So far we’ve looked at the first four components of the change process – guilt, repentance, forgiveness, and replacement. Finally, we come to the last component, mind renewal.
You may remember from our Sunday morning sermon series in Ephesians 4:22-24, that there is a three-step process to exchanging sinful habits for godly ones. We must put off our old manner of life (v22), be renewed in the spirit of our mind (v23), and put on the new self (v24). The “putting off” and “putting on” will never lead to genuine lasting change if our minds are not also being renewed.
There is much confusion over what exactly this means. Do we just sit back and let the Holy Spirit work His magic? That can’t be it because we know that sanctification involves cooperation between the believer and the Spirit of God (Phil 2:12-13). If we sit back, nothing is going to happen. Do we just read the Bible more, listen to more sermons, and memorize more Scripture? Will that renew our minds? Those things are certainly important, but we should understand that there has to be the purposeful application of Scripture to our lives in order for real change to take place. Just reading, listening, and memorizing will expand our knowledge, but will not change our hearts unless we apply it.
Mind renewing application requires a relentless and meticulous effort. We need a coordinated attack, a serious battle plan. The enemy army of ungodly thoughts is vast and there is no spiritual nuclear weapon that will knock them all out at the same time. Rather, it will require some spiritual sniping – we renew our minds one thought at a time.
A passage that is a helpful guide for this process is Phil 4:6-9:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
We’ll use the sin of anxiety to demonstrate how to renew a sinful thought. If you struggle with anxiety there are any number of ways in which that might be manifested in your life. You may worry about your health, your job, your finances, your family, your reputation, the economy, the government, the weather – you name it. Each of these can be expressed in ungodly thinking. “I’m afraid I’ve got cancer.” “If I lose my job, I don’t know what I’ll do.” “What if she leaves me? I can’t survive that.” The external handwringing is always going to be accompanied by mental handwringing, or sinful thoughts.
First of all, yes, it is a sin to be anxious. Look no further than v6 up there. Anxiety is a result of a lack of faith in God (Matt 6:25-34). To deal with that sin, we have to put it off, put on the godly opposite (faith), and renew our minds with respect to that sin. That renewal takes place one step at a time. To begin, you must identify a recurring anxious thought that you have. I’ll just pick one – “I’m afraid I’ve got cancer.” The Philippians passage gives us the steps to take.
1. Right praying (vv6-7)
Rather than being anxious about the sin you are dealing with, you take it to God with thanksgiving. This serves to put God at the center of the issue. Express your desire to overcome the ungodly thought for God’s glory, acknowledging your dependence upon His strength.
There is a tremendous comfort in being completely focused on God’s glory. When we do that, our hearts and minds will be guarded by the peace of God.
2. Right thinking.
v8 tells us to think on true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things. So our objective is to take the thought “I’m afraid I’ve got cancer” and exchange it for a biblical, God-honoring thought. We can do that by making a list of subject matter in the Bible that pertains to the ungodly thought. That list could include: death, sickness, eternity, God’s sovereignty, fear, God’s wisdom, family (who will be affected by your illness), and faith.
We can then look up the relevant passages in Scripture and construct a new thought. A short list of passages might include:
(Deu 32:39) See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
(Phi 1:21) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Rom 8:28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Rom 11:33) Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
(Mat 6:25-34) "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…"
(2Co 12:10) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Here is an example of a renewed thought based on these verses: “God alone is sovereign over my life. Cancer cannot take me unless in His wisdom He has decreed it. If He does, it will be for my good and His glory, and His grace is sufficient to see me through that trial. I will not be anxious – for my destiny is in His hands. If I live, I will live for Christ. If I die, I will gain heaven’s joy. Either way I trust His sovereign hand.”
That may be long-winded for some, but it makes the point. Whenever you are tempted to worry about that illness, by God’s grace you reject that thought and replace it with the godly thought constructed from Scripture.
3. Right practice
v9 commands us to practice the things taught in the Scriptures. We must go beyond thinking right thoughts to doing right things. Some examples might include:
- pray for all those you know who are sick
- if you know anyone who is terminally ill, find some way to minister to them or their family; share the gospel with them
- make a renewed-thought flashcard; on one-side write the old, sinful thought; on the other side write the renewed thought and any helpful Scripture passages
- meditate on the love and sovereignty of God
- listen to God-centered worship music
The point of all these things is to take your mind off of yourself and place it squarely on God. If you will follow these steps every time you are tempted to entertain that sinful thought, eventually the renewed thought will become the standard.
And don’t think that you can only deal with one thought at any one time. I am personally working on half a dozen right now. Each morning I pray over each specific one and review each one so that I am ready whenever temptation comes.
If you will be faithful to do this, by God's grace you will find that your thinking has been completely changed in the area of anxiety. Rather than worry, there will be trust. Rather than gloom, there will be joy. Rather than despair, there will be hope. Rather than self-absorption, there will be God-centeredness.
Whatever your sin issue, there is hope and help in Christ. The power that raised Him from the dead, is the power that works in you (Eph 1:16-19; 3:20-21).
(Phi 2:12-13) …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Adapted from lectures given by Dr. Stuart Scott at SBTS.