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Within You

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate have concluded, and the pundits are in unanimous agreement over the results. For the most part, if you were in support of Obama before the debates, you are supporting Obama now.  And if you were a McCain supporter prior to the debates, you are probably still supporting McCain.

What is true of the presidential debates applies to any question, whether it involves movies, music, philosophy, or fashion.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  People read the world around them through the lens of the attitudes and convictions that lie deep within them.

Knowing the importance of inward factors, Paul reminded the Ephesians of the lessons they had been taught when they became Christians:

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 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 (Eph. 4:20-24).

Something radical had occurred in their conversion—something as deliberate and noticeable as changing clothes.  They had put off the “old self,” those worldly passions that kept them enslaved to sin, and had put on the “new self,” which was molded after God himself in “true righteousness and holiness.”

Paul knew that in addition to the conversion experience Christians must continue to grow.  That is why he encouraged his readers to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”  This “spirit” is the “spirit that directs the mind,” the inner man who exercises control over his entire being.  This is to be renewed continuously.  It is significant that the action related to the conversion experience—“put on” and “put off”—are in the aorist tense, which denotes activity occurring at a specific time in the past.  Over against this is the verb “be renewed,” which is in the present tense, denoting continuous action.  The believer must devote himself to the study of God’s word, meditation, prayer, and an appreciation of righteous role models so that his inward man stays fresh and new.  As Paul said in another place, “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Why is it that every church contains two basic types of members?  There are the enthusiastic contributors, who are present at every service and serve as the backbone of the congregation.  And then there are the members who struggle to make one service a week.  These are not very involved; many of them are unhappy and critical of the work.  These two types exist in every church, whether it is large and thriving, moderately growing, or small and struggling.  How can two radically different perspectives coexist in the same congregation?  The difference lies within.

I believe that a person could wither away spiritually in the most enthusiastic church in the brotherhood.  The reason is, as Solomon said, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, NKJV).  Likewise, it is possible for a Christian to grow and remain enthusiastic for the Lord in a small church with few opportunities.

Most of the time, spiritual failure occurs under the hood.  Many spiritual problems could be resolved by learning what Paul taught the Ephesians: that there is no life in Christ without inner renewal.