Growing the New Life -Part 2

When we have been born again, we enter the kingdom of God with a new nature planted inside each of us. Although we are in the kingdom of God, there are still many worldly attitudes, practices and values residing in us. They continue to be part and parcel of our personality and lifestyle. These worldly attributes hinder our new nature from bearing fruit. These worldly attributes are like the thorns and thistles that choke our new nature making us unfruitful (cf. Mat 13:22). How do we remove these worldly attributes?

 

Take off the Your Old Man

In Ephesians 4:17, Paul exhorted believers not to walk “as the Gentiles do”. Many believers either consciously or unconsciously or unwittingly live like the Gentiles, which is a reference to unbelievers. These believers exhibit the same worldly attitudes, practices and values of unbelievers. The root reason for living like unbelievers is because believers are thinking like unbelievers (4:17-19).

There are two broad ways in which believers live like unbelievers. The first way is recognized as evil by most believers. Despite agreeing with Scripture, believers still live with envy, jealousy, unforgiveness, fit of rage, dissensions, quarrels, rivalries, hatred and many more (Eph 4:31; 5:3-5; Gal 5:19-21). Believers live in this way because they still thinking like unbelievers (cf. Jam 4:1-3; Col 3:2, 5).

The second is recognized as good or neutral by most believers. These could be socio-cultural practices, economical approaches, commercial processes, manufacturing systems, medical procedures, educational system, sport and art techniques, political and military modus operandi, counselling techniques, and many others. While they are not necessary incompatible to God’s teaching, these practices, approaches, processes, procedure, system, techniques, modus operandi and many worldly methodologies are nevertheless embedded with worldly attitudes, practices and values. These methodologies seek to give human beings command and control over other human beings to achieve the objectives of those in control. There is no need for God. When we adopt these methodologies unthinkingly and apply wholesale into the Church, we are thinking like unbelievers.

Paul called these worldly attitudes, practices and values as the old man inside. These are our “former manner of life” (4:22). He exhorts believers to take off our former manner of life. In his examples, he assumes that believers are able to put away falsehood, to control their anger, to stop stealing, to stop corrupting talk from coming out of their mouth and to let go of “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” and “all malice” (Eph 4:25-31).

While Paul’s examples are not exhaustive, it is important to note that believers are able to take off their old man. The problem with many believers is that they do not recognize their old man inside them. They do not recognize that their thinking is mixed with worldly paradigms belonging to old man. Thus, Paul exhorts them to seek a change their thinking.

 

Be Renewed

In Ephesians 4:23, Paul exhorts the believers to seek the renewal of their mind. The exhortation is not that the believers renew their mind but that they allow their mind to be renewed. The phrase “in the spirit of your minds” is not a reference to the Holy Spirit. It is a reference to the inner person inside our minds.[1] This implies that the renewal is to take place within believers’ inner being where the “pattern, motivation and direction” of their thinking is located.[2] Although God is not mentioned, it is assumed that the Spirit of God is doing the renewal inside the person (cf. Eph 1:17; 3:16).

While God is doing the renewing, it would help us to better cooperate with God if we understand how our unrenewed minds work. Before we were made alive by God, we were “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). As unbelievers, what influenced our thinking behind all our decisions?

 

 

 

First Two Sources of Influence

In Ephesians 2:2-3, Paul describes three sources of influence that contribute to unbelievers’ thinking behind all their decisions. The first is worldliness, which is “the course of this world”. James describes this influence as “friendship with the world” (4:4). When we were dead, it was natural to adopt the thinking pattern, motivation and direction of the world. After God made us alive, this friendships with the world remains in us. Thus, many believers continue to live in a worldly manner (Jam 4:1-4).

The second is demonic source, which is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2b). James describes this source as “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom. It produces jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder and all kind of vile practices (cf. Jam 3:15-16). When we were spiritually dead, the influence of Satan was unnoticeable. We thought that our decisions are normal.

After God made us alive, the demonic influence continues insidiously in our thinking unless we have learned to identify them. Many believers are unaware of this demonic influence, which is reflected in their earthly and unspiritual attitudes, motivations, practices and values.

The above two sources are from outside a person. These two sources cannot be stopped because the world continues to rotate, and Satan continues to roam the world looking for someone to devour (cf. 1Pe 5:8). The only option is to learn to identify and resist the influence coming from these two sources.

