The Renewed Mind
When some people look at the world, they see a place filled with bad people and bad things. Others look at the earth and see a place filled with God’s glory. These mindsets were on vivid display in Jesus’s day. When the Pharisees looked at a notorious sinner like a tax collector, they saw someone God despised and avoided. Yet, when Jesus looked at this same person, He saw something astonishingly different. To the Lord, even the worst sinner was someone God loved and even pursued. While the Pharisees thought the tax collectors were unclean, Jesus gladly dined with them. He even chose one of them, Matthew, to be one of His twelve disciples. The mind Jesus had about the world was so different that many believed He had lost His mind. They thought He had a demon!
What do you see when you look at yourself? Do you see the same thing God sees? If you are like most of us, when you evaluate yourself, you see things that you like and things you don’t like. You have strengths and weaknesses. We human beings are a mix of good and evil. Either consciously or subconsciously we weigh our good and bad to decide if we measure up. Everybody’s scale is different. To some a certain bad deed might barely tip the scales, but to others that same deed can send scales crashing down on the side of evil.
We take comfort saying that we are a work in progress. God is at work to make us more and more like Him. In our minds this means less evil and more good. However, most of the time, when we think we are actually tipping the scales for good, evil shows itself, and again the scales tip against us.
Some people believe the solution is to throw away the scales altogether. They say God accepts us as we are, so our behavior does not matter, only the fact that we are loved. However, if that is so, why does the New Testament talk so much about how we are to behave? The Sermon on the Mount (See Matthew chapters 5-7) contains the statement “Judge not lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1),” but it would be ridiculous to think behavior did not matter to Jesus. His statement about not being judgmental is preceded and followed by many things to do and many things not to do. Yet, is the Sermon on the Mount merely another scale through which to weigh our deeds to decide if we measure up?
There is another way of looking at Jesus’s discourse on the Godly life. Perhaps it is not just another set of rules (They were even harder to keep than God’s original Ten Commandments!). Jesus’s otherworldly sermon is a picture of someone whose eyes are wide open. It speaks of what life can be like if we see ourselves and our neighbor as God does. It shows what happens when we not only throw away the measure of good and evil, but we also find a higher measure, one that comes from God and not from ourselves.
When the New Covenant came, along with it came a new mind, a new way of seeing. One way the scriptures describe the Christian journey is that of darkness to light. When we hear this analogy, we might think of stories such as Star Wars where the dark side is evil and the light side is good. Yet, what darkness and light really portray in nature is seeing and not seeing. When you are in darkness, you can’t see. Turn on the light, and you see what is really there. One of God’s great purposes in our lives is to turn on the light of Christ. Sometimes we are so focused on the journey from evil to good that we miss the journey from blindness to sight, and it is this journey that changes us. We think God is working so hard to get us to do something or maybe to stop doing something, but what He really wants is for us to first see something.
To open our eyes, He must first change our focus from self to Christ.
In this passage Paul says his countrymen read the Law but did not turn to God. How could someone read God’s Law and not turn to the Lord, especially if they had a great desire to obey the Law? Before Paul was an apostle, he was Saul, the Pharisee. No one kept the Torah better than he did (Philippians 3:3-6). Yet, he was blind and fighting God! How could this be so? To Saul, the Pharisee, turning to God was turning from evil to good. To Paul, the Apostle, turning to God was turning from self to Christ.
In 2 Corinthians Paul is describing covenantal change from the old to the new. This change involved a dramatic change in thinking and focus. The mindset under the Law made who you were and what you did the measure of God's favor in your life. God's most beloved were the descendants of Abraham who kept the Torah. Such a view is very deceptive. It might look good, because it makes people want to do a better job obeying God. Such was the goal of the Pharisees in Jesus’s day. They even added rules to God’s laws to make sure they did things right. For instance, God said not to work on the Sabbath. To make sure they obeyed, men like the Pharisees created 39 categories of work to define what you could and could not do on God’s day.
Yet, Christ called these men the blind leading the blind. They were blind because self was the measure of who they were and who God was in their lives. Their extreme zeal for God actually led to extreme self-focus or what we might call self-righteousness. Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. Notice in the Pharisee’s prayer how many times he says the word “I.”
His self-focus, though it made him look good on the outside, actually led him away from God and also away from his neighbor!
If we have such a mindset, we find ourselves in the trap of always having to do more, because finite deeds are never enough to capture the infinite God. The closeness to God we seek will always be just beyond our grasp. At best, it will be here today, but gone tomorrow. We only find rest when we turn our gaze from who we are and what we do to Who Jesus is and what He has done. Here we reach the end of endless becoming and enter the rest of being. Self-focus and God-focus cannot coexist. The measure of who we are is either self or Christ. We cannot hold to both measures.
Through His infinite deeds, God has grasped us. He is always present and always at work in our lives. Grace dictates that these things are so. Our problem is that we want to make Him present. We want to get Him to work. With grace, there comes a different way of thinking about God. If God seems absent, we do not have a doing problem. We have a seeing problem. Our gaze has turned from Christ to self or to some other love. We merely have to turn around, and we will see that God was there all along.
