Allen Jackson - A Mental Battle - Part 1
We're doing a little series under the general theme of "Don't Be Surprised," and today's session is about a mental battle. And to be honest, we're gonna do a little bit of history. We're going to take that first 400 years of the church as kind of the undergirding for this discussions on not being surprised. The battles that the church faced in those early centuries were significant. They threatened its survival and its existence, and I'm going to take a minute with you because those same battles face us today. And the responses of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as the church was beginning, are important for us to understand so we'll know how to respond today. Our adversary hasn't changed. His intent hasn't been diminished, he intends to destroy the church of Jesus Christ.
And so a little bit of history will prepare us for our assignment in the present. If you hate history, I apologize, repent. You know, the world has changed, if you haven't noticed, and some of you that are desperately waiting to go back to where we were before, I don't think that's going to happen, and I don't mean just our congregation and our habits. COVID-19 has proven to be an introduction to tremendous change. Whether that was planned on purpose or it was just seized upon, I don't know. What I do know that as our world has shifted, things that were hidden or considered in the shadows are now being brazenly expressed in the light for all to look at.
The church, in my opinion, was to a great extent exposed as being asleep, and God in his mercy is awakening us to our assignment and our purposes as never before. If we had really honest, we, not someone else, we have been self-absorbed. We have sold out to comfort and convenience. But I see some very hopeful things, I see a spirit of repentance and urgency emerging in some of the people with whom I worship. That brings me great hope for the people of God. You know, the first 400 years of the church, as I mentioned a moment ago, they faced some very significant struggles. And we see them today, I don't know why we're surprised about that.
So I'm taking this series of talks to present to you three specific battles. We looked at one in a previous session, a spiritual battle, and it was principally with other religions. And in this session, we're going to explore a mental battle. And it began, to a great extent, with the battle with Greek culture. But then we're going to look in the future to physical battle, and that, in our Bibles, it raged from Jerusalem all the way to Rome. But this mental battle is our focus in this session.
I want to start in 1 Peter chapter 4. Peter is kind of our coach for this, Peter's the fisherman that Jesus recruited. He began following Jesus as a young man, most likely a teenager, and he had all the brashness and the confidence that most of us had as teenagers. But by the time he writes 1 and 2 Peter, the two letters that bear his name, he's an older man. In fact, his life is just about done, and he knows it. And he's gathered, accumulated a host of life experience and a spiritual resume that suggests we should listen to him carefully. After all, our Lord recruited him. And in the early years of the church in Jerusalem, after Jesus ascended to heaven, it was the force of Peter's character and the strength of his will that was essential in holding that fledgling organization together. Not diminishing the role of the Holy Spirit, but he works in the lives of people.
To not imagine that we need godly people and godly leaders is to ignore the story of Scripture. And so we're going to pause and listen to Peter for just a moment as a context for this discussion. 1 Peter chapter 4, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials," or some translations do it more literally, "the fiery ordeal that you're suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. However, if you suffer as a Christian, don't be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good".
His first instruction to us is to not be surprised at painful trials or fiery ordeals. He said it, but I always am, aren't you? Something happens that you didn't plan on, you go, "I don't know why that happened to me". Well, how about the book told us? You know, when we read the Gospels, a lot of times I'm tempted to make fun of the disciples or I think maybe Jesus recruited from the slow group. You know, he says, "When we go to Jerusalem, I'm going to be betrayed, arrested, I'll be tried, I'll be condemned to death, I'll be beaten, I'll be crucified, I'll be buried on the third day, I'll raise," you know. When all that starts happening, his closest friends, whom he's told multiple times, are completely shocked. And you're reading it, going, "Uhhh"?
And then I find myself doing the same thing. "Don't be surprised at the painful trials" and I'm shocked. Folks, life comes with challenges, and that means you and me. And that's not a negative confession or a faithless response, that's truth. And then Peter talks about suffering, and he kind of identifies two buckets. He says if you suffer because your character is broken and you do something wrong, he said that's to be expected. But if you suffer as a Christian, not because of a poor character choice, but if you suffer because of your faith, that's not a new thing. He says it's the nature of the journey.
Now, I need you to live with that for a moment because we've lived for the most part in our nation free of suffering because of our faith. I mean, somebody might make fun of you and say you handle snakes because you go to a church that holds a theology they don't hold, or there may have been some pushback, but we haven't really known strident suffering, is that fair? But I doubt the season that we've entered will come to a conclusion without us understanding a great deal more about suffering. And Peter says to us, it's an expected part of the journey. And then in verse 19, he introduces something that we need to think about a bit and I'm not gonna unpack it very far today, but he said, "Those who suffer according to God's will".
There's a suffering that comes to our lives that God doesn't intend, it's an attack from our adversary and it isn't to be tolerated or embraced or welcomed. We don't submit to that. And then there's a suffering that comes to us as a part of God's will, and what's the difference, Pastor? Well, it takes some discernment and some knowledge of Scripture to discern the difference, and it's not always easy to know. It's why we need a meaningful prayer life in the direction of the Holy Spirit. But just to illustrate to you that not all suffering is God-ordained with just a casual review of what you know of Jesus, we know Jesus as a healer, we know Jesus as a miracle worker, we know him as a storm stiller and a death defeater. Not all the trials and vicissitudes that people encountered were assigned to them by God, Jesus invited them out of those.
