Spiritual Focus: Meditating on Scripture
1 Peter 1:7–9
1 Peter Lesson #032
November 5, 2015
“Father, we’re thankful we can come before Your throne of grace this evening and that we can bring the fact that our nation needs a drastic shift. We need new leaders. We need a focus on establishment truth and we need leaders who are grounded in Your Word at every level, from the local level all the way up to the national level.
We pray that You would continue to raise up men and women who are trained in the Scriptures and understand truth. We pray they will not compromise truth. We pray this especially during this election season that You will raise up someone who can be elected and lead us in the right direction as a nation.
Father, we pray for us that we might recognize that the ultimate issues in life are not political. They’re not economic. They do not have to do with the details of this life. They have to do with the details of our spiritual life and that nothing is more critical, nothing is more important than our focus upon You and learning Your Word and learning to think as Christ thinks with the Word of God.
We need to make that the most important, most significant priority in our life. Father, as we study Your Word today, help us to think through these critical issues we’ll be addressing. Help us to understand how to grow that we may glorify You. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
What I’m going to talk about tonight as part of a little review on the spiritual skills we talked about last time, is I’ll be adding some material I’ve not developed before on spiritual focus. Focusing on the Word of God. We talk about occupation with Christ but if we back things up in terms of our understanding of those spiritual skills to doctrinal orientation, we see that doctrinal orientation is really a focus on the Word.
That’s what I want to talk about a little bit tonight and go back and develop that point a little more and going into some of the Scriptures on meditating on Scripture. When we get there, you’ll understand why I’m bringing this out today. It’s trying to understand Phase Two of the Christian life, the spiritual life, the spiritual advance.
There is a doctrine which we’ve come face to face with several times in 1 Peter. It is a doctrine that is often affirmed by Christians and evangelicals and professors in seminaries and doctrinal statements from churches from one end of the country to the other. It is rarely understood. That is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture tells us that God has given us everything we need to grow to spiritual maturity through His Word. We’re all going to face various obstacles and various challenges. Some of them are external circumstances. Some of them are internal. They have to do with the trends and the challenges of our own sin nature.
Everyone’s sin nature is different. Everybody has a sin nature and that nasty, little corrupt thing that is inside of us starts affecting us, corrupting our thinking and I believe corrupting our brains. There’s a physical as well as a spiritual dimension to it and it just starts working the moment we come out of the womb.
By the time we become volitionally conscious, which is before we become God-conscious, we have already made a lot of choices. Just because we were not conscious that we were making volitional decisions doesn’t mean we weren’t making volitional decisions.
Those volitional decisions have already, by the time we are two or three years old, become ingrained in our brains, in our mental function and have made certain pathways that just get reinforced over the rest of the our life. But the Word of God tells us that not only can we change but that’s the hope of the Christian life. The goal of the Christian life is that we can truly overcome a lot of things that people don’t think the Word of God is really sufficient to cover.
I want to talk about that because what we’re covering in Peter, as we go through Peter, we go through the spiritual life. The means of growth is through testing, through facing certain challenges and then utilizing the skills to meet those challenges so that we grow as Peter will say at the end of the 2nd epistle in 2 Peter 3:18, that we grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That should be understood as an instrumental phrase in both places. We grow by means of the grace and by means of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So what we’re looking at here is that period between Phase One when we’re born again and are a brand new baby believer and we have to grow to spiritual maturity.
That is when we become usable, truly usable in terms of serving the Lord. Not that we can’t as a spiritual infant or adolescent but our ministry is maximized when we hit spiritual maturity. I’ve said this for years and years and years and you know this if you’re a parent or if you’re a kid. That covers everybody. I don’t know if there’s anyone here who didn’t go through childhood. Maybe one or two exceptions. No, I think everybody when through childhood.
When children reach a certain age, you’ve all seen this, they say, “I want to be treated like an adult.” No one wants to be treated like a baby when they’re not two or three years old. They want to be treated like an adult because we understand that life occurs when we are adults. That’s where we have freedom. You usually don’t think about responsibility but you have it. That’s when you can really do things.
