I spent years thinking that the process of “renewing your mind” was something that just naturally happened and was beyond my control. I used to think that it was something God was in control of. I didn’t know that I could actually intentionally do something to renew my mind — that I could “consciously” renew my mind. I used to think that if you just go about your Christian life, some way, some how, your mind is suddenly renewed.
But, in the last few years, I’ve discovered that it’s actually not that complicated — you can do it intentionally and it isn’t hard. I’m going to show you how it works, how you can use it intentionally, and how you can use it effectively.
How it works:
Imagine that you’ve lived at your house for 20 years of your life.
You’ve memorized the fastest ways to drive back from your work, from church, from your friend’s place, from school, and from the gym. You’ve developed a route that you take every time. You don’t think about it, that’s just the way you go home because you’ve done that for 20 years. You know the correct turns to make. You know the best time to take which route based on how bad traffic is. You know which roads have the most cops. And you know all the ins and outs of getting yourself home.
Then imagine if you move 10 minutes away.
The next day, you’re about to head back home from work. You get in your car as usual, and you start driving. Out of sheer habit and muscle memory, you take the same old highway, the same old exit, and the same traffic all the way until you get home, only to realize that you no longer live at your old house. You slap yourself on the forehead thinking, “How could I forget?! I moved! Gotta make sure I don’t do this again…what a waste of time!”
The next day is similar, you get into your car and you begin to take the same route you’ve taken for the last 20 years. It isn’t until about halfway home you realize again, “Shoot! I moved!” You pull a U-turn and head towards the new home you recently moved into.
So by this point, you’re consciously making an effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You create a reminder in your head, “Alright, when I reach this street, I have to make a left where I used to make a right.” You know it will take a conscious effort to forge a new pattern because the old pattern was so familiar, natural, and comfortable. But you know you have to do it because you no longer live at the old house – none of your belongings are there. Plus, the new house is much bigger, with a lot more freedom to move around.
The next day, as you leave your house for work, you make another mental note to remind yourself that you’ve moved so that you won’t forget at the end of the day. The time arrives, and you get into your car. Confident, reminding yourself that you have a new home, you get all the way home without taking a wrong turn. When you arrive, you breathe a sigh of satisfaction, knowing that you took the right route and you’re confident it’ll be easier next time.
Over a period of a few weeks, what started with lots of errors and mistakes starts to become second-nature and natural. The muscle memory and old pattern of thinking was undone and now it’s hard to imagine ever taking that old route again. In addition to that, you’ve done the same exercise with your church, school, friend’s place, and the gym. All the old routes were reprogrammed and redesigned to fit the location of your new home.
Months down the road, it’s nowhere near a struggle. You’ve forged a new routine — a new habit. You arrive at your new home every time. And every once in a while, you’ll be at an intersection you used to use when you were at your old house, and you’ll get a familiar feeling of when you used to slam the pedal to try to make the light…you reminisce on the memories. But then you’d snap back into reality remembering, “Well…I don’t live there anymore.”
This is the life of the believer. This is the call of Romans 12:2, to “renew your mind.” As a believer you have a responsibility to renew your thinking, to rewire your brain as a result of understanding the fact that you have become a son of God, an heir of God, an ambassador of a King. As a result of understanding that you have been bought at a price (denoting worth) and that you have been given a new nature (new tendencies), it should cause you to make different choices. It is a different path — a different life than you once walked.
The old house had its own set of ways and its own set of patterns. If we find ourselves veering off into the old paths, it’s only because we’ve forgotten that we’ve moved to a new house that’s more glorious.
How to use it intentionally:
“Renewing your mind” is definitely not just about reciting a list of facts. Nor is it about confessing a phrase in an effort to try to persuade yourself to believe it. When you renew your mind, it should renew the way you do things. A new perspective should result in a new set of actions, just like moving to a new house will cause you to take new directions. Taking new directions aren’t a requirement, but it’s a natural byproduct of understanding that you have a new house.
