How Behavior Management Stunts Your Growth

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March 21, 2018

Ephesians 4:22-24

22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

CONSIDER THIS

O.K., I’ve got a question for you to get us kicked off today.

Have you ever been taught “to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness?”

When I look back on most of what was passed off as discipleship in my life, particularly the first half of my life so far, it can pretty much be summed up in one word: Behave. In fairness, it would be two words. Behave and believe.

Isn’t that what the text means when it says “to put away your former way of life?” Stop misbehaving. How about the other side of the coin? Yep, that looks like good behavior.

and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness?”

The secret hides sandwiched between v.22 and v.24.

v.23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds

I think I missed the day they taught about v.23. What on earth does it mean “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds?”

For starters it doesn’t look like something I actively do myself. The invitation is “to be renewed.” This is something done to me. If someone tells me to get a haircut I do not assume they mean to cut my own hair. No, my part is to show up at the barber shop. Someone else gives me the haircut.

My part is to show up; to present or offer myself to God. Already, my individualized bias comes to the fore. I’m talking about my part. It is not me but us. This plural dimension of the Gospel cannot be overestimated or understated. Christianity is not like golf. The Christian life is a team sport.

Romans 12:1 sheds further light on the point. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 

Bodies (plural). Living sacrifice (singular).

Now watch where he goes in v.2. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

Sound familiar? [P]ut away your former way of life. . . be renewed in the spirit of your minds. 

Then, and only then, can the magic happen:

and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So what’s my point? You already know. This most essential process of transformation, of becoming a human being who lives and loves like God lives and loves will not happen apart from other people. Until we come into close community with a few others our old life is not going anywhere.

Bringing it full circle, how did the Christian life get reduced to behavior management? Here’s my theory. We lack the relational infrastructure required to catalyze the kind of transformation it takes to sustain the new self. Instead, we put on a religious overcoat over the old, false self. From there, behaving is about as good as it gets. And yes, this breeds hypocrisy. It’s why the younger generations these days have little regard for the church. Thank God they haven’t given up on Jesus.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, who calls us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Let your light expose the remaining vestiges of my old, false self. I am ready to be done with it. Bring me the kind of fellowship with a few others where the deep change can happen. We pray in Jesus name, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. How would you describe your old self and your former way of life?
  2. What do you think it means to be renewed in the spirit of your minds?
  3. Are you stuck in your maturing or growing up process? Trapped in ruts you can’t get free of? Have you become convinced that trying harder to be better (behave) is futile? Are you ready for the next level? (i.e. Holy Discontent) What will you do about this?

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J.D. Walt, Sower-in-Chief for Seedbed, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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