You’re not under the control of your parents anymore but you can go and develop yourself and go do things. As we recognize that, we realize that life is that way. What happens in the spiritual realm people want to stay spiritual babies and stay in spiritual diapers because they’re afraid of spiritual responsibility.
I think that’s really true for a lot of people. They don’t want to or they don’t understand because that picture of spiritual productiveness in maturity is not painted for them in a way that it’s a real dynamic that they should be pursuing. So this is what’s going on in this first part of 1 Peter.
It’s parallel to what’s going on in the introduction in James. So just reviewing, Peter is talking about the fact that we need to have joy in the midst of trials. Even though we’re grieved by them, even though they’re difficult, even though they seem overwhelming, what it does it refines our faith, our understanding of doctrine, and our application of doctrine so that the result is more precious than gold.
There’s nothing that we can spend our life on that’s more important. Whether it’s entertainment or the pursuit of academic excellence or the pursuit of professional excellence or the pursuit of security or money or any of the other things, nothing is more valuable than what transpires in our soul as our faith is tested.
That’s just exciting. If we can understand that, this life is not even as much as a drop in the bucket compared to eternity and what we take with us out of this life into eternity is that which is refined through this testing process. When we understand it, we can do what Peter talks about which is rejoicing in the midst of these fiery trials. So we need to understand this.
Last time I talked about the doctrine of suffering for blessing and the time before. We missed last week because I was up in Preston for their 200th anniversary at Preston City Bible Church. I just want to hit a few things, a few of the introductory points I started with and I’m going to add some things to the second and third point.
We all go through tests, first point. Every believer goes through tests. These tests are designed to train us. There’s a word used in the Scripture called PAIDEUO and it’s a word related to children. It has to do with training, with discipline. It’s the work that a parent is supposed to do.
Parental work is so important because those first 5 to 10 years in a child’s life is when you’re ingraining in them the ability to be self-disciplined. To control your emotions. To control your behavior. To control your actions. That becomes a building block for your success in life. If you do that as a parent and you do that wisely, then what that does in terms of just normal human viewpoint procedures in life, it prepares them for the discipline that will be developed when they become a believer. So that’s an important foundation.
Every believer goes through tests. Each test for the believer is an opportunity to either obey God or not obey God. What do we call this? We call this volition. Volition. Volition. Volition. Ultimately everything comes down to that first divine institution. That is human responsibility which means we’re accountable to God for the decisions that we make.
Are you accountable to God for the decisions you made when you were two years old? Are you accountable to God for the decisions when you’re five years old? Yes. Do the decisions you made as a two year old and as a five year old have consequences? That’s going to vary, depending on the decisions we made.
We all made a lot of really bad decisions because guess what dominated our soul when we were three, four, five, or six on up. It was our sin nature. As an unbeliever the only nature that dominates is our sin nature. It’s the only nature we have. Everything is corrupt. All we’re doing until the moment we’re saved is just generating these wrong, carnal, sinful, and corrupt habits.
That’s what we used to call them and they were called that way out of classical theology. They’re just bad habits and those bad habits created certain mental pathways that we have to overcome later on. We get tested in all these different areas: people tests, authority tests, moral tests, thought tests, and emotional tests.
We have an option where we either try to handle everything in our own power which is the bottom cycle in the red there, the “Sin Nature Control”. All that does is lead to more and more self-destructive and self-corrupting thinking and behavior.
We look around at a civilization that is in spiritual regression which is what we have in America. We look around and we say, “Where in the world did all this criminality come from?” Let’s take it out of the United States and not just talk about us because the United States still has this residual impact, by the grace of God, from the focus on Scripture of our forbearers, two or three hundred years ago. Isn’t that remarkable how the Word of God has continued to provide stability even though the vast majority of the nation has rejected it?