Say for example I’ve dealt with jealously for many years of my life, and if I hear that a friend has achieved something that I’ve been trying to achieve, I get jealous and I have a hard time celebrating with them.
And then let’s say that I hear a teaching and I realize that I’m just like the disciples arguing and competing to be the greatest. I’m jealous because I’m actually performing for the approval/praise of man instead of understanding I already have approval from God. I realize the simple truth that my worth comes from what my Father has already said about me, not what other people say.
When that new revelation is received, that’s when I get a new house. Immediately, I am “free” from my old house, and I am free to not “drive back” to the old house of jealousy. I am free to celebrate with my friend instead of getting envious. I am free, but the rubber will have to hit the road.
So the next time a friend has achieved something I’ve been wanting to achieve, I have a choice to drive to the old house that I’ve been used to (jealousy), or I remember that I’ve moved on to a new house (celebrating my friend). The problem is that it will still feel natural and I will be tempted to take the old route toward the old house if I believe I still live there. I will allow the habit and the muscle memory to dictate my direction if I never realize the fact that I have a new house. But if I’m truly convinced that I have moved, I will make every conscious effort to take the new route every time. Why? Because I’ve moved. The new house is better than the old house, and all my belongings are in the new one.
So, suppose that I failed to make it to the new house. The muscle memory and habit got the best of me the first time.
Do I deem myself a failure, feel condemned and think, “You’re so horrible for driving back to your old house, what a failure“?
No, I just write it off and think, “Wow, how did that slip my mind?”
Do I think, “Man…I guess I’ll never remember to make it to my new house, it’s just so hard to remember“?
No, I just make a few more conscious reminders to make sure that I make it the next time. I’ll think, “Alright, when I’m at this intersection, I no longer take a left…I make a right. Left is the old house. Right is the new house.”
Do I think, “I just feel so stuck. I just somehow can’t get to my new house…I feel bound to drive back to my old house…every time. I’ll never make it to my new one, this is hopeless“?
Ridiculous. I will only feel bound to my old house if I still believe I live there. I will only be bound to the same old habits and same old routes if I believe I still have the same old “home base.” When I’ve renewed my mind to the fact that I have a new “default,” a new “home,” a new “building”...I will make the effort to get there every time, because it’s a better house!
So to answer the question: “How do I intentionally renew my mind?” It’s a moot point. The same way you change the routes you take when you move to a new house is the same way to renew your mind (re-read the parable if it hasn’t clicked yet).
Using it effectively:
Naturally, when you move to a new house, it’s not just one route that has to change. All the routes change. You have to ask yourself, how do I get home from the store now? From the bank? From my friend’s house? From the restaurant? All the “courses” of action change as a result of your new “‘home.”
Every one of your old behaviors will change based on the revelation of your new house, but they will all take a conscious effort. Only you can do that for you.
Whether it’s about your poor temperament, a struggle to be patient, a habit of gossiping, getting free from addiction, thinking poorly of yourself, worth issues, dealing with fear of man, struggling with jealously like I did, or struggling with pride… it doesn’t matter. It’s the same process.
You need to understand that you have a new house, and you need to figure out what the path to that new house looks like. What does it look like to no longer gossip, but speak life and encouragement? What mindsets need to change so that you don’t get angry so easily? What lie are you believing about yourself that you need to diffuse in order to stop the self-loathing and sense of unworthiness?
If you keep digressing to your old paths, it’s because you haven’t forged a new path. If you feel like you’ll never escape your old habits, it’s because you believe that you still live in your old house and haven’t moved yet.
The Process of Growth:
You’re probably realizing now that this is everything in your Christian life.
This is how you walk out the fruit of the Spirit (even fruit takes time to mature).
This is how you walk as Jesus walked (babies have to learn how to walk, and then run).
It’s all a result of understanding that you’ve become a new creation.
You’ve been cut off from the old. The old has gone. The old has died. It has been put off.
Here’s the beautiful thing…
It gets easier.
The more you take the new route, the less you’ll feel prone to take the old. The more you take the new, the less of an effort you’ll need the next time.
