I have a confession to make: I get impatient assembling complex things. I don’t have the problem when I am working over a long time to build a program or write some research – those are puzzles I seem to enjoy. Yet, when it comes to assembling something with dozens of tiny parts, I get frustrated easily. Part of the problem is that I don’t want to invest the time necessary to really do the job – there are other things on my mind. The other part of the problem stems from reading directions written by someone with only a vague knowledge of my language, using sentence structure of which I am not familiar. The combination of complex design, a multitude of parts and poorly written instructions make the job incredibly frustrating to me.
Here is what I know about a complicated assembly: the details matter. The manufacturer may give you some extra nuts and bolts in the package, but it is far more likely that you have forgotten step 126, and left a tiny part out. You will discover that after the full assembly doesn’t work as it should, and begin to undo all the steps back to 126.
Let’s just accept the fact that in everything that is complex, the details matter.
Why is that important? It is essential to recognize because a walk with God is a complex operation.
By the way, not every believer treats it that way. Some speak of the Christian life in passive terms – as if God overwhelms you and does it all for you. There are verses that demonstrate God is the One Who transforms us, but those aren’t the whole story. In fact, the many commands of Scripture make clear there is a part of the process I am personally responsible for as I become what Jesus intends me to be.
Let’s say it this way: No one slides into spiritual maturity. Though spiritual growth IS God at work in us, it is NOT strictly a passive endeavor. God promised to change my life from the inside out, but it is a “room by room” process. He demands that I consciously open the door to each “room” within for His inspection and His work of change.
If that is true, I need some clear and careful instruction on how to know what God wants access to inside of me, and how to allow Him to initiate change. Here is the truth found in the first part of Colossians 3…
Key Principle: To mature in my faith, I must attentively allow God to change my mind and my actions.
Since we know the details matter, let’s look closely at the two areas where God revealed He desires us to open the first doors.
Gain a new perspective: Change your mind.
God wants to begin with our thinking, and where we focus our view. In short, we are to set our focus on one specific chair in Heaven.
Colossians 3:1 Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Paul started with a simple word about what the Colossian believers were focused upon. Note the exacting detail of the description of where in Heaven a believer is supposed to fix their gaze – at His throne.
The point is that Paul called them to train their thinking to recognize they live to please the King!
The “seeking of things above” isn’t just “dreaming about Heaven” and getting warm and fuzzy. It isn’t dreams of little cupid-like angels floating from cloud to cloud. It isn’t anticipation of seeing our beloved great grandma once again and hugging her tightly. Paul’s call was clear: “Look at the place of Jesus seated on the throne.” If we have claimed His death as payment for our sin, and recognized His Resurrection as God’s acceptance of that payment, we must refocus our mind to deliberately surrender ourselves to the proper Prince of our heart’s throne. He rules Heaven, and He is supposed to rule us.
Just as Colossians 3:1 called believers to focus on the ruler of their life, Colossians 3:2-4 called them to persistently connect how Heaven later affects choices now.
This is a second step, and an essential detail of the practical side of the elusive nature of “letting Jesus control my life.”
Don’t skip past the verses. Paul wrote:
Colossians 3:2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
Clearly our mind must be reset. The key to practicing the rule of Jesus in me is found in how I train my mind. God has promised help in re-tooling, but He left commands because we must give Him access to our thinking. Read the verses carefully and you will discover that Paul drove home a simple point.
To engage the transformation process I must train my thinking to get satisfaction when He is satisfied (3:2). Any desires that don’t meet with His approval must be “put to death” and subjugated to His desires (3:3) so that when Jesus comes I will stand with Him as part of His loyal host (3:4).
In short, I have to change WHO I live to please.
If I want to be a part of those who stand in the host of Heaven’s army, loyal and trusted among the companions of my Lord in the future, I have to change my thought life. If I make my daily choices based on my own feelings and live to please ME, then I am not fit to call myself one of HIS.
In practical terms, every believer would do well to begin each day acknowledging the ownership of His Lord. He or she will want to frequently ask for direction, purchase any item with His nod of approval, and constantly speak with a keen awareness that the Master is listening.
When I train myself to realize the nearness of God, I walk in harmony with God.
I truly believe what Bonhoeffer observed long ago: “When the enemy moves in to tempt us, he does not get us to HATE God, but to FORGET God.” If that is true, frequently recalling His presence and seeking His approval for choices will help me steer away from disobedience and forgetfulness. A walk with Jesus starts with mindfulness of Jesus.
