My body has a mind of its own. And its not a happy mind. It worries, it fears, it grows angry, it looks for comfort in all the wrong places. It replays unpleasant memories over and over again. It fixates on whatevers negative and I can find myself getting upset before I even recognize whats happening to me. I dont try to think these thoughts, theyre effortless, they just come. I dont want to think these thoughts, but they keep right on flowing through my brain. When I realize whats happening I usually try to stop, but my attempts only bring a momentary halt, and as soon as I relax, there it is again. And if this goes on long enough, it wears me out physically, emotionally and spiritually. My sleep becomes disrupted, my patience grows thin. I become discouraged. The future looks dark. Pauls so right when he says this type of thinking lead to death (Ro 8:6). But Paul also assures us that we dont have to remain trapped by this kind of thinking. He says when we are born-again God gives us access to an entirely new way of thinking, but its not automatic. Its a resource we must choose to draw upon day after day, situation by situation, And far too many of us have no idea how to live in this new dimension. We go on thinking and responding just like everybody else
so our lives look just like the lives of everybody else. We love God, but our flesh still controls us. Today well let Paul show us how to live like who we really are: children of God.
Review (Ro 7:24-8:17)
Nowhere in the Bible is the process of learning to think differently more carefully explained than here. Paul exposes the challenges we face as Christians. He describes the forces at work against us but he also shows us how to live free of them.
Many of us have a vague idea of what he says here, but putting these truths into practice is another matter. Not only do we not know how, we dont know many people that do. There are very few we could ask to mentor us in this. So we have to step out on our own. We need to reflect again on the truths written here until we really understand them. Then we need to experiment until we discover how to live in the spiritual victory Jesus has made possible. When we do, well discover what it means to live the blessed life.
The Foundation (Gal 5:17, Ro 7:15-25)
What a strange situation. Pauls describing an obedient spirit trapped inside a rebellious body. How did that happen? Lets start with our spirit. To be born-again a person must do two things and receive a third.
First, I must repent which means not only do I acknowledge my sin, it means I choose to turn away from it (Gal 5:24). At root all human sin has at least three elements in it: rebellion, selfishness and pride (self-reliance). When I repent I renounce these attitudes and bow my knee to God. I surrender to Him, I choose to love Him and others above myself, and I recognize how weak and confused I am, and determine from that moment on that I will draw on His strength and wisdom in everything I do. After repenting, my life is not my own. I become His servant, I become His child.
Second, I must believe. Knowing Im a sinner (see above) would lead only to despair if I did not have a Savior, someone who has made a way for me to escape from my sins and from the punishment I deserve. The gospel tells me about the cross of Jesus Christ, it tells me that by dying on the cross He paid for all my sins, even the ones I havent done yet. It tells me God will consider me forgiven, completely clean, if I will only trust in His Son. This isnt simply a prayer I pray once in my life, its a truth to which I continue to cling until I die. Hes my constant hope, and I guard the flame of faith carefully.
Third, I must receive. Jesus death on the cross not only forgives my sin, but spiritually cleans my body so that the Holy Spirit can dwell inside me. I literally become a living tabernacle. All the power, wisdom and goodness of heaven are constantly available to me, for God Himself lives inside me.
Everything Paul says in this passage assumes these realities have taken place in me. Hes teaching born-again people how to live the new life.
The Problem (2Co 5:17)
When a person is born-again their spirit is made new. The old rebelliousness, selfishness, and independence dies. They now love God and want to please Him, but soon discover theyre caught in the middle of a war. Their body is still full of temptations, passions and old attitudes. Those didnt disappear. There even seems to be some unseen force that whispers terrible suggestions into their thoughts, and may even try to seize them in their weak moments and compel them to do things they hate. Its all very confusing and frustrating.
The Reason (Ro 8:10)
Our spirit is renewed, but not our body. It has been spiritually cleansed (atoned, Ro 8:3) so that Gods Spirit can reside in us, and not leave when we sin, but the old forces that reside in the body arent dead, and they dont respect the new choices weve made. They try to regain control and have to be forcibly subdued. When we attempt to stop it by exercising our will we soon learn its temptations are stronger than our will to obey. Left to ourselves we fail over and over again until we grow discouraged and ashamed. And if we dont discover what Pauls trying to teach us here, well stay in that defeated condition (Ro 7:24).
The Solution (Ro 8:11, 12; Gal 5:16, 25)
Thankfully, God has not left us to struggle alone. He has given us Himself. By His Spirit, He indwells us, which means He never leaves us, Hes always there even in our weakest moments. As soon as we turn to Him Hell lead us or deliver us from a temptation or give us the wisdom we lack, but He will not force us to turn to Him. The flesh compels, it wants to enslave us and drag us where we dont want to go. The Spirit leads, which means I must choose to follow Him. This takes place when I deliberately turn my attention to Him (Ro 8:5, 6). I draw near through Bible reading, prayer and worship, and open my spiritual ears and eyes. I wait until I know Hes there, and then I sense a change. I find I have the power to control my thoughts and make my body obey. I may sense Him showing me what to do in a situation Im facing. I may feel oppression lift and hope come back. I feel strong again.
Learning to wait on God, set my mind on the Spirit, is a process. I think everyone has to find what works best for them, but there will be common elements which all of us find necessary because were human and have to deal with our flesh. Here are mine:
Awaken. Im not a morning person, but I find Ive got to experience this change before I enter my day. I usually wake up with what I call morning mind, the condition I described in the introduction. In other words, Ill start my day in the flesh if I dont take steps to correct this condition.
RSVP (read, sing, verse, pray)
I use a prayer journal and write these out as I go
George Mueller: I read till my heart grows happy and then I pray.
For me meditating, not reading for distance, refocuses my mind. I try to really understand what Im reading. I refuse to turn this into a display of piety: how early did I get up, how long did I pray? how much did I read? was I on my knees, even? did I miss a day? Routines are deadly. Lists have a place in the work of intercession, but personal refreshment needs to be something I look forward to, not dread.
Morning prayer has changed from something I did because I thought God wanted me to, to something I do because I understand Romans 7 and 8 and know I need to straighten my brain out. I need to become a different person or Ill do damage.
Return. The problem is the change doesnt last very long unless its carefully tended. Things happen that push me back into the flesh. So I must reawaken that awareness, subtly in the quiet of my thoughts, maybe with a spoken prayer. I consciously turn to Him again and again, situation by situation. Waiting, watching for His guidance, refusing to let my flesh take over, discerning carefully where that thought came from. After testing it for a moment to see if the impression remains and its marked by His love, Ill do what I sense, say what I hear. This, when done properly, does not produce strange hyperspiritual behavior. It causes you to be far more patient and kind than normal. God seems to take much greater control of my day: divine appointments occur, new insights present themselves to old problems, difficult conversations end far more positively than I would have expected I think Im learning to walk in the Spirit.
Entrust. Im learning to put my mind in His care as I go to sleep. A simple prayer, maybe reading some Scripture, loving Him quietly. In my devotions this morning, I read this verse:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee. (Is 26:3, KJV)
His perfect peace is available, but its not automatic. I must find ways to regularly stay my mind on Him.
1) Do you have a time with God in the morning? How do you do this? Where do you do this?
2) Describe a time Gods Spirit changed the way you thought and felt. Describe before and after.