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God’s peace for God’s purpose

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Romans 8:5-8

Starbucks is experimenting with a $1 cup of coffee. Now you know things are tough in the economy. It’s an eight-ounce serving they call the “short cup.” They may even start allowing free refills of traditional coffee. Your usual double cream latte espresso with hazelnut is not covered, I’m sorry to say.

This has been a tough week. The stock market has lost so much ground that economists are saying the word “recession” daily. The Federal Reserve announced a rate cut of unprecedented size; the president and Congress are meeting on economic stimulus packages; the presidential candidates are debating whose solution is the best. Meanwhile our other problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have not changed.

Where do we find peace in such challenging times? The answer doesn’t lie with our stock portfolios and retirement accounts, with our military strength or favorite candidate.

God’s peace for God’s purpose is available to every one of us right now, no matter how perilous the world seems to be. God has shown me this week how I can have that peace. Now he wants me to show you as well.

Decide to give your mind to God

I am holding today the strangest artifact I’ve ever brought back from Israel.

Over the years it’s been my privilege to take many study groups to Europe, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. I’ve brought back souvenirs from every trip. The ring on my right hand, for instance, is a Greek key symbolizing eternal life; I bought it on the island of Rhodes last year. I have icons of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul from Greece staring at me as I work each day. A bust of Socrates from Athens stands nearby, telling me to “know thyself.”

But on a shelf to the side of my study, hidden behind some books, stands the figurine of Jesus I’ve brought to church this morning. It’s made of clear plastic, with a stopper in its head. I bought it at a roadside gift shop near the place at the Jordan River where I baptized a group of believers on one journey to Israel. It’s meant to bring back water from the Jordan, I suppose. It’s the most heretical thing I own. I keep it because it reminds me of how blasphemous we can be.

But it also serves to illustrate another fact: the plastic figure of Jesus is the container, not the contents of whatever I put inside it. If I pour clear water there, Jesus looks clear and clean to the world. If I put muddy water inside, Jesus looks muddy and contaminated to all who see him. The choice is mine.

It is the same with our souls. What we put in determines who we are.

Some of us “live according to the sinful nature” and “have our minds set on what that nature desires.” As we admitted last week, every one of us is tempted by our “sinful nature.” We want to sin. We want what sin offers. When we resist temptation, it’s not because we don’t want what sin is selling, but that we don’t want to pay that high a price. We don’t want to get caught, or deal with the guilt which will come, or pay the consequences. But we want to sin. That’s our nature.

My sinful nature may desire different things than yours does. Not all of you aspire to impress people with your speaking ability, but I do. I don’t care about the latest styles like some of you do. Drugs and alcohol happen not to tempt me as they do some of you; but performance-based self-esteem may not tempt you as it does me.

Paul’s point is that we please our sinful nature when we “have our minds set” on what it desires. “Have their minds set” means to be focused with intent purpose, to be thinking about something all the time, to make some goal or aspiration the focus of our lives.

And what our minds think, our lives become. “The mind of sinful man is death”–a sinful mind leads to spiritual, emotional, and eventually physical death. We do not submit to God’s law; we cannot please God.

The positive is also true: “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (v. 5b).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned only once in Romans 1-7 (Romans 1:4), but nearly 20 times in Romans 8. When we “live in accordance with the Spirit,” we cooperate in his purpose for us. We submit to his authority and follow his leading. How do we do this? When we “have our minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

With this result: “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” When we think God’s thoughts and want God’s purposes for our lives, our lives become what our minds conceive. And the result is “life and peace.” “Life” here means emotional, physical, spiritual, and eternal life. “Peace” here means a tranquility which transcends circumstances, a “peace which passes understanding” (Philippians 4:8).

What we think, we become. That’s a documented fact of psychology and human experience.

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Stoic, wrote that the happiness of a man’s life depends on the quality of his thoughts. Psychologists and counselors have long agreed.

That’s why God’s word commands us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What you think, you become. Your peace is not ultimately dependent on the stock market or the war in Iraq or the presidential election, or your last medical test or your job status or your house’s value. It comes when we “set our minds on what the Spirit desires.” How do we do this?

Learn to give your mind to God

First, begin the day with the Spirit. The first thoughts in your mind go a long way toward determining your day, and how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

Mark 1:35 says that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” If Jesus needed to give his mind to God first, what of us?

You know how the day begins. All you must do rushes at you like wild animals. You immediately begin thinking about your tasks for the morning. Most days you feel behind before the day even starts. Stop that. Stop your mind from going there. Turn it immediately to the Father.

Breathe a prayer of gratitude for another day. Say something like, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). It may help to put a biblical scene or picture where you can see it, to tune your alarm clock to a Christian radio station or use a Christian CD. Before you do anything else, go to your Father. If you put mud in the bottle first, you’ll be all day getting it out.

Second, give your mind to the Spirit. Ask him to speak to you and guide your day. Keep putting pure water in your mind and soul. In John 16:13, Jesus promised: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

It is the Spirit’s job to give you the Father’s intention for every subject which comes up through the day. He is an interpreter as it were, translating the word and will of God so that you can understand and follow them. Ask him to speak, and trust that he will.

Sometimes he’ll bring Scripture to your mind (which is why it’s so important to study the Bible every morning). Jesus promised us that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Sometimes you’ll sense his leading; sometimes he’ll open and close doors; sometimes he’ll speak to you through another person. It’s his job to translate and interpret–it’s your job to get close enough to hear him, and then to listen.

Third, refuse every thought which dishonors the Spirit. Don’t let them into your mind, for they will fill your life and corrupt your soul.

Paul was explicit on this: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:1-11).

You wouldn’t compromise with physical cancer; don’t compromise with mental malignancy, either.

Fourth, give every worry to the Spirit. Your finances or health, your marriage and family, your past or present or future. If anything is big enough to worry you, it’s big enough to give to the Spirit of God. Jesus was explicit on this:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).

What are you worried about this morning? Give it to the Spirit, now. And leave it with him.

And last, fill your mind with what pleases the Spirit: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

To do that, stay focused on Jesus: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you’ll become more like him every day.

Conclusion

Isaiah 26:6 says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

When you start the day with the Spirit, give your mind to the Spirit, refuse what dishonors him, trust your worries to him, and fill your mind with him, you will learn for yourself that “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). You’ll have the peace of God for the purpose of God.

People see in your life what you put into your mind. Is that good news or bad for you today? Which will it be tomorrow?