Charlie Brown never kicked a football held by Lucy Van Pelt; somehow he fell for her deception every time. She made a fool of him. I feel sorry for Charlie and I comfort myself in knowing that I could never be so effectively and repeatedly deceived. At least I used to think not.
In July, I preached a sermon called “Freedom from Sin” and I began noticing how I fall prey to deception in my thought life. In a blog post, “Lies that I Believe,” (http://dkbailey.blogspot.com/2013/07/lies-that-i-believe.html) I catalog a series of my erroneous, recurring thoughts. Daily I charge toward the football, believing what is not true: “Hurry up.” “It’s too late.” “You need to be nervous.” “God will leave you hanging.” “You don’t deserve joy.” “You can’t get all your work done.” Only by God’s grace can I break the cycle.
Jesus knows the power of truth. He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, NIV 1984). When we persist in thought patterns based on lies, we fall into Satan’s trap. Even believers fall for these tricks. He lies so cleverly, we do not recognize the deception. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has spread lies. He asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, NIV 1984). Jesus declared that Satan speaks his “native language” when he lies (John 8:44, NIV 1984). The devil uses every device he can to drive a wedge between people and their Creator, but ultimately, Satan has only one trick. Author Neil T. Anderson, in his book, The Bondage Breaker, notes that deception is Satan’s only weapon. All his activity is rooted in lies.
Lies can be powerful. Pillars of untruth uphold totalitarian regimes and dysfunctional families. Satan’s lies bring untold misery to humanity. Paul calls him, “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2, NIV 1984). His lies set the tone for this world. In every culture, on every continent, we find murder, hatred, corruption, selfishness, oppression, and materialism. The pursuit of self-interest always carries with it the taint of disregard for others. (Thus, pioneer economist Adam Smith believed that free market economies must be based on a system of morality.) The way of the world rests on pillars of self-centered thinking. Even the Christian world buys into this. People shop for churches with a consumer mindset, looking for what they can receive rather than what they can contribute. Christian authors plug their books, striving for recognition on best sellers’ lists. If I had a book, I would be plugging it—with entirely pure motives, of course. Church leaders crave power and influence. We work so hard to hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” that we forget to love him. Many in the Christian world believe that the one with the biggest church, the most books sold, or the most Twitter followers wins.
Paul warns us to live above the deception. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:20, NIV 1984). The patterns of this world are evil and constantly pull us away from God, and we fall for it. At least, I do. For a long time, I failed to realize how deceived I was.
We escape from the evil pattern of the world by renewing our minds. Our patterns of thought must change. We must expose the lies and embrace the truth. Our negative self-talk serves as exhibit A of the enemy’s deception. We talk to ourselves in ways which we would never speak to a friend: “Boy, that was stupid.” “You can’t do anything right.” “That was just luck.” “It’s all your fault.” These thought patterns find their roots in our childhoods. They color the way we see life and they are not based on truth. Paul urged the Philippians (4:8) to keep thinking about the things that are true. When I find myself spiraling downward in negative thoughts, I check to see if my thoughts are true. They never are. My mind must be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. “[T]he mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6, NIV 1984).
For years I have given lip-service to Paul’s claim that our battle is not against flesh and blood, without really noticing any spiritual battle. After all, in my daily life, I fight schedules, deadlines, projects; I wrestle with writer’s block, lead Bible studies, work to be creative, craft sermon series, and hammer out strategic plans. These activities do not normally feel like wrestling demons. Then I began examining my thought life. I saw how my thought patterns follow the world. I worry, fret, procrastinate, and blame. Now I see that much of the spiritual battle takes place on the battlefield of my mind. I cannot be whole and healthy until I base my thinking on truth. In His love, God provides us the armor we need for battle: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the (spoken) word of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). The armor begins with truth.
God is renewing my mind. It is a daily battle. On the cross, Jesus won the victory. He shows me the truth and the truth sets me free.