Do you want to change? Do you want to let go of that habit, sin, or burden that keeps holding you back? Do you want to have abiding peace and a heart filled with love?
I do. After years of trying, failing, trying, failing, and trying yet again, I found myself leading a Christian life of complacency, because nothing I tried worked to break the cycle of sin, negative thinking, and discouragement.
Many people face the same dilemma. They long to change and try to change but slip right back into old sin patterns which leave them resigned to a fate of mediocre faith.
During my recent study leave, I read and reread a couple of books that have helped me chart a new course. I’m moving from pleading with God and begging Him to change me to the realization that He is already guiding me to a path of transformation through training my soul by training my mind.
In John Ortberg’s book, Soul Keeping, and James Bryan Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful God, I’m learning that transformation from stagnation to health does not come through willpower alone. The will is merely our human capacity to choose. What informs our will are three elements: the mind, the body and our social context. All three are powerful resources that lead us back into our ruts of past behavior or forward into new trajectories of freedom and growth.
In Jesus’ first recorded sermon, he begins by saying, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repent, metanoia, means to change one’s mind. Jesus knew that transformation begins with the way we think. The Apostle Paul builds on this concept when he writes, “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We are to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2). We are to have the same mind in us “that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
If my body is sending impulses to my brain (hunger, thirst, fatigue, lust), or if my social context (peer pressure) is tempting me to fall back into old sin patterns, my mind will respond—and here’s the key—as it has been trained. My mind guides my will which determines my choices, and I either move toward greater oppression or greater deliverance.
Training the mind to guide the will which determines our choices takes time, discipline, and consistency. This is why some church traditions call spiritual disciplines spiritual exercises. Just as we exercise physically to transform the body, we need to exercise the mind to transform the soul and finally find . . . freedom.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith . . . for if you practice these qualities you will never fail” (2 Peter 1:5, 10 ESV).