Ephesians 4: 17-18; 22-24
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts....
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
“Beware of what you set your mind on because that you surely will become.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Nutritionists tells us: “You are what you eat.” However, as important as a healthy diet is, the Bible makes it clear: “You are what you think.” Real, lasting transformation in our lives begins with our thinking, or as the Apostle Paul called it, “the renewing of your mind.” The Greek word translated as “renewing” means “to restore, to renovate, to make better than new.”
Most of us try to change ourselves from the outside-in, through discipline and behaviour modification. While these have their place, the direction of our lives will always follow our thinking, not the other way around. Therefore our thinking must be renewed to line up with our new nature – who we are and all we have received in Christ. We can’t think wrong and expect to live right. Or as Craig Groeschel explains it: “The root of most sins we commit outwardly is the false beliefs we embrace inwardly. In order to experience a life of purity with a clean heart, we must identify and reject the toxic thoughts that keep us from God’s best.”
The word Paul uses for ‘transformed’ here in Romans 12 is the same word used in the gospels to describe Jesus’ appearance when He was transfigured on the mountain and spoke with Moses and Elijah. The reality of heaven radiated through Jesus, and He shone with incredible brilliance. Bill Johnson says, “The renewed mind, then, reflects the reality of another world in the same way Jesus shone with heaven’s brilliance. It’s not just that our thoughts are different, but that our way of thinking is transformed because we think from a different reality - from heaven toward earth! That is the transformed perspective.”
In other words, one of the primary characteristics of a Christ follower is that they think differently from those who aren’t yet in relationship with Jesus. We view life from a renewed perspective and thus we think differently about God, about relationships, about the purpose of life, about our community, about our finances, about how we use our time. The renewed mind sets one’s life on a completely different course that that of the unrenewed mind.
Paul says that the Gentiles or those without a relationship with God, “live in the futility of their thinking.” The word ‘futility’ can also be translated ‘emptiness’, ‘purposelessness’ or ‘vanity’. They may have great intelligence and superior reasoning, but in reality their thinking is hollow, shallow and unproductive and it leads them nowhere good. Such thinking is dominated by self-centredness, ignorance of the truth, meaningless trivia, chasing bubbles and shadows, pursuing fantasy without knowing reality. A darkened understanding and a hardened heart lead to a fruitless life.
The simple truth is that most of life’s battles are won or lost in the mind. A renewed mind leads to a transformed life. Our thoughts are either taking us towards failure or our future. Perhaps that’s why Abraham Lincoln said, “I want to know all God’s thoughts. All the rest are just details.”