Let’s look instead at some “wonderful places” to live like Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia [especially under Stalin or China after the Mao Revolution]. Living in those places is where existence is miserable. You have to live in some kind of fantasy escapism to try to deal with it or go into drugs or Lord knows what else, just to try to handle the absolute misery of day-to-day existence, the lack of comforts.
You come to the United States and look at what we’ve got, all the luxuries, all the comforts, and everything we have. Why do we have those? We have those because of one thing, the Bible. The impact of the Bible on Western Civilization made on Western Civilization was great and developed the science and the technology because the founding scientists of modern science were all Bible believers.
You go back to the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries until Darwin came along and about 95% of all scientists were Bible believers. People like Isaac Newton, for example. He wrote more about the Bible than he did about science. He wrote commentaries. He wrote theologies. Those men were true Renaissance men. He had some flaws in his theology, of course, but he was a theist and he believed in the Bible. He believed in Creation. All of that kind of thinking led to the development and the advance of civilization.
When you had a large number of people who were working and thinking and living within that framework, it created a prosperous civilization that blessed the whole world. Ever since we started rejecting biblical truth, we pulled the plug on that and we’ve gone in the other direction. Now we’ve become a source of corruption for the world.
It won’t be long before we’re going to be like every other nation. We’re going to be worse than every other nation because having had what God gave us and rejected it, we’re going to compound the misery with divine discipline. The only thing that’s going to help us believers to survive is to really train our minds to focus on the Word of God.
That word training is a word that’s used several times in Scripture and it has to do with discipline, mental focus, and concentration and being mentally tough. We talk often about a word in Scripture, edification. It means to be strengthened or built-up in your soul and that’s so you can withstand the garbage going on in the world around you.
It makes us tough. It’s the Word of God. It’s strength so it’s the difference between a house that’s built out of straw and a house that’s built out of steel and brick and stone. It’s able to withstand the adversities and the pressures of life. So we have this choice. Either we’re operating in pure self-absorption and entertainment or we’re operating where the focus is on the Word of God and walking by the Spirit. Our spiritual life becomes more and more the central purpose of our life.
So under the first point we recognize that we all go through tests which is how God strengthens us and edifies us and builds us. He does it through the Spirit of God in conjunction with the Word of God.
The second thing I pointed out is that God’s training program utilizes adversity to teach us and train us in the 10 spiritual skills. These are not original with me, but it’s a great summation and gives you an applicational grid that you can use for just about any Bible story or biblical event as you ask how someone is handling life at that time. Which one of these skills are they using?
I’m putting these up here on this chart because what I want to focus on here are these basic ones. We talked about confession and walking by the Holy Spirit last time. I tied that together. Remember we went through John 15, Galatians 5 connected to Ephesians 5 and connected that to 1 John 1. That’s critical. That answers the question of how is the filling of the Holy Spirit connected to confession in the Scripture.
I can’t tell you how many people stumble and fall and crash on that question. I answered that question last time so I’m not going to repeat it.
Then we get into these next three that are interrelated: the Faith-Rest Drill which is effective because the faith is focused on the Word of God. That’s grace orientation first of all and doctrinal orientation second of all. It’s this other aspect of doctrinal orientation that is so important.
What do I mean by doctrinal orientation? I know that when I’ve talked about this before, I talked about doctrinal orientation in the sense that we need to align our thinking with the Word of God. The Word of God gives us truth and our souls are filled with arrogance.
It’s a lot more complex than that. Our souls are filled with everything from desires and motivations and lusts, all of which in the whole complex of our souls before we’re saved is just dominated by evil. Some of that evil is in the form of sin and some of that evil is in the form of morality.
Evil, essentially in the Old Testament, is always “such and such a king did evil in the sight of God”. What did they do? What does the next sentence almost always say? “They worshipped the Baalim and the Ashtoreth”. How is evil defined? Evil is always defined at the fundamental level of worshipping something other than God.
