The Christian life

The renewal of our mind

Humans comprise a body and a spirit (soul sometimes refers to spirit only, sometimes to both together). In biblical terminology both spirit and heart refer to our “inner person,” comprising our reason, will, and emotions (Romans 8:10-14, 1:21, 2:5, 9:2). “Heart” stresses its location within us; “spirit” stresses its moral and spiritual nature. Mind in the Bible refers to our understanding. It is governed by our heart, which either suppresses God’s truth to escape its implications, or embraces it in order to please him (Jeremiah 17:10, Romans 1:18-32).

Repentance literally means “a change of mind.” It results from a regenerate heart, and is to move from rejecting God’s truth to accepting it. So true repentance always brings change in both belief and behaviour (1 Kings 8:47-48, Acts 26:20).

The Christian life is one of constant turning from error and sin to truth and righteousness. Paul terms this “putting off” the old self and “putting on” the new. The old self is our sinful personality, and the new self our sanctified one, comprising a re-created heart and a mind that is being renewed (Ephesians 2:10, 4:20-24).

We should not be disheartened by this inner battle. It will continue as long as our sinful world and nature remain (Ephesians 2:2-3, Romans 7:7-25). Neither should we see Christian living as dull. It is to be who we now are—those dressed in the likeness of God himself (Ephesians 2:10, 4:24).

Two things are therefore central to the Christian life: First, determination in choosing with every moment, to put off the bad and put on the good. Jesus calls us to never rest from seeking to bring our whole lives under his Lordship—loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the greatest commandment (Mark 12:30).

Second, discernment is key to loving God with our mind. The Christian needs to absorb themselves in the bible so that their mind is renewed and they are able to know exactly what to believe and how to behave (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23). In particular, they should hold a healthy suspicion of the opinions and values of the non-Christian world (1 Corinthians 2:14-16, 2 Corinthians 4:4).

We must be clear that what we watch on TV, read in magazines, see in adverts, hear on CD’s, or pick up from our friends, work mates, and even teachers, is not necessarily trustworthy. Only God knows what is best for us. Other’s views will certainly contain some truth, but will have ultimately been shaped to justify their own sin and rejection of God (Ephesians 4:17-20, Romans 1:18-32). We should therefore ensure that we test everything against the bible, rejecting the bad and accepting the good (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

The renewal of our actions

Human beings are described in similar terms to animals (Genesis 2:7, 19, 6:17). Our difference is in the status and ability we are given as those in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).

Having ordered (Genesis 1 days 1-3) and filled (Genesis 1 days 4-6) the earth in creation, God commanded humanity to ‘image’ him in doing the same (Genesis 1:26-28)—governing the world’s resources (ordering) and, through family, raising others to do likewise (filling). Yet being in God’s image is not merely about activity. The manner in which he created was “good.” So we are to emulate God’s holy character as we do this (Ephesians 4:24).

This entire task is known as the creation mandate, and is ultimately fulfilled through the great commission as Christians build a church community, ready to fill and govern a new earth in perfect goodness under Jesus, God’s king (Matthew 28:19-20). However the church currently inhabits this world, and the call to image God by filling and governing it in goodness remains.

The Christian should therefore “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), not seeking to get away with what they can, but pleading with God to transform them by his Spirit, and striving to ensure that every thought and act is as pure as it can be, done for the glory of God, and motivated by love for him (Matthew 5:48, Philippians 4:8-9). Because this only highlights their sin all the more, they should also never forget God’s forgiveness (Romans 7:21-25, 1 John 1:7-10).

In particular, the Christian is to obey the great commandment to love their neighbour, by—as far as they are able—doing good to all (Luke 10:25-37), and shaping their community, work practices, society and world, according to God’s ways (Colossians 3:23-24). Here, fellow believers and the more needy should be prioritised (Galatians 6:10, James 1:27), making speaking out and caring for persecuted Christians and oppressed people paramount (Isaiah 1:15-17).

This all has implications for our money and lifestyle too. Every item bought consumes more of the world’s resources, and may contribute to environmental or economic abuse, and so to worldwide poverty. We need to learn to spend ethically, buy less, and give more. Many Christians seek to tithe 10%, but the NT is actually even more challenging: It doesn’t set rules, but encourages us to joyfully, generously, and sacrificially, give all that we are able (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Some of the first Christians even sold their possessions to do so (Acts 2:45). We should give to support those teaching and spreading God’s word (Luke 8:1-2, 1 Timothy 5:17-18), poor Christians (Romans 15:25-27), and where possible, poor non-Christians (Luke 12:32-34). Obviously a large part should first be given to the work of your own church.

