to briefly refer to an article in a recent post on the Harvard Business Review website by Kare Anderson.
The title of the article is “What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life”.
- The author was hired by DisneyWorld to study what most captures the attention of kids in the theme park.
- In the course of her study, she came to some very interesting conclusions.
“Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship. It is impossible to communicate, much less bond, with someone who can’t or won’t focus on you”.
- Jesus put it like this, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).
- Who do you give undivided attention to?
- What do you most focus your mind on?
- The answer to both of these questions is probably you.
- How can we live as God desires, if we and our desires are the main focus of our attention and thoughts?
- We must treasure right thinking on the knowledge of God.
- And to “acknowledge the importance” of the knowledge of God is certainly to treasure it.
- You simply can’t have a right relationship of self-denial with God without right thinking.
But it gets worse.
- She says, “what we focus on comes to control our thoughts, our actions, and indeed, our very lives” – Kare Anderson.
- In other words, whatever is the “treasure” or focus of your life will be what you organize your life, your will, and your desires around.
- In such a scenario, there is no room for self-denial.
- All of your actions will be designed to gratify yourself, not God.
- Jesus put it like this, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt 6:24a).
- We have to decide – God or Ourselves.
I hope and pray that you have come to see how crucial a renewed mind is to a life lived in self-denial.
- I hope you have come to realize that Jesus’ words to Peter may very well be applicable to us.
- “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt 16:23).
- Peter found out that setting one’s mind on anything other than the knowledge of God and His will and desires is to oppose God.
- Are you opposing God in your life by your lack of right thinking?
Paul puts it like this:
- Romans 8:5–8 (ESV) — 5 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. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Section 1 Wrap-Up:
- And so it is here where I want to go over 3 specific things we can do to renew our minds with right thinking and thereby replace our desires with God’s and find complete satisfaction in Him.
- Right Thinking Obtained – The importance of being text-centered.
- Right Thinking Applied – The importance of failing correctly.
- Right Thinking Applied – The importance of living actively and not passively.
2) RIGHT THINKING OBTAINED – WE MUST BE TEXT CENTERED
Where is the knowledge of God that we are to use to renew our minds to be found?
- There is only one place – God’s Word.
- It is only in the Bible where we are privileged to glimpse the thinking and mind of God.
- Only the Bible contains a knowledge pure and refined enough to properly displace our own.
Scripture’s High Opinion of Itself:
- Psalm 12:6 (ESV) — 6 The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
- Proverbs 30:5 (ESV) — 5 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
- 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV) — 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
- Romans 15:4 (ESV) — 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
- John 17:17 (ESV) — 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Scripture is clear of its necessity in:
- Identifying for us what is true and pure
- Completing us
- Equipping us
- Encouraging us
- Sanctifying us
- (These are but a few examples)
Why would we ever want to hold on to our own thinking when have the ability to think on the pure, true, God-breathed, encouraging, sanctifying Word of God?
- It absolutely makes no sense.
- And yet, every day we fail to read and study God’s Word or ready and study books about God’s word, we betray our foolishness.
- Daily we have to choose between thinking on right knowledge (God’s Word) or wrong knowledge (the flesh).
- Our work in living a life of self-denial involves replacing our thinking and ideas of reality with God’s thinking and ideas.
- If we want to love God properly in self-denial, what choice do we have?
- We must be consumed by the knowledge of God.
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.
- This cannot be done without a right thinking in the knowledge of God.
- Our carnal mind will seek after the things of the flesh, not the Kingdom of God.
- And how do we even know what the Kingdom of God consists of?
- We have to apprehend it with our minds from Scripture.
Dallas Willard expresses the importance of being text-centered to right thinking in this way:
“To BRING THE MIND to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately, and this love will in turn bring us to think of God steadily. Thus he will always be before our minds” – Dallas Willard.
“Failure to know what God is really like and what his law requires destroys the soul, ruins society, and leaves people to eternal ruin: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6, NRSV), and ‘A people without understanding comes to ruin’ (4:14, NRSV)” – Dallas Willard.
There are simply no shortcuts.
- Pursuing the knowledge of God – His will; His desires; His character; His mind; His Son; His Spirit, etc. – is how we renew our minds.
- And renewing our minds is what converges with our transformed heart, and God’s work, so that we can love God with a life lived in self-denial.
A caution is required at this point in the discussion.
- Right thinking in the knowledge of God is not an ends to itself.
- Remember, we are seeking to love God properly with a life of self-denial.
- Simply having knowledge of God will not bring about such a life.
- Remember, 2 Peter says “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord”.
- Only when the knowledge of God is in service of loving God properly with a life of self-denial will we find complete satisfaction in God.
- This is what right thinking/a renewed mind is.
We are not teaching that, “…knowledge of Christian doctrine guarantees a closer walk with the Lord. We must remember that knowledge of the truth, crucially important though it is, may never be a substitute for the humble surrender of one’s heart [self-denial] to the Lord Jesus Christ” – Derke Bergsma (Modern Reformation Magazine).
This caution provides us with an excellent segue into how we can apply our right thinking to living a life of self denial.
- There are at least two ways we employ right thinking in the service of loving God in self-denial.
- Learning to fail correctly
- Living actively versus passively.
- We will look at those next week.