(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Be transformed by the renewing of your minds
1. We are being changed
First, some good news: Romans 8:29 promises us that:
those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
I really want to be like Jesus. I wish this more than just about anything else. Do you want to be like Jesus?
Sometimes, it's hard to see it but the truth is: We will be like Jesus.
Better news still; we are becoming like Him even now:
2 Corinthians 3v18 (RSV)
How is this happening? And what can we do to allow it to happen faster? We can only allow it, not cause it, because "this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit".
2. By the Renewing of our Minds
As we have seen from Romans 12v2, in order to become like Jesus, we must be transformed "by the renewing of our minds".
I've spent a large part of my Christian life hearing well-meaning Christians playing down the importance of the mind. They say your mind can get in the way of God's Spirit, that His laws are written on our hearts (forgetting that this is more or less a synonym for "mind" anyway) and getting uncomfortable when anyone suggests that we think something through. But the mind is precisely the means by which God achieves His work of sanctification in us; we are transformed "by the renewing of our minds". That is, as God changes how we think, he can change how we act and feel, what we want and how we set priorities.
What you think, what you believe, is important
Everyone has a philosophy and everyone acts according to their beliefs. For example, if you believe it's going to rain, you take an umbrella when you go out. If you believe a change in government is going to damage your investments, you invest elsewhere. If you believe a neighbour is a child molester, you won't ask him to baby-sit. If you believe a course of action is morally wrong, you make some effort not to do it.
What do we believe? And why do we believe what we believe? As Christians, our beliefs must be based on the Bible. 2 Timothy 3v14-17 says "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God and so absolutely true. So, unlike most non-religeous people, we have a set of absolute values, absolute truths.
Where does a non-religeous person get his values from? How does he know if they are right?
Biblical standards are not only for the Christian. It's just that a Christian tends to accept the fact and a non-Christian tends not to. People say we cannot expect non-Christians to live according to certain scriptures. No, we can't, but that doesn't mean they can do what they want. God will judge us all according to biblical standards.
3. The Bible
So, to recap, to mature as Christians, we need to let God renew our minds. That is, change what we believe and how we think. Since, as 2 Timothy 3v16 says, "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness", we must read the Bible and choose to accept what it says.
Of course, God also changes our minds in other ways: When we pray; when we listen to others; and through the ordinary day-to-day lives we lead which throw up events which mould and shape us and our thinking. But the most important way we get our minds renewed is by the Bible. Remember Acts 2v42, which said that the early church "devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer". Which came first? - Apostolic doctrine.
The Bible is the word of God
Reformed theology is based on the conviction that the Bible is inerrant and infallible:
If you disagree with the Bible, then you're wrong.
If two people disagree at least one of them is wrong. It makes no sense to talk about a "Christian point of view", either something is true or it isn't. If it's true, it's true. If it isn't, it isn't. Christians, unlike most unbelievers, have a set of absolute values, absolute truths. We believe the Bible is inspired by God and so absolutely true. Where does an unbeliever get his values from? How does he know if they are right?
Here's a definition of right and wrong - conformity or otherwise to God's will. Good ethical standards are, by definition, the Bible's ethical standards.
In Luke 6v46, Jesus asked, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I say?"
Here is the Biblical definition of sin:
1 John 3:4
The Bible is not just about "religion". It teaches us about all sorts of things. It has things to say about economics, politics, marriage, disciplining children, vegetarianism, alcohol, divorce and many other things.
As C. S. Lewis said, every generation has a set of fashionable beliefs which is different from the beliefs of the previous generation. And it follows that all generations (or all but one) has some wrong beliefs.
An important function of the church in society is to point out truth and to expose falsehood. We can only get the truth from the Bible.
At the very least, we must be careful to distinguish for ourselves the difference between what God says and what the world is currently saying. Beware any teaching in the church which reflects a teaching in the world - where did this teaching come from? Check out all teaching against the Bible, the word of God. And when you do so, be very careful that you are not selecting scriptures to back up the teaching, only that you are objectively comparing the teaching against God's standard.
Here are a few examples where we need to know if what the Bible teaches us is different from what the world tends to teach us:
What does the Bible say about about racism, sexism, heightism, sizism, political correctness, assertiveness, capitalism, socialism, liberalism, criminal justice, warfare ... ? We should care about such things. Have a view. But make sure it's the same as the biblical view. "If it's in the Bible, it's true".
4. Implications for us
Choosing to accept the scripture can be very difficult for new Christians. The Bible contains much that will be new and, probably, much that the new Christian will not like. But if it's the word of God, who are we to argue with it?
But what concerns me more is that some people in my church, and perhaps in yours, have been saved - have been Christians - for many years. We've got most of the more embarrassing sins dealt with, we've taken on board a lot of teaching and we've got active, to some degree, in church life and ministry. But have we stopped changing?
Have we settled for the doctrine we are used to? - for the level of repentance we have managed, for the life we've been living now for 10, 20 or 30 years? If so, we are no longer "being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another". We've stopped having our minds changed and so we are no longer being "transformed by the renewing of our mind".
Imagine how Nicodemus the Pharisee felt when Jesus said in John 3v10: "You are Israel's teacher and do you not understand these things?".
Or how would we feel if we applied to ourselves the words of Hebrews 5v11-14:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Matthew 5v3 says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" because they are humble enough to cope when God tells them to change. But have we ceased to be poor in spirit? Do we think (or act as if) we know it all. Test yourself. Suppose someone stood here and challenged your ideas about end time prophesy, or women in the church, or anything else. Is your natural inclination to dismiss it as wrong simply because it's not what you have thought for 20 years? Or do you go back to the Bible and check it out.
Here are some examples: Christians sometimes disagree about spiritual gifts, church government, the second coming, lots of things. Some Christians believe that all women should wear hats in church. I don't. I just don't know if they should or not. But what if we looked into the scriptures again and found that this was true? I do know a lot of women who would really hate it. I'm sure that there is at least something in the Bible that, when I find it, I'm going to really hate it. But then I have a choice, do I obey the word of God or do I rebel against Him. That really is the choice. And I'm sure there are things that you will really hate as well. That's when we find out if we truly love God or not.
The most important reason this test matters is this: If you would easily dismiss teaching that is new to you, then maybe, when you read the Bible, you bleep over the bits that don't fit into your thinking. If so, your Bible study is merely reinforcing your current ideas, not transforming you by the renewing of your mind.
Bible reading is supposed to be uncomfortable, at least from time to time. Unless you know it all and have completely taken on God's view of everything (and you haven't), the Bible will sometimes say something you don't currently believe. You then have a choice. Accepting God's revealed will can be very hard, especially if you've been a Christian for many years and are set in your ways (or your rut). Even more if you're a teacher and now you're going to have to tell people you were wrong. Only the poor in spirit, only the meek, can achieve this. On the other hand, not accepting what the Bible is saying to you is rebellion against God. Isn't it? At the very least, it stops you being transformed by the renewing of your mind. In addition, it means you are sinning against God.
If we want to be like Jesus, then we must be humble when we read the Bible. You can only read the Bible in one of two ways; you can sit over the Bible or you can sit under it. As we submit to the Bible, God transforms us from one degree of glory into another.
There are 4 ways of responding to the Bible:
The parable of the man who built his house upon the rock is in Matthew 7, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. This parable doesn't say a wise man is a man who responds to a gospel message and starts calling himself a Christian. Jesus said "everyone who hears these words of mine and puts then into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock... but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand".