Renewing the Mind: Changing the Way you Think

Renewing your MindI’m starting a new series called Renewing the Mind. This battle with fear, panic attacks and anxiety is waged primarily in the mind. Through years of improper programming, the enemy has been able to influence our way of thinking through bad experiences, negative words and lies. God wants us to renew our minds, to change the way we think.

Our brains are these amazing, complex creations, and it’s only in recent years that scientists have truly begun to understand these biological neural networks. God created our brains to adjust, adapt and learn. Sadly, the enemy knows this and has used it against us since the fall.

I’m reading a great book right now called “Escaping the Matrix: Setting Your Mind Free to Experience Real Life in Christ“. The book is written by pastor, Greg Boyd and neuroscientist, Al Larson. In it, they describe the wonderful complexities of the human mind and brain, but also share how the enemy has used our own mind against us. That’s why we are reminded in scripture to renew our minds:

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

“Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes.” (Ephesians 4:23).

While that may feel impossible for those struggling with crippling fear, anxiety and panic attacks, it is possible to change the way you think and the way you respond. God would not instruct us to do something that we can’t do.

Let’s start with the word “repent”. Take a moment and think about “repent”. What does it mean to you? Use it in a sentence that you hear often. Mentally document your personal definition of “repent”.  Does it sound something like this:

  • Repent of your sins.
  • Repent and turn away from bad decisions.
  • When you sin, you need to repent.
  • Stop sinning and start doing good.

Any of those sound familiar? Well, honestly, those are a wrong use of the word “repent”.

Repentance, in the original language, is not turning away from our sins; yet, it’s what we’ve been taught for years. In fact, when you look through the New Testament and the 32 verses that mention the word “repent” in some form, nowhere does it say “Repent of your sins”. It does say:

  • Repent, and believe (Mark 1:15)
  • Repent, and be baptized (Acts 2:38)
  • Repent, and be converted (Acts 3:19)
  • Repent, and turn to God (Acts 26:20)

The word “repent” in the New Testament is the Greek word metanoeo. It’s a combination of two words:

  • meta: to change (like metamorphosis)
  • noieo: the mind, our “thinker” (like the word knowledge)

“To repent” literally means “to change the way you think”.

When Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), he was saying, “Stop thinking the old way and think a new way, the way God wants you to think.”  He was simply saying, “Think differently.”

There is a new way to think about the Kingdom of heaven and God’s plan for us. That will be the focus on our next few messages: how to repent (how to think differently).

Prayer: Father, help me to think differently. Help me to renew my mind and open my heart to the truth of what you want to speak into my life.

The Love of God: It Makes us Whole

The Love of God: It Makes Us WholeThis week, as part of our church’s New Year devotional, we’ve been memorizing Ephesians 2:8,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

I’ve heard this scripture for years. So much so, that I’ve become quite familiar with it. But, that’s not a good thing. Too often, familiarity breeds complacency. The more we know something, the less importance we give it. It’s the “curse of knowledge”.

Each day this week as I said those words, something started to stir my soul. I began to realize that incredible freedom lies in the truth of these words. Freedom from fear, anxiety, torment and panic attacks is right there in these words.

Let me show you.

  • By grace
  • You have been saved
  • Through faith

By Grace

I’ve been sharing these past few weeks about how righteousness is a gift from God. It’s not something we can earn or work for. It’s a gift, just it says in Ephesians 2:8 and 9. In Romans 4, Paul contrasts the difference between a wage and gift, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (v4, 5).

When you work for your right standing with God, then it’s accounted to you as a wage. The problem is that God requires perfection, so the wage becomes a debt against you that you’ll never  be able to pay. None of us will ever be able to meet his requirements for righteousness, but he knew that, and he sent his Son to take our sin and give us his righteousness as a gift.

So, what is this gift that we have received by grace?

You have been Saved

The gift is salvation, but again, we are so familiar with this word. Do we really know what it means to be saved? What are we saved from?

To fully understand what it means, let’s go to the original language of the New Testament. This word saved comes from the Greek word sozo (sode’-zo). This word literally means “to be made whole in our body, soul and spirit.”

Too often, we think of it as being saved from hell. Salvation is so much more than that. Jesus didn’t just die to  keep you out of hell–he died to make you whole (Isaiah 53:4-5), give you freedom (John 8:32), and to give you an abundant life (John 10:10).

