Changing Your Mind
Series: What’s On Your Mind?
Sermon: Changing Your Mind
Scripture: Romans 12:2
In Jeremiah 13:23 God asked a question of the people of Israel. He asked, “Can a leopard change his spots?” It wasn’t a riddle, it was a question meant to spur their thinking about change.
Here's a question many people wrestle with: Can a person change? I'm talking genuine, honest-to-goodness change from the inside out. From insecure to secure. From lazy to industrious. From dishonest to honest. From perpetually angry to consistently peaceful. From pessimistic to optimistic. From selfish to generous. Can a person really change? Well, can a leopard change his spots?
God’s answer to Israel was, “Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Does God not believe that people can change? Sure He does. But the leopard can’t change his spots by himself.
Change can happen, but radical change doesn't happen by sheer strength of will. Most people are so trapped in their habits and behaviors that they begin each day chained to yesterday, doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again. It doesn't have to be this way, but it is—because change does not come easily. It takes three things to experience lasting change, and most people aren't willing to invest in these three areas.
• Change takes time.
• Change takes effort.
• Change takes strategy.
Change takes time, but we would rather be changed instantly. Most of us want to be different in some area of our lives, but we want to be different now, not later. Most of us who are flabby want to be physically fit, but we don't want to wait the 6 months it takes to get in shape. Most people who are in debt want to be out of debt today. And most of us who are impatient want to be patient, and we want it RIGHT NOW!
Change takes effort, but too often we would rather that change be imposed on us. We don't want to have to make the tough choices required for change; we would rather have those choices made for us.
For many years I had simply let my walking regiment slide. Day after day I would push it further and further to the back of my to-do list. Then the doctor told me that I needed to either start walking 30 minutes a day or my blood pressure, blood sugars and other problems would make my life worse than the 30 minute walk.
Most of us don’t do what we need to do unless we are forced to do it. Change takes effort. It requires making decisions that we don't want to make. It requires saying "no" when we want to say "yes"...and saying "yes" when we would rather say "no." People don't change because change takes effort.
Let me ask you a question. If there were a "Christian" pill that had the ability to change you into a kind and generous and thoughtful and loving and courageous Christian, would you take it? Most of us would, because most of us really want to be good. The reason we're not as good as we should be, or as good as we could be, is because change isn't as easy as taking a pill—it takes effort.
Also, change takes a strategy. I don’t know about you, but every time I mention to someone that I’m ready to lose some weight, or get in shape, I get a dozen different recommendations of different diets, and exercise regimens that they’ve heard are the newest and bestest. By the time I’ve tried to figure out which one I want to use I’m out of the mood and ready for some ice cream on the couch. My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t feel the need to find the newest and bestest, she just picks one and sticks to it and loses 30 pounds. I haven’t lost anything.
Change takes time, effort and strategy, and because of this, change doesn't happen easily and it doesn't happen often. But the Christian life is all about change. It's all about transformation. God's plan is not just to save us from eternal punishment, his plan is to change us, transform us, from the sinful creatures that we are into the image of his Son. He wants Christ to be formed in us; he wants us to be like Jesus. It doesn't happen in an instant—it takes time. It isn't imposed on us—it requires effort on our part. And, most of all, it takes an effective strategy. That's what we'll talk about today: one key component to the Biblical strategy for change is found in Romans 12:2.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
Paul is saying, "If you want to change, renew your mind. Think new thoughts."
The first challenge is in not conforming to the pattern of this world—to stop thinking like the world thinks. How does the world think? Well, for starters, it says that this world is all there is, that our material, physical existence is all we can expect. It says that the world is a bad place and that is getting worse. It says that the hope of our future is dependent upon our economic prosperity and our political situation. The world says that the definition of right and wrong changes not only from age to age, but from region to region. What was wrong in one place and time could be right in another place and time. The world says that everything revolves around you, and that your job is to look out for your own interests above everyone else's. I could go on and on.
We must learn to discern. We must identify worldly thinking...to discern between how the world teaches us to think and how God teaches us to think. Here's a test. If a line of thought leads to hopelessness and despair, is that thought from God? If a line of thought leads to a greater understanding of the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, power, holiness, and majesty of God, is that thought from God?
Paul says, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This is how you change.
I’m not talking about the Power of Positive Thinking. Norman Vincent Peale used to say, "Change your thoughts and you can change your world,” but the problem is that it sounds so much easier than it actually is. It's not easy. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes strategy.
If you want to experience true transformation, you must learn to renew your mind according to the principles of God. And you must understand that this will take time, this will take effort, and this will take planning on your part—a strategy.
I've heard people say, "I've tried that positive thinking nonsense and it didn't work." Now, I want to make it clear. I am not talking about positive thinking. I am talking about renewing your mind through biblical thinking. I also want to make it clear that this is not something you try for a couple of days. It's not a magic trick that makes your problems go away. It's a process of experiencing total and complete transformation, and it doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. And neither does it happen easily. It takes effort. And neither does it happen just by chance. It takes a strategy.