Evil starts with idolatry. Evil starts with religion. Everyone is religious. Even atheists are religious. Agnostics are religious. They just have a religion without God. Their religion is secularism. Their religion is anti-theism. This is the problem that we have in our culture. Many people have constructed worldviews that they think will make life work for them that exclude God.
They have a false view of reality that is totally materialistic. I don’t mean that they’re greedy and desire material things. What I mean by that is they believe that ultimate reality is matter. You just go back billions and billions and billions of years and what do you have? You have this dense little cloud of matter. Where that came from no one wants to talk about but there’s this uber-dense matter that explodes.
As a result of that explosion, the organized universe came about. Now, let me just suggest to you that if you want to really believe that I encourage you to find out some time when the police are dealing with demolition or just take some firecrackers, a whole bunch, and if you live out in the country get something that’s a whole lot more powerful like an M-80 or something like that, and just take it and put it on something like a computer printer. Then light it and let it blow up. Does that make it a better printer? Sometimes, we all feel that way, that it might make it a better printer but it’s just going to blow it into smithereens and it goes from order to disorder.
Explosions do not produce order. How can you get order out of chaos? This is the most logically uninformed leap. We believe Jesus rose from the dead. That’s simple compared to believing that there can be an explosion that can produce order in the universe.
We’re just talking about physical order, not to mention an order that ultimately is going to go from inorganic life to organic life. Even intelligent, sentient organic life. How in the world does that happen when there’s no information coming from outside the solar system? Absolutely insane.
We have all these systems but what you need to understand is they look at human beings because we’re products of evolution, products of purely material processes, therefore all we are is a blend of electrical charges with chemicals. Every decision, everything we do is basically the result of purely, chemical forces.
All human behavior gets defined in terms of those physical, chemical forces. If someone’s behavior isn’t what they think it should be then the solution is always going to be to change those physical, chemical forces in some way. The Bible teaches us that we’re composed of a material body and an immaterial soul, and as well, once we’re saved, an immaterial spirit.
This is how Adam was created. This little diagram shows the human soul. The human soul is composed of self-consciousness (S/C). When you look in the mirror in the morning you identify with yourself. Some of us that are getting a little older may see one of our parents in the mirror but that’s a different issue. We look in the mirror and think, “Okay, I’m still alive. I made it out of bed this morning. It’s a good day and I know who I am. That’s even better.”
We have self-consciousness. Your dog or your cat looks in the mirror and they think it’s something else. They don’t have that kind of self-consciousness. We have a mentality (M). We can think. We can reason. We have logic. We have a conscience (C). It stores our norms and standards, our value system. This is something that is distinct.
Animals like dogs don’t have a conscience. Cats don’t have a conscience. I’ve had dogs and you’ve probably had dogs like this too that if they’re doing something wrong, they know. You think they’ve got a conscience but no, they just don’t want to be punished. Not unlike some of us. They don’t have a conscience in the way you and I have a conscience. Then we have volition (V). That’s the immaterial part.
One of the things that medieval theologians/philosophers spent a lot of time trying to figure out, which is not a bad thing to think about, is that they were trying to work out the implications of Scripture in a lot of areas. That is how can immaterial things, like a ghost, affect physical things. How can the immaterial soul interface and interact with the material physical biological brain?
I have no idea. That will be one of the first five questions I ask the Lord when I get to Heaven to try to understand that. But, it does. Sometimes we see that at the time of physical death. You can see something change in a person when that soul leaves. You know that soul is not in that body anymore. That soul has gone and is face-to-face with the Lord, for believers.
We have a human soul that interfaces with a physiological or physical thing called the brain. They impact one another. What happens is that we have something else that mixes in with this and that’s called the sin nature. That just sort of sets us up for some background.
This morning I ran across an interesting excerpt from a book. I get this interesting thing e-mailed to me every morning from a website called Delancey Place. Some of you get this, I know. What it does it sends you an excerpt from a book, sort of medical based or psychology based. Yesterday it was on the Mongols. The next day it might be on business. All of these books are really interesting and I’ve found several that I’ve picked up that were really interesting.
