After delivering a message recently on the nature of the gospel, as we have been discussing in these blog posts, I spoke with one of my hearers who commented to me how much he appreciated the message. He then said, very naturally and spontaneously, “I’ve just got to discipline myself more.”
I wondered if he had heard anything I had said. The law as a performance ladder to climb to please God had been the unconscious source of his thinking his whole life, as is true with all of us. The idea of thinking in terms of the cross and its counter-intuitive opposites was a brand new idea to him. He immediately interpreted the message of the cross as a call to climb the ladder by improving his spiritual discipline, i.e., Bible reading, prayer, obedience, etc. He heard a call “to do” on the ladder rather than a call “to die” on the cross.
This paradigm shift in how we think is something God alone can do. To use the law only for that which God intended in our relationship with Him—to show us our sin and lead us to repentance at the cross and not as a goal to strive to keep to please God—is impossible unless and until God opens our eyes. We are all in the process of going through that shift. It is a lifelong process.
Last week we illustrated these two diametrically opposite ways of thinking: thinking by the law (man’s way to think) and thinking by faith in the gospel of the cross (God’s way to think). As God opens my eyes to this distinction, unmistakable characteristics begin to appear in my life. What we do springs from “how” we think, not “what” we think (Proverbs 23:7). Therefore, what I do, spontaneously and naturally, without any effort, or generally even without my knowledge, begins to change as my way of thinking changes from my way to God’s way. My new behavior, often the actual opposite of my previous conduct, is evidence of a mind that God is renewing.
What are some of these results that begin to pop up, completely unexpectedly, in my life as God renews my mind to begin to I think this new way? Notice each of these evidences is the exact opposite of the way we naturally act.
1) I notice that I am not always initially blaming others for relational struggles, but I am sensing a constant awareness of my own culpability in any conflict. Although there are no white horses to ride and white hats to wear in personal disagreements (all horses and hats are black), I find I am beginning, after initial internal resistance, to be more concerned with my sin in the matter rather than the other party’s—the only sin I can do anything about.
The question, “Is it I, Lord,?” is eventually beginning to be in my heart in every situation where relationships are strained or damaged. “It’s my fault, please forgive me” is beginning to be on the tip of my tongue ready to be uttered, whenever and for whatever reason the answer to the above question is “Yes, it is you!” (1 John 1:7, 9; James 5:16).
2) I notice that I am actually “glorying in my weaknesses” (my sins) at every turn and not being ashamed of those besetting sins, knowing that God is glorified in the midst of them as He is conforming me to the image of Christ. The shout of victory by Paul in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” tells me that God has fully and forever forgiven me for all my sin at the cross.
Though still ever-present in this fleshly body and on display for all to see, sin has been forever put away from God at the cross (as far as East from West, buried in the deepest sea, remembered against me no more). Genuine ministry of life flows from me to others, not in spite of my sin, but because of my sin, as I proclaim these two truths to all who will listen. The only reason this occurs is because I can’t keep quiet! His strength is demonstrated for all to see only in the midst of my readily, even eagerly, revealed weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
3) Indescribable love, uncontainable joy, incomprehensible peace—the fruit of the Spirit—is beginning to unexpectedly appear in my life, completely independent of circumstances, and I am totally shocked. Just as a good tree bears good fruit, a life lived by faith and not obedience to the law produces fruit naturally, without any effort whatsoever. It can do nothing else! (Galatians 5:22-25).
4) I am finding a contentment and satisfaction with God’s progress in my life as he changes me, rather than impatience, frustration or discouragement with my life (2 Corinthians 3:18). Can a “holy dissatisfaction” with God’s timetable for my spiritual growth, as many advocate, ever really be “holy”? How can I ever be dissatisfied with what God has done and with the time frame in which He operates? Only if I, consciously or subconsciously, think it is my job and I am therefore responsible to God for the results. It is His job exclusively, and He indeed “does all things well.”
What can you do to bring about this paradigm shift in your life to begin to think God’s way? You can do absolutely nothing. But rest assured that God has put a mark on your heart and He is right now tracking you down. He is after you with His love, and one day He will trap you in a corner and open your eyes that you may see, and the game is on! You can trust Him to do what He says He will do in our life.
Once you do begin to see with spiritual eyes the true gospel of the grace of God and begin to think in God’s way and not in man’s, the invasion of the age to come into this age has begun in your life. You are ready to join with Him in the eternal purpose given to man in the Garden—to reflect God’s image and to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26).
In the process, you have now become a threat to God’s enemies. You are now an overcomer, who stands against and then overcomes those enemies “by the blood of the Lamb (shed at the cross) and by the word of your testimony (daily reminding yourself of your own pervasive sins and His limitless forgiveness), not loving your life to the death” (Revelation 12:11). You are now a part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer—“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on the earth (in this age) as it is in heaven” (now and in the age to come).