Some time ago when I was in college I finally got tired of learning the same spiritual truths over and over again only to forget those lessons and have to relearn them (usually the hard way). Then one day in my college apartment it occurred to me that we had this amazing new technology called writing and that I could actually write down and recall to mind on a daily basis some of these key truths. Over the next several years I added to my personal “top truths” list until I landed on seven that would be foundational for me over the next 20 years. (Actually there were eight, but seven was a more spiritual number so I dropped one of them).
Thus I developed my daily mantra of speaking to myself these seven true things along with a Scripture or two related to each. It became my way of daily renewing my mind. At times, when it started to become too routine, I would take a break from doing it, but for the most part it has been the single most important spiritual discipline that I do on a regular basis (the second being Frisbee golf).
Now a disclaimer by way of a suggestion before I share these (although I know you’ve already peaked ahead and read the bullet points (shame on you!). After reading my list, I would encourage you to take an afternoon and think through your own life. What have been the most important, most significant spiritual lessons for you over the years? Write them down. Your list will most certainly be different than mine (although there must be seven or it doesn’t count!). I think you’ll find the exercise of doing this very meaningful. Consider also sharing it with those closest to you. If you’re a pastor or church leader I suspect your congregation would find it extremely edifying to hear which truths have been most central to your life. If you’re not a pastor, consider sharing them with your kids or your spouse or just a group of close friends. Then go out and play some Frisbee golf.
Okay, enough rambling—on to the goods.
Truth #1 – We Are At War
Sometimes when I’m depressed or discouraged, or if I’m just feeling a bit spiritually dry, it is enough for me to simply recall this truth. It’s like water being splashed in my face to awaken me from slumber. Suddenly I’m alert and I recognize the face of the enemy at work. The Scripture text for this one is Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
In addition to the need for being aware of the devil’s schemes and for being alert, there is another reason why this truth is important to me. It’s a call to me to have a wartime mentality on a daily basis. The key verse on this point is 2 Timothy 2:3, 4:
Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t take time for ease and fun. We need to have times of rest and relaxation. But the purpose of R&R is to renew us so we can jump back into the battle fully refreshed and renewed.
Truth #2 – The Battle Is the Mind
The first truth reminds me that we’re in a war. This second truth tells me where the chief battleground lies. The Scripture I relate to this truth is 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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.
I used to imagine this verse to mean that we are to block entry of any bad thoughts entering our minds—kind of like a gate. But now I see that it’s actually speaking of something more like a military MP guy going around and taking into custody any thoughts in my mind (sometimes a rarity) and bringing them to Jesus for questioning. At that point the thoughts can be either embraced or discarded.
Now I know there are times when it is not enough to simply believe the truth and expel the lies and everything will be better. There are often hidden strongholds and past wounds that go deeper than the mind. However, I’ve found that before going there, before seeking to identify any deep spiritual or emotional strongholds, the first step is to simply fight this much more straightforward battle of the mind. Most of the time going through this process of expelling the lies and believing the truth about who God is and who I am in Christ brings the needed freedom from depression or temptation or whatever it might be that is confronting me at that moment. If the issues or emotions remain after going through such steps, that’s my clue that there may be something deeper going on and that I need the ministry of prayer.
Truth #3 – Temptation Is Not Sin
We know that temptation is not sin because Scripture says Jesus was tempted in every way but that He did not sin.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
I’ve found this one extremely helpful over the years. Many times I’ve found myself in the midst of some temptation and feeling very defeated and shameful because of it. I haven’t actually sinned yet, but I feel like I’ve sinned so I give in to that sense of defeat and consequently, into the sin. But that’s just another lie of the enemy. If he can get us to believe we’re defeated, then our behavior will play out that belief and we’ll give in to the sin. At least that’s been my experience. But temptation is not sin. The struggle with sin is not sin.
But whenever we do sin, we know what to do. Don’t spend a ton of time beating yourself up (another tactic of the enemy). Simply breathe a prayer of confession, receive the absolution and get back into the battle.
Truth #4 – Faith Is Not a Feeling
I think this one is best illustrated by looking at the life of Paul and comparing his actions in the book of Acts with some of the emotions he talked about in his letters. A prime example is found in Acts 19 when Paul is at Ephesus. Demetrius and the idol-makers guild had stirred up an angry mob against him and the revival that was taking place. You probably know the story—the mob is in a frenzy, chanting for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Paul wants to go in and talk to them, but he would have been torn to bits. His friends had to hold him back from confronting the mob. You get the sense of a superhuman faith when you look at Paul in that text. But it’s good to remember that Acts is called the book of “Acts” and not the book of “Feelings.” It just tells what they did—not what they felt. To get a glimpse into some of the emotions behind Paul’s acts, we have his letters, and it just so happens that he references this exact incident in 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.