The excerpt this morning was from a book called “The Mind of the Meditator”. There were some interesting things from this excerpt that I want to sort of summarize. I’m converting this over to a biblical Christian application. They’re talking about what happens in a human brain [to everyone, not distinct to believers] with someone who has a disciplined mental attitude and they focus their mind in terms of what they’re calling meditation.
I don’t have the whole book. This is just a five- or six-paragraph excerpt. They had different kinds of meditation. There’s a lot of garbage meditation out there that’s part of Buddhism, Hinduism, and all kinds of mind cults and things like that.
There’s a fundamental reality that is true for every human being when you discipline your thinking and discipline your mind. If that’s true, and that’s true for every human being, then what in the world happens when you’re a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you have God the Holy Spirit and what you’re meditating on is the infallible Word of God? God says it’s being used by God the Holy Spirit to transform and change us.
This got me thinking about a number of things. Some of the things that it develops really relates to this second point that I’m making is that God is teaching us to develop spiritual skills. I’ve pointed out for years when I’ve taught this that skill training is just like any other area of life. You develop skills in music and that causes you to really focus your attention on learning a musical instrument so that you can play it well.
Or there’s skill training in a physical activity like athletics or dance or a skill in anything. It can go from sharp shooting to gymnastics, athletics, dance, and art, whatever it is. You’re focusing your mind. You’re bringing the energies of your thought to bear on something. That’s what they’re talking about, just what happens in the everyday realm, not necessarily related to Scripture.
What they point out in this little excerpt is that they’ve been doing these studies for about fifteen years with brain scans, scanning the brains of athletes, scanning the brains of artists, scanning the brains of musicians, and scanning the brains of people who are bringing their mind to focus on something in terms of what they call meditation.
A person does that and it’s going to take time. As they develop the skills in performing a task, there are specific parts of the brain that become retrained. There are new neural pathways that are established. These new neural pathways grow and strengthen as that skill is mastered and perfected.
We don’t need to know all of that. That’s just nice confirmation that what the Bible says is to practice these things. And that’s going to work out. What this study indicates is that mental exercises such as focus drills reprogram your brain, the physiological part of your brain. These studies don’t use biblical meditation or memory drills with Scripture and rumination on the Scripture as the basis for their study. These similar activities show that when you transfer it to the biblical realm, those results would be even more enhanced.
I just want to caution you as I go through this. Over the years I’ve seen two or three doctrinal pastors taking a long time developing whole studies based on the current status of neurology at the time they were teaching. I started reading a lot of stuff about brains, brain activity, and how the brain functioned back in the late 80s. About every five years the theories and the hypotheses changed completely because we were learning so much more data.
I’m not tying the biblical principles to these modern studies in neurology because they may change a lot in the next ten or fifteen years. I think that’s a danger some pastors have slipped into is that if you tie what the Word of God says to contemporary understanding of science, what happens when that contemporary understanding of science changes? See the Word of God is eternal. God did not reduce revelation to scientific terminology but gave it in general terms no matter what. Science isn’t going to change that. Science will end up always validating what the Scripture says.
As we look at this what we are seeing as an application from this is that these neural pathways are built. These neural pathways are built not from someone who is just going in and practicing the piano fifteen minutes every three or four days as they’re learning lessons, but by someone who is really focused on playing that instrument and excelling at that. Not on someone who just goes out and plays sandlot football every now and then or runs around the block now and then for exercise, but someone who is pursuing excellence, really bringing their brain to focus on the pursuit of excellence in that particular skill.
I’ve thought for a long time that the reason so many Christians don’t get anywhere is not because of sin in their life. I think that’s a secondary consequence. It’s because they just don’t focus on spiritual things. It’s not a priority in their life. They’re too busy with everything else.
What the Word of God demands is exclusivity. You really focus on the Word and it will change you. But if you just do it once a week, go play golf on Sunday morning. Don’t come to church on Sunday morning. Don’t waste my time or God’s time or your time. