The following is an excerpt from Think Differently, a 10-session Bible study by James MacDonald that teaches how to renew your mind in Christ as you identify and overcome the mental, familial, and even self-created strongholds that enslave you. Find more information at lifeway.com/thinkdifferently.
Renewing Your Mind
It is unbelievable how many references there are to the mind, to thinking, throughout the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. But even if there weren’t all that many, Jesus’ words would have to rivet our attention. When asked pointblank what was the most important thing expected of us as human beings, His answer was equally direct: “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Loving God with all our mind was part of the bottom line commandment from the Lord. Fortunately for us, there are plenty of guidelines from God’s Word about what it’s going to take to love the Lord as we should.
Ephesians 4:17 says, “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.” Just in case you didn’t get the equality memo, if you don’t have Jewish ancestry, you’re in with the rest of us Gentiles. Paul is talking about a big problem: foolish thinking which leads to foolish living. If your mind is consumed with futility, your walk and your life will be futile. You will be doing things again and again that you know you shouldn’t do, but you will do them anyway because it’s what you always do. That’s futility. It’s realizing repeatedly that when you do what you always do, you make bad friends, you do stupid stuff, and you feel miserable afterwards. If your thinking pattern is futile, don’t be surprised when your very best thinking gets you to acting as if life is futile. Albert Einstein is credited with a definition of insanity that fits futility perfectly: “Futility is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.”
If your thinking runs along the lines of, I don’t have a way around this. Think again. You are falling into a pattern of futile thinking. Just because you and I are Gentiles doesn’t mean we have to keep thinking that way.
Futile thinking is not acceptable thinking if you’re following Christ, this is the point the apostle Paul makes as he continues in Ephesians, “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. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him” (vv. 18-21).
Have you heard how awesome Jesus is? Have you heard that God loves us and sent His Son? Have you heard that He died as an atoning sacrifice for your sin so that you can be completely forgiven to receive the free gift of eternal life? You can. That’s called the good news—the gospel. You don’t have to live under the weight of the consequences of futile, darkened thinking; you can be set free from all of that and step into the glorious liberty of the sons and daughters of Jesus through faith in Him. If you have never made the decision to turn from your sinful, futile thinking and trust Christ, you can make it today.
Let’s back up and pick up the Bible text at Ephesians 4:20. “But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:20-23).
When Paul mentions the necessity that we “put off the old self,” he is helping us understand how to remove sins from our lives. The picture is a worn out, flawed, old garment that represents our way of thinking. That painful but healthy process involves the following steps:
- First, we must relent. We must stop doing that sin and fix our sights on someone who loves us as we are and say, “You’re right, God, about my sin.”
- Second, we must repent. We experience the grief our disobedience and behavior causes and then admit, “I’m wrong, God.”
- Third, we must remove. We take the source of sin to the street. Romans 13:14 is one go-to verse on the practical preparations for thinking differently: “Make no provision for the flesh.” Get serious about victory instead of sourcing your sin. If the equipment for sin and the environment for sin are readily available, you will find it very hard not to sin. I’ve already admitted I have no unfettered or unmonitored access to the Internet. I do this, not to limit myself, but to give myself real freedom!
As we have repeatedly emphasized in this series, our awareness of steps to deal with a problem isn’t the same as taking the steps. Actually moving through the sequence of relent, repent, and remove breaks the cycle of futile thinking and puts us in a place to think differently.
I want to show you one verse in Genesis that nails this issue of sin removal. Genesis 4 records the immediate generational disaster caused by the invasion of sin into God’s creation. Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel, had reached the age where worshiping God on their own was encouraged. Each brought an offering from their pursuits. Cain was enraged when his offering was rejected but his brother’s offering was accepted. In Genesis 4:6, “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?’” What a great question. God asked that question several times in the Bible, by the way (Isa.41:21; Jonah 4:4). If we’re angry, once in a while God asks, “Why are you angry? Have you even thought about why you’re angry?”
In Cain’s case, the anger was written all over his face. God turned this into a great teachable moment: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well [you know the rules], sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Cain had the chance to let his anger take its destructive, murderous course or he could have chosen to think differently and relent/repent/remove. Because he did not decide to rule over sin, sin ruled over him. He discovered the crushing truth that sin not removed will inevitably return with a vengeance and ruin you.
What Cain faced is true for all of us. Sin is crouching at your door. We have an enemy who wants those strongholds protected and who intends to take our lives down. This is as real as real gets. You and I have to take radical action to relent, repent, and remove.
How are you keeping track of these crucial actions so that your mind is continually ready for the renewal work God wants to do?
Thinking differently and renewing your mind are the same thing, which brings the crucial question then: How do I renew my mind?
The answer to that involves these three mind-oriented disciplines to practice. This is the process of thinking differently. When you fail in the process, return to the crisis. So, if you’re in any way serious about anything other than just going through the motions of the spiritual life, you will want to massively tune into the actions we will describe in the final three days of the study. This is the how-to of thinking differently.
You may be thinking, Do you have any evidence for the claim that renewing your mind and thinking differently are the same thing?
Commit Romans 12:1-2 to memory: “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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Don’t think like your sister; you are following Jesus. You don’t have to think like your dad anymore; you have a Heavenly Father. He wants to give you the mind of Christ.
When Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world,” we wonder how that can be avoided. The pressure is on, subtly and bluntly from every side, to conform to the way the world thinks. We want to think differently, but how does it happen? Paul tells us, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
This is it. We are in the center of the bullseye. If you threw a dart and hit the bullseye of “how to change,” and then I threw a dart after you which split your dart down the middle and hit “renewing your mind,” that is the bullseye of “how you think differently.”
Excerpted from James MacDonald, Think Differently Bible Study. © 2017 LifeWay Press. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.