by Mike Ratliff
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. Ephesians 4:17-19 (NASB)
The vast majority of professing Christians in the United States and in other countries, whose churches are patterned after American churches, are enslaved to their flesh. Why? The trend that I have witnessed in our churches for at least the last 25 years or so is a de-emphasis of discipleship. Evangelism or outreach has crowded out in-reach and Bible study. Why? Church growth has become the golden calf of the new evangelism. Because of that, church leaders strive to be culturally relevant even if it means dummying down the Gospel and no longer putting any resources into biblical discipleship.
The cost for doing this is extremely high. Biblical ignorance is rampant. Because of that, few believers know how to rightly divide God’s Word and this makes them susceptible to false doctrine and dynamic leaders who are mere hirelings instead of true shepherds of the flock. As a result, believers walk in ignorance of how they are meant to walk through this life. I remember a teacher in a former church sometime in the late 1980’s telling us that the Beatitudes were unattainable in this life for believers. This teacher told us that the ultra-high standards Christ set in His Sermon on the Mount were indications of how we would live in the “Millennium.”
I had been a Christian for only a couple of years at that time and I believed him. It wasn’t until I learned to study the Bible myself that the Holy Spirit showed me the truth. The new life in Christ is a reality for those who walk according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh. Those who are enslaved to their flesh walk in the futility of their minds, which are darkened in their understanding. Since they are mired in sins of the flesh they are separated from fellowship with God. Their hearts are hard, being calloused over because they are enslaved to their lusts, uncleanness and greed. When professing Christians see Church services on Sunday as something that interferes with them being home in time to watch NFL Football, NASCAR or something else on Sunday afternoons then there is a huge problem there. Yes, Christians can live as if this new life in Christ never happened.
20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:20-24 (NASB)
Notice that the Apostle Paul tells us in this passage that there are professing Christians who have never met Jesus and, therefore, are not regenerate and have not learned Christ by the working of God in their hearts. However, genuine Christians did and do learn Christ by hearing Him and being taught in Him. Genuine Christians know fully well that there is a dividing line separating their lives before salvation and after. There is a former way of life and new life in Christ. This new life in Christ is maintained and grows deeper by being renewed in the spirit of the believer’s mind. By this renewal, he or she puts on their new man who is in the likeness of God and is justified and holy in His eyes.
1 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. 2 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 (NASB)
How do believers become renewed in the spirit of their minds? Look closely at Romans 12:1-2. It must begin by walking through each day as a living sacrifice. This means that believer’s lives should be walked or lived out before the face of God as an act of genuine worship in spirit and in truth. It begins there and it involves not being conformed to this world and its ways, but by continually seeking mind renewal. What does this mean? It means that we must seek the face of God in all that we do. If you desire to seek some fleshly pleasure that you know is contrary to what a Christian should be involved in then that is the opposite of Christian mind renewal.
Instead of polluting your mind with fleshly pursuits, seek God. Read your Bible. Listen to godly preaching, not sermons from the new evangelism or those who preach about your “Best Life Now.” Let God direct your paths into what to study instead of doing what is “popular” with the masses. If we will do this then our minds will be transformed as the Holy Spirit works in our Hearts to direct our paths and God the Father prunes us. Yes, this can hurt. This is abiding in Christ in the strength of His joy. By living this way we will learn the will of God and we will know how to obey Him.
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 BE angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:25-32 (NASB)
Have you ever wondered where the strength and discipline comes from that would enable you to live this way? This comes from a life that is a living sacrifice. This believer is constantly renewing his or her mind and is abiding in Christ. God is working in his or her heart and because of that, he or she can have righteous anger and not sin. Coarse language is something from the past. Instead, this believer is meek and in control. Bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry and slander may be what marked their walk before, but now he or she is kind to others, tenderhearted and forgiving. Christlikeness is growing in this believer. Christ’s very character is becoming manifest in them. They do not repay evil for evil. Instead, they forgive and move on. This Christian is walking in the new life because he or she is led by spirit.
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 (NASB)
We must pray for God to help us do this. He will only do this in us as we submit to Christ as Lord over all parts of our lives. This isn’t just stuff going on in our hearts and minds. This is something real that produces fruit. We must remember that the fruit does not cause our spiritual growth and obedience. It is the other way around. The fruit is evidence of God working in us as we draw near to Him in cooperation with Him in our sanctification. I pray that you and I will live out our lives this way for His glory alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!