Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Reformation: Thinking New Thoughts"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Revival & Reformation
Lesson 11: "Reformation: Thinking New Thoughts"
Most religions and philosophies teach that it is possible to redirect thought patterns of the mind with enough conscious effort. Concentration or meditation is usually the method recommended, so the devout spend as much time as possible emptying the mind of earthly thoughts in anticipation of some epiphany from the gods. If you haven't reached nirvana, you must try harder; the gods will remain indifferent to you until you reach that elusive highest level.
This is an old covenant counterfeit of Satan, but like all counterfeits, it contains elements that are true. It is true that God wants our thought patterns to change, not to bring Him closer to us, but so we can accept more of His blessings. It is true that meditation helps to focus the mind, but not as an end unto itself, as a means of making our minds available to God. The "epiphany" may or may not happen, but like the phenomenon of receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it isn't to give us a mystical experience known only by the individual. Any epiphany comes from seeing new facets of God as we meditate on His word, not on "nothing" in the hope of getting a private revelation.
It is true that by beholding, we become changed. What does it mean to "behold"? It can't mean that we look at an object 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only thing a Christian should want is to become more like Christ, so logically, he or she should spend time studying and meditating on Him. This sounds simple, but we have an enemy who is trying to crowd our lives with everything else. There are so many distractions in this world, we tend to think of them as irresistible, but that's a lie of Satan. True, the distractions like your TV exist, but it's just a box/screen that you have. Unless you have programmed it, it doesn't turn itself on or to specific channels. The choice of when, how much, and what you watch depends on you. We tend to think of the TV's enticements as irresistible, but like all the world's other distractions, it's always a choice.
The problem is how to make the right choices. The answer cannot be a works-oriented effort to reprogram our mind to never make wrong choices. E. J. Waggoner described it this way:
"Let us now apply this illustration in a case of conflict against sin. Here comes a strong temptation to do a thing known to be wrong. We have often proved to our sorrow the strength of the temptation, because it has vanquished us, so that we know that we have no might against it. But now our eyes are upon the Lord, who has told us to come with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. So we begin to pray to God for help. And we pray to the God that is revealed to us in the Bible as the Creator of heaven and earth. We begin, not with a mournful statement of our weakness, but with a joyful acknowledgment of God's mighty power. That being settled, we can venture to state our difficulty and our weakness. If we state our weakness first, and our discouraging situation, we are placing ourselves before God. In that case Satan will magnify the difficulty and throw his darkness around us so that we can see nothing else but our weakness, and so, although our cries and pleading may be fervent and agonizing, they will be in vain, because they will lack the essential element of believing that God is, and that He is all that He has revealed Himself to be" (Christ and His Righteousness, p. 92).
We are admonished to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5), but how do we do that? Paul outlines the steps Christ was willing to submit to in coming to this earth: "although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped" (vs. 6). How does this help the person struggling with sin? We aren't God, but often we try to be. Idolatry is, ultimately, the worship of self and one's own ideas. We are not equal with God and any attempt to insert our own philosophy of how to worship Him is paying homage to ourselves. When Adam decided to eat the forbidden fruit, he was asserting his ideas of what was best for him above what God had instructed. We must never forget that He is our creator God.
Christ laid aside His divine privileges and took the form of a bond-servant (vss. 7, 8). Humans never want to step down and lower their position in life, the desire is always to improve and advance. Christ was willing to humble Himself in obedience to the requirements of the plan of salvation agreed to by the Godhead (vs. 8).
In the ultimate act of humility, Christ submitted to the most feared method of death, that of the cross. The Jews were instructed (Deut. 21:22, 23) that if you were sentenced to death on a "tree," you were cursed by God and had no hope for resurrection. It is one thing for Christ to have died for the unknowing and ungrateful human race, but it was by faith that Christ was willing to become a curse for us with the very real possibility of never seeing life again. Christ was willing to believe His heavenly Father's promise not to leave Him in Sheol (the grave, Psalm 49:15).
Our humility is what God needs to let His Holy Spirit work in our minds to change them. "And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us" (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 668).
Satan always appeals to our old covenant nature, which strives to contribute to everything concerning our experience with God. With Israel of old we promise to God "all that the Lord has spoken we will do!" (Ex. 19:8). We don't realize we are born with enmity to His law and need His creative power to change that.
The good news is that God has promised to do just that for us. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31:33). "And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people and I shall be their God" (Ezek. 11:19, 20).
Notice the Person doing all the action is God, not us. No amount of concentration will change our thoughts which were "hard wired" into our stony heart, but a Creator God can give a new heart of flesh. What a wonderful hope!
--Arlene Hill
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