The Active Work of Letting God Change You
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“I should really say something.” You’ve just seen something that you know isn’t right. You try to ignore it, turning and walking the other direction. But your heart is burning within you. You want to speak up, but something restrains you: fear. Fear of embarrassment, fear of the reaction you may provoke, fear of misreading the situation. “Who am I to even say something?” The moments tick by. You see your opportunity to act starting to slip away. You try to mentally rehearse what you’d say if you were to say something. Your heart is pounding as you work up the courage to confront the situation. You look around, wondering if anybody else knows what is going on. “Surely there’s somebody else more qualified than me to intervene here.”
But there isn’t. Nobody else is aware, or if they are, they’re just as conflicted as you are. This is your moment to act and yours alone. Will you speak up? Or will you let the moment pass?
Fill in the blanks. You’ve been in this situation before—it could be your friend who wants to drive home having had too much to drink; it could be that you have been told information that will hurt someone you know, but they are unaware as of yet; it could be that you see a stranger in need of help in a public place but nobody is willing to approach them; it could be that you see an adult talking to a child in a way that somehow feels off; it could be a married man or woman acting too familiar with someone who isn’t their spouse; it could be that someone new has come to church and you want to say hello, to warmly greet them, but your inhibitions hold you back. Fill in the blanks.
When we talk about God’s Holy Spirit, we often talk about it in passive terms. “Yield to the Holy Spirit;” “submit to God;” “let this mind be in you.” Thinking about it only in passive terms can feel toothless—a useless faith that just requires we simply stop sinning, staying pure from the world by disengaging from it completely.
It is these types of situations—when our hearts burn within us, when we feel a strong urge to act, to say, to do something—that help to break the illusion of the passive tone. This is where the passive submission to God intersects with the active power of wielding the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). So often a spirit of fear keeps us from actively shining forth the light of God. But “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). What it looks like to let this mind be in you (Philippians 2:5) is to actively wield the power of God through love. To not give in to the spirit of fear, but instead to be a conduit through which God can do good—in our own lives and in those of our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our spouses, strangers we meet and indeed the entire world.
It is critical to understand this, because if your only focus is to stop sinning, the life-giving water of the gospel stops with you. But we know that our calling is much more than that—it is to allow rivers of living water to flow from us (John 7:38).
Slave to Sin, or Slave to Righteousness?
The presumption of Scripture is that we are doing works—bearing fruit. Paul spoke of “works of the flesh” in contrast to “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-25). Jesus blasted the Pharisees for having the wrong works (Matthew 23:3-5). And Paul put it this way: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:16, New Living Translation).
“So often, a spirit of fear keeps us from actively shining forth the light of God. But ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7).”
Paul puts it in such black-and-white terms because we usually fool ourselves into thinking things aren’t as bad as they are, usually by comparing ourselves to some much worse standard (“I don’t sleep around/shoplift/blaspheme God/etc., so I’m not that bad”). We also often live on a kind of auto-pilot, where we aren’t necessarily choosing sin, but we aren’t really choosing righteousness either. The net result of living that way in the long term, however, is sin if we don’t let Christ’s mind be in us. “I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground” is answered by “You wicked and lazy servant . . . cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness” (Matthew 25:25-30). Yikes.
Come to Me, All Who Are Weary
The good news is that our calling to be Jesus’s disciple comes with a beautiful promise: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
I had never understood this saying very well, because I had never really thought through the word picture He was painting. Also, despite having grown up in Amish country, I’d never really seen and understood the concept of a yoke as it’s used on beasts of burden. So allow me to do so here: a yoke is a strong wooden beam that a farmer places across the back of two oxen to link them together. He or she harnesses them both to the plow, and the yoke allows them to pull together in harmony, amplifying their strength. Inherent in this whole process, however, is matching two oxen of relatively similar strength in the first place. If one is significantly stronger than the other, he will strain against the yoke while the weaker one strains to keep up—and each ox’s strength is spent more quickly.
In Jesus’ word picture once again we have some assumptions—that we are always walking forward (doing works, living life), and that we are under a yoke of some kind. The yoke of Jesus Christ is easy, lighter and less burdensome in implicit contrast to another yoke: the yoke of the sins of this world—the things that we turned away from when we chose to live this way of life. The works of the flesh—fornication, drunkenness, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, bitterness, etc.—these are the yoke of the ruler of this world, Satan. He will hook you up, and the more you strain to keep up with him, the sicker, the weaker, and the less fulfilled you will be.
By comparison, Jesus Christ says His burden, His yoke, His pace is easy. This does not mean He is espousing an unproductive or somehow lazy way of life (see above parable); rather, He is espousing a way of life focused on righteous living. Read the Gospels. How did Jesus live His life? He was always helping, healing, listening, giving, merciful, showing compassion, forgiving. And people loved Him for it.
What would it look like for us to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”? It would be actively doing all those things that He did out of an authentic love for God and our fellow humans. The result is a peace of mind and a life of rich reward (John 10:10).
Agents of Change
When Jesus came, He kicked things off by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). As the King of Kings, He demonstrated what His Kingdom and His rulership is like in word and in deed, inviting all who witnessed it to believe in Him and to become His subjects. Many thought He was going to establish the fullness of the Kingdom on earth right then—overthrowing Rome and restoring Israel to its once and future glory. But He didn’t, and here we are almost 2,000 years later and He still hasn’t returned to do that. So where does that leave us?
“Remember: At no point has God’s Kingdom ceased existing. We must be conscious that we are not just waiting for His Kingdom to begin. We are part of it already.”
“To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened,” Jesus said (Luke 13:20-21). We are the leaven, and the world is the three measures of meal. When we are submitting to God, allowing His mind to be in us, yielding to His will instead of our own, doing His work, pointing people to God by the way we live our lives, He is quietly and almost imperceptibly working to expand His Kingdom and its influence on this earth.
Remember: At no point has God’s Kingdom ceased existing. Yes, for now it is not of this world, and the kingdoms of this world are under Satan’s domain (Ephesians 2:2; consider Matthew 4:9). And it is at a future point in time that Christ will return to intervene in human affairs and expand His Kingdom to include this world.
But in the meantime, we must be conscious that we are not just waiting for His Kingdom to begin. We are part of it already. And the method by which God is expanding it right now is through us as we let Christ’s minds be in us. He began the good work, and has called us to continue it (Matthew 28:19). And in us individually He has begun a good work, which He will finish (Philippians 1:6). But for Him to do so requires that we let Him.
Letting go is not simply a matter of passively disengaging from life, focusing solely on quitting sin. It is a matter of yielding to the will of God, letting go of our natural human mindset, and powerfully wielding the Holy Spirit in service of the good news of God’s Kingdom.