The simple truth is that how we think directly sets up how we behave. Let me illustrate:
“When VICTOR SERIBRIAKOFF was only fifteen years of age, his teacher told him he would never finish school and that he should drop out and learn a trade. Victor believed the counsel, took the advice and for 17 years he became a handyman. He was told he had little academic aptitude, so for seventeen years he lived in that role. At about age 32 an amazing transformation took place in his life. A detailed skill evaluation revealed that he appeared to be a genius with an IQ of about 161. Almost from that moment, he began acting like a genius. Since that time, he became author of a number of works, secured a series of patents on products he invented and became a successful businessman selling his knowledge and inventions. Perhaps the most significant event for the former drop out was his election as Chairman of the International Mensa Society. The society has only one membership qualification – an IQ exceeding 140.” Victor changed when he believed he was different – and you will too.
When you recognize daily that Jesus is in charge, your choices will begin to change. Perhaps you need more! How can I practice placing Jesus in charge? What a good question! The truth is, once you KNOW you need to do that, you will need to allow God to renew something else inside. You will need to open the door to some old ways of thinking and allow God to hit the “reset button” on them.
Crush old defaults: Change your assumptions.
We do what we do because we think what we think. What we believe deeply is what we live daily – and those daily practices show where our heart truly is. Look at three assumptions that God must reset in you to allow the maturing process to take hold.
Assumption #1: I should be led by my heart. This is a tremendous lie the enemy has seated so deeply within our culture that we now allow our feelings to overturn any other belief system. In modern America we determine truth by our feelings. The truth is that I must shut down unquestioned control of my behavior based on my fallen hungers. Paul wrote it this way:
Colossians 3:5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
Stop assuming that because you want it, you should have it. We could say it this way: I need to get a new diet – I don’t have to live by the old rules. These things are building to the day of God’s interruption and judgment (3:6). We USED to live in them, but transformation means they are drying up inside us (3:7).
Let’s be clear about the Spirit’s work and my choices. The transformation by God in every area of my life directly corresponds to the rooms inside I willingly open to Him. He can change anything, but chooses to change nothing unless I offer it to Him first.
• If I refuse to offer to God the access to my relationships – God will not transform them.
• If I refuse to hold out to Him an addiction – God will not empower me to push it out of my life.
Whatever I don’t offer to God I keep for myself – and I won’t grow properly in that area.
The simple truth about this transformation process is that I must ask God to empower me to force the desires of my past life to lose their power over me. The lost man has passions and lusts that drive them, but I must not (3:5). To be clear, Paul enumerated them (3:5b):
• Immoral practices: (porneia) defiled or unlawful use of sexual gift
• Impurity: (Akatharsia) ceremonial or moral impurity – living beyond the moral fences God set up
• Passion: (Pathos) used as one subject to – the idea of allowing something else to choose for me
• Evil Desire: (kakos epithumia) giving a “green light” to temptation in my mind. This is like “taking a moral mental vacation” and thinking about the forbidden.
• Greed (which is idolatry): (Pleonexia) an unending hunger for acquisition
If you look closely at the list above, oozing out of the words are the attitudes of selfishness. They are all about ego and fulfilling desires of the flesh. They are all rooted in lies.
• Sex won’t fulfill my God-given need for intimacy with others.
• Living “on the edge” may seem exciting, but it will be short-lived.
• Allowing passions to overtake me may sell well in a cheap thrill novel, but impulsive living leads to ruin in relationships and puts a stain on our reliability to others.
• An insatiable hunger for more will drive me to make both unhealthy and unholy decisions. Curbing inner desires is no different in substance than curbing bad eating habits. I must stop feeding on the wrong thing in the short term to realize health in the long term.
Assumption #2: My first answer is my best one. This is a lie we learned taking tests in school. It may work on an instinctive level when you study some academic pursuit, but it isn’t true when it comes to moral thinking – because my default settings didn’t begin in godliness. The truth is I must gain conscious control of my default reactions. Paul wrote:
Colossians 3:8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.
God’s call to the believer is to stop assuming that because it feels natural, it is good. Here is the truth: If I don’t rein in my feelings they will continue to run my life as they did when I was lost. Jesus will be supplanted from the throne by how I feel today.
Like everyone on the planet, my unsaved life was run by how I felt. If I am going to pass into the process of spiritual maturity, I must deliberately change my attitudes about people and make sure my responses reflect that change (3:8). I must deliberately choose to set aside:
• Anger: (orgay) untempered agitation of the soul
• Wrath: (thumos) heat; uncontrolled outbursts of burning frustration
• Malice: (kakia) depraved speech and thinking
• Slander: (blasphemia) speech that injures another
• Abusive speech: (aischrologia) debased speech, obscenities
I smiled when I read about this new believer who shared how God was changing her attitudes:
She declared, “I’m so glad I got a relationship with God. I have an uncle I used to hate so much I vowed I’d never go to his funeral. But now, why, I’d be happy to go to it any time.”
