The Renewed Mind (Part 2)
In part one of this series we talked about how we define ourselves. We explored what it means to lay aside the measure of self for the measure of Christ. In part two of this series we will examine how we look at our lives.
What do you see when you look at your life? Is your life good or bad? How we answer these questions usually changes according to our circumstances. If most everything is going our way, we might proclaim “life is good!” However, if bad things are happening to us, we might come up with a different description of our lives.
Our happiness often depends on whether we are getting what we want out of life. Are our dreams coming true, or are they dying? We also measure our life with our eye on our neighbor’s life, wondering if he or she has it better than us. Unfortunately, bad things tend to tip the scales much more easily than good things. There can be ten good circumstances in our lives, but one bad thing can capture our attention and lead us to despair.
Researchers theorize that our brains are wired to notice the bad over the good. The theory is that bad things can hurt us, and good things can’t, so we pay extra attention to bad things. If you watch much television, you know that the media reports almost entirely bad news. It seems that journalists discovered how our brain works long before the scientists. There is an old saying among reporters, “Bad new sells!” If you report bad news and controversy, you will get much higher ratings than if you report good news and stories about people getting along.
Some people try to consciously overcome the human tendency to focus on evil. We call them optimists. Studies have shown that people who dwell on the good are happier, and they live longer than pessimists. It lifts our spirits when we count our blessings and give thanks for God’s goodness. We can always find good things in our lives if we will take the time to look.
Optimism and pessimism are two different minds, and the former will lead us to greater happiness. Yet, there is a higher mind that transcends our measures of good and bad. This is what Paul referred to as the mind set on the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6), and this mind is life and peace no matter the circumstances. It is this mind that Jesus came to impart.
We see a beautiful picture of the heart set on the Spirit in John 6. The chapter takes place over two days, each of which are pictures of the two covenants. The first day, Jesus offered the people the old covenant blessing; the second day, He offered them the new covenant blessing. Interestingly, they loved Him the first day, but He troubled them the second.
Jesus was at the height of His popularity at the beginning of this chapter. Five thousand people had come to hear Him preach and to watch Him do His works, but somehow, everyone in attendance had forgotten to bring lunch—everyone except one young boy. The lad had five barley loaves and two small fish. (Barley loaves were the food of the poor. They were very small and flat, so a person had to eat many of them to get full.) It wasn’t much of a meal, but it was all Jesus needed. The Lord gave thanks, and suddenly, there were more than enough loaves and fishes to feed every one of the 5,000.
A free lunch might be more common in our day, but we live in a day of abundance. Roman taxation in Jesus’s day made people poor and hungry. Among the curses God listed in the book of Deuteronomy was Gentile-inflicted oppression along with hunger and thirst. The Jews had all of these troubles and more in the first century, and it would have been easy to believe God had turned against them. A full belly was one of the great blessings of the old covenant. When Jesus fed the multitude, the people began to believe that the Lord might actually be the one who would restore God’s favor.
It’s no wonder the people misinterpreted Jesus’s gesture, getting so excited they thought He was the Savior/King who would bring back the glory of old-covenant Israel. They’d been waiting for a ruler to lead them back to the good life God promised in the Torah—a life of prosperity, free from pagan oppression. Israel would be once again be on top of the world, where it rightfully belonged. On that first day in John, chapter 6, it appeared Jesus might be such a deliverer.
Many have the same mindset in our day, wanting Jesus to be like He was with the loaves and the fishes. We long for a Messiah who will take care of all our problems, give us what we want, and put us on top of the world. Some still preach a first-day Jesus: “Come to Jesus, and He will fix your life. He will make you prosperous and happy, ridding you of every trouble.” And some people still love the first-day Jesus just as the masses who experienced His works in John, chapter 6. He continues to attract huge crowds and generate a lot of excitement—He is a very popular fellow! One sure way to gather a following is to stay with the Jesus of the first day.
Yet John, chapter 6, does not end with the first day. A second day came and everything changed.
We can imagine the multitude waking up that next morning, eager to find their beloved Messiah. Maybe He would do another miracle! That bread and fish tasted pretty good, and it was nice not to feel hungry at the end of the day. Perhaps their deliverer would get on with the work of making their lives more to their liking. He would take away the bad and bring the good.
Jesus seemed to have disappeared, however. After His great miracle, the Lord withdrew to be by Himself, and His disciples headed across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. How would the Lord catch up to them without transportation? Being the Son of God, it was not a problem. Jesus simply walked on the water until He got to the disciple’s boat! When the crowds finally found Him in Capernaum, they could not imagine how He got there (and the disciples were not telling).
