Founders Journal

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Founders Journal 73 · Summer 2008 · pp. 17-25

Transformed by the Renewing of Your Minds

Tom Nettles

An Imperative with Provisions

Transformed churches require transformed people. The work of initial regeneration has made the tree good, and now the continued infusion of divine truth gives fructifying energy for growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. The operations of divine grace through divine truth make for transformed fruit-bearing. Christian truth challenges the innate, inbred, and culturally reinforced worldliness of the thought life. This evokes an internal revolution in the way we view ourselves and our neighbors in light of biblical theology. Christian doctrine ascends to a status of relevance previously undiscerned and carries implications to redefine our entire being.

The total revolution of perception appropriate to the Christian informed Paul's urging in Romans 12:1, 2. Paul pointed to the cornucopia of divine mercy as the seed-bed for this transformation. Christ's atoning work, the Spirit's work of transformation, the Father's sovereignty in the entire process of salvation ("by the mercies of God") from eternal covenantal love ("whom He foreknew" 8:29) to glorification ("He also glorified" 8:30) call for a lifestyle of worship ("spiritual service of worship") that involves the immolation of self ("present your bodies a living sacrifice") in the interests of God-likeness ("holy and acceptable to God"). This is to be accomplished by a radical change in worldview. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." This renewing of the mind provides the foundation for the testing and approving of the intrinsic goodness and perfection of God's will.

Church Credibility Requires It

Circular letters written from associations of Baptist churches to member churches in seventeenth-century England urged on all the members a serious and sober meditation on the transforming effect of doctrine. The meetings addressed several issues--some doctrinal point, judgments on practical issues and ecclesiological matters, and exhortations to holiness and transformation of life. These letters engaged both mind and affection to greater Christian consistency through showing the applicability of Christian doctrine.

Their historical context pressed on them the necessity of proving to be a peculiar people. They claimed to be a church of believers. The established church included everyone and brought pressure on Baptists to conform. Enemies brought many false accusations of immorality and unlawfulness and scrutinized their behavior for opportunities to attack. These pressures only made meticulous care on these issues ever-present in their Christian consciousness.

This concern may be seen clearly in the admonition written from the Midland Association in England to its member churches in October 1657. The letter expressed the desire "that you may adorne the pretious gospell of our Lord Jesus with a holy and humbell conversation and that you may presse forward towardes the marke that is sett before you and that you may be kept unblameable untill the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." They had prayed earnestly for the prosperity of "Zion in general" but more particularly "that wee might be thereby the more enabled to glorifie him in our generation and performe the duties of our relation each to other as becometh a people redeemed by Christ." They especially noted the necessity to "be more in consideration of those blessed cautions that our Lord hath left uppon record for to warne us that so a slugish and drowsie frame of spirit sease [seize] not upon us."[1]

The "blessed cautions" include direct warning against worldliness and sluggishness in spiritual matters, enforcing the point by reminding them of who they are by God's grace in this world. What implications do the doctrines of the gospel have for them as a people that are in the world but not of the world? Failure to take to heart the truths of their calling by the gospel has allowed the "world as a canker to eat out your affections to the Lord Jesus." Too often have they been "asleep in the lap of this Dalilah" so that their "locks have been cut off and you are but as other men." Worldly approval in some cases has "made the world too beautiful" in that Satan "hath shewed them the kingdomes of the earth and this hath bewitched them." This condition has made the families of Christians "so dry, useless, and unprofitable" and has eaten out all the "divine sweetness of regenerating and sanctifying grace."[2]

When the yearly reports of churches indicated no improvement, but only a pattern of "all the same things that wee have endeavored reformation of," the leaders seemed distressed. Church and family neglect, deadness and coldness still abounded in the churches. Apparently the churches were content merely to complain, to confess fault and sin without forsaking them. Only a true grasp of God's grace toward them could prompt humility and heavenly-mindedness. The remedy for such sullen spirituality lay not in bare reprimand or moral exhortation, but in a mind absorbed by the kindness of God.

