Believers in Jesus Christ have the privilege of freedom from sin and death (Romans 8:2-4). In Scripture, sin is not only a personal struggle but a present ubiquitous reality in the world. In other words, the power and presence of sin is found everywhere: there is personal sin; institutional sin; systemic sin. Sin is everywhere, even in the church. If we do not realize this ubiquity of sin we will avoid demonstrating grace, not to mention be constantly frustrated by people’s attitudes and actions. We need an overhaul of our mindset to sharpen our thoughts in Christ.
Christianity is all about God’s actions, and our mental focus needs to be with him. God sent his Son; God became incarnate; God’s Son became a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins; God condemned sin in sinful humanity; God met the righteous requirements of the law; God effects holiness in us by means of his Spirit. Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. We must, then, put ourselves in a position to experience this through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word work together to effect practical change in our lives. I have a tendency to quote Scripture from memory. I don’t really set out to memorize Scripture so much as I set out to dwell in it to the degree that it ends-up becoming a part of me. And I want that same thing for you so that you will be so overcome by the Spirit and the Word that in every decision, in everything you say, and in each action you are moved by the Holy Spirit.
Through the ministry of the Spirit, we possess the mind of Christ (Romans 8:5-8). In these verses we have the rub of the problem we all face as Christians living in a sinful world. And it all has to do with our mindset. The word for “mind” in these verses is the Greek word “nous.” In other words, we are not to have a “loose nous” because we have the mind of Christ. If we want life and peace, we must possess the mind of Christ and the Spirit. What our minds are occupied with is what determines whether we will have life and peace or not. If the objects of our thoughts, interests, and affections are continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will have a loose nous. If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, we will have a loose nous. If we constantly live according to anything other than the Word and the Spirit, our loose nous will bring only death.
For example, there are two choices for the alcoholic, and he really knows those choices well: the way of life or the way of death and it all has to do with a mindset. The first step of the twelve steps is to admit that I am powerless over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn my life and my will over to that Power. So it is the same for us. We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. But in the Spirit we have the possibility of life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and my will to God. Yet, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life is what we possess when we possess the mind of Christ and the Spirit. We have the hope that through the power of the Spirit we will overcome the power of choices that lead to death and instead embrace the choices that lead to life.
The Spirit is not some vitamin supplement to the Christian life, or a protein shake that helps us become healthy. The Spirit is life and peace; he is a person, and not just a force. The Spirit brings us the practical benefits of new life in Christ. So, what we put into our minds is vitally important. I choose to fill my mind with God’s Word because I absolutely need it every day in every way. This is not about personal willpower; it is about putting ourselves in a position to receive the Spirit’s power to mold us, make us, and change us for the glory of God.
If you think willpower is all you need, you are probably setting yourself up for a crash. This is not just advice from the Bible. It also comes from current scientific research. Dr. Loran Nordgren, a professor at Northwestern University, ran a series of experiments that placed college students in "tempting situations" to smoke, eat junk food, or forgo studying. The research found that we often display what's called a "restraint bias." In other words, we tend to overestimate how much self-control we will have against temptation when we are not in the "heat of the moment." Our "restraint bias" causes us to think that we can handle more temptation than we actually can. Dr. Nordgren warned that "Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give in to temptation." He went on to give some sound advice consistent with Holy Scripture: "The key is simply to avoid any situations where vices and other weaknesses thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to keep a humble view of their willpower."
As Christians we have freedom. But if we want to experience the practical effects of that freedom we will need to discipline our minds for godliness. Enter the church. Among the community of the redeemed we find other like-minded believers who share the common values of desiring God’s will and way. Through worship, fellowship, and prayer the mind of Christ gradually becomes our mind, as well. Holiness is rarely spectacular and is mostly gained through learning to walk with Jesus in the mundane of life – the very place where our minds tend to wander. Keeping our minds occupied with godliness does not simply happen but must be deliberate and intentional. Let’s keep helping one another engage our minds with the resources of the Spirit for the glory of God in the church and the world.