So we need the wisdom to know the difference. 1 Peter chapter 5 and verse 8, he's continuing with this thought, he said, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. You know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you've suffered a little while," my definition of a little while and God's sometimes vary greatly, "will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be power for ever and ever. Amen". Peter says, "Resist our adversary, standing firm in the faith".
Our platform for standing against the suffering begins with our faith, not with our resources or our contact list. We have an adversary, if you're not awakened to the reality yet there is an adversary to God's purposes in your life, you're in a deficit position. And then Peter says it's universal in nature. Our adversary, the adversity that comes to our lives, is not unique to you. The season, when you face it, will cause you to think you have been uniquely singled out. It's the nature of how we perceive the world. If it's cold where I am, I just imagine it's cold everywhere.
I was in Israel a couple of summers ago with a tour, and when the tour was over, we left Israel to fly to South Africa. There's a difference in the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere. The seasons are opposite, we left the heat of the desert in Israel in the summer and we landed in Africa, South Africa, in the middle of winter. I just put everything on I had. You know, the way we perceive reality is whatever's happening to you should be extrapolated everywhere, and if you're suffering, you think it's unique, it isn't, it's universal.
And then Peter says the outcome of suffering, when we overcome, is that we'll be stronger, more firm, and more steadfast. There's a purpose in it, it's not wasted time or wasted effort or wasted energy. And then finally, he closes with something that is more than a benediction, it's more than just a closing line. It says, "To him be power forever and ever," and Peter is reminding us that we need God's power to overcome the adversary. We don't outthink evil or outwork evil or outtalk evil. We need the power of God, and a church separate from the power of God is an inert church.
We can no longer get together and talk about what God does, we have to invite God into the midst of our lives. Now this mental battle, again, 1 Peter chapter 1 and verse 13, he says, "Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled as you set your hope fully on the grace given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed". Prepare your minds for action. Do you have that imagination that if you're preparing for some sort of action, business, relational, recreational, that it's not just the physical preparation you need, you've got to prepare your mind? And Peter interjects self-control into that. What's the evidence that you've prepared your mind for spiritual action?
Self-control, it's one of the fruit of the Spirit. It's not popular today. I'm not overweight because I eat too much, it's McDonalds' fault. They need to make a healthier quarter pounder with cheese. Amen, I heard that. Prepare your minds for action, folks, we are in the midst of a battle. And it's on our minds, it's our thoughts, and if you're not aware of that, you're almost defeated already. I mentioned history, the Romans, the Roman Empire, they brought law and roads and a common language. They brought order, and the outcome of that was they made travel and communication much easier across a much broader part of the earth than we'd ever known before.
The Pax Romana changed our world, it was the perfect time for a message to be broadly communicated across our world. No surprise that Jesus was born in that window of time. Roman cities were built on a pattern. You can visit a Roman city on either side of the empire and you would feel at home, you would recognize familiar landmarks and the layout of the city. You can visit Beit She'an in Israel today, it was on the eastern border of the empire, on the border with Persia, and they built a classic Roman city there.
They wanted the visitors from Persia to know that even on the outer fringes of the empire, Roman ideas and Roman architecture and Roman way of life was still dominant. You visit that city and the remains of that city in the desert today and there was a Roman bath house, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, where they had horse races, all the things you'd find the city of Rome were out on the very periphery of the empire. Roman order, the Romans brought rules and standardization. But the Romans borrowed much of their culture from the Greeks, Greek thought, a Greek worldview. In that emerging empire, the Greeks were the thinkers. And sooner or later, it was inevitable that Christianity was going to come into conflict with this intellectual thought pattern that emerged from that Greek worldview.
The greatest danger that faced the fledgling church in those early years was to what degree would the intellectuals succeed in changing Christianity. You see, our faith cannot be altered to fit the intellect. We change our thoughts to follow God. Now, there's a fundamental acknowledgement in that that every one of us that names Christ as Lord engages in a battle. And the battle begins within us going, "I think" and "I feel". And apart from the power of God, we will give a transcendent place to that notion of what I think, and a great deal of your discipleship journey and your journey through time preparing for the kingdom of God is to submit what you think to what God thinks. I could spend several sessions with you unpacking, this is alive and well within us.
The Bible begins with a statement, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth". If you won't accept God as Creator of the heavens and the earth, the rest of the book is nonsense. And we all struggle with that, 'cause there's an avalanche of information that says, "You believe something you don't see in the heavens created", uh-huh, I do. "How did he do it"? I don't know, I wasn't there. I don't know how they make a microchip, but I benefit from the rascals. It doesn't offend my intellect in the least, but that battle rages in you. It raged in the early centuries of the church and almost swept it away. It took courage and determination and a fearless response from those early believers in Jesus to give us the privilege of being Christ followers today.