 

Third Source of Influence

Before we could do this, we need to understand a third source of influence that contribute to unbelievers’ thinking behind all their decisions. The third is human autonomous willpower, which consists of “the desires (will) of the body and the mind” (cf. Eph 23). ESV uses the word “desire” to translate the Greek word, thelema, which means “will”. This Greek word is also used as a reference to the will of God (cf. Mat 6:10; 7:21).

It is the will of the body (flesh) and the will of the mind that produces “the passions of our flesh” (Eph 2:3). ESV uses the word “passions” to translate the Greek word, epithumia, which means “desire, longing, or craving” (BAGD). Before God made us alive, as unbelievers we would live our lives according to our passions (desires).

The sources of unbelievers’ passions (desires) are stirred up by the will of their bodies and the will of their minds. Unbelievers would rely on their mind to decide what they would do. Their minds would rationally will what they should do. This implies that all rational decisions are the will of mind, which produces part of unbelievers’ passions (desires). Thus, unbelievers live according to the will of their mind.

Beside rational decisions, unbelievers’ body would decide what they would do. The urges of the body, for example such as hunger, thirsty, fear and worry, would dictate their actions. These non-rational decisions are the will of the body, which produces the rest of their passions.

After God made us alive, many believers continue to live according to the will of the mind (rational decisions) and the will of the body (non-rational decisions). Many unwittingly do not submit to the will of God instead they submit themselves to the will of their minds and the will of their bodies. Instead of seeking the will of God, they rely on rational decisions or react with non-rational decisions in all situations. As a result, many believers are living autonomously, not submitted to God’s will.

This third source of influences that contribute to our thinking behind all our decisions is inside us. If we want to resist the influences of worldliness and Satan, we need to stop living according to the wills of the mind and body. The influences of worldliness and Satan will continue to tempt us if we continue to live according to the wills of our minds and bodies. How do we stop living according to the wills of the mind and body?

 

Two Illustrations

We will look at two passages to illustrate how we can stop living according to the will of the mind and body. The first passage is Proverbs 3:5-6. The author exhorts us to trust in the LORD with all our heart. To trust, we must not lean on our own understanding. NRS translates understanding as insight. NKJ translates it as perception. All these words are related to thinking. Thus, to trust the LORD begins with a determination that we do not rely on our own insights.

This does not mean we do not think. What is important is that we do not act according to the rational decisions of the mind but according to what the LORD wills for us, which may or may be in line with our understanding. Thus, we are to acknowledge God.

In practice, this would mean we need to pray through the whole process of seeking what the LORD wants. One way to acknowledge God is to prayerfully discuss with him your insight or perspective. Another approach is to ask him to give you more insights. Third, we are to ask the LORD to choose for us. There are many things that we could do to acknowledge God throughout the whole process.

The second passage is the temptation of Jesus (cf. Mat 4:1-11). It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the full significance of the temptations. This article will highlight two points relevant to our discussion.

When Jesus has fasted for forty days and was hungry, Satan tempted him to turn a stone into bread (cf. Mat 4:1-4). It is natural that the will of the body is to eat when hungry. Instead, Jesus replied that human beings will not live by bread alone. Jesus shows that the will of body (non-rational) must be submitted to God’s will revealed in Scripture. All-natural urges of our bodies must be submitted to God’s will. Jesus refused to turn the stone into bread because it is more important to obey God’s will for this season of his life than the will of his human body. Therefore, beside trusting the LORD, believers are to deliberately submit even the will of their bodies to God’s will.

The second point to note is that Jesus came to do God’s will, which is to save the whole world (cf. Mat 4:8-10). When Satan offers him a cost-effective way to do it, rationally it makes sense to save the world at the least possible cost. The will of the mind will say that this is a logical thing to do. If the will of mind is the autonomous decision maker, then the right thing to do is to bow and worship the devil. Instead, Jesus appeals to the will of God, which is to worship only the Lord your God and serve him only.

These two passages show that the will of God must override the will of the body and the will of mind. The way to override is not to stop thinking or to stop eating but to seek what the Lord wants us to do. It would mean discussing with him (praying over) what we are thinking and seeking confirmation from him whether to proceed or not to proceed with what we are thinking. It means to focus on doing the revealed will of God for our lives (cf. Col 3:1-3). If we do not do this, then we are allowing the old man in us to continue to dictate how we live our lives. This will hinder the new man in us from growing up into the likeness of God (cf. Eph 4:24).

 

[1] Frank Thielman, Ephesians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 305. It is a difficult phrase to interpreted. Many scholars argued against the option that this refers to the Holy Spirit. They argued that Paul was referring to the inner person within the human being. Read also 1st Corinthians 2:11 for a similar grammatical construction.

[2] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 330.

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