Christians should live differently.
The world says get all you can; the gospel says to give yourself away. The world says to look out for number one; the gospel says to follow Jesus in prioritizing the needs of others. The world says to make the most of every moment through achieving any kind of temporal pleasure; the gospel says to buy your stock in the treasures of heaven which don’t rust or fade away. It’s not wonder, then, that living out the gospel requires more than making a different set of choices than we did before we became Christians; it requires an entire transformation:
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
This is a verse about transformation. That transformation is something that has happened, and yet continues to happen in the life of the Christian. When we believe in the truth of the gospel, we become something different. We are made into a new creation. Then we behave according to what we have become.
That’s the three-step process: Believe. Become. Behave. Our faith leads to transformation which leads to a different set of behaviors. Tucked inside that formula is the importance of the way we think. True transformation begins in the mind before it hits our actions.
The mind is the place where the battle against sin is ultimately won and lost. Think about in terms of temptation. The gateway for temptation is usually one of your senses. You see something, or hear something, or even smell something, and you are tempted to act in a way that is contrary to God’s revealed will in Scripture. But before you take that action, you make a decision in your mind about which way you are going to walk. Most of the time, you process that temptation for at least a little while before actually implementing the decision. It’s in the mind, then, that true transformation occurs. The gospel transforms the way we behave because the gospel transforms the way we think.
This transformation of the mind doesn’t come all at the same time; it happens through consistently choosing to give our thoughts over to the power of the Holy Spirit, and then act accordingly. Let’s play out that progression with a very simple example involving one of the temptations that most of us are familiar with: gluttony.
Let’s say that you have just finished a fine meal with good friends. The courses of the meal have been served, and you are fully satisfied with the appetizer, the entrée, and the dessert. But then comes the call for the second large piece of chocolate cake, and you have to make a decision. The battle over this decision, like all actions, will be won and lost in the mind. You can, in that moment, choose to give your thoughts to the way of the world or you can submit your mind to the Holy Spirit.
One the one hand, you might think, It’s only one more piece. Not a big deal. Sure, I’m full, but you only live once, right? Or, in that moment, you can think, Food is a gift from God to be enjoyed, but like all gifts, we must be careful to hold them in their right place. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and must be treated as such. So I will choose to decline and instead be content with what I have already consumed.
See it? The decision was made long before either holding up your plate or pushing away from the table. It was made in the mind, and as we choose over and over again to think this way, we will find ourselves to be transformed.
If you want to experience the kind of transformation Paul wrote about – that you would not be conformed to the pattern of the world but instead be transformed, then don’t neglect the mind. The mind is where the battle is fought, and because of the transforming power of Christ, where it is won.