And if we don't engage that battle for ourselves and stand together and encourage one another, we will strip the opportunity from the generations following us, from our children and our grandchildren. If you capitulate to the culture that says, "Why would you believe in God, I can't believe you're so backward," we will forfeit the heritage for our children and our grandchildren. Romans chapter 8 and verse 5 says, "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires". Paul's gonna describe for us a conflict between a spiritual worldview and a selfish, carnal, earthly worldview, and the battleground in this whole discussion is what you think about, what's in your mind.
You might circle that word every time you see it. "Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires". How do I know if you're leading a spiritual life? I can listen to you, and what you're thinking about will tell me. What you're dreaming about, what you're planning for, what you're making preparations for tells me what you've given yourself to. "The mind of a sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace". See, your mind is gonna be controlled by something. "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God".
You can sit in church, but doesn't mean you please God. Isaiah 55 verse 8 says it in a more positive way, God said, "'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" A part of the discipleship journey of submitting your life to Christ is not just reciting the Sinner's Prayer and getting dunked in a pool. It's allowing the Spirit of God to begin to change how you think. Our distinctiveness from a secular culture should not be in the building we are gathered together in on a Sunday morning or our wardrobe choices. It should begin fundamentally with how we think about the world we live in and how we think about one another. It's why a change of heart, the expansion of Christian influence, will change our nation.
Our ungodliness and our increasing secularization has caused our thoughts to be increasingly ungodly, and we become increasingly lawless, increasingly wicked, and increasingly violent. And we will not legislate our way out of that, we have to have a heart change, and it begins in the thoughts of God's people. We've been absent the arena for too long. Isaiah 65 in verse 2, "I have spread out my hands all day long," God said, "to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts". Now, he's talking about the covenant people of God. He's not talking about the pagan nations, he's talking about those who offer sacrifices, who keep the right holidays, who quote the prophets. But he said they're walking according to their own thoughts.
So the challenge I'm handing to you is a little personal reflection today and for the next few days about what is forming your thoughts, what are you longing for, what you're dreaming about, what you're sacrificing for. See, this was a much more difficult battle for this fledgling church because it was a battle inside the church. This is not an external battle. It was a conflict conducted with words and ink. It requires mental effort and self-discipline and thought, and I cannot say that the 21st-century church in the West has been defined by thought and self-discipline. Some of the best writings we have of the early church come from this struggle.
A man called Irenaeus, he wrote five books under the title "Against Heresies" trying to respond to the message that was spreading through the church. Thank God he did. Origen wrote prolifically, books, letters, pamphlets, hundreds and hundreds of them. Marcion, you may have heard of him or you might not, he was a thinker from this time within the Christian community. It's an important point to get, within the Christian community. Marcion said, "I don't like a God of wrath. And I can't understand the God of the Old Testament". In fact, he was quite certain that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament, even Jesus. So he eliminated the Old Testament from the Bible. He said, "We're just not going to be New, we're gonna be New Testament people".
Folks, this is not an old idea. Oh, I mean, it happened in antiquity, but we hear it today. We've heard it here. He was also uncomfortable with the book of Revelation. Too Old-Testament-like, he said. In fact, the more he thought about it, he felt like Paul had said some unkind things, and those should be edited out as well. It was an early battle within the church, within the church. Two Gods, the God of the Old Testament, the God of the New Testament. It's a heresy we fight until today.
"Well, I just don't like to read the Old Testament". I'm sorry, that wasn't presented to you as an option. "Revelation makes me feel uncomfortable". Perhaps you should get better prepared. Not all parts of the story are easily read, I understand that. Some are frightening, some make me uncomfortable. But the Christians in those early centuries said, "We're gonna stay with the whole Word, even if it's difficult to understand and even if we have to wrestle with some of the ideas that are in it. We're not gonna edit or censor the Bible to align more easily with what we think or understand".
The battle was won in those early centuries, and we still have our Bible. If they hadn't won, we wouldn't have the text today. I'm not talking about King James versus NIV or New American Standard or whatever your preference is, I'm talking about the body of the text. What are we doing? Do we treat it as if it's important or valuable? Do we want the Bible to be conformed to the prevailing ideas of the day, do we want to make it gender-neutral? Do we want to blur the lines? It's very common.
I wanna pray with you before we go, but before we pray, you know, I think we all understand fundamentally that as we mature physically, a part of that is that we mature in our thoughts. The way we process information as a 4-year-old is different than a 14-year-old and that's different than a 40-year-old. Not inappropriate at any point, there's a developmental process. Well, the same is true in our spiritual maturity. We have to change how we think, how we process life as we mature in the Lord. That's my prayer for you today, that the Spirit of God will help you see what that next step of maturing is in that battlefield of our mind. Let's pray:
Lord, thank you for your Word, for the truth it brings to us, that you've called us to this season, and I pray that each of us will understand your invitations. May we have your thoughts, may we see our lives from your perspective and not just our own. In Jesus's name, amen.