The Mind of Christ

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I started reading Faith Speaking Understanding, which is the latest book by distinguished theologian Kevin VanHoozer. I’m not even finished with chapter two yet, but already he has captured my attention and challenged me with his thesis.

As he begins, VanHoozer explains one of his concerns with the church in the twenty-first century:

“I am more concerned with the latter half of the Great Commission: with making disciples not in the sense of converting them to Christ but rather in the sense of cultivating in them the mind of Christ, ‘teaching them to observe’ the supreme authority of Christ in every situation (Matt. 28:20).” (p. 3)

That has been an apprehension of mine for years. I see too many churches today more concerned with the number of decisions made for Christ – “converts” – and not nearly enough concern with raising these new-born Christians in the ways of faith – “cultivating in them the mind of Christ”. Another way to say this, sadly it seems more churches are concerned with decisions than the development of those who have made decisions! I love how scholar and theologian Dallas Willard in his classic book The Divine Conspiracy expressed this:

“The current gospel [as it is preached in many churches today] then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message. “

Consequently what you’re left with is a message that stresses the need for Jesus at the new birth, and death, and that’s it! Supposedly Jesus has no relevance to your life until you die! With this kind of message preached, is it any wonder so many Christians are living such powerless, unfulfilled lives?

But as you and I know, this is not the complete Gospel, and I unequivocally support VanHoozer and his call that discipleship is not just about getting decisions, but cultivating in new disciples the mind of Christ. That statement the “mind of Christ” prodded me to look at the Scriptures and there I was reminded of the command to have the “mind of Christ.” Here’s a sampling of what I found:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, . . .” (Philippians 4:5 KJV)

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16 NASB)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, . . .” (Romans 12:2 NASB)

From these passages and others, here are some encouragements to embolden Christians seeking to cultivate the “mind of Christ” in their lives:

  • Christianity is not a collection of dos and don’ts but learning to think rightly.

So much could be said about the Law and its importance and relationship to the Gospel, but for now, never forget that the Law cannot make anybody righteous before God, but it can point to the right course of action. It is wrong of us to stress to new believers the necessity of obedience to the Law without first stressing the need to obey our Savior daily! Emphasizing the latter will in turn bring about the former.

  • Your mind will be either “conformed” to the world’s standards, or be “transformed” by being renewed by the Spirit as you study and meditate on the Word of God.

This pivotal truth is from Romans 12:1-2, which is so rich with meaning and significance! For our present purposes, it is a good reminder that we are either squeezed and pressured from the outside culture to become like it, or we are changed from the inside – “constantly, daily renewing our mind” by the power of the Spirit. Either one or the other will happen; it’s up to us and the mind has a key role.

  • To have the “mind of Christ” is a partnership with the Spirit that requires work on our part!

While we are saved by Christ in an instance, a disciple becomes Christ-like over a lifetime. A multitude of verses stress our role as we become more like Christ. Two key verses demonstrate this:

2 Peter 1:5-10: Verse 5 especially states we are to “make every effort to lavishly provide to your faith at your expense . . .” seven characteristics and traits, which are to be increasing and growing!

Philippians 2:12-13: We must “work out and accomplish our faith” yet remember that also “God is working in you” This is both a beautiful promise, but also a responsibility that shouldn’t be shunned or neglected.

So VanHoozer is to be commended for his plea warning the Church to stop fixating on making converts, and to strive at cultivating the “mind of Christ” in new believers. To quote Willard again regarding the Great Commission and having the mind of Christ: “Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”

Is there a better description of the “mind of Christ” and of understanding its importance?

RA

You Said It!

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For years now, I’ve kept a research journal. As I work on different projects and do research, occasionally, I’ll come across a quote that has nothing to do with the current project I’m working on, but it’s a great quote that inspired me.

Here are a few excerpts from my research journal that I’d like to share with you. I hope they inspire you as they have me.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Edmund Hillary

I love this quote from Edmund Hillary, who along with his Sherpa climbing partner Tenzing Norgay, in May of 1953, became the first people ever to climb to the top of Mount Everest.

I have always been fascinated with Mount Everest. It is the highest point on earth, with the summit being 29,028 feet above sea level. And yet, people have been climbing, or attempting to climb Mount Everest for years. Just think about that! At its summit, there is 66% less oxygen to breath, and, if that alone doesn’t tell you how gargantuan that mountain is, remember that jet planes typically fly between 30,000 and 35,000 feet! Yet, every year, people pay up to $100,000 and more to climb it.

