I’m growing—particularly around my gut.
As I get older, I find myself fantasizing about coming up with a plan to return to my 18-year-old body, back when I felt no need to think about what or how much I ate. And it was more pleasant to look at, too. Of course, that has remained merely a dream. For me to get back even to what I weighed when I was a high-school student would take some major changes in my habits and lifestyle and perhaps my DNA. The problem is, I would like the fruit of the change, but I don’t want to—at least not badly enough—make the necessary changes.
This dilemma stretches into my spiritual life as well. The more I learn about the behaviors and attitudes that draw me away from God (see posts on the 7 Deadly Sins: Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth), the more I like the idea of being rid of them. Afterall, life for a Jesus follower—or anyone, for that matter—is better without habitual sin (read my post on the “problem”). But, how to begin to make those changes? That’s a trick, if I truly want to learn it, that can be applied to every part of my life.
Changing Our Minds
It’s actually not a trick. It’s described in the Bible with a mundane word that is not in fashion too much today. Repent. It literally means to “think again,” or “to change the way one thinks.” It’s sprinkled all throughout the scriptures. And it’s usually associated with the process of dealing with sin in a person’s, or group of people’s, life (Ezekiel 18:30; Acts 2:37-38). Jesus used this word when He began His ministry. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). What was He intending the listeners to do? Well . . . to change their thinking patterns, particularly their ideas about the Kingdom of God and what His expectations were for them.
The Jews of Jesus’ day had a very specific idea of what the Kingdom of God and its messiah were to look like. A little more than two-hundred years before, a Jewish man named Judas Maccabaeus along with his brothers had led a rebellion that defeated the mighty Seleucid Greek army—a truly divine miracle just like in the days of Joshua. For the next 160 years, an independent Jewish dynasty governed Israel until the Romans took power. Stories of that period with no foreign rule would have been what shaped the thoughts and imaginations of what the “Kingdom of God” would look like among the Jews. Jesus said, however, your old thought patterns aren’t going to work. If you really want what God has for you, you’re going to have to change the way you’re thinking. You must make adjustments to see things differently in order to behave differently—repent!
Our thoughts are the beginning point for much of our behavior. This is important to reflect on because popular culture would have us believe that it’s our feelings that must determine what we do and who we are. But we really do not have direct control over what we feel. And in this my-feelings-are-king paradigm, we are stuck as victims to every emotion and sensation our body and soul experience. But the truth is, feelings largely reflect what our minds have been trained to dwell on and what we have chosen to believe as the grid for reality. Changing our thought patterns, therefore, can begin the process of getting ourselves unstuck and experiencing real change. Like so much in following Jesus this involves changing how we make choices.
The Bible provides guidance
The first step is to choose to agree with God. Yes, I decide in my heart whether I’m going to submit to what He says or not. It takes a lot of humility to admit I have been disagreeing with Him but am now going to align myself with what He says. The word for this is confess. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). In other words, if we sincerely agree with God that our actions, attitudes or direction in life are outside of what He has designed us for, and we decide we want what He wants, our sins get forgiven. We are even promised a spiritual bath as we are cleansed from the unrighteousness of our sinful behavior.
But to change our thinking about our sin, we must go beyond just agreeing with God. We must then renounce it by declaring our intention with our words and actions to be done with it and do the opposite. “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:27 NIV). “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!’” (Ezekiel 14:6 NIV).
I always imagine the act of renouncing as cutting off diseased behavior and attitudes or emotional soul ties with certain people or affiliations. I do this through my spoken declarations of turning away and committing to walk in an opposite manner. Sometimes I imagine myself literally snipping with scissors a cord that has bound and obligated me to an individual, group or certain behavior. Of course, renouncing my sin before witnesses who can hold me accountable to making changes strengthens this part even more.
A vital third piece to a repentant heart includes the follow-up actions to my renunciations. I need to act differently. I do this by choosing to restore as best as I can what my sinful actions and attitudes have abused or corrupted. This is done by doing the opposite: return what I have stolen (Luke 19:8); humble myself where I’ve been walking in pride by sincerely apologizing to those I have hurt (1 Peter 5:5-6); give to God the honor and submission that is due to Him through prayer, worship and obedience.
How Badly Do You Want to Change?
Meaningful change is possible. But it’s never accomplished with a casual attitude. How badly do you want to change? How willing are you to deny and humble yourself? How much do you hate your sin? Another way of testing where you’re at is to ask, “Is the pain of me remaining the same (for the present and for eternity) greater than the discomfort of changing?” If the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to humble yourself and repent of what you’ve been doing that is not God’s will. It will bring great relief as the way is then opened for you to draw closer to Him who loves you.
If the answer is “no, I’m not ready to change,” then things will have to get worse before they can get better. It’s your choice.