Though wee find much cause of filling our luynes [lines] with complaints yet wee would not forget the kindnesse of the Lord both to you and us.

And, first, that hee should make choyce of such unworthy ones and give his Sonne to dye for us and send forth his Spirrite in the Gospell of peace to call us from darknesse. Yea when wee were running to the pit of missery to bring us backe and put us among his children, setting us together in the hevenly places in Christ Jesus, giving us the everlasting hope of everlasting glory. Yea, such things that eye hath not seene nor eare heard not entered into the heart of man so wee may cry out with David, Oh, how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that feare thee. May not our hearts leape for joye in the thoughts of this glory and bee much to the admiring the distinguishing grace of God that wee shaould [sic] be chosen, otheres left. We have also cause to take notice of the love of God and his power in keeping us to beare his name and owne his trueth where so many are lost in the dark above and many turned from the precious wayes of God.[3]

Holiness should pave the way for evangelism. The letter expressed deep gratitude that He had given "suckcesses in that great worke of conversion" by opening many "dores in severall parts for the teaching of the Gospell to the world." In light of such blessing, the churches must resolve that "henceforth yee walke not as the gentiles walked in the vanity of their wishes but that wee put off the old man which is corrupt and that wee put on the new man which after God is created in righteousnesse and true holinesse."

In addition to holiness of life, church order and church officers according to biblical example prepared the churches for evangelistic engagement. Those near at hand are of immediate concern, that is, "poor friendes lying in their blood (among whom you were in tymes past) may bee much upon your hearts before the Lord and that, both at home and abroad, you may much endeavor their conversion." Further afield, evangelism was encouraged: "And it may bee a very acceptable service to the Lord if you may bee sendinge forth the joyfull sound into darke partes remote from you."

Their view of life, in other words, must conform to doctrinal truth if they were to find spiritual joy, bear spiritual fruit, and propagate the Christian message. The biblical pattern for Christian living develops out of the radical changes implied in regeneration, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, and the nature and attributes of God. A Christian worldview involves life transformation in light of doctrinal truth.

The Consistent Biblical Pattern

Christ the Lord of One's Thinking

This is exactly what Paul had in mind when he spoke of "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Often used as a verse advocating philosophical confrontation, its main emphasis concerns the relation between orthodox theology and holy living. The challenge to Paul's apostolic authority had grown severe and the misrepresentations of his character, his qualifications as an apostle, and his manner of conduct toward the Corinthians seemed to be taking root in their minds. In light of that, false apostles had been altering his gospel message and falsely presenting the person and work of Christ (11:3, 4, 13-15). Paul defended his apostleship, including his gifts of power, his sufferings, and his motives, so that they would forsake neither the Christ nor the gospel. He wanted to build them up, not destroy them (10:8; 12:19; 13:10). On his visit to them, would he find them in the faith, or out of it? If they accept false doctrine, they also will lead destructive lives. "For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced" (12:20, 21).

No admonition could more clearly demonstrate that a false theology leads directly to an untransformed life. A false gospel and a false Christ cannot lead to a rationale for holy living. On the other hand, when every speculation and every lofty thing "raised up against the knowledge of God" is brought into captivity to Christ, then a people will cleanse themselves "from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (7:1).

Divine Reality the Source of Personal Holiness

A Present Glorification

Paul taught the Colossians how to develop transformed relationships through serious engagement with the truths of the divine nature and Christ's redemptive work. In chapter three, Paul reminded the believers that they have an entirely new life, the prototype of which is already in heaven in Christ's glorified humanity (1-4). Since our present true life is in heaven and we actually will be glorified in the future, all that belongs to the life of rebellion and provokes divine wrath must be put to death. The members of this present body may already begin to reflect that glory that currently shines in Christ. The old self dominated by the depraved worldview gives way to the new self in the incipient stages of restoring the divine image (5-11). This is the worldview change Paul encouraged when he wrote, "I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument" (2:4).

