In the story of the prodigal son, Luke uses a curious phrase when the younger son realizes what he has lost and determines to go home. The King James Version translates the phrase, “He came to himself.” That phrase has always fascinated me. How do you come to yourself? Can you set yourself down somewhere and then forget where you left yourself? Actually, it is something like that. We can become so buried under mistakes and failure, stuffed under grief and regret, that we get to the place where we no longer recognize ourselves. But God’s “yes” changes all that. When the Spirit changes our true identity in Christ, we leave behind everything that is false and start walking toward the truth of Christ and who he created us to be.
Changing your mind
Walking away from the lies and destruction of sin is very close to the
practical meaning of biblical repentance. It goes far beyond feeling
bad about your sin—all the way to literally changing the direction of
your life. And to change your life, you have to change the way you
think. A change in your life’s direction means you stop fighting the
current of God’s grace that flows in your spirit. Now you start flowing
with the current of grace. As you reorient your life in the direction
of God’s leading, you find your efforts are amplified through the
Spirit’s presence in the same way an ocean current enhances the work of
a ship’s sails.
When we talk about Christian conversion, we emphasize feelings of
conviction and a decision to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. But
we don’t stress the essential role played by our thinking. The problem
that results is we don’t change the way we think, so we end up not
changing our behavior. For a total transformation of a person’s life,
the mind as well as the heart must change. We live the way we do because
we think the way we do. The mess is in our heads before it is in our
lives, but it moves from the mind to daily life.
This changes when we ask Christ to renew our minds, to alter the way
we think. We need to allow our minds to be completely transformed.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to
offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this
is your true and proper worship.” When your mind is transformed, your
life will follow.
I am not naive. I understand the lure of sin and the effectiveness
of its deceptions. And I am familiar with the consequences of sin. I
have sat with large numbers of people and listened as they recognized
and talked through the harmful consequences of their actions. When the
cost of their failures sinks in, it is devastating. A man’s infidelity
cost him his wife and children. For a few minutes of pleasure, he
traded away a future with his family. It takes only one incident to
disrupt a friendship, a career, a family, a life. Lies are told,
discovered, and confessed in tears, but how can a person regain trust?
Sin looks good in the moment but only because it’s hiding the future
I’m convinced we don’t understand the total impact of salvation. We
make it about feelings or a one-time decision to confess our sins and
trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. But to live a new life, to be
completely transformed, our salvation has to be about the total person,
including our minds.
Changing your frame of reference
If in obedience to Christ we are going to make different choices, we
have to adopt Christ’s way of looking at things. God will create a new
mind in you and me, but we have to join willingly in the process. And
part of thinking differently is letting go of old assumptions and
preferences and accepting the preferences of God.
In Acts 10 we read the story of the early church hearing from God a
“yes” that led to its dropping of ethnic barriers. A Roman centurion
named Cornelius was praying, and in his prayers he was told to find a
man named Peter. Peter, in the meantime, also was praying. In his
prayers Peter saw a vision of a sheet holding all kinds of animals—and
they weren’t kosher. Although Peter was told to kill and eat, he
refused. Again the vision came, and again Peter refused to eat. Each
time, Jesus confronted Peter with the following rebuke: “Do not call
anything impure that God has made clean.” Only when Cornelius’s
messengers appeared at his gate did Peter begin to understand the
message of the vision. Nothing created by God, people most of all, can
ever be called unclean.
God created Gentiles just as he did Jews, and no one—Gentiles
included—was inferior to anyone else. God loves those outside the nation
of Israel on a par with the descendants of Abraham. Having grown up
under the influence of Jewish traditions and biases, Peter must have had
difficulty processing this. But to his credit, he was obedient to
Christ and changed the way he thought about these matters. And not just
the way he thought, but his life and his preaching as well.
Free of condemnation
There are two reasons we should not condemn others or ourselves.
First, we all are created in the image of God. And second, Christ died
for sinners. This is the price God was willing to pay for our
redemption. We are called to live in the glory of knowing what we are
worth. And when we don’t, we damage ourselves, one another, and the
world we live in. Sin devalues us as people and causes us to see others
and all creation as lacking worth. Sin negates the good work Christ
does in us and in the world. Where Christ speaks “yes,” sin says “no.”
We have things in our lives that cause shame or grief, and they act
as a giant but to the good news of Christ. He promises us new life,
which sounds great, but...“my family business went bankrupt after I
misspent some accounts. I was going to pay it back, but then everything
collapsed.” And suddenly we forget the promise of Christ. He promises
forgiveness and second chances, but it’s hard to believe the second
chance could still apply after the things we’ve done.
Why do we think that we alone committed a sin so horrible it exceeds
Jesus’s ability to forgive? This kind of thinking is the ultimate
heresy. What we are saying is the death of Jesus was payment enough for
everyone else’s sins, but our sin is so monstrous that his death isn’t
enough to cover it.
Let Christ change the way you think so you can let go of that lie.
Jesus paid it all. No part of the debt has been left for you or me to
pay by working hard to clean up our own lives. On our own we can’t get
clean enough to impress God. Whatever we might try, we will always be
unworthy of his love. The gift of God’s “yes” in Christ is unearned,
given to us freely. Our relationship with God is not a contract; it is a
covenant, a bond of mutual love and commitment. In this covenant the
parties are not equal, but the arrangement is mutual. Christ died for us
and offers us his salvation, and we accept what he did for us as a
free gift—on his terms.
Christ opens the door; we need only to walk through it. We then live
our lives in loving response to God’s grace expressed in Jesus. This is
the mutual love and commitment of the covenant. Yet, for some reason,
we have a hard time believing the gift of salvation is free. Who would
give away something like that? So we think we have to earn it.
Adapted from The Gospel of Yes by Mike Glenn with permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.