Learning to Think Like God Thinks

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The LORD says: “My thoughts and my ways are not like yours. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).

These verses are getting at a very fundamental truth: There are two, and only two, ways to think—man’s way and God’s way. Everyone comes into the world thinking man’s way. We are descendants of Adam and Eve, and we inherited from them the way of thinking they adopted at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.  

The result is that the law of God is now written on our hearts. Our minds are constantly and subconsciously discerning good from evil, right from wrong. We are very naturally and unconsciously given to living our lives by this evaluation of ourselves, of others, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. 

For example, “I am doing well,” “Bill is wrong in his views,” “How can this terrible situation be happening to me” and similar thoughts fill our minds on a daily basis. “Well,” “wrong,” and “terrible” are all representative of value judgments that indicate we have eaten of the fruit of the forbidden tree in Adam. 

We see ourselves and those around us as either making good choices or poor choices, and the circumstances in our lives are some degree of either good or bad. Everything in life is evaluated on a scale with “good” at the top and “evil” at the bottom. 

And we think nothing of it. Thinking according to the law is “man’s way” of thinking—we know of no other way—and it does not matter the topic of our thoughts. We are incurable performers, trying to be “good” and not “bad” based on whatever our standard of good and evil may be, and we don’t realize it because we have never experienced thinking another way. 

To study and meditate on the Bible, including learning orthodox Bible doctrine and correct theology or trying to apply the principles of the Bible to all of life does not change our inherited, natural and unconscious way of thinking from man’s way to God’s way. We are all unknowingly and insatiably addicted to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In Matthew 16:21-25, in his famous confrontation with Peter, Jesus illustrates for us the difference between these two ways of thinking. 

In this passage Peter confidently reinforced and restated his commitment as Jesus’ disciple to making Jesus’ ministry successful by telling Him that he would not let him go to Jerusalem and be crucified; he would personally and fearlessly defend Him from this terrible thing that was about to happen to him.  How did Jesus respond to Peter’s courageous, unwavering support to the death? Was He appreciative of having such a bold, loyal disciple?

“But Jesus turned around and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:24, 25).

According to Jesus, in this exchange we have an example of the two distinct ways of thinking: Jesus demonstrating God’s way and Peter demonstrating man’s way. 

My thoughts about this passage have always been something like this: “Peter’s concern was for Jesus’ life and ministry. He just didn’t yet understand that it was necessary for Jesus to be crucified on the cross as our Savior in order for His ministry to be successful. If he had understood the plan of salvation and that the cross was necessary he would not have said what he did.” 

As a matter of fact, I have always had this lurking, unspoken feeling that Jesus was being a little hard on a man who was so committed to Him. Peter had faithfully stuck with Jesus when the crowds were leaving him in John 6 after His “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood” sermon. Can’t Jesus cut Peter a little slack until Peter understands the gospel more clearly? 

But notice that the issue is not that Peter doesn’t yet understand. Jesus didn’t chide Peter for his lack of insight into the significance of the cross but rebukes him for thinking in a way that is not only not God’s way to think, but it is actually antagonistic to God and complicit with His mortal enemy, Satan. It was not WHAT Peter was thinking but HOW he was thinking that was the problem.

Do you think Peter’s primary concern really was for Jesus and the spread of the kingdom? Peter himself must have consciously thought that to be the case, but was it?  

I am sure there was a certain element of true concern for the establishment of the kingdom of God in Peter’s mind. However, I believe Peter’s unconscious, primary concern was his own self-interests: the personal recognition he would receive from his place at Jesus’ right hand as the “leader” of His disciples, firmly ensconced in a position of spiritual influence in the great kingdom Jesus would bring in. 

That ultimate motive was masked in Peter’s mind by thoughts of the wonderful good he could do after all his experience at Jesus’ side, the multitudes of people he could help. His spiritual pretensions hid the true motives of his heart, even to himself. Jesus exposed his hypocrisy with His rebuke.

I identify with Peter completely. I certainly am eager for people to grasp and fully understand the scandalous gospel of the grace of God and experience His love and freedom that comes only from that grace. I rejoice when I find those who do. But I rejoice even more when they do so as a result of reading my books or blog postings or hearing me speak. In its deepest, darkest recesses, my heart’s thoughts and intentions are truly only evil continually—ultimately, primarily for me and my benefit.

Jesus says this is thinking man’s way: subconsciously looking out for #1, making sure I don’t miss the recognition that I deserve, being sure people know what I have to offer so I can “maximize my potential.” I must be sure that no one sidetracks me from my success in life, that nothing hinders me from progressing upward on whatever ladder I might envision myself to be climbing in my efforts to be a success, even a “success for God.”

 However, Jesus told Peter that his subconscious ambition that Jesus could see so clearly—influence with others, to be well thought of, to be admired, even exalted—could not be achieved by frantically attempting to cover all the bases in order to attain his goal. That is man’s way to try to satisfy his ceaseless longing for security, love, and acceptance. 

On the contrary, Jesus told Peter that God’s way to experience that for which Peter yearned is to lose the influence, prestige and acclaim that man thinks will bring him satisfaction and learn to begin to think in God’s way, the way Jesus would soon demonstrate at the cross. 

Genuine influence, acclaim and honor in the kingdom of God ultimately will come—but only by losing it and not by desperately seeking to save it—just as influence, acclaim and honor ultimately came for Jesus. In like manner, only by forsaking his personal religious ambition and laying down his subconscious desire for glory by being “spiritual” could Peter find true glory, which is just the opposite of man’s way!

Learning to think this way is the essential prerequisite to effectively experiencing the Genesis 1:26-28 eternal purpose God has for us. Some details next week.

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  1. Jerry Buccola says:

    Interesting take on this Robert. I vote for a less introspective approach 🙂 Jesus’ next sentence is the indication, namely we are to give up our entire lives, including of course our expectations, to follow Jesus into the life that he is leading us into. 🙂

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