Election and a Kind Spirit

Each aspect of God's gracious dealing with His people has its own appropriate corollary in human conduct and attitude (3:12-17). In verse 12 we read: "Therefore, as God's chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (HCSB). God's choice, His determination to set apart ("holy") certain sinners to receive His redemptive love ("loved") resulting in His patience with them should radically impact the way we respond personally. If we have been loved while godless, then we must be compassionate. We can never go beyond the compassion shown us by God. We must emulate the kindness of God, for when we were hated and hateful He showed kindness in sending Jesus: "For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, captives of various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the goodness and love for man appeared from God our Savior, He saved us according to His mercy"(Titus 3:3-5, HCSB). Election shows us that we have nothing of our own about which to boast, but owe all to God's sovereign choice; humility, therefore, is the only appropriate response.

Election also has established a component of gentleness and patience in God's dealing with us; though He could have destroyed us in eternal wrath and kept us under miserable temporal judgments until that destruction, he has been filled with gentleness and His patience has extended to infinite lengths. Paul had experienced this (1 Timothy 1:16) and, therefore, to change the personal worldview of his readers, reminded them that they should see themselves as well as other people through the lens of election.

C. D. Mallary (1801-1864) argued for the sanctifying influence of healthy reflection on the issue that "guilty, hell-deserving sinners are absolutely dependent on His unmerited favor for pardon and salvation." He is not moved at all by human will but by "His own free, sovereign, gracious pleasure" and bestowed through Christ "according to His stable and everlasting purposes." These doctrines are to be studied "with a view to holy practical ends." When that is done, it will "secure to the soul a precious, fragrant, ripening holiness" in a context that "will smite down their pride and fill them with adoring wonder."[4]

The Blood of Christ

Forgiveness by the blood of Christ also has a powerful effect in changing our understanding of the world. By the sacrifice of His only-begotten, well-beloved Son, God has opened the door of forgiveness for sinners. We have been forgiven at infinite cost, and have been lovingly welcomed to benefit from what Christ has done. Remember, Christ died for the helpless and the ungodly (Romans 5:6). If we absorb that reality into the way we perceive relationships, how can we ever be reserved about forgiveness? What can be done to us that has not been done seven-fold by us against God. Christ emptied Himself of heavenly glory and put our well-being, our best interest, before His own immutable pleasure, and submitted Himself to the vagaries of human suffering and fickle relationships (Philippians 2:7, 8; Romans 15:3). No human agent ever gave Him any comfort or encouragement as He undertook the most extreme act of love ever, or ever to be, performed.

If both wife and husband lived with that theological reality well-entrenched in heart and approached marriage with deep gratitude for such infinite mercy shown them, the tension and argumentation that arises from taking personal offense would diminish greatly. We would discover much less pride to offend and far fewer rights to maintain. When we consider others better than ourselves and their interests more pressing (Philippians 2:3, 4), we are much slower to be defensive or feel it our right to confront them.

In social relationships the same theological model operates. "Let every one please his neighbour for his good to edification," Paul wrote. The reason is centered on the incarnation and atonement, "For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on Me" (Romans 15:3, KJV).

The reality of our helplessness (Romans 5:6) throughout this transaction should transform our attitudes toward providing help for the helpless. Those that have no ability to respond to our kindness, who cannot reciprocate either with action, or money, or emotional acknowledgement must nevertheless receive our care. Those actions that most closely reflect the redemptive mercies of God are often the things that are never seen and yet involve the most arduous and thankless labor. Those tasks that have the greatest tendency to sanctify and show that the heart is being fit for heaven are those things that are the most menial and least celebrated and desired among men (Mark 9:33-37; 10:42-45). That the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom, if grasped mind and soul, would create a true servant-spirit and evoke servant-action on the part of Christians. This involves a true transformation of worldview.

