In a scene from the movie, My Cousin Vinny,” Joe Pesci’s character is cross-examining a eye-witness who happens to be an elderly woman with very thick glasses. She claims she can see quite well with her “Coke-bottle” thick glasses and gives testimony that she identified the two defendants exit the store where the crime took place. To demonstrate that she wasn’t seeing clearly, Pesci walked to a distance from her equal to half the distance she said she was from the defendants, and then asked her to tell him how many fingers he was holding up. From this, she realized that what she was seeing through her glasses was not correct and she needed thicker glasses.
The reason I bring that up is that I have come to the conclusion that many individuals who have grown up in the church have been convinced of a view of themselves that is different than how God views them. This has given these individuals a mindset, a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world that just doesn’t line up with God’s and they have arrived at a place in life where much is really screwed up and a mess. Now I admit I’m not a trained and licensed counselor, but when I have people come to me for spiritual counseling, I’m realizing that much of what they are encountering in their life are really just symptoms of a bigger, underlying, core issue, namely, how they think and view themselves.
Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in himself, so is he.” How a person thinks shapes who s/he is and eventually becomes. A person’s actions are shaped from how s/he thinks. I find it interesting that the Greek word translated in English as “repentance,” “metanoia,” literally means a “change of mind or heart.” It means changing how one thinks or views something. So, transformation begins with, just as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Transformation of one’s life begins with the mind, changing how you think and view yourself and the world around you. This renewing of the mind is tied directly to having one’s mind brought into line with God’s way of thinking and perspective.
Now, there may be those who find this radical, but how often throughout the years have people who are followers of Christ been told constantly and persistently that their continued appropriate label is “sinner saved by grace?” Here’s my issue with that: it’s at worst inaccurate and at best inadequate, for it speaks to a past identity. As I read Scripture, namely how I believe Paul views this (notice how often he says “What you once were”), this is where I land. I was once a sinner; that was my identity and everything about me, my thought life and perspective on reality arose directly from that. I became a sinner who was saved by grace when I believed the message about Jesus, became an adopted son of God, and received the Spirit of Jesus which became my new nature because God had killed off the old one having crucified me with Christ. At that moment, though, I became a saint, literally a “holy one,” of God. I don’t find anywhere in the New Testament where a writer starts a letter with “To the sinners saved by grace at…” Nope, they start “To the saints at…” “Sinner”, even “sinner saved by grace,” is no longer their identity; Their new and true identity is “saint.”
With that identity must come a renewed and different way of thinking, viewing one’s identity and reality, and perspective on the world around him/her. I’m not saying that a saint never sins again, but that doesn’t mean s/he is known by God as a sinner, no more than a child who chooses to lie from time to time is a liar by identification. It means for that one choice and moment, the saint has chosen to not live from his/her true identity.
So, what I have found is that dealing with the core issue first, helping the person to change how s/he views him/herself to come into line with how God views him/her, is of crucial and primary importance. Once that happens, a whole new realm now begins to open up because the person starts to see things differently, and from that different perspective, walks a different path that leads to a different result and destination. Then, and only then, can the symptoms be addressed in a more permanent way as s/he walks forward on the path as God lays it out.
The church must stop reinforcing an inaccurate view (in Alcoholics Anonymous they call it stinkin’ thinkin’) of a Christ-follower’s identity and begin to teach and reinforce the follower’s true identity which is how God sees him/her: saint. When that happens, I have found it amazing how people move forward into different aspects of that identity, and many times at accelerated speed, but it all starts with that thought process and view of one’s self.
If you are a follower of Christ, an adopted son or daughter of God, how do you view yourself? Do you see yourself as still a sinner, even a “sinner saved by grace?” Is that the way you think? If so, don’t be surprised that what you commonly do is sinful. That would be the expected result, not the exception. But if you view yourself and think of yourself as a saint (which is how God knows you), you shouldn’t be surprised that your natural action and reaction are godly, because you are just operating from your new and true nature as a natural result of who you are. The action, reaction, or decision which is sinful is now the exception, not the norm.
And it all starts with the mind being renewed.