This past spring, I attended our Recovery Ministry’s Celebration Night to acknowledge a friend who was completing the Steps to Gospel Recovery program. This event was an opportunity for the men and women in the program to share and celebrate the ways they had experienced victory over sin through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was, without a doubt, one of the most powerful worship moments I’ve experienced in a long time.
What made it so powerful was hearing person after person boldly share about where they used to be compared to where they are now in Christ. Most people came into the program wanting to overcome “that one sin” in their life. But, what became abundantly clear to me was the common theme that they didn’t find victory in behavior modification. The key was not a foolproof program that taught them how to change their actions through rigid accountability measures. The key was that those people had been transformed.
Do you have a particular sin struggle right now that you absolutely hate? Is there a particular sin that, no matter how hard you try to fight it, you find yourself giving in over and over again? The problem with our pursuit of holiness is not that we lack the desire to fight sin. The problem is that we lack power. No matter how much you desperately want to overcome “that one sin” in your life, without power nothing will change.
You’ve probably experienced this. You may have tried every trick in the book to try and stop “that one sin”, and yet, somehow find yourself stumbling. Will victory over sin include changed behaviors? Absolutely. But in order to find victory over that sin, the power does not come from behavior modification. The power that fuels your changed behaviors must be rooted in your identity, not your actions. Holiness must come from who you are before you consider what you should do.
This is Paul’s point in Romans 12:2 when he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
If you want to be transformed, you need to renew your mind. This is surprising to us because to be conformed to this world means that we look and act like it. It is outward facing, it is something that can be seen. Naturally then, we would think that the solution to not being conformed to the world would be to simply not look or act like the world. But Paul doesn’t say that. He says the transformation happens not on the outside, but on the inside. It happens through “the renewal of your mind.” If you want transformation, renew your mind.
It is very important to understand that Paul isn’t calling us to renew a few wrong thoughts or beliefs. He is calling for a renewing of the entire system of thought—your entire mind. Here’s why.
“… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
The moment a person places their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior they become a new creation! It is a complete change in identity. Your old self “has passed away.” The reason why you can’t get over “that one sin” is because you forget who you are in Christ. You are putting on a costume of your old self because for a long time that was who you were. But it is not who you are now. This is what Paul is calling you to renew your mind towards—you are a new creation in Christ.
Paul makes the connection between the renewing of the mind and our living in the old versus new self perfectly in Ephesians 4:21-24.
“assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Look at verse 22. We’re told to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life …”
And then look at verse 24. “… and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
How are we to make this transformation from the old self to the new self? It sits right there in between these two commands in verse 23, “… be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” This is exactly what Paul is telling us in Romans 12:2.
When your mind is not renewed, you operate in the old self and are conformed to the world. You continue to stumble in the sins of your former life. But, when you remember that you are a new creation in Christ, that your old self was crucified on the cross, you live “in true righteousness and holiness.” That is your power to overcome “that one sin”. That sin belongs to the version of you that died. It does not belong to who you are right now in Christ.
If you want to overcome “that one sin”, you must renew your entire mind—not just your thoughts or beliefs regarding that specific sin. You don’t need correction, you need transformation.
So, what do you do when you’re blindsided by the temptation of “that one sin” in your life? Think of it like this:
You are walking down a path trying to get to your desired destination. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, you find yourself about to take a step and realize that it’s a cliff. This is the temptation. You need to get to the other side in order to get to your destination, but how are you going to clear the gap?
What you don’t do is stay on the edge of the cliff and try to jump across it with flat feet trusting your strength alone. You will fall. What you need is momentum and power. So, you look at the gap and you back up. You find as much space between you and the gap as possible and then you sprint and leap over it.
When you’re blindsided by the temptation to sin, trying to overcome it with just behavior modification alone is like jumping with flat feet. Very rarely will we overcome the temptation.
There may be times when you think of a specific promise or passage of Scripture in the moment, and occasionally, it may help you actually overcome the temptation. This is like taking a few steps back and then jumping. This is a good start, but the problem is that Satan is really good at attacking the promises of God. This is what he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Did God really say…?” He was able to get them to doubt the goodness of what God’s command and promise to them was.
And they fell.
When we hold on to a specific promise or truth, sometimes our faith in it remains strong and it will give us power. But if you are like me, it is very easy to start to doubt God’s goodness in His promises when we find ourselves continually falling. We need more power.
Renew your entire mind. Not only do you remind yourself of God’s promises, but also remind yourself of your new identity. You are a new creation and the Holy Spirit of God is in you.
When you completely renew your entire mind by remembering your true identity, all while holding on to God’s promises, you will grow in your pursuit of holiness in every aspect of your life. And the outcome is what Paul concludes Romans 12:2 with, “… that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
When you overcome sin through the renewal of your mind, you land on the other side of the gap and know for certain that pursuit of holiness is worth it. You know for certain that holiness in that area of your life truly is the will of God. And furthermore, you agree that it is good, acceptable, and perfect.
So, what was it about those men and women in Steps to Gospel Recovery that showed me this kind of transforming power? As each person approached the microphone to share about their journey, they all started the same way. “My name is _______ and I am a new creation in Christ.” And then after sharing everything that God had been doing in their life through the program, they concluded with the same statement. “My name is ________ and I am a new creation in Christ.”
That is the renewing of the mind. That is transformation. That is victory over sin.