The Trinity and Love

A healthy doctrine of the Trinity does wonders for one's personal worldview. After all, the Trinity is the fountain and foundation of all reality. The triune God has created the world to reflect His nature. When we contemplate the nature of the Trinity, therefore, and take to heart, as much as possible, the relationships that give the one God an eternal three-personed existence, we create a fabric from which unity may function in the midst of diversity. For this reason, Paul writes, "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:14).

The biblical teaching of the Trinity shows three infinitely excellent persons all having the same essential deity, yet having distinctive and person-appropriate modes of relating, both within the eternal divine essence and to the universe in creation, providence, and redemption. If love is the eternal fountain of the three-personed God, then love is the key to unity in the world he has created, particularly in the church for which Jesus has died in obedience to the will of the Father. Nothing could be more wholesome for church unity, for sympathetic relationships, and wholesome fellowship than a profound wonder and heartfelt joy in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Reconciliation

In a fallen world, however, the road to unity and love involves a radical restoration of relationship. Christ's reconciling work has produced peace between God and sinners. For this reason Paul can say, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body" (3:15). If God has taken initiative and removed the offense He had against me, such a reconciling work should affect my desire for peace with others. I was at enmity with God, and He also justly stood as my enemy because of my unjust aggression against His lawful rule. He has taken action to appease His wrath and restore my heart to its proper subjection to Him, and gives the call "Be reconciled to God." On this basis He has preached peace to sinners in all places. Since the eternal God has pursued the making of peace as a priority in the manifestation of His glory, I should let Christ's peace rule in my heart. An understanding of reconciliation by Christ's death, including the destruction of the barrier between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14) and the absolute claim that Christ's death gives Him over our lives (2 Corinthians 5:15), should motivate me to refuse to nurse any offense. Grudges have no place in the interpersonal relationships of Christians. To allow personal offense, hurt feelings, or a social faux pas bring division in a local church completely contradicts the very act by which the church was established. A part of the renewing of the mind, the alteration of personal worldview, hinges on a deep-dyed processing of Christ's work of reconciliation.

Word of Christ

Finally, Paul admonished the Colossians to let the "word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom." The Word of God must prevail; its rule, moreover, comes through a thorough understanding and full appropriation in application. When the word dwells in us richly, we have absorbed its content, understand the leading themes of it, their relationship to each other, and the power of their truth. Systematic theology, or confessions of faith, no longer impress us as unrealistic, academic barriers to the dynamic life of Scripture, but as friends to give guidance in a rich journey through the Word.

Knowing this Word as the "word of Christ" shows that we see its expression most accurately when we are able to relate it to Christ. We are driven, not by mere arbitrary and undisciplined sentiment, but by awareness of the divine intent to restore His people and display His glory through the covenantal arrangements with the well-beloved Son of God. All the contents of the Bible point us in some way to Christ. Jesus' religious opponents showed their ignorance of the Word of God, when their knowledge of it did not lead them to Him. "And the Father who sent me has Himself borne witness about Me," Jesus told them, in a clear reference to the Father's intention that the Old Testament Scriptures should lead its readers to recognize and embrace the Messiah. Jesus continued, "His voice you have never heard, His form you have never seen, and you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom He has sent." To summarize His judgment of the source of their resistance He said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:37-40).

Not only to His detractors did He emphasize the christocentric nature of Scripture, but He showed the same thing to His disciples that their faith would be strong, informed, and formidable. "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" He told those two bewildered and distressed disciples as He joined them on the road to Emmaus. Had they seen the entire message of the Old Testament, how all its history, all its poetry, all its wisdom and all its prophecy pointed to Him, they would have known that it was "necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory." To put them on the road to a mature, cross-carrying faith, therefore, He began "with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27, ESV).

Our understanding of Scripture will be focused correctly and bear vibrant and lasting fruit when it is handled as the word of Christ. Our worldview will be transformed when we relate all our activities ("whatever you do in word or deed") to the "name of the Lord Jesus" and live in gratitude that our approach to the Father comes "through Him" (Colossians 3:17).

