Being a Christian is an interesting thing. Paul describes being a Christian as having liberty. We have been set free from sin, we have been freed from the bonds and chains of this sinful nature. `Everything is permissable`, Paul wrote.
What have we been freed to though.. What are we now free to do
Ultimately, when Jesus died on that cross, and when He defeated death and the grave, He redeemed us back to what God had given humanity in the beginning: the power of choice.
Through Jesus, we are free to choose. We can freely choose to love, to serve, to give. Or we can freely choose to turn away. (This would be why that once you`ve been saved, if you then reject the gospel, and reject your salvation, there is no more salvation available to you -- you resold your power to choose, and Jesus isn`t going to die again for you to get it back).
However, sometimes as Christians, we lack awareness of this freedom to choose. That`s why we tend to sin so frequently, and why we feel like we are continually struggling. Being a Christian means that we can no long live life on autopilot, because the autopilot program is corrupted. Now that you have that freedom to choose, you also have the responsibility to actually make a decision, and not just react on instinct or habit in the moment.
God gives us the recipe to develop this awareness of our choices: it`s called `renewing your mind`. The degree to which we renew our minds is the degree that we are aware of our choices and able to decide among them. (This would be why reading scripture frequently is helpful -- it keeps constantly in the forefront of your mind the idea that you can choose what you will do, how you will respond, and changes how you think -- renews your mind).
Old habits are ingrained in our brains. The more you follow a certain pattern of thought and behaviour, the faster the physical neurons in your brain connect, and the easier that connection is made. Like water, your thoughts and actions will tend to follow the easiest path, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will do what you`ve always done -- unless you choose otherwise.
The point is that we have this power to choose, and the more aware we are of our choices, the easier it is to choose -- and the more you make the right choice, the easier it is to make the right choice again. You will retrain your brain.
Humanity was designed to live inside time. We make choices based on what happened, what is happening and what is going to happen -- the past, the present and the future. However, our lack of awareness of our choices will make us unaware of the time as well. God did call us to `redeem the time`.
If we live solely in the past, we will become indecisive. So caught up in what happened, we will be victims, and feel helpless and powerless. We will be unaware of the present moment, the choices facing us, and completely ignorant of the future consequences. We will live passively, letting life just happen to us, instead of deciding for ourselves what we will do, and what we will make happen.
If we live solely in the present, we will become impulsive. Living in the moment is spontaneous and fun, but dangerous too. We will be forget all about the past, and its lessons to be learned. Someone once said, `Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.` and it`s very true. Those who ignore the past make the same decisions over and over again (old habits die hard, and old thought patterns become ingrained). We will also forget all about the future, and its impending consequences. Then we constantly wonder why the same things happen over and over again. This life choice leads to insanity, doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.
If we live solely in the future, we will be come overly anxious. We will forget about the past, and the victories and successes there, and we will forget the mistakes made so we do not repeat them. We will miss the moment of decision, paralyzed by the thought of the consequences of every choice, by not being aware of the present. We will wonder constantly `what if, what if` and never be able to appreciate what we have. This leads to discontentment, and a constant search for security, or a way to numb the pain of worry.
In order to really choose, we have to be aware and live in the whole of time. Sometimes, it seems animals do this better than we humans do. An animal will learn from the past -- that`s why they can be trained. Animals are very (very!) aware of the present -- that`s why they are opportunists. And animals plan for the future -- `look to the ant, you sluggard!` We humans need to live similarly, dealing with and learning from our past, in order to plan for our future, so that in the present moment our choices will be right and good.
The first thing we need to do in order to make a good choice is to deal with the past. We all have things we wish we hadn`t done. We all have painful memories, regrets and sorrow about the past. In order to not live there, we must deal with these things. We must come to terms with the fact that no matter what it was, we had a choice (even when we were legitimately a victim, there is still a choice -- a choice of response. The good thing is that choice can be made in the present, even when the victimization happened a long time in the past!) We must also learn to recognize all the consequences of our past choices, even when they are uncomfortable. Sometimes this means we must admit we made a mistake. And that we must forgive ourselves for that mistake, recognizing that Jesus has already forgiven us. Once we`ve dealt with the past, we can learn from it. We can learn which decisions led to consequences we didn`t like, and purpose to not make those mistakes again. We can figure out what we want, what we like, what we value, and what`s truly important. In short, the past shapes our identity.
The second thing we need to do in order to make good decisions is to plan for the future. All those `what if`questions will disappear when we have a plan. You can`t decide anything if you don`t know where that decision fits in the bigger picture. Having a plan for the future means having a guide for all your decisions. But in order to have a plan, first you must find out who you are (dealing with the past). You need to know what you want, what you like, what you value before you can develop the plan that will get you there. Once you have a plan, all your decisions fall into place, and we can decide for the consequences that further the plans we have, and decide against those things that will hinder the plans we have. You can`t know what you will do, what you want, until you know who you are, and what your purpose is. Your identity shapes your destiny.
You can`t know what to do until you know who you are and what you want. You can`t know what to do until you know how you`re going to get what you want. And you can`t know who you are and what you were made for, until you know God. One thing you can know for sure, and this is a great starting point, is resting assured that God made you, God loves you, and God has a plan for you.
Deal with the past and learn who you are. Plan for the future and learn where you`re going. Then the present will fall into place. Your decisions will be guided by your values and your goals. If your identity and destiny are rooted in Christ Jesus, your decisions will be based on who He is, and what He wants. Then the promises of God come into effect:
`And we know all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.`
`Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.`
`Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding; commit all your ways to him and he will direct your paths.`
`With God all things are possible.`
`Happy is the man who trusts in the Lord ... he shall have good success.`
`I would that you will prosper in all things, even as your soul prospers`
Becoming aware of your power to choose, renewing your mind, and redeeming the time = the Christian walk. It`s not easy. It`s not that hard either. It does require effort, but it is rather simple. It`s a `light yoke and easy burden`. It`s `picking up your cross daily to follow`.
It all starts with a choice.