Let's spend the next few minutes talking about this strategy. Paul said, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." If you want to experience change, you need to train yourself to think a new way. When you catch yourself beginning to think the old way, you need to make a conscious decision to think a new way. Today we'll look at four areas you might need to focus on. First of all...
1. Think spiritual thoughts, not material.
There is a difference between being moral and being spiritual. We want to be moral, but there is more to the Christian life than just obeying the rules. There is more to the Christian life than just living by the Ten Commandments. There is a world out there that cannot be seen, with the human eye. It's a spiritual world, and the Christian life consists primarily of our spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. Though the practical application of this relationship can be seen in our actions, the source of the relationship is spiritual.
That means we need to stop listening to the messages of the world. If the message in the music is filled with immoral, material message—turn it off. If the message in the movie is filled with and immoral, worldly message—don’t watch it. Turn off the power to whatever feeds the unspiritual thoughts in your mind.
I am saying that you need to begin to see your life as a spiritual event. You need to recognize that the source for joy, peace, happiness, strength, and everything else that you need is found in a relationship with God—not in success, money, marriage, recreation, or anything else.
We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12)
Life is a spiritual event. Think this way.
2. Think positive thoughts, not negative.
I said just a moment ago that this message isn't about positive thinking, it's about biblical thinking. Though not all positive thinking is biblical, all biblical thinking is positive. Why? Because when God is involved the outcome is always good. Even if the process is painful, even if you have to endure a time of trial, the ultimate outcome is always good. If your thoughts are full of hopelessness and despair, you're not thinking biblically. If you're always thinking about how bad the economy is, how desperate our world situation is, how doomed we all are...you're not getting these ideas from the Bible. Read the rest of the story. Read the back of the book. God wins.
I’ll be honest with you: this is one of the most difficult areas in my life. By nature I am a negative person. I could blame bad genes, or bad siblings, or any number of things, but it’s nobody’s fault but my own. And I struggle with this every single day of my life. It’s not that I don’t trust God, it’s not that I don’t believe that God is in charge, it’s just simply the way my mind has been wired. I have to make a conscious effort to think positive thoughts, otherwise I can be consumed with negative thinking.
I have to limit the amount of time I spend listening or watching the news, because it only feeds the negative beast within me.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable —if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
For those of you who dismiss positive thinking as nothing more than fluff, pay close attention. We have a biblical command to think about good, uplifting, positive things. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "Think about negative stuff. If anything is bad, corrupt, miserable, hopeless, and futile, think about it." It doesn't say that, because that kind of thinking will not improve your life. You have to make a conscious choice to think good thoughts.
Instead of thinking about what a wretched and rotten sinner you are, think about the overwhelming abundance of God's grace that is available to you. Think about his forgiveness that will separate your sin as far as the east is from the west. Think about his promise to change you into the likeness of his son, Jesus Christ. Instead of thinking about how miserable your job is and what a tyrant your boss is, make a conscious effort to think about the good things that you are accomplishing at work, think about the benefits that your job offers you, think about the blessing that God has given you in this opportunity. The Bible never tells us to think about negative things, but it does tell us specifically to think about positive things. When you make an effort to think (and remember, it takes effort) God is pleased.
3. Think hope, not despair.
The Bible talks a lot about hope. Hope is the assurance that everything will be OK. Paul wrote...
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)
This verse gives us permission to live our lives with hope. No matter what happens, if you will stay connected to God then you will not be disappointed.
The simple truth is that we don't understand why everything happens. And, in many cases, we don't see any reason for hope. It comes down to a matter of trust. Do you believe that God is in control? If he is in control, then you have every reason to be hopeful; ultimately he will make things right. Think hope, not despair.
4. Think eternity, not temporary.
Peter said that we are to live in this world as aliens and strangers. [1 Peter 2:11] Paul wrote...
Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)
We need to remember that we are here only for a little while, and this is not the world that we were created for.
How many of you have ever had someone say to you (probably a parent or a teacher) "In 25 years, will it still matter?" It’s a good question isn’t it? I think there’s a better question—“In the light of eternity, will this make a difference?" We need to try to fill our days with activities to which the answer would be "Yes, this will still be important in eternity."
Changing our minds isn't easy, because thinking isn't nearly as easy as it looks. Henry Ford said, "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it."
Most of us allow our thoughts to be carried along by the whim of our emotions. Or we let our circumstances dictate the way we think. However, if you want to experience lasting change, you've got to take control of your thoughts. Instead of conforming your thoughts to the world around you, understand the will of God. When you're tempted to think materialistically, think spiritually instead. When you're tempted to think negatively, make the effort to think positive. When you're tempted to give in to thoughts of despair, take a bold step and think thoughts of hope. When you're tempted to think only about this life on earth, learn to think with an eternal perspective.
James Allen said, "You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you." If you want to experience change, you've got to change the way you think. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. You have the strategy. If you will take the time and make the effort, you can experience transformation.