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Deep Grace: What’s Your Mindset

 

What’s Your Mindset?

Romans 8:5-13

 

Any birdwatchers here? Where are my birdwatchers this morning? I’m a birdwatcher. I have several birdfeeders set up in our yard with several different kinds of feed, and I love the variety of birds that we get at our feeder. One thing I’ve noticed is that while some birds are at the feeders year-round, like Mourning Doves and Chickadees and Gold Finches, some are more seasonal. And their arrival signals the changing of the seasons. So when the Hummingbirds and Orioles are back, I know that summer is really, finally, almost here. There’s one bird that kind of serves as a sign of spring around here, and that’s the Robin, right? We tend to associate seeing Robins on the ground as a sign of spring. Anyone seen a Robin yet? I haven’t. Well, in England, one of the first signs of spring is the call of the cuckoo bird. The cuckoo is a common bird in England. The cuckoo never builds its own nest. When it feels an egg coming on, it finds another nest with eggs and no parent bird. The cuckoo lands, hurriedly lays its egg, and takes off again. That’s all the cuckoo does in terms of parenting. (We have a lot of cuckoos in our society today!)

 

The thrush, whose nest has now been invaded, comes back, circles, and comes into the wind to land. Not being very good at arithmetic, it can’t imagine why it immediately begins to list to starboard. It gets to work hatching the eggs. Four little thrushes and one large cuckoo eventually hatch. The cuckoo is two or three times the size of the thrushes.

 

Mrs. Thrush, having hatched the five little birds, goes off early in the morning to get the worm. She comes back, circles the nest to see four petite thrush mouths and one cavernous cuckoo mouth. Who gets the worm? The cuckoo.

 

Guess what happens. The cuckoo gets bigger and bigger; the little thrushes get smaller and smaller. To find a baby cuckoo in a nest, simply walk along a hedge row until you find little dead thrushes. The cuckoo throws them out one at a time. So here’s an adult thrush feeding a baby cuckoo that is three times as big as the thrush.

 

Like those thrush nests in England, you have two natures in one nest and the nature you go on feeding will grow, and the nature you go on starving will diminish. If there’s going to be anything resembling that which God has in mind for us, it is going to come through a perpetual recognition of the Spirit of Christ alive and at work in us.[i]

 

The question we have to ask, the question St. Paul puts before us is simply this: which nature are you feeding? Turn with me to Romans 8:5-13.

 

Paul has gone to great lengths to describe the sinful state of each one of us apart from Christ. Painstaking detail. Humiliating detail. And he sums it all up in Romans 3:23 when he says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” No matter how good we as individuals are, no matter how much good we do in the world, when the standard of good is God, we all fall short, because we’re all sinful. But then Paul gets to the good news, and it really is good news, in the next verse when he says, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The heart of the gospel is that we have been justified, made righteous, not by our own actions but by the action God took in Jesus Christ, and that we have been set free from the sin and death that ruled our lives before we began to follow Christ. But the freedom I have in Christ doesn’t mean I never sin. You see, I can choose to ignore the voice of God in my life, and at times I might even accidentally find myself knee deep in sin. It is in that sense that I am a forgiven sinner. But I am at the same time a saint because God has given me the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness has been put toward my account to cover my debt.

 

What Paul describes in Romans 8 is the new life we have in Christ, and in the verses we are looking at today, he describes two things that Christ gives us when he sets us free. The first is a new mindset. Look at Vv. 5-7. Paul describes two mindsets here. The first is the old mindset we have before we begin to follow Christ, and the other is the new mindset Christ gives us when we give our lives to him and begin to follow him.

 

Now, if there is one word that could describe our old nature, it is “rebel,” in the negative sense of the word. Not the Star Wars freedom fighting rebellion or the American revolutionary rebellion where the minority good folks are fighting the majority, the powerful evil forces. I’m talking about rebellion against legitimate authority. Rebellion against God. The rebellious mindset refuses to acknowledge any authority other than the self, and that mindset is rampant in our world today. To set the self up in the place that is rightfully God’s is at the heart of what we call sin. The only view that matters is my own. The only opinion that matters is my own. I decide what is right for ME, and no one has the right to criticize that. William Ernest Henley describes it well in his poem, Invictus.

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

 

I recognize no real authority other than me.

 

Over the last few weeks we’ve gone to a few high school basketball games. I played basketball in high school, and I still love to watch games when I can. So while we still could, we went to a couple. And one thing that’s really jumped out at me is a change in the way players react to being called for a foul. When I was a player, when the referee blew his whistle and pointed at you, you might not agree with him, but you raised your hand. It was kind of an indication that, “Yep, okay, I fouled him.” The coach could argue the call and yell at the refs, but generally we didn’t. We might cast a sideways look at him, but we always raised our hand. Today, they raise two hands, but instead of it being, “Okay, I fouled him” now it’s “What? I didn’t foul anyone. That was all ball.” The dude could be laying on the ground bleeding with a broken nose, but no, it was “all ball.”

 

According to Paul, the old rebellious mindset is both hostile to God and neither will nor can submit itself to God. The orientation of life is the self. It might hide under layers of humility and service, but the orientation toward self, the rebellious mindset that says, “I don’t need God” is always there. And it leads to death.