Paul was feeling despair? He was feeling great pressure beyond his ability to endure? It’s encouraging for me to know that behind Paul’s great acts of faith were sometimes very real emotions like feeling pressure and despair. I use 2 Corinthians 4:18 and 5:7 for this truth, and it’s in the context of the above passage:
…We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…we walk by faith, not by sight.
Truth #5 – Sin Is Not an Option
Now this one may or may not be helpful for most people. It sounds a bit too much like “Just say no” (and we all know how helpful that has been). And yet, I still find this truth helpful (most of the time). The reality is that if I spend any amount of time considering the options, with one of the options being to give in to some temptation (i.e. lust, prideful thoughts, bitterness, country music…), too often I’ll choose the sin. But if I don’t even allow the sin to be one of my options, I find some added strength. If I say to myself, “That’s not who I am, that’s not even an option for me,” it actually does help me. The text I use for this truth is Romans 6:11:
Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Truth #6 – I Am a Dearly Loved and Completely Forgiven Child of God Who Has Been Set Free
Now you’re probably thinking two things as you read this truth. First is that it’s a mouthful and maybe should have been broken down into two or three truths. But that would, of course, mess up my perfect seven. Unthinkable! The second thought might be that this truth is so utterly foundational to the Christian life, why bury it so far down the list? Why not begin with this one?
My ordering of these seven truths has not been random. You’ve probably noted that most of the truths to this point are focused on some rather negative things like sin and temptation and warfare (and country music). But as I near the end of this process of renewing my mind, I want to end on the positive. I have purposely made the most important truths the last two on my list.
If there has been any weight added to my heart by focusing on truths one through five, truth number six removes the weight. There comes with it that great sigh of relief each morning as I allow myself to once again be overwhelmed by grace and this amazing identity we now have as beloved ones. Several volumes could be written unpacking this truth, but I’ll just leave it at this and give you the Scripture texts I recite along with this truth: 1 John 1:9; Romans 8:1-2, 1 John 3:1; Galatians 5:1, 13.
Truth #7 – The Meaning of Life is Jesus
Before elaborating on number seven, let me give you a glimpse into what my mindset tends to be by the time I’ve made my way through the first six truths. I feel like I’ve cleansed my mind and am ready to attack the world. I’ve got a war-time mentality. I’m ready to resist sin and take every thought captive. I’m a forgiven child of God, and I’m ready to go out and do great things for Him! But even though the weight of sin has been lifted by number six, I sometimes feel a different kind of weight at this point. I feel a burden as I think about everything I can and should do for God.
The seventh truth tends to take whatever remaining weight I’m feeling and removes it. It takes all the attention of my mind (which is now ready to be focused) and centers it on what matters most in life. It fixes my eyes on Jesus. The meaning and purpose of my life is not to do great things for God. It’s not even to reach the lost with the gospel. The central purpose of my life is to know God through Jesus Christ and to grow day by day, moment by moment in that relationship with Him. It’s to go deeper and deeper into a greater intimacy with the Creator of the universe.
After I had preached through these seven truths at a church one time, a friend of mine came up, thanked me for the message, and then pointed out a disagreement regarding one of my points. Regarding this seventh truth, he noted that this last truth leaves out the centrality of the Trinity by focusing only on Jesus. It’s a point well taken, and for a while I modified this last truth to read something more like “the meaning of life is relationship with the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Spirit.”
But I have to say that I’ve since gone back to just focusing on Jesus for this last truth. Although emphasizing the Trinity may be more theologically correct, for me it no longer had the desired effect of crystallizing my dependence and focus on a Person. Instead it had become a focus on a theological truth (albeit a foundational one). So I’ve gone back to ending this process by clinging desperately to Jesus and trusting that He is leading me to the Father in the power of the Spirit. Here are the texts I use:
This is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).
I don’t want your sacrifices, I want you to know me (Hosea 6:6).
He who abides in me and I in Him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
All things have been created through Him and for Him (Col 1:16).
Indeed, in the end it really is all about Jesus.
These seven truths for renewing my mind and entering into the day have become an integral part of my spiritual life, growth and victory in Christ. I encourage you to give some thought to making a list of your own.