We saw that in Ephesians 4:22-24 there can be no change in lifestyle without a change of thinking. We need to start thinking about Christ, and thinking his kinds of thoughts if we are to live his kind of life.
But whereas Paul puts this being “renewed in the spirit of your minds” at the heart of his model for personal change, putting off an old way of life and putting on a new one, we have a tendency to try short cuts. We want to help people change. Sadly, we miss the key elements that Paul stresses. We either try to bypass the mind or sideline Christ – or both! Consider some of the less than Christian techniques that we employ:
Moralism. We tell people what they ought to do. The Victorians were good at that, and as a result outward behaviour was probably better a hundred years ago. But Pharisees are likely as hell-bound as Mobsters. Good behaviour based on duty and obligation is not Christian; it is deadly. Our counselling and preaching must focus on what Christ has done, not what I ought to do.
Militarism. We tell people what they must do. The Gospel never anticipated the Sergeant-Major being an agent of change. Obedience is the fruit of change, not the root of change. Paul wants people thinking for themselves, not being told what to do – even if what they are told is the right thing to do! We must focus on what Christ has done, not what I must do. Otherwise it is neither grace nor gospel.
Mechanicalism. We try to program people to do things. Behaviour modification can result in change, but Pavlov’s dogs are not the same as Paul’s disciples. There’s a lot of difference between a thinking person and a programmed robot; Paul wanted people to act mindfully rather than mindlessly, mechanically.
Motivationalism. We try to move people to change by playing on their emotions rather than changing the minds. Inspiration may bring short term change. Emotions are vital, but Paul envisages emotions stirred by the truth that has gripped the mind that drives real change. We do not want people to act right because they feel like it but because of who they know they are in Christ.
Mysticism. This is a spiritual form of motivationalism – trying to motivate people to change as a result of a mystical experience. It’s attractive to our quick-fix culture: change that occurs effortlessly in a mystical moment. But the renewing of the spirit of the mind that Paul refers to is a process rather than an instant. Profound spiritual experiences are very important, but unless they lead to the lifelong task of learning to think differently, nothing really changes. Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road required years then spent in the desert learning how to think Christianly rather than Jewishly before the new man emerged ready to preach.
Instead of telling people what they ought to do or must do, they need to be taught what Christ has done (Gospel), and what they will do as a result of his life in them (Grace). Only so will they be able to put off an old way of life and put on what Paul describes as the “new self” – a new creation in Christ, not just a modified improvement of the old self. That’s how people change.