Summary: If we are to run the race in life that God has set for us, we must develop a lifestyle of training to be like Jesus. As one noted basketball coach once stated, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” This
Retraining the Mind, Body and Soul
In the ancient Greek Olympic games, an athlete would begin training at least 10 months before the race. This training involved rigorous discipline including the athlete’s diet, his sleep habits, exercise routine, and daily running. The goal was literally to punish the athlete’s body until he was in the best possible shape to win. Then, one month before the games, the athlete would move to Corinth, 10 miles from where the games were held. He was assigned a personal coach who put him through additional rigors in preparation for the race. This meant early rising and long days spent lifting weights, exercising, pushing himself to the edge of his strength and endurance. All this was done in order to prepare to run the race of his life. Whatever his success, it was due, to a great extent, to his preparation or training.
So it is in the Christian life. If we are to run the race in life that God has set for us, we must develop a lifestyle of training to be like Jesus. As one noted basketball coach once stated, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” We Christians must prepare to win through training, discipline, and hard work. But here’s the problem: most of us here today have been Christians for at least a number of years, if not most of our lives and studies have found that the lives we are leading and the worldview we carry have very little resemblance to that of Jesus. The Barna Research Group discovered in his annual survey of the status of the Christian faith in American culture that only 9 percent of professing Christians have a biblical worldview. Because of this, today’s believers live very similarly to non-believers. In fact, in the survey the unchurched stated they can see no difference in the lives Christians lead and their own. That would seem to indicate that you and I not only need to enter training but many of us need to be retrained in how we think and perceive the world and how we live our lives so that we more closely emulate Jesus himself. Jesus came in human form so that he might show us what it means to live and serve God. It is his example that we called to follow. In Methodism, John Wesley called this sanctification, the process by which we become more and more like Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds. We do that by becoming an apprentice of Jesus, learning to live and think as Jesus did.
In our Scripture today, Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus was filled with Gentiles who had not worshipped in the Temple as Jews, but had come out of idol worship to faith in Jesus Christ, as a result of Paul’s ministry to them. So when Paul mentions “With regards to your former way of life”, the condition he’s speaking of is paganism, doing the things they used to do in their pagan worship and way of life. In many respects, the Roman life centered around physical and sexual desires. And for most he’s describing their former way of life too, recalling their former ways but also are reminding them that Jesus has rescued them from that way of life. What Paul discovered was that it was very difficult for these new Christians to maintain their new way of life, especially when surrounded by their former way of life. We all know how difficult it is to change our habits and our way of life.
So how do you do that? We need to retrain our mind, body and soul to live and think as Jesus did. As Christians we are to look, talk, and act different from the world. Our acceptance of Christ means we have accepted a new lifestyle. To overcome all of the temptations around us and our tendency to fall back into old habits, we need to go into retraining. And, as Paul tells us, that begins in the mind which then also extends to the body and soul. In Western society, we make a distinction between the mind, body and soul but the ancient world believed and knew they were all intimately connected to one another, so much so that you cannot separate one from the other. The mind is the seat of reflective consciousness and intelligence, the place we process information about the world and interpret it. It is also where we make decisions and determine our attitude and disposition, which determines our behavior and conduct. That then determines what we do with our body, in other words, the actions we undertake. But it also determines the deepest desires of our soul. As followers of Jesus Christ, our deepest desire should be to do the Father’s will and that means following in the example of Jesus. It is this desire which then helps us to overcome our own self-centered desires and affections. No longer are we in control of our lives but rather it is Christ Jesus who lives in us. Paul put it this way: Galatians 2:20 – "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 5:24 – "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."