Soon, after a few months, it’ll hardly cross your mind. You won’t even be tempted to take the old route. It might cross your mind and you might reminisce, but by then, you’ll have forged a new habit and living reality. You’ll have a new walk, a new path, a new way, and by then, it’ll be an effort to go back to the old.
(1 Peter 1:13-14, 4:1-3, Col 3:5-10, Eph 4:17-23, 5:8-10, Gal 5:24, Gal 5:13)
“Identity in Christ” has been an ongoing church phrase in recent years. This is my attempt to settle the matter.
The average church spends more time correcting actions rather than revealing identity.
It comes down to this:
Your identity is not found in what you do. Your identity is found in who God says you are. As many have said, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” There is nothing you can do to change your identity because your identity is already established (as a believer).
We are called to be Christ-like, not merely act Christ-like.
That is why Jesus talked about false prophets who “prophesied in [His] name” and did signs and wonders, yet Jesus said, “I do not know you.”
Why? Because being like Jesus requires you to actually know Him, His character, and His nature (through relationship), while acting like Jesus only requires you to know a book and some good principles. False prophets look like sheep, their actions look right, but it’s their hearts and motives that are off.
So when you have church cultures that are teaching “behavior modification” instead of teaching identity, you end up with lots of people who are trying to be clean outside the cup rather than people who actually know who they are [as sons of God].
“Living from your identity” is as simple as this:
Behavior that follows as a result of understanding who you are.
You cannot have behavior that is consistent with who you are if you do not understand who you are.
Take this example:
Say that we’re in the Medieval days. And suppose there was a boy who grew up in an orphanage, and at the age of 18, it was revealed that He was actually the King’s son. The King, overjoyed to discover his lost son removes his son from the impoverished living situation and brings the son into his palace.
Even though the boy grew up and identified himself as an orphan, he now has the privilege to identify with his true Father rather than the past circumstances. And from there, he can either choose to hold on to his old lifestyle, way of thinking, and upbringing as an orphan, or he can “renew” his perspective and embrace his new position as royalty and the privileges and responsibilities that come with it.
But, so long as the boy identifies with the fact that he was an orphan rather than the fact that he is now a prince, he will behave as he used to behave because he does not understand who he has become.
He will hide away his Father’s wealth for himself in fear that he might lose it. He will not trust any of the King’s servants or his new brothers and sisters because he secretly thinks everyone is against him because these were his mindsets when he was an orphan.
He will be hesitant to talk to strangers because he is fearful that someone will discover his past and scorn him for it. He will take any chance he can to get position or power because he fears being controlled. He will cut down anyone he feels has the potential to surpass him in skill or position.
He will do all of that because he still believes that is who he is. His behavior was what was considered “normal” in his past (living in an orphanage), and unless he is able to “renew” his perspective, he will be stuck living in his “old man” — the way the “old man” thought and behaved (Rom 12:1-2).
But, if the boy accepts his new identity as a son and prince, then all of his old behavior will eventually be realigned to his new identity (Rom 6:11). All of his old habits and mindsets will fade away when he begins to realize that they are no longer consistent with his [new] identity (Gal 5:24, Col 3:9).
So, when believers say, “Oh I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” that is no different than the orphan boy saying, “Oh I’m just an orphan who now lives in a palace.” It shows that the orphan still identifies with his past (his “old man”) and has not learned to get his identity from his Father. He has an identity in the “old man” rather than an identity in the King [of kings]. (Gal 3:26-27, Eph 5:8-9)
It comes to a point where the boy begins to realize, “Oh I was an orphan (sinner), but now I’m royalty (saint)! That was my past before my dad found me, but now I’m a prince in my Father’s Kingdom (Col 1:13-14)… so that means I don’t need to act like an orphan anymore, because I’m not!” (Rom 6:6).
When that shift happens “identity in Christ” is no longer a church cliché. It becomes the basis from which you live.