Christian service

The NT lists of spiritual gifts are probably not exhaustive. Rather, any ability the Spirit enables us to regularly exercise should probably be seen as a spiritual gift. Every believer has at least one, to be used for the building up, or edification, of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:6-12). Each should therefore free up time to serve the church in at least one way. It is the Holy Spirit who decides who has what gift. So Christians should not envy those with greater gifts or look down on those with lesser; they should appreciate the different contribution each Christian can make, desire the gifts that will best serve their church, and accept whatever God chooses to give (1 Corinthians 12).

A distinction is made between gifts of speech and those of more general service (1 Peter 4:10-11). Those who teach God’s word are to train the rest through their teaching (Ephesians 4:11-16). The leading teachers are the overseers (also called elders - Titus 1:5-9). They are given various titles in today’s denominations, but are those who govern local churches. They are to be honoured and obeyed (Hebrews 13:17) and freed up to do their job by those with other gifts meeting the non-word-based needs of the church (Acts 6:1-7).

Another distinction is between specific gifts and general callings. Irrespective of whether they feel gifted, every Christian is called to obey the great commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:38-39) and the great commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). In fact, the most supreme act of love is to make disciples: We must be clear that salvation is everyone’s greatest need (Mark 2:1-12), and evangelism - sharing the gospel or good news (Greek: evangel), is the only means of bringing people any lasting good (Romans 10:14-15).

Evangelism’s primary motivation should be a concern to see Jesus honoured, but we should also be motivated by the reality of hell and the love of Christ, desperately preparing ourselves to answer the questions people have and taking every opportunity to speak of our Saviour (2 Corinthians 5:11-15, 1 Peter 3:15). Ultimately we must urge others to respond to three key gospel truths (Luke 24:45-47, Acts 10:42-43): First, Jesus’ identity: That Jesus’ resurrection declares him to be God’s Son and ruler who will judge the world. Second, Jesus’ gift: That on the cross Jesus made it possible for us to be forgiven our sins and so receive everlasting life rather than punishment. Third, Jesus call: That Jesus calls us to trust him for these things and so turn from living our own way.

Bible reading and prayer

Alongside church attendance, the key means of standing firm as a Christian are bible reading and prayer (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 22:31-32, 2 Timothy 3:16-4:6, Luke 22:40).

The longest psalm in the bible waxes lyrical about the benefits of constant reflection on scripture (Psalm 119). This can be done in four ways: By hearing it taught (Jeremiah 3:15), constantly reading it through to maintain an overview (Deuteronomy 17:19), studying smaller sections in depth (Proverbs 2:1-5), and memorising and meditating on particular verses (Psalm 119:11).

Most important is that we study with humble hearts that accept what we read as God’s inspired word and are willing to obey it (Isaiah 66:2, James 1:21-22). Yet we must also ensure that we do not read passages out of context or make them say what we want. The “then” and “now” questions are therefore key: (1) What meaning and response was originally intended? (2) How do these validly apply today?

As for prayer, some bible characters model praying three times a day—morning, midday, and evening (Palm 55:17, Daniel 6:10, Acts 10:9). Jesus seems to have engaged in daily prayer—withdrawing from the busyness of life (Luke 5:16); pervasive prayer—responding to events throughout the day (Matthew 11:25-26); and crisis prayer—giving extra time to particular needs (Luke 6:12-16). All are certainly called to “devote themselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:3).

Prayer should express faith, pure motives, and be reverent, sincere, persistent, and submissive to God’s will (James 1:5-6, 4:3, Matthew 6:7, Luke 18:1-8, 22:42). God’s answer depends on our praying according to his word and remaining faithful to him (John 15:7, Isaiah 1:15).

­Praying “in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18) probably refers to the Spirit guiding how we pray for a matter at hand and giving us a heartfelt attitude as we do (Romans 8:26). God’s concerns are expressed in the bible. So knowing the bible well enough for it to “dwell richly” within us facilitates our prayers as the Spirit guides us by bringing particular bible truths to mind, and gives us a heartfelt concern for the priorities they express (Colossians 3:16).

Any bible passage—and particularly bible prayers—can therefore provide a useful springboard to our prayers. Try reading a passage slowly with a pause after each phrase to pray through its sentiments.

Christians find the best way to ensure time for bible reading and prayer is to set apart a set “quiet time” every day. Many find first thing preferable, and try to get to bed earlier so that they can be fresh for it. Start with just 15 minutes a day, and seek to extend it as it becomes established. If you struggle to stay focused, ask God to help, kneel down or stand up, speak out loud or write things down.