by Mike Ratliff
17 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. 18 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. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ! — 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 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. (Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)
The writers of the New Testament had no concept of a Christian whom many today would call a “Carnal Christian.” All believers still sin in this life and there will be times when they struggle with certain sins as if in a deadly battle, which they perceive as one they are losing. However, God will not leave His children this way. There will be no peace in the heart of a genuine Christian who is actively indulging his or her flesh. Instead, there will be heartache, self-loathing, and a deep desire to get the victory and draw closer to the Saviour much as David did when finally confronted about his horrible sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. There is no true peace in the heart of Christian who is hiding his or her sin. Those around them may not know what is going on, but God does and so do those hiding their sin. It is not a spiritually healthy situation.
The proper walk before the face of God for the Christian is one of repentance. This walk consists of self-denial, prayer, and dying to the desires of the flesh. We often make the mistake of thinking that the way to do this is through will power or asceticism, but the best way to walk according to the spirit is to actively pursue God as His living sacrifice.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
Here is this passage in Koine Greek from the NA28:
1 Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν· 2 καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον. (Romans 12:1-2 NA28)
The following is my own translation from the NA28:
1 Therefore, I urge you brothers through the compassions of God to present your bodies as living, holy sacrifices, well pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may discern the will of God, that which is good and well pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
The transformation we are commanded to go through takes place as we obediently embark on continual mind renewal. This is a way of life. This is to walk through each day with our minds on Christ and His Word. It is not about “experience” per se, but about knowing God through the means of grace He has given us such as Bible Study, Prayer, service, worship, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, et cetera. It is not about making the mind go into neutral and fellowshipping with “familiar spirits.” Nor is it about interpreting God’s word via experience. No, it is about knowing God’s Word and applying it to our obedient lives. As we know God more and more the more we will be changed. We will begin to become more and more indentified as having a nature like our Lord’s, a “divine nature.”
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)
Please notice that we take on this divine nature by God’s power. Our efforts could never produce this. Instead, it is by His divine power as we obey Him and partake of His promises. This increases the level of the divine nature in us. The more we obey God this way the more we partake of the divine nature, which is opposed entirely to the corruption and flesh orientation of this lost and dying world. This is how we become transformed (Romans 12:2) because this is how our minds are continually renewed. We must remain in this growth process. When we slack off and pursue the things of the flesh, we are going nowhere. We are not growing in Christian maturity. We are not having our minds renewed, so we are not being transformed. Instead, we are being fleshly-minded and this only leads to darkness and despair because we are off the narrow path and have taken the easy way, which only leads to Doubting Castle and imprisonment by Giant Despair. The only way out of there my brethren is to get back to the narrow path by believing and submitting to the promises of God made to all His children by and through the Cross of Christ. These promises will unlock all the doors in Doubting Castle and then we can escape Giant Despair’s clutches as we get back on the narrow path that is the only way of continual mind renewal in obedience to our Lord.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
This passage is a picture of how we must stay in continual mind renewal. We lay aside the weight and sin that clings so close so we can run with endurance the race God has set before us. The writer of Hebrews compares sin to a weight that keeps us from running with endurance. Laying it aside is a picture of repentance. We turn from it and move on. We refuse to pick it up again. We pray for the fortitude and courage to do this. Then we get into the race and run it by looking unto our Lord Jesus Christ for His direction and promised joy and strength to serve Him (John 15). Christ went to the Cross to save His people and the picture for us is that we must also be willing to lay down our own wants and desires so that we may obey God with our entire lives.
Those who are being continually transformed by mind renewal as part of running the race set before them by God stay in the Word of God, prayer, worship, and obedience. This is how it is done. It requires submission to those around them. It calls for humility. Both of these are necessities in this as well as products of it. The more we run the race the more humble we become and it requires humility and self-denial to stay in the race. Do you see it my brethren?
We all blow it at times. We sin, we become self-focused and do and say stupid things that are bound up in the ways of the flesh. This is the taking up again of those weights that keep us from running the race. This is self-focused and rooted in pride. It ends our spiritual growth. It puts us out of the race. The only way back in is confession, repentance, and obedience.
When we are in the race our focus is eternal. Even those temporal things that seem to make up the boundaries and consistency of our lives in the temporal are seen for what they are and they have no hold on us. We are able to deny ourselves and move on with God. However, if our focus is temporal then our circumstances run our lives. Our possessions actually own us. We are self-focused and submit to no one. While in the race we grow spiritually, but while living and operating in the temporal as our focus then we stop growing spiritually until we repent and get back into the race.
My brethren, do an inventory of your spiritual walk and how it intersects with your temporal existence. Which controls which? Which defines how you live, worship, and serve? If we are controlled by the temporal, we can often look very much like active Christians. We can be deeply involved in Church and do all sorts of religious “works.” However, that is not the same thing as walking in repentance and living ones life as God’s living sacrifice. Those who are in the race will serve God in all they do. They will be involved in our Lord’s Church, but their daily walk with Him is what defines them, not simply their religiosity. On the other hand, those who have many religious “works,” but who live for self the rest of the time are not in the race. They may very well be in a huge battle here. I know this because I was there for many years.
I was a Deacon and Bible teacher in a church for many years, but my daily walk could best be described as a disaster. I indulged the flesh. I rebelled against putting parts of my life under the Lordship of Christ. I would teach on Sunday and live for myself the rest of the time. Oh, I had periods of repentance in which I would serve God as well as I could with my whole life, but eventually I would devolve back into self-focused spiritual mediocrity. The OKC Federal Center bombing sent me down a new self-destructive path. I was in the blast zone when Timothy McVie set off his truck bomb. I became depressed. I was angry, bitter, and resentful about nearly anything having to do with me not getting my way. It was an awful time. However, God had mercy on me.
In late 2003 I had been on a 6 month sabbatical from teaching in Church. At our Church Christmas party, I was asked to teach a new class for young adults. God made sure I knew that I was incapable of doing the legwork to get this going because of my lack of focus and obedience. This drove me to my knees. For the next 8 months or so God drew me to Himself. By the time August rolled around, I was in the Word, prayer, or worship all day nearly every day. It was amazing. The closer I drew to God the more grace He gave me. Increasing obedience marked my life. God transformed me continually through this. He changed my value system. He put me in position to run the race as it should be run. I was amazed and still am. I have grown quite a bit since then. God has not got tired of me pursuing Him. He has used me in the battle for the truth in ways that still amaze me. He has revealed His ways to me. This has brought His Word to life for me.
In any case my brethren, if you are struggling with the desires of the flesh then you are where I was before God drew me to Himself. I pray for you to turn from this as you draw near unto God. Pray that God will not allow you to become distracted from this pursuit. Go hard after God my brethren and He will come hard after you.
Soli Deo Gloria!