Fear, panic, depression, and anxiety are often the results of deep, emotional wounds and trauma. You need to know that Jesus died to set you free from those crippling things, so that you can live life abundantly. He died to make you whole!

Through Faith

Like the word saved, I believe we have also become too familiar with this word faith. We’ve given it a variety of meanings and variations. She’s of this faith and he’s of that faith.  If I just had more faith, then God surely would respond to my prayers.

Again, let me go back to the original language. This word faith comes from the Greek word pistis. Throughout the New Testament, it is translated as “faith”.  Interestingly, the verb variation of this word is pisteuo, which is translated as “believe”. The word “faith” in the New Testament simply means belief or believing. To have faith is simply to believe.

Now, combine these three phrases: By grace, you have been saved, through faith.

Here’s the Season of Peace paraphrase: When you can truly believe that righteousness in Christ is a gift from God, you will be made whole in your body, soul and spirit.

This is such truth to me. I have experienced deeper levels of freedom and peace knowing that God is pleased with me. I can now boldly come into the throne of grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16), and talk to God as my Father. I don’t have to strive and strain to please him. He’s happy with me just as I am, because he has given me a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26).

Prayer: Father, help me understand more and more how by grace I have been saved through faith.

The Love of God: It’s Rest

The Love of God - It's RestWhile in the midst of crippling fear and anxiety, I would often think God was not pleased with me. If he was pleased with me, then surely he would take this fear away. Surely he would pour out peace and give me a strong mind. But, the fear kept coming and so I assumed God was not happy with me. Maybe it was sin. Maybe it was my thought life. Maybe I didn’t spend enough quiet time with God.  What could I do to please him?

The more I searched–what could I do to please God–the more I realized that there was nothing I could do to please God. He was perfect. He required perfection. He is a holy God, and cannot look upon sin. His standard of righteousness was beyond my reach. There was nothing I could do to be holy or worthy. This fact is even confirmed in Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” This was not good news.

All that was compounded by this gnawing sensation that something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do better? Why couldn’t I spend more time with God? Why couldn’t I overcome this bad habit? Why couldn’t I shake this feeling of fear? What was wrong with me?

I was really feeling hopeless.

That gnawing sensation, I learned later, was shame. And, it was relentless. It made me feel bad, and it never let up. It was a constant voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough, or that I would never be good enough. People who struggle with shame have one of two responses. Either they constantly beat themselves up trying harder to please God only to fail, or they just give up the notion of being good altogether and choose to rebel. Why bother with being good, they declare boldly.

Neither of those responses are good nor healthy. In fact, they are quite destructive.

So, is there hope? Yes!

The answer is twofold.  First, you do please God and second, there is no more shame.

First of all, you please God in Christ. Those thoughts I had about displeasing God–my sins, my failures–were not from God. If you have truly surrendered your life to Christ and put your trust in him, then you please God. The Divine exchange happened when you believed. All of your sins were taken off you and put on to Christ at the Cross.  And, all of Jesus’ righteousness was put on you. Now, your sins are remembered no more (Hebrews 8:12). You are declared a child of God (1 John 3:1). The Father has given you his Kingdom (Luke 12:32). In Christ, you please God!

Secondly, the shame of all your sins–past, present and future–is gone. Jesus took all your shame on the Cross. The reason we experience shame today is that we don’t believe we are free from sin. We strive to please God in our own strength and efforts, and fail because God’s standard is perfection. We don’t realize that our efforts to please God do nothing but hurt us and hinder us. They are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

When we try to please God in our own strength and our own efforts, we are saying that the Christ’s death on the cross is not enough. We need to do more.

Romans 4:4 declares that gifts are given freely and wages are earned, and that eternal life is a gift. We cannot earn it. Galatians 2:6 also confirms that no flesh shall be justified (made right with God) by our efforts and our works.

The key is that we believe what the Bible says about our righteousness, that it’s a gift, not earned.

Do you know what pleases God? The Bible says in Hebrews 11:6 that faith pleases God. In other words, when we believe (faith) that we are righteous through the works of Christ and not through our efforts and strength, then God is pleased with us.

I have found incredible peace and freedom in this truth. My striving, my work, my efforts to please God are gone. I please God! He’s happy with me!

Prayer: Father, show me this week that I am righteous and justified by what I believe not what I do. Show me that I am pleasing to you in Christ.