When we admonish one another in wisdom, we simply encourage our sisters and brothers to act in a way consistent with the truth of Scripture. We do not desire a spirituality, that is, transformation of personal worldview, that rises above doctrine. In fact, we must pursue lives that more and more approximate the beautiful lineaments of clearly articulated, comprehensively developed, and conscientiously enfolded Christian, and Baptist, doctrine. We desire that the rich truths of Scripture, expressed as discreet yet indivisibly related doctrines, so saturate our minds and affections that our conduct will itself be a reflection of the gospel and its truth and grace.

We will know that justification is more than just a doctrine; it transforms our hearts to relationships saturated with grace. We will know that election is more than just an objective description of how God goes after a people for Himself; it commends to us a life of patience and kindness and active pursuit of friendship to do good to others. When we encourage others with the blessed and infinitely glorious truth of the Trinity, we purify our worship of Him and, also, we set forth a goal for unity through the binding sinews of love. When we admonish one another in the wisdom of reconciliation, we hold out hope that no barrier is too huge to transcend; bitterness, hostility, betrayal--all can be overcome through just, loving, and holy strategy under the blessing of God's grace. Our personal worldview can be radically altered through eternal truth; we can approve the things that are excellent in order to be found sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10). The word of Christ fits us for the day of Christ.

Conclusion

C. D. Mallary, who treated the entire spectrum of biblical doctrine in its tendency to produce holiness, which he called "soul prosperity," summarized the power of biblical realities in promoting personal piety and reformation in a section on "active faith."

At first the sinner, convinced of sin, renouncing all the works of righteousness which he has done, and all other human dependencies, flies to Christ for refuge and complacently relies on Him as his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is now accepted, pardoned, and justified; he is united to the Savior by faith; he is now a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus. But that faith which first bears the soul to Christ abides in the bosom, a permanent and living principle, depending upon Him at all times, and trusting Him through life for all needed good. And, moreover, that faith which rests on the Savior secures in the bosom a cordial reception of all God's testimony, as far as the mind progresses in the right understanding of the terms in which it is propounded. It takes God at His word in all things. It expands and ripens into the sweet revealed truth at large; the truth that concerns ourselves, the Father, the Savior, the Holy Spirit; the works, providence, and government of God; the soul, the Church, angels, eternity.

To faith is assigned, by the Scriptures of truth, a most dignified position, it has much, very much, to do in the whole spiritual history of the saint; and according as it prospers or declines does the soul prosper or decline in its vital interests. Without it, it is impossible to enjoy God, to obey God, to please God. It nurtures the comfort, quietude, and stability of the soul. By faith we stand; by faith we walk; by faith we live, labor, fight, and conquer. It is that by which we purify our hearts; it is the victory that overcomes the world, the shield by which we quench the fiery darts of the wicked. It gives boldness and success in prayer, a sweet odor to praise, a spiritual excellence to our patient enduring. What is the word read, or heard, or remembered, unmixed with faith? A profitless thing. Faith, by receiving the word of God in its true import and for its true intent, converts it into precious nourishment for the soul; feeding by faith upon the manna of truth, the soul is made prosperous--it flourishes in beauty and in strength, in hope and in gladness.[5]

This sort of worldview not only will be the most unanswerable challenge to the unbelieving philosophies of the world, but will be the true fruit of ongoing reformation in the churches. We must strive always to have a holy discontent with our present status that it not be quo, but pursue the status of ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, a church that is reformed and always reforming, a transformed people living with transformed relationships.


Notes:

1 B. R. White, Ed. Association Records of the Particular Baptists of England, Wales and Ireland to 1660, 3 Parts (London: The Baptist Historical Society, 1971), 1:35.

2 Ibid., 3:94.

3 Ibid., 3:98.

4 Charles D. Mallary, Soul Prosperity: Its Nature, Its, Fruits, and Its Culture (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1860; reprint ed., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1999), 295, 297, 299.

5 Ibid., 25-26.

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