So when Christians say, “Oh I’m just pessimistic, I’m just lazy, I’m just an angry person, I’m an introvert, I’m bitter,” they often feel powerless to change because they still believe they are an “orphan.” They do not realize that their nature has changed, and when they shed the old identity, the old behavior and mindsets will follow suit. When they finally believe they are now a prince in a palace, they will realize how foolish it is to behave like an orphan (1 Peter 1:14-16).
My friend Daniel said this:
If God is love, and I am one spirit with Him, what does that make me?
… it’s not about going out and TRYING to love people, but rather about going out and just being who you already are. In fact, the entire Christian life is not about TRYING to be something or become something, it’s about being who you are. That’s why it’s important to see yourself as God sees you.
It’s not about trying to manage who you were. It’s about learning to live out who you have become. It’s not an attempt to change behavior, it’s a change in natures; it’s not changing the orphan’s behavior, it’s a prince who is no longer an orphan.
The bad mindset of being unable to love people disappears when you realize that Love is who you are. The bad habit of responding in anger crumbles when you realize that your nature is to be patient (Gal 5:22). Now, love and patience are natural outflows rather than forced behaviors.
You were living in fear but then you realize it’s your nature to be bold (Prov 28:1). You don’t feel like you’re capable of transforming the world around you and then you realize that it’s your nature to be leaven. You were stuck in anxiety and worry and then you realize that it’s your nature to have peace (Isaiah 26:3, Rom 14:17, Isaiah 9:6). You were stuck in depression and then you realize it’s a lie because that “old man” died and the new man’s nature is joy (Rom 14:17, John 15:11).
I don’t need to try to be holy, I need to understand it’s already in my nature to be holy (2 Cor. 5:21). I don’t need to try to be bold, it’s who I am. I don’t have to try to be patient, it’s who I am. I don’t need to try to get out of depression, it is my nature to be joy. I don’t need to try to be less pessimistic, I live and breathe hope. It’s not that I’m ignorant of the fact that I used to try and fail, it’s discovering that in Christ, I have a new predisposition to be everything I used to try to become.
It’s when you realize who you are, that you realize that you were behaving below your nature — you were living short of your potential.
One time, I was at the hospital to minister to people with my friend Susan. Things were going slow, I didn’t feel like ministering to people. I felt like I had to try to show people the love of God. I randomly started thinking about lights and lightbulbs… I realized, they don’t try to stay on — that’s just how they’re wired. If they have electricity, and the wiring is right, it will be “on.” It doesn’t struggle to try to stay on. It doesn’t have to force itself to pierce darkness, that’s just what it was made to do.
Immediately my perspective shifted, I no longer felt like I had to try, because I already was. It’s my nature to love. It’s my nature to demonstrate love. Immediately I found joy in ministering to people because I was just expressing myself and my nature instead of trying to become an expression.
You are to model your life after Jesus (Luke 6:40, John 14:12, 1 John 2:6, 1 John 4:17). This is the essence of the phrase “identity in Christ.” Jesus was Love, was Peace, was Life, was Healing, was Deliverance, was Salvation, was the Rock, was Joy, was Holy, was Patient, was Humble, was Hope etc etc. A revelation of Jesus is a revelation of yourself. Who Christ is, is who you are empowered to become and partake in the same divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-4). Ever hear the phrase “like father, like son”? That is the goal. When you read the Word (John 1:1), you should discover Jesus– his character and nature. That is who you were created in the likeness and image of (Gen 1:26).
If you get this, learning to look more like Jesus is no longer an effort, but just a simple act of renewing your mind. You will no longer “try” to be humble, “try” to be holy, “try” to have faith, “try” to love neighbors and strangers, “try” to be happy/joyful… let me reiterate what my friend Daniel said:
…it’s not about going out and TRYING to love people, but rather about going out and just being who you already are. In fact, the entire Christian life is not about TRYING to be something or become something, it’s about being who you are. That’s why it’s important to see yourself as God sees you.
That’s great news to me, because the last time I checked, God sees Jesus when He looks at me.
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