The Love of God: It’s Powerful

The Love of God: It's PowerfulIf we can fully understand just how much God loves us, it will cast out all fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a). And God’s love is not a natural love, like we know here on earth. God’s love is powerful.  It carries incredible life-changing power.

Too often, when faced with crippling fear or anxiety, we strive hard to find a solution. We read, study, listen and do things to find that elusive freedom from fear. “I’ll try harder, learn more, overcome, beat this thing…” Sound familiar?

I did this for years. Even today, I still do this to some degree. It’s natural for us to seek a path of least pain. So, we strive and learn and do things to find freedom. Sadly, we often turn to other things for temporary freedom–alcohol, cigarettes, busyness, entertainment, sex, distraction, whatever we can find to numb the fear. We’re trying to alleviate a legitimate issue with illegitimate means.

God’s love for us is supernatural–it goes beyond our natural understanding and reasoning. It carries great power–power to heal, set free, cleanse and bring peace. And, interestingly, when you put your trust in Christ, that same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives inside of you (Ephesians 1:19, 20). You are empowered to live a victorious life.

So, how do I activate that power in my life?

Ephesians 1:19 describes “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” His exceedingly great Power is activated when we believe. There is heavenly power that can set us free living inside of us right now. If you have given your heart to Christ, he now lives in you supernaturally.  And, his exceedingly great power is inside you right now. But, it’s dormant until you believe. God’s power is activated in us when we believe.

Let me give you another example in scripture. Most believers are familiar with Ephesians 3:20, “God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think.” Sounds awesome doesn’t it? The problem is that we don’t quote the whole scripture. We stop too soon. Here’s the entire scripture:

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”

The words “according to” indicates a limitation. For example, if I say, “Each of you can play the piano according to your ability.” Then, you can only play to the limit of your ability. Or, “You can run according to your fitness level.” These words “according to” indicate a limit.

God’s power–that can do exceedingly, abundantly above all we can ask our think–is limited to what we believe (Ephesians 1:19).

Do you believe God wants you free from fear? Do you believe you can be victorious?  Do you believe you can do things that you previously could not?

For years, I believed I was trapped in fear and could not get free. I believed it was too big, too much, too hard.  God could not work in my life because I limited him through what I believed. His power was limited because it is released “according to” what I believed.

Today, I believe with all my heart that God wants us all to be free from fear. He is fighting for us constantly, continually, around the clock, 24/7. He wants you free from fear more than you want to be free. But, he is limited through our faith, through what we believe.

I encourage you this to believe that God is for you, not against you. He’s fighting for your freedom. You need to believe that. You need to believe that the power to set you free is already inside you through Christ.  When we believe, God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think, according to that power!

Prayer: Father, I believe. I believe that your power is inside of me, and I believe that you are fighting for me, to set me free. Release your freedom power inside of me.

The Love of God: It’s Unconditional

The Love of God: It's UnconditionalGod’s love for us is unconditional. His love is not based on our performance, our goodness, or anything we can or can’t do. His love is a gift, freely given to us. All we have to do is receive it.

“What about sin? Doesn’t sin separate us from God?”

I believe there was a time when sin did separate us from God. Isaiah 59:2 confirms, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”

Before Jesus came to earth, people lived under a different agreement or different convenant with God. Their sins were held against them. The High Priest would perform daily sacrifices to deal with the sins of the people. Until Christ came, sin separated people from God.

Today, we live under a new agreement, and Jesus—our new High Priest—died once for all of our sins. Here’s how the writer of Hebrews describes it: “Under the old covenant, the priest stands before the altar day after day, offering sacrifices that can never take away sins. But our High Priest (Jesus) offered himself to God as one sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down at the place of highest honor at God’s right hand” (v10:11, 12).

Did you catch that? Jesus died as “one sacrifice for sins, good for all time.” Paul explains it this way, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus died for your sins, once and for all. They are dealt with completely. Your past sins, your present sins, and your future sins are no longer counted against you.

This is great news! Now, there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).

Nothing can separate you from God’s love. Nothing. He made a Way for you to come to him just as you are. What’s holding you back? “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

I encourage you this week to boldly come before the throne of grace in your time of need. Jesus made a way for you to do that. God is ready to receive you, with his arms open wide and a loving smile on his face. He wants you to come running into his arms. He loves you more than you know.

There’s nothing you can do to disappoint God.

Prayer: Father, show me how much you love me. I come to you right now just as I am. Receive me into your arms of love.