For the last two weeks we have been discussing learning to think like God thinks. The Bible actually teaches us to think in a totally opposite way than we naturally do, a way that makes no sense to the natural man, but is the essential prerequisite for fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. To conclude this series of postings, here are a few practical examples of how we naturally think in various situations we all have faced, compared to how God thinks in the same context.
- My way: “My sin keeps me from an intimate relationship with God.”
God’s way: Sin, as far as God is concerned, has been rendered irrelevant by the cross and actually brings me closer to God as I embrace it and repent (Colossians. 2:14; Hebrews 9:26).
- My way: “God is glorified by my obedient, righteous life, lived as an example for others to see.”
God’s way: God is glorified in my failures, my weaknesses, as I freely own and freely proclaim them. (2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”)
The earthen vessels that are our bodies are according to God’s purposeful design, but I am not satisfied with God’s design and think I have a plan for a much better one. Why don’t I just do away with the messy, unseemly, earthen vessel by keeping this wonderful treasure in a beautiful, silver chalice, i.e., getting more and more righteous myself by carefully keeping God’s law!
However, there is a problem with that design: If the world sees what appears to be “the power of God” in my life, and they do not also see my sin because I am hiding it by refusing to embrace and proclaim the “earthenness” of my vessel, what do they think?
First, they may glorify me as a wonderful Christian who is worthy of glory because I have somehow been able to get my act together, which is subconsciously what I want them to think. Or, if they are at all perceptive, they will see that I am a hypocrite, and I am trying to hide the reality of my sinful vessel, thereby negating the message of the cross.
So, God whispers to us softly but clearly:
“My peace you will find,
If you keep in mind,
That the earthen vessel,
Is My design.”
- My way: “The law of God is a loving guide God has given us to try to obediently follow.”
God’s way: The law of God is a violent beast, designed by God to kill me as it exposes me as a sinner on a daily basis (Galatians 2:19). It is a mirror to show me my sin so I can repent, not a scrub brush to clean up my face as I try to keep it (James 1:22-25).
- My way: “God is at work in my life to impart His righteousness to me in order to make me more holy.”
God’s way: God is at work in my life, progressively showing me the depths of my sin, so I can fully own it and repent. (Luke 18:9-14). The only righteousness I will ever have is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ that God freely gives me, no strings attached—a righteousness I didn’t earn and would never deserve (Romans 9:30-33).
- My way: “I want to focus on who I truly am in Christ—God’s son, seated with Him in heavenly places—and not on the sins of my flesh. Away with all this negativity!”
This is the approach of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, 12. Notice that he is careful to “thank God” for all the positive things God has done in his life. He is so grateful to God that he is so superior to other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and even that poor, sinful tax-collector in the parable. “Let’s not focus on the negative,” he says. “I’m through with all that. God has changed me. Glory to God!”
God’s way: Though understanding clearly and never forgetting who I am in Christ as a foundation, God’s daily way of thinking is to focus instead on the sins of my flesh and affirm their ever-present reality, not as mistakes, shortcomings, blunders, gaffes or oversights but as wicked sins, and then eagerly repent of them.
This is my job—what I am called to do, just as did the tax-collector in Luke 18:13. His entire focus was, “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” an He received God’s approbation. It is then God’s job alone to conform my conduct to that of Jesus Christ. That is His focus, not mine. As He does His job, the by-products in my life are not only unconscious obedience to the law of God but love, joy and peace in my heart. He gives grace to the humble, the one who remains “the chief of sinners,” not the proud one who, in his mind, has left all the unpleasantness of sin behind him.
Focusing predominantly on the positive (who I am in Christ) is man’s way of thinking and makes the daily experience of the cross seem to me to be unnecessary. This mindset is a fig leaf that gives me cover. It causes me to ignore my sin, hide it, be ashamed of it, not talk about it, and convince myself that it is not really there, as I desperately try to save my life. Those are all indications that I am a Pharisee, still on the ladder of performance, still trying to save my life, still wanting to present a righteous front to God and to others, still refusing to view all of life through the cross.
This “positive thinking” is a foolproof prescription for seeing little necessity of repentance, therefore little understanding of the depths of God’s salvation in my life, and hence, little love for others. Only “he who is forgiven much (and lives self-consciously in that realization) loves much” (Lule 7:47). This way of thinking man’s way (ignoring my sin) is ingrained in me and is my default mode unless God continues to open my eyes to another way to think.
Until God does that, we continue to think in man’s way, by cause and effect, without a clue as to what we are doing, just as did Peter. We think that the harder we try to be spiritual, and the more we resist the feelings of pride and self-seeking, the more we will progress. That way of thinking is as natural and unconscious to us as breathing.
However, when we see that this old way of thinking died at the cross when our old man was crucified in Christ, we begin to think another way. We begin to think as God thinks—in opposites. The more I focus on my ever present sin rather than hiding from it, wishing it wasn’t there, and then repent, the more the love and power of God are released in my life to set me free from that very sin! God’s ways are truly not our ways!
We cannot do this by the numbers, just because the Bible says so. When we are still thinking in man’s way, we want to self-righteously make a ladder out of everything, including even focusing on our sin and repenting. Then we can begin to climb the ladder and be “good” by repenting!
Until God Himself opens our eyes to our addiction to ladder climbing, and that the ladder has been completely replaced by the cross, we are helpless. Our prayer must be that prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesians in 1:18: “Oh God, enlighten the eyes of my heart.” As He does, we will begin to see and experience the results of thinking the way He thinks. May the Lord conform our thoughts to His thoughts and our ways to His ways.
“Robert, I really like the structure of this episode – “My Way, God’s Way”!
I like: “Focusing predominantly on the positive (who I am in Christ) is man’s way of thinking”. In the American evangelical world, there is focus on “I am saved!”, such that there is little focus on our sin and the need for confession, throughout our lives. I have found in the Orthodox Christian world, a culture of regular confession: 1) to a priest, and 2) to one another. This approach has had a positive effect in my marriage, for example.
Regarding #4, both My Way and God’s Way are accomplished simultaneously. The Holy Spirit is drawing me to himself (“upward call of God in Christ”), while at the same time exposing my sin to me. These two are the same process of the Holy Spirit. The upward call of our life is ever increasing union with God, which this process is and which continues into eternity. This is an important focus of Orthodox Christian life, along with such vital realties as worship of course, and eating Jesus’ true flesh and blood.
Thank you again Robert for this engaging study!”