Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Renewing Your Mind And Changing Your Will

Fr. Dale Matson

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7, KJV)

For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18b-19)

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:25)

In Romans chapter seven, Paul describes what some have termed the “Carnal Christian”. This chapter could be describing the purgative stage of the Christian life. Unfortunately, it seems like certain behavior patterns that are self destructive and self-defeating continue to plague and torment us far into our earthly pilgrimage. Some of these behaviors we have asked forgiveness for time and time again, yet like a bad penny, they keep turning up.

Initially, behavior change is first learning what the proper behaviors should be. (Romans 7:7) A common phrase today is “The new normal”. My question would be, “Is it really new and is it really normal?” Whether one wants to call certain behaviors “normative”, “mores”, “morals” or “laws”, we are all ultimately more “free” with boundaries.

Paul makes it quite clear early on in chapter 7 that initially we are ignorant about what is right and what is wrong. I recently held confessions for 40 folks who were to be confirmed as Christians. Several asked me if what they were confessing were sinful activities (This reminds me of my first weight watchers meeting where I saw a normal portion size of meat for the first time).

Let me give an example of the process using my own life. When I first came back to Christ, I was addicted to cigarettes. For years, I went out between adult bible study and the church service to have a cigarette. It was a solitary experience. At that time, the evidence that cigarettes were harmful was established but knowing this and really inwardly digesting it are different. Eventually God laid it upon my heart that it was a poor witness to others and harmful to me. Even at this point, I did not have the will to change. I knew in my mind it was wrong and harmful yet continued smoking (Romans 7:18b-19). An alcoholic friend once said that when it came to quitting drinking that he had the willpower but not the won’t power.

I decided to pray for the “won’t power”, the will to change. My mind was there but my will lagged behind and kept the change from happening. I prayed to get the will to change for two years and finally I announced to others in bible class that I would be quitting smoking. I quit on January 10th 1983 and never picked up another cigarette.

I also used a behavioral program from the American Lung Association on quitting. It helped me to inwardly digest the “ashtray” ugliness of smoking and required me to record each cigarette I smoked daily. It was bringing the unconscious behaviors to consciousness. Another aspect was providing an aerobic replacement behavior such as walking when I felt the urge to smoke. I was also made aware of trigger behaviors that went with smoking such as a cup of coffee that often accompanied a cigarette. Announcing to the brethren was that I was quitting helped seal the commitment to quit. Behavior plans provide a plan for incremental change.

Entrenched behavior patterns are difficult to stop. There are lots of attendant rituals that surround and support those behaviors like coffee and smoking.  It seems like initially we want forgiveness but we really don't want to change. There is a progression in the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our trespasses. The next step is, deliver us from evil. Forgiveness involves the mind. Deliverance primarily involves the will.

For those who want to get off the seemingly endless sin and forgiveness cycle, try praying for a change of will. That involves empowerment from the Holy Spirit and Romans Chapter eight.  

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Don’t forget also that a fruit of the spirit is self-control. Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2a) May God bless you all. Dale+

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