“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4: 20-24)
The verses that follow (Eph 4: 25- Eph 5:5) give the Ephesian church – and the rest of us – a blueprint of what “true righteousness and holiness” look like as we walk in love as children of light and imitators of God. So we read them, maybe underline them in our Bibles; we pray over them, we memorize them and write them down – and yet we find that the old man is stubbornly clinging on like an unshakeable shadow. “O wretched man that I am,” we cry, quoting Romans seven, and maybe go back to our Bibles and our worship, feeling weak and defeated in our personal walk but thanking Jesus for His saving love. But we will have missed a key, though: like changing the points on a railway line, there is a course of action from which all those attributes of godliness can flow, and it’s that little one-liner that makes up verse 23: “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” If we can really grasp verse 23, the rest of the verses will follow.
The Blue Letter Bible lexicon defines the word spirit (Greek pneuma) as it is used here as “the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any body.” Paul’s exhortation is quite uncomplicated: instead of letting the “old man” influence our thinking, we allow our minds to be filled and governed by the “new man.” To move the language away from first century male-dominated culture and into the twenty-first, I am going to use the term “new creation” from now on where Paul uses “new man.” The new creation is born of the Spirit, and, just as Adam and Eve before the fall, is made in the image of God. Since God is Love and He is light (1 John 1:5), the disposition of the new creation is always towards love and light. The new creation is a spirit being and has to walk in the light, and will always pursue love: not to do so is not to walk in the spirit. To be renewed in the spirit of our mind is to let our thinking be controlled by the desire to love.
We can get up at 5.00 am and spend three hours in prayer and worship to God, but if at 8.05 our words to the person next to us are negative and unloving, the spirit of our mind has not been renewed by the previous three hours spiritual activity. If we have not love, we are nothing. Jesus hasn’t called us to spend three hours with Him in Heaven and not to bring Heaven with us when we come back to Earth. He taught us to pray “You will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” and the Father’s will is always going to be to show His love. In all our communication and all our interactions, this has to be our priority. It is only the thinking of the renewed mind that is in line with the loving purposes of God, which is what Romans 12:2 makes clear: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Taking the steps
So how do we take the steps to walk in this direction? A few people are called to spend most of their time in prayer and public ministry, but for most of us the majority of our Christian life is spent with the relatively small number of people with whom we live and work. We work out our salvation in the close relationships of our daily lives. Our interactions may involve works of service and may involve prayer ministry, but most of all they are the words we exchange concerning the issues that affect us. These are the conversations that either build us up or break us up. We can either tend towards Ephesians 4: 14 “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ;” or Galatians 5: 15 “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another.” It all depends on whether or not we are renewed in the spirit of our minds.
A key to the renewed mind is in the well-known phrase “speaking the truth in love.” There are two aspects to every conversation: the content, and the relationship. The way of the world – that Romans 12:2 says we are not to conform ourselves to – is to “tell it like it is”, to “have our say,” to “tell them straight,” etc., or at a corporate and governmental level to “have talks.” But the purpose is always the same: it isn’t to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” but for me to prove to you that it’s my will that is good and acceptable, and that you should comply with it. The discussion is about the content; relationship is secondary. If “talks have broken down,” at whatever level, so too has the relationship.
The Kingdom way is the opposite. Relationship comes first. It’s love that endures forever. If we are keeping in mind the law of Love we prefer one another (Romans 12:10); we submit to one another (Eph. 5:21); and through love we serve one another (1 John 4:7). Every conversation is an opportunity to allow the love of God to flow into a situation. Speaking the truth in love starts with considering what the other person wants from the conversation. This is what causes the body to grow “into Him who is the Head, Christ.” (Eph 4:15) “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies,” writes Paul (1 Cor 8:1), and to the Ephesians he writes “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph 4:29) Corrupt words come from the old creation, which “grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Words that impart grace are what edify, and have their origin in the new creation, “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
Changing the Points
According to these scriptures, then, the purpose of everything we say should be to build up the other person and “impart grace” to them, releasing something of the love of God into their life. Every time we do this, prioritizing relationship over content, we establish our minds in the new creation rather than the old. Bob Dylan released the Christian album “Slow Train Coming’” in 1979. In one of the tracks he sings: “I’m gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules.” When we change our way of thinking, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind; and when we renew our minds, as Romans 12:2 says, we start to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We do literally change the points, because the purpose of my words is no longer for you to get my point, but for me to get yours. And once we have let go of our own agenda, it is a small step for me to move from trying to consider your agenda to actually being open to hearing God’s agenda for you, and to catch something of His perfect will for your life.
So if we want to impact the lives of others with the truth and the power of God, we start by seeing every conversation as an opportunity to love instead of an opportunity to make our point. And when we do this, we will be built up in our own lives too, because as we give, it shall be given unto us (Luke 6:38). As Atticus said to Scout in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Jesus climbed into our skin, walked around in it and was crucified in it so that we could be renewed in the spirit of our mind and live, speak and act out of the new creation, rather than out of the old one that was crucified with Him. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)
It is because the Son of God did this for us that we can to put off all the corruption and self-centredness of the flesh, and put on the new creation that has been born of the Spirit of God. We do this every time we make the decision to love. The more we do it, the stronger the new creation becomes, and the fainter the shadow of the old. This is what I think is meant by the idea of being “established” in God that we find, for example, in 1 Thess 3:13, 1 Pe 5:10, and Romans 16:25. The more we make it our habit to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, the more the new creation will walk in the love and the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing blessing to others, manifesting the character of Christ in the fruit of the Spirit, and building the Kingdom of God at every step. Who knows what miracles will flow, when we are open to God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will” for the person that we are talking to?”