 

But the new mindset we are given when we place our faith in Christ and begin to follow him is guided by the Holy Spirit and leads to life and peace. It is a mindset oriented not toward rebellion against God, but submission to God and a desire to please him. Now, I’ll still fight against the old rebellious mindset. I’ll still wrestle with it. But I don’t have to let it win. In Colossians 3:2-3 Paul writes, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” I can choose which mindset I want to have, the old rebellious one or the new life-giving one in Christ. The one that I feed is the one that will win out in the end.

 

So how do I feed the new mindset I have in Christ? How do I “set my mind on things that are above” instead of “things that are on earth?” By getting to know Christ. Both intellectually by studying Christ and his Word and experientially by walking with him and talking to him and listening to him speak to me. He speaks to us primarily through his Word and through the community of believers, but also directly to us in our hearts and minds. We just have to make sure that the voice of Christ in us really is the voice of Christ and not just a cover for “what I want.” I hear people all the time say, “The Holy Spirit just told me to say … or do …” and I always cringe, because that almost always means they haven’t checked out what they’re sensing with anyone else and they’re about to do what they want and blame it on God. Don’t do that.

 

Another way to tell if you’re oriented more toward the old mindset is if the Bible teachers you listen to and the books you read only ever confirm what you already believe and think, and you reject out of hand anything that makes you stop and think. I mean, to think that your life is already 100% completely in line with Christ and that Scripture will never challenge your worldview or deeply held positions is kind of the height of arrogance, is it not?

 

Now, the word translated as “mind” here – “set the mind on …” means way more than just “think about.” We tend to view the mind as the realm of thought, but Paul is talking about more than just an intellectual exercise here. One of the great traps today is to reduce faith to an intellectual thing that has nothing to do with the way we live our lives day to day. Nothing could be further from the truth. The word translated as mind actually means the general direction of the entire will of a person. It includes all the faculties – reason and thinking, our ability to understand, our emotions, and our wills. It is the thing that moves us to act in a certain way. And while the word doesn’t necessarily point to an obsession, it describes something that is far beyond just a casual interest. It is the guiding orientation of your life. In the old mindset, that guiding orientation is self. In the new mindset in Christ, that guiding orientation is Christ himself.

 

And that new mindset leads to an entirely new orientation toward life. A new sense of life. Look at Vv. 9-11. As followers of Christ we have the Spirit of Christ himself. The Holy Spirit lives within us. Our lives begin to be permeated by the personality of Christ. We don’t become Christ. We do not become divine. But we do become “little Christs.” That’s what the word “Christian” means. Some of his disposition – his kindness, his gentleness, and his love begins to show up in us too, through the Holy Spirit. We begin to follow his prompting, yield to his control in ways that LOOK LIKE Christ is there in the moment. Our thinking, our behavior begins to pattern after Christ.

 

But this doesn’t just happen passively. Look at Vv. 12-13. I love the words Paul uses here. “By the Spirit …” in the power of the Holy Spirit, “put to death …” do your part. Rugged individualism and a can-do attitude might be good for the business world, but they are death to our lives in Christ. On the other hand, growth in Christ doesn’t happen without our active participation and cooperation. Growth in Christ is achieved not by our own unaided effort, nor by the Holy Spirit apart from our own participation. Legalism says “I must do this.” Cheap grace says, “Only the Holy Spirit can do this.” The gospel says, “In the power of the Holy Spirit, I must …” I hear the phrase “Let go and let God” a lot. Yeah, it’s kind of not biblical. It tends to communicate, “Well, God’s going to do his things with or without me, so what I do doesn’t matter. That actually isn’t true. Now, I do need to “let go” in terms of trying to earn God’s favor. God loved me perfectly when I was fully a sinner living in rebellion against him, and he offers me life freely by his grace. But I cannot “let go” in terms of making an effort to grow closer to Christ and become more like him every day. Life in Christ involves an ongoing “yes” to Christ.

 

Think about it this way. On June 13, 1998, Becky and I were married. So we’ll be celebrating 22 years of wedded bliss for me, and 22 years of wondering “What in the world have I done” for her this June. On that day, I said one big “Yes” to Becky. She will be my one and only. From this moment forward, I am forsaking all others for her. But that wasn’t the only “yes” I said to Becky, because the truth is that every minute of every day, I say another “yes” to her. In fact, in many ways, that first, big yes was symbolic of the smaller “yesses” I’ve made to her ever since.

 

Now, early in a relationship, that can be a challenge, can’t it? Because I’m not used to orienting myself in that way. I’m used to being allowed to look around. So I have to make a definite, conscious effort to say yes to her daily. She is my one and only. But over time that becomes more natural. It becomes habit. And then I have to watch out that I don’t take her and my orientation toward her for granted and allow myself to be blindsided. Marriage is one big “Yes!” that is really symbolic of millions of tiny “yesses” made every day.

 

That’s how I walk out my relationship with Christ. It might start with one big, “Yes!” when I first place my faith in him and am baptized and begin to follow him. But that one big “Yes” is symbolic of millions of tiny “yesses” to Christ that I make every day. As followers of Christ, his life has been placed within us by the Holy Spirit. And we must live out the life that has been placed within us in the strength of the Holy Spirit. But we do not automatically follow God’s will. Day by day the old mindset wants to turn us back around. We must choose to constantly put to death the actions of that old mindset.

 

A new mindset … set the mind on the Spirit

 

A new life … the life of Christ giving life to our mortal bodies

 

And a new job … by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body

 

What’s your mindset? Which one are you feeding? Let us pray.

[i] Stuart Briscoe, “Christmas 365 Days a Year,” Preaching Today, Tape 135.