We are told that pride is a grievous sin in God’s eyes. The Bible says in many places that God is opposed to the proud but He will exalt or give grace to the humble. Why does He frown so sternly upon the proud? Perhaps it is because the Lord wants us to admit He is greater than us, or maybe He wants us to bow to the fact that He is in control. I believe these explanations fall far short. The essence of pride is the belief that the finite defines the infinite. Humility, therefore, is not just thinking little of one’s self. It is bowing to the fact that the infinite defines the finite. God defines who I am not through who I am or what I do but through who Jesus is and what He has done.
Amazingly, humility does not lead to less worth. It leads to infinite worth, because it leads to Christ. Therefore, the Bible says that if we humble ourselves, God will exalt us. He will remove all finite measures of who we are and give us the infinite measure of Christ. This is how God exalts us, not by making us somebody in the world’s eyes. Union is at the heart of God, which is why He requires humility. He wants us to be humble, so He can give Himself to us. The essence of pride is separateness. It is refusing the gift of God, choosing self instead.
In this we see the nature of our struggles with God. We often look at this fight as good versus evil. We think God is trying to get us to be good. Yet, if this was the nature of God’s dealings in our lives, the Lord would have called the Pharisees his champions rather than his enemies. If we study the New Testament closely, we will see that the heart of our wrestling with God is separateness verses union. Paul used the terms flesh and spirit to describe this conflict. Our journey is not from evil to good but from being alone to being one with the Lord.
Through God’s wonderful salvation we become partakers of Christ’s relationship with the Father. His seeing becomes our seeing, for only the divine can behold the divine. His knowing becomes our knowing, for only the mind of Christ can know the infinite. We partake of His closeness to the Father. Yet, to live in this higher relationship, often our own efforts to reach God must fail. This is an end that does not come easily, because coming to the end of our own good is very hard for us to grasp. Yet, just as God gave the Pharisee, Saul, a blinding revelation on the Road to Damascus, He will reveal Himself to us.
Now, we come to the things we do, which is the great concern of those troubled by grace. Some say that the greater the grace, the less motivation we have to obey God. If God’s love is truly unconditional, this frees us to do whatever we want without consequence. In my opinion, these ideas come from a complete misunderstanding of grace. Grace is not a license to sin. It is a license to have God. It is also a passport to leave the old realm of self-definition for the realm of identity in Christ. Union is the goal of grace, not more sin.
Paul tells us that we are to live in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1). If we look at his command through the old paradigm, we are back to trying to measure up once again. But, perhaps the book of Ephesians can shed light on what Paul was talking about. The first three chapters are all about seeing. They do not contain a single command. They paint a glorious picture of who we are in Christ. We get to the commands starting in chapter four. Chapters four through six give us plenty of things to do. So, essentially, beginning in chapter four, Paul tells us to walk according to what we have seen, to live in God’s definition of who we are and who their neighbor is.
Paul compels us to live in the higher reality of who Jesus is and what He had done. God has raised us up out of the old realm of self-definition which was wrath and into the heavenly realm of Christ which is infinite kindness (Ephesians 2:1-8). In a way, this is our Promised Land. The Old Covenant promise was an actual place in which to live. Our New Covenant promise is a Person in which we live, the person of Jesus Christ. The temptation to go back to the old mind is like the Old Covenant temptation to go back to Egypt, which is slavery and death.
If we turn to Christ, our eyes are opened. The darkness of self-definition is banished. Not only do we see God and who we are in Him, we see who our neighbor is. How else could we live in the admonitions of the Sermon on the Mount? How can we love our enemies unless we know something about them that they might not know themselves? They, too, are defined by God’s gift. The Sermon on the Mount is rebellion against the darkness. It is living in God’s definitions even when others define us otherwise. It is refusing to leave our home in Christ. No matter if someone devalues us, we do not devalue in return. Instead, we give the gift of worth as God has given it to us.
Knowing this, we see that the life of grace is not a life without consequence. “Judge not lest you be judged” still applies. However, there is a way of looking at this through the eyes of grace. In other words, don’t drag your neighbor back into the measure of self, because you will drag yourself back there as well. If you are going to live in grace, you must live there with your neighbor.
God calls us to go forward, and our progress is an ever increasing seeing, a growing revelation of who God is. Therefore, our most important endeavor is to know God. Some will disagree with this saying there is so much to be done, so many battles to be fought! We must get busy doing. I agree that there is so much to be done in this world, but we cannot hope to accomplish it until we see what Christ has done for us. And we cannot become who we are supposed to be except by seeing who we are in Christ. With God, all work begins with rest and all change begins with revelation.
In Genesis chapter 33 Moses asked God to see the Lord’s glory. God answered by putting Moses in the cleft of a rock, and from there God’s servant got a glimpse of God. Likewise, God has put us in Christ, the vantage point from which we see the glory of God. Therefore, let us pray Moses’ great prayer: “Lord, show me your glory!” It is a brave prayer, but one God surely answers, and the answer changes everything.