On the second day, the people wanted more bread; they wanted Jesus to show them how to do the same miracles He did. Instead, He offered them not the bread that fills the stomach but the bread of life, which fills the soul. The first-day Jesus gave the people the old covenant blessing—a material gift. But on the second day, He offered them the new covenant blessing—a spiritual, infinite gift—embodied in a Person; Jesus offered them Himself. He is the second-day blessing, the great promise of the new covenant.
To enter the second day blessing, the people would have to change their focus from the finite to the infinite, from having the good life they wanted to having Christ as their life, but most could not leave the old mind behind.
John six beautifully illustrates our journey with God. If we think our destination is the life we want, we will end up disappointed in our Messiah. We might think He has failed us if evil things happen to us. If our dreams die, our faith in God might die with them. Such a perspective can lead us to believe God’s greatest desire is to give us a good life. Yet, the Lord has a higher purpose which is to give us Himself.
When our mind is set on the infinite and the unseen, we come to know God. If our mind is set on finite blessings, we might see His hand, but if our heart is set on the infinite, we will see His face. We will know the Lord. This is where Jesus was trying to take the people in John 6, and this is where He seeks to take us. Our journey may begin with the first day Jesus, the Lord of the finite, but it ends with the second day Jesus, the one who gives the bread of life.
The Old Covenant people of God had a blessing you could find on a map. It was the Promised Land, and it was filled with delights that they could see with their eyes. The New Covenant blessing is also a dwelling, but you can’t find it on a map or see it with your eyes. Paul said our home is above. This does not refer to direction. It means we live in the realm of God’s presence, in the infinite and the unseen. In Ephesians, he called our home “the heavenly place.” He also referred to living in our promise as being in the Spirit or as being in Christ. The lives of the Old Covenant people of God were filled with finite blessings; a full belly and a trouble-free life was their lot if they kept the Law. However, the Old Covenant blessing could never make the human heart complete. In the New Covenant the finite and the infinite become one, and thus we are whole.
When we understand God’s purpose, we begin to look at the good and bad of life from a different perspective. To the renewed mind the good and the bad are not ends in themselves. Rather, they work together to help us receive the promise. They are both equally infused with God. The Lord is in the calm, but He is also in the storm. The purpose of life is to meet Him in both. In the good, God gives Himself to us, but He also gives Himself in the bad. In fact, it is often in the lowly places that we receive the highest revelation of God’s glory.
It is vital that we leave the old mind behind, the mind that measures life only by the finite and the seen. When God takes away the finite, it is always to give us the infinite. What we view as loss is often God knocking at the door of our heart. We might think God wants to give us our dreams, especially if our dreams are good. If our dreams die, we might blame God. Yet, death of every dream from below is merely an invitation to come live above. The same could be said of every endeavor in life. God’s goal is never summed up in the finite and the seen. His purpose is always Christ, and to know Him, the Infinite One, is our highest calling.
How can we go from being earthly minded to heavenly minded? We might think that it takes great effort of the will to change our paradigm. Yet, as with most endeavors with God, will power alone always falls short. The mind of Christ is a gift. It is a revelation, not something we figure out or achieve. Our finite minds alone can never comprehend the infinite. We know God only in togetherness with Christ. One of the greatest prayers is simply asking God to see as He does, for Him to give us His mind. This is seeking to know the Lord, and to know Him is to see the unseen and to partake of the divine.
We often read the scriptures with an eye on the finite rather than the infinite. We ask for the temporal blessing rather than the eternal. Yet, in doing so, we miss the heart of our Father. We earthly fathers know how to give finite blessings to our children, but our Father who is in the heavenly place gives us heavenly blessings, and we merely have to ask.
As we walk with God, He puts a new heart and a new mind in us. With this new paradigm, we become much more at home in the infinite than the finite. Our greatest treasure becomes God, and the riches of the New Covenant become our desire rather than the blessings of the old. This is the divine nature, God’s great gift to us (II Peter 1:4). When God puts His nature in us, it does not merely take us from evil to good. It takes us from flesh to spirit, from the finite to the infinite, and from the glory of man to the glory of God.
What do you think was Paul’s secret to contentment? We might think He knew how to use the power of God to have less abasing and more abounding. Because of his faith, he could conform the world to the image he wanted. Yet, such an interpretation fits neither this passage’s context nor the context of Paul’s life. He was content not because he found the power to make the world more to his liking, but because he lived in a higher place, a place unaffected by finite circumstances. To Paul living there was the power of God. He was in this world but not of it.
What do you see when you look at your life? Do you see good and bad circumstances or do you see Christ? The New Covenant compels us to redefine what life is. It is not found in having or not having, in achievement or in failure, or in any other thing man values, but in Christ alone.