The bedroom door slammed open and my son ran in crying.
“There’s a monster on the ceiling!”
“Huh?” Not again. I groggily got out of bed and followed Zane down the hallway and into his room. He pointed a trembling finger at a red light on the ceiling.
“Bubba, who told you that’s a monster?”
I turned on the lights and looked over at Daphne, who was suspiciously covering her head and snoring cartoonishly.
“Bubba, that’s not a monster,” I assured him. “That’s just the smoke detector. Go to sleep.”
“No, it’s a monster,” he insisted. “It scary!”
“Fine. Let me show you.” I took the detector off the ceiling and sat with Zane to give it a closer look. I let him hold it, test the beeper, and take out the batteries.
“What it for?” he asked.
“If there’s ever a fire, this will smell the smoke and start beeping so Mommy and Daddy will know there’s danger. The firefighters say we should have one in every room.”
“That’s right. Grandpa was a firefighter. And he wants you to have one of these in your room, so you’ll be safe.”
After I put the smoke detector back, and tucked Zane in, I pointed to the little red light on the ceiling and asked, “Bubba, is that a monster?”
“No!” he said.
“What is it?”
“Dat’s a smoke dee-tek-tur.”
“Should you be scared of it?”
“Noooo,” he said sheepishly.
“Night, night, Bubba,” I said.
“Night, night, Daddy.”
Monsters in Your Mind
If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve had the same kind of conversation, if not about smoke detectors, then about some other kind of monster hiding in the dark.
Now, here’s my question to you—what scared my son?
I’ll give you a hint—it wasn’t the smoke detector.
The smoke detector didn’t make Zane cry, stop him from sleeping, or cause him to run into my room in fear.
So what did?
His beliefs about the smoke detector.
He believed it was a monster.
He believed it would hurt him.
He believed he was in danger.
Those beliefs are what scared him.
And once Zane’s thinking changed, so did his behavior. Once he knew what a smoke-detector was, he no longer thought it was a monster. So he wasn’t scared.
His circumstances didn’t change. But his thoughts about those circumstances did.
Has wrong thinking been holding you back spiritually?
Has it been getting in the way of your relationship with God?
I’ve been putting together some basic lessons on how to live the Christian life, and I’m happy to tell you, that the very first thing to know is that living for Christ starts in your head. It begins with your mind, with how you think and what you believe.
That’s what the Apostle Paul taught the Ephesians.
Abandoning the Old Ways
On the one hand, the unbelievers in Ephesus were living sinfully and Paul didn’t want the believers to follow their bad example:
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).
What, according to Paul, was the root cause of the Gentiles living sinfully?
They were walking in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.
The unbelieving Gentiles had futile minds,
and lived in ignorance.
Now, what do those three problems all have in common?
They all have to do with thinking.
The mind is a battlefield and the Ephesians were losing the fight. They were living sinfully, because that’s where their minds were focused. Instead of thinking of the things of God, they concentrated on the things of the flesh
and their pleasures.
As Paul continued, they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Sensuality. What is that?
Your body has five senses—sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Many of those sensations can be pleasurable and some people make it their life’s goal to experience as much pleasure as possible—in every way, shape, or form.
Oscar Wilde, the famous English playwright, once wrote, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” He would have been comfortable in Ephesus.
“Pleasure is the only thing one should live for,” Wilde wrote. “Nothing ages like happiness.”
Like Wilde, the Ephesians were hedonists. Pleasure was their priority, and they gave themselves over to it with gusto.
But the believers should have lived differently. Why? Because unlike the Gentiles, they knew better.
Knowing Is Half the Battle
But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:20-24).
Why were the Ephesians in a position to live differently than their neighbors? Look at what Paul says. Because unlike the Gentiles, they had learned Christ. They heard about Him, were taught in Him, and learned the truth is in Jesus. That new information, those new ways of thinking, should have put their former manner of life in a different perspective.
Once you understand the consequences of your actions, it usually takes the pleasure right out it.
Giving birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome, takes the pleasure out of going out for drinks with the girls.
Killing a pedestrian, takes the pleasure out of drag-racing.
Getting divorced, takes the pleasure out of having a fling with a co-worker.
And losing your house, takes the pleasure out of gambling.
Or at least it should.
Knowing the bad consequences of your actions should take the temptation right out of doing them, whether you learn the hard way, or the easy way.
Hence, Paul urged the believers to lay aside the old self (a reference to their flesh—their mortal bodies—complete with its lusts), and to put on the new self (referring to their newly created, born-again human spirits, the “inner man” which contains eternal life, where the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and which contains limitless spiritual potential).
And to emphasize the importance of right thinking to right living, look at what Paul says next. How do you make that transformation? How do you put off the old, and put on the new?
The secret is sandwiched between vv 22 and 24.
Do you see it?
The way to put off the old, and to put on the new, is that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.
There it is again. The mind. In order to live different, you have to think different.
Instead of a futile mind focused on temporary lusts and pleasures, you need a spiritual mind set on the eternal things of God.
Instead of a darkened understanding, ignorant of the truth of God, you need an enlightened one filled with the knowledge of Christ.
Instead of thinking of deceitful lusts, you have to think Christ.
Growing into Christ’s likeness in your behavior, begins with growing into His likeness in your thoughts.
If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, deepen your relationship with Christ, and change your behavior, then you need to begin by renewing your mind.
To do that, you need to learn Christ.
You need to feed on the Word of God, and let that Word change the way you think.
Put simply, the basic lesson here is—if your understanding is darkened, turn the lights on.