How do they do that? How did Edmund Hillary do that? Technically, as Hillary explains it, he didn’t conquer the mountain, but he had to conquer himself: the physical pain, mental battles, the fears and doubts, and many other self-imposed obstacles.

It reminds me of Romans 8:37 and that startling, though often misunderstood verse:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (NIV)

Honestly, I’ve yet to find a good English translation of this verse because of that phrase “more than conquerors”. In the original Greek, it’s just one verb deriving from a word that means “exceeding victory”. Have you ever bought a pair of Nike shoes? Well, the Greek word nike is used here, just with a prefix attached to it in order to intensify its meaning. So what this verse is undeniably teaching is that followers of Jesus are “incredibly victorious”, or “super-conquerors”. 

Really? You and I are “incredibly victorious” or “super-conquerors”? Yes! But here’s the key, and what I appreciate about Hillary’s quote. We are “incredibly victorious” not because we will it, or because we try hard, or because we’re just lucky. We can overcome mountains because “through him” we can be “incredibly victorious”: in other words, it’s the power of Jesus, his strength, his ability, and the fortitude of the One inside of us by the power of his Spirit that enables us to conquer whatever challenge lies before us.

I think the best translation of this passage I’ve seen to date is the New Living Translation:

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (NLT)

So, what mountain are you climbing? Do you realize the obstacle is not the mountain?

“Those who stop believing in God do not then believe in nothing, they will believe in anything.”                                                                                  G.K. Chesterton

This famous saying from the English author and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton is profound in what it reminds me of – everyone believes in something! Oftentimes I hear people say, “I don’t believe in God; as a matter of fact, I don’t believe in anything.” That’s just not a true or precise statement.

Here’s why. There are two incontrovertible truths regarding humanity: we love, and we worship. It’s been said many different ways – we crave relationships and meaning, community and wonder, the immanent and the transcendent – but they all point to the same reality: we were created for each other, and our Creator. Yet, we’ve messed that up, and instead of honoring God and respecting him, we’ve replaced him. Observe carefully that previous choice of words – we don’t just reject God, and believe in nothing or no one: we replace God. That’s why Calvin could accurately describe the human heart as an efficient idol-making factory.

The prophet Jeremiah reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of such a course of action. The horror of our sin is not that we just reject God, but we put something in his place. Notice the analogy Jeremiah used to express this:

“For my people have done two evil things:

They have abandoned me—

    the fountain of living water.

And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns 

that can hold no water at all! (NLT)

Fresh, nourishing, life-bearing water is offered, but instead we choose to get our own water, and seek to be satisfied with the dirty, stinky, infected, harmful water-like substance, that is also in limited supply! Why do we do it? We have to believe in something. We have to love something. We have to dedicate our lives to something, even if it’s broken, putrid and worthless.

What do you believe in?

“The bottom line is that we [Christians] have been called by God to be the church, not simply to go to church.” George Barna

Will you join me in making a promise? Let’s change our vocabulary; instead of saying this weekend “I’m going to church”, let’s start speaking more accurately and biblically.

We can start speaking more accurately by saying, “I’m going to New Hope Community in such-in-such a city”, or “I’m going to First Baptist” in wherever you live, but we must stop treating the word ‘church’ as a thing.

In the entire New Testament, the word church never refers to a brick and mortar building like what we mistakenly call a church today. The closest you come to it in the New Testament are passages like Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 where Paul says to “greet also the church in their house” or “Aquila and Priscilla greet you . . . together with the church in their house”. At the most, the word ‘church’ could refer to a home where Christians gathered, but even then, as the two Pauline passages demonstrate, the term still refers to the people gathered in that house.

Biblically we can start speaking better by embodying this truth: if you are a Christian, you are the church! And the more pressing task before us is not to find time in our busy schedules to go to church, though it is important and commanded for us to gather with local Christians on a weekly basis and fulfill the functions of the church (Hebrews 10:25), but the preeminent issue is to daily exhibit the presence of God in our lives. I love this impactful quote from Mark Dever that summarizes this beautifully:

“The Christian proclamation [the sermon] might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.”

Consequently, let’s stop telling people where we’re going this weekend. Instead, let’s just be the visible church today, wherever we are.

RA