The spiritual life is simple, but not easy. To grow spiritually is not a complicated process, but it is (at least at times) difficult. It will take effort to grow spiritually, though what needs to be done is clearly explained in Scripture.
And all efforts at change begin with the mind.
What needs to be changed most of all is the way we think. Before we make significant efforts at changing our habits — stopping sinful activities and initiating godly behaviors — we must transform the habits of our minds. The thoughts that we think when we are passively going through the day, the initial mental responses to circumstances, and the desires and longings that we cultivate all need change and transformation.
Paul indicates this in numerous ways in Romans 6. In that chapter, he is addressing two potential abuses of God’s grace — the implication that sin can be increasingly indulged in order to gain more of God’s grace (Rom. 6:1), and that sin must be cultivated because God is gracious and doesn’t care about the sin of believers (Rom. 6:15). Those ideas are an abomination to Paul (“may it never be” has the connotation, “might such a thing never even come into existence”). So throughout this chapter, Paul asserts that to fight against such spiritually horrific ideas one must renew his mind.
Notice in both verses 3 and 16 Paul asks, “do you not know…?” That is, to such a misuse of God’s grace, Paul indicates that the believer needs to know certain realities about God’s grace and salvation. And similarly, in verse 6 while Paul doesn’t ask the question, when he says, “knowing this…,” he affirms that something about their relationship with Christ should be known by all believers. Specifically, the believer should know about his identity with Christ and the implications of that spiritual union (vv. 3-4, 6-7), and he must know about the implications and end of being enslaved to sin, or being enslaved to the only other master one can have, Christ (v. 16). In other words, to live “under grace” (v. 14) begins by renewing the mind and growing in our knowledge about Christ and the purposes of the gospel.
Additionally, Paul exhorts his readers to “consider” some particular truth (v. 11). This word “consider” is an accounting term that means something like “reckon and act on.” It essentially is an exhortation to a new way to think. And notice that the command to “consider” (v. 11) comes before the command to not let sin reign in their lives (v. 12). Before one can act in a new way, he needs to think in a new way. Transformed living begins with transformed thinking.
One particular way to engage in transformed thinking is to be thankful, which is what Paul himself demonstrates when he reminds the Romans of what God did to transform them (v. 17). They were sinners enslaved to the mastery of sin and incapable of doing good that pleased God, but now they have been justified and become obedient to God (v. 17b). A wise consideration of our past life without Christ and present life with Christ should inevitably produce a similar outpouring of gratitude to God for His work of grace in our lives.
So throughout this passage, Paul is encouraging the Romans to be renewed in their thinking so that both their thinking and living are in accord with the grace of the Christ who saved them.
And Romans 6 is filled with transforming thoughts and meditations. Consider, for instance, all that Paul reveals about Christ and our salvation in this chapter, and let that be your meditation. In this chapter, we learn:
- to meditate on His death and burial (v. 3, 4a)
- to meditate on His resurrection (v. 4b)
- to meditate on the new life He provides (v. 4c)
- to meditate on our unity with Him (vv. 5, 8; Jn. 17:22ff) — an infinite expression of love for us
- to meditate on the life we have been saved to have with Him (on earth now, v. 8)
- to meditate on Christ’s mastery over sin (v. 9; Jn. 16:33)
- to meditate on His present life, living for the Father (and that we, too, are given new life to live for the Father, v. 10)
- to meditate on the life we have been granted in Christ (v. 11b; Gal. 2:20)
And beyond those realities, we might also consider the Gospels, the supreme revelation of Christ’s person and work. And then we might consider the Old Testament prophecies concerning His coming and His work (e.g., Is. 53) and then the New Testament Epistles, which expound the fullness of His work.
The believer in Christ will be consumed with Christ because he belongs to Christ and because he is made to become like Christ. Christ is the one that saved him, Christ is the one who is his master and friend, and Christ is the one who is the goal and end of his life. So the growing believer intentionally instructs himself and purposefully thinks on Christ and his salvation in every event and opportunity of every day.
Further, a purposeful consideration of Christ is essential to mitigate the tendency of the flesh to lead the believer to sin, as Kris Lundgaard explains in The Enemy Within —
“Sin can’t breath in an atmosphere of fear and reverence before God. It suffocates. Can you imagine your lust cheery and prosperous when you are on your face before a holy God?”
Is the contemplation of Christ helpful in the fight against sin and the fight for righteous living? Just evaluate the last foolish choice you made to sin and then ask, “What if at the moment I made that decision I had instead considered the crucified Christ (thinking of Him dying for the very act I was about to commit)?” Or, “what if I had considered that what I was about to do was actually an action that Christ had died to liberate me from doing and that I did not have to commit that act because of my new life with Him?” Those questions, or similar ones, most certainly would have made a difference in the choices made in those moments.
This is the simple explanation of the spiritual life — to become like Jesus Christ, make your mind to dwell and contemplate on Jesus Christ at all times.