Have you ever wondered why the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert after the Exodus? I've heard it said a few times that a large part of the journey was meant to "Get Egypt out of the Israelites." This refers, of course, to ridding them of the influence of the pagan society. However, it also refers to teaching them to live as freemen rather than as slaves. No doubt the reasons were myriad and many lessons were learned during the wandering years. Right now, I'm resonating with the need to learn to live as a freewoman. Baffling as it is, being set free from bondage can be quite disrupting to one's life. It takes time to adjust.
You've likely heard people talk about the "new normal" when life changes in a significant way. Even when the change is positive, it takes some getting used to. What's interesting to me is that this is on such a deeper level than our schedules or habits, and even than our emotions. Spiritually we also adjust to a "new normal." In Christ, we are made righteous. Second Corinthians 5:17 says we actually become new creations. Colossians 3 talks about putting off the old and putting on the new. Paul assumes that the Ephesians were taught about Christ correctly, which includes "to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24). Did you catch the transition there? It can be so easy to think we put off the old and instantly put on the new. That God makes a change in us and it's done. That life changes and suddenly we just handle it. But there is a period of adjustment. Spiritually, it takes a renewing of the mind. Romans 12:1-2 also speaks to this.
Clearly the main implication for all this is regarding sin. In Christ, we are made righteous. That is a fact about our status before God, regardless of how we may feel or what we may do. We call this "imputed righteousness."
Yet we are also being made righteous. This is the process of sanctification
, in which we learn "practical righteousness." In order to live out this practical righteousness, our minds need to be renewed.
I think the principle of a renewed mind also applies when God grows us and changes us in ways that are not necessarily sin-specific. When I am healed of a past wound, or set free from a particular form of bondage, or even simply enter a new stage of life, my mind needs to be renewed. The situation is different now; something old needs to be removed and something new needs to enter the picture. But for that to fully happen, my thinking must be changed.
The struggle is that the old actions, as well as thinking patterns, often feel comfortable. It can be hard to admit that even when we know an old pattern is counterproductive or even harmful, we may still be drawn to it because it just feels normal. But when our minds are made new, we begin to clearly see the old for what it is alongside the hope of the new for what it is. Our thinking changes and it becomes easier to take off the old and put on the new. Clearly, this process takes time. The specific amount of time will vary for each particular issue. Sometimes the old is more easy to discard than at other times. And sometimes the new seems to fit more naturally than at other times. Personally, I find that often my mind seems renewed on a general issue, but then God goes deeper and renews my mind on that same issue in a slightly different way. For example, I might have renewed thinking regarding perfectionism in one area of my life, but not in another. It can be tempting to believe this means that progress has not been made. But that is not true. Second Corinthians 4:16 says, "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." There is always renewal to be done. The process of sanctification takes our entire lives. On this earth, we still live with the effects of sin — our own and those of others. We also live with an enemy who seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). Ultimately, this earth is not our home. In some ways, it is the wilderness experience until we finally one day reach the promised land of eternity with Christ. But the experience is important — overall in terms of becoming more like Christ, and in each life adjustment where we find ourselves putting aside something old in order to embrace something new.
My life seems to be in an adjustment phase right now. Sometimes it's uncomfortable and frustrating, and other times it leaves me in awe of who God is and how much He has accomplished on my behalf. My prayer is that I will live with open eyes and full vision. I want to see the old for what it is and the new for what it is. I want my thinking to be changed and for my mind to be fully aligned with God's truth. I also want to remember that there is a transition between the two and to be gracious during the journey. The new has ultimately been won in Christ, but it is still being worked out in me. I am new, and I am being made new. And it's all on God's schedule, not my own. Of course, I want to cooperate as much as possible and make every effort to put on the new, submitting my mind to Him and allowing Him to change it, being willing to walk out the new life, even when it feels awkward. But I also want to live at peace, trusting that God "who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Knowing God's faithfulness, Paul told the Philippians to:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4–9
I love the song No Longer Slaves
from Bethel Music. Part of the chorus says, "I'm no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God." The bridge proclaims, "You split the sea, so I could walk right through it / All my fears were drowned in perfect love / You rescued me, so I could stand and sing / I am a child of God." Powerful words. Sometimes I just need to be reminded that I'm not a slave anymore — to my sin, to my fears, to my pains, to any way the enemy has sought to keep me in bondage. Accustomed to the weight of chains, walking without them may feel strange at first, but ultimately freedom in Christ is what I seek. I rejoice in what He has done and pray He will renew my mind that I may trust Him to walk beside me in whatever new way He calls me to.