Assumption #3: The truth is often too hard to bear. There are many reasons we give ourselves to say something that is not true. The simple truth is that we must seek to shut down the inborn impulse to lie. Paul wrote:
Colossians 3:9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices.
Think of it this way: When my attitudes change, my words should change as well. People lie for many reasons. Some lie to gain status. Others lie to keep peace. We must stop assuming that because something we say could make us appear wiser or even if it would avoid possible conflict with people, it is right to say things that aren’t true.
Let’s be honest: No place are our attitudes so obvious as in our mouths.
Connect verse nine to verse eight for a moment.
When we let a matter burn within, a small amount of pressure will push out the feelings we have kept under wraps. These preserved and un-yielded bad attitudes inside, stirred up by outside influences of a fallen world (news, TV, etc.) will yield things I have to cover up. That’s where the lies become a part of my life.
May I suggest that we may need to withdraw from conversations with people who peddle in smut or gossip? I want to be a witness, but transformation focus requires that I understand who is being changed. If I am being pressed into the mold of the world, it is time to withdraw for a time of renewal and re-strengthening before I continue to reach out to that particular person or group.
To mature in my faith, I must attentively allow God to change my mind and my actions.
Sheila Crowe wrote: Dennis E. Mannering was teaching a class for adults, when he did the “unpardonable.” He gave the class homework! The assignment was to “go to someone you love within the next week and tell them you love them. It had to be someone you have never said those words to before or at least haven’t shared those words with for a long time.” Now that doesn’t sound like a very tough assignment, until you stop to realize that most of the men in that group were over 35 and were raised in the generation of men that were taught that expressing emotions is not “macho.” Showing feelings or crying (heaven forbid!) was just not done. So this was a very threatening assignment for some. At the beginning of our next class, Mannering asked if someone wanted to share what happened when they told someone they loved them. He fully expected one of the women to volunteer, as was usually the case, but on this evening one of the men raised his hand. He appeared quite moved and a bit shaken. As he unfolded out of his chair (all 6’2″ of him), he began by saying, “Dennis, I was quite angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I didn’t feel that I had anyone to say those words to- I had told everyone who needed to know that I loved them, and besides, who were you to tell me to do something that personal? But as I began driving home my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say ’I love you’ to. You see, five years ago, my father and I had a vicious disagreement and really never resolved it since that time. We avoided seeing each other unless we absolutely had to at Christmas or other family gatherings. But even then, we hardly spoke to each other. So, last Tuesday by the time I got home I had convinced myself I was going to tell my father I loved him. It’s weird, but just making that decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I got home, I rushed into the house to tell my wife what I was going to do. She was already in bed, but I woke her up anyway. When I told her, she didn’t just get out of bed, she catapulted out and hugged me, and for the first time in our married life she saw me cry. We stayed up half the night drinking coffee and talking. It was great! “The next morning I was up bright and early. I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I got to the office early and accomplished more in two hours than I had the whole day before. At 9:00 I called my dad to see if I could come over after work. When he answered the phone, I just said, ’Dad, can I come over after work tonight? I have something to tell you.’ My dad responded with a grumpy, ’Now what?’ I assured him it wouldn’t take long, so he finally agreed. At 5:30, I was at my parents’ house ringing the doorbell, praying that Dad would answer the door. I was afraid if Mom answered that I would chicken out and tell her instead. But as luck would have it, Dad did answer the door. I didn’t waste any time – I took one step in the door and said, ’Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ It was as if a transformation came over my dad. Before my eyes his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he began to cry. He reached out and hugged me and said, ’I love you too, son, but I’ve never been able to say it.’ It was such a precious moment I didn’t want to move. Mom walked by with tears in her eyes. I just waved and blew her a kiss. Dad and I hugged for a moment longer and then I left. I hadn’t felt that great in a long time.” But that’s wasn’t his point or even my point. Two days after the visit, his dad, who had heart problems and didn’t tell him, had an attack and ended up in the hospital, unconscious. And the gentlemen didn’t know if his father would see tomorrow. But he had a peace just knowing that his dad knew he really loved him.
Here’s the point of transformation. In order to become what we are not in the flesh, we must open up to God and allow Him to empower us to change inside and out.
We are not working to be saved – we are opening doors to be transformed because we know Him.
His Spirit will do its work when we offer each part of life to Him.
Daily steps of conscious obedience aren’t “gutting out resolutions to live for God.” The whole thing is preceded by asking Him to lead in each part.
No one else can make you change. You and I must submit to the Person of Jesus and the process of empowering He gives. All the DNA of the butterfly is found in the caterpillar, and all the DNA of a God-honoring and transformed powerful believer is found in you and me. It is time we change our focus on WHO we are living for.