“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
“. . . offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:1-2).
In Paul’s instruction is the road map to a renewed mind, which is at the core of our transformation as believers. “Offer your bodies”—an act of the will—and transformation kicks into gear. The outcome is an increase in the knowledge of God and his “perfect will” (“then you will be able . .”). As the author and minister George MacDonald said, “Obedience is the opener of eyes.”
As I’ve related in an earlier post, this transformation takes place “in the wilderness,” the wilderness being a metaphorical training ground for becoming the people of God. It happens to everyone without exception. “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea” (1 Cor 10:1ff.). All means everyone.
If we can shed its unpleasant connotations, we might substitute “the school of the Spirit” for “wilderness experience.” In it we’re guided, taught, counseled and corrected by the Spirit. It culminates in our “graduation” to living in the kingdom, a life governed and characterized by, for example, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5 ff.).
It’s a lamentable fact, however, that a process so straightforward can be short-circuited in so many lives, and sometimes with extraordinary results.
If you’ve read a bit of church history you may have heard of Symeon the Stylite, a 5th-century ascetic known for living 37 years on a pillar in Syria (starting out with a 10- footer then moving up to a 50-foot pillar later in life). Aside from snide comments (Symeon? Oh him. The ‘pillar of the church’), he even inspired a few others to follow his example. (Like beta VCRs and eight-track tapes, however, the trend didn’t last.)
So, you offered your body as a living sacrifice and your renewed mind . . . told you to live on top of a pillar? I don’t think so.
Or, closer to home and our generation, you no longer conformed to the pattern of the world and . . . you bark like dogs, howl like wild animals and laugh uncontrollably as your “spiritual act of worship”? How did your renewed mind lead you to that conclusion?
As Isaiah once prophesied, “Who is blind but my servant and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but have not paid attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing” (Isa 42:19-20). Paraphrase: You haven’t seen spiritual blindness until you’ve seen a spiritually blind believer.
Obviously, I have highlighted a couple of egregious examples. But if, after we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we start to get second thoughts and the sacrifice starts slinking off the altar, something happens. Our thinking becomes “futile” and our hearts “darkened” (Rom 1:21), which is the lot of humanity when God is not honored as God.
It’s not as if the will of God at any stage of our life is something elusive, esoteric, or difficult to grasp. “Our forefathers were all under the cloud,” Paul wrote, referring to the pillars of cloud and fire that led Israel through the wilderness. In the desert those pillars could be seen for miles.
It was not for lack of guidance or light that the people stumbled in the wilderness. Despite the “same spiritual food and spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert” (1 Cor 10:3-5).
“For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb 4:2).
We have more than adequate provision in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. “The Counselor will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (Jn 16:14).
The apostles had the written word that is our Old Testament. Until the New was written and compiled, the early church had the Spirit as Counselor and Guide to the Law, the Prophets and Jesus’ teaching. Today we have the canon of all Scripture, through which the Spirit illuminates and applies the word to our particular circumstances.
If the desired outcome is being “able to test and approve what God’s will is,” you can be sure it’s not hidden or accessible only to a select few “spiritual” individuals. The most confused believers I’ve known are not those who truly don’t know God’s will, but those who know it but are unwilling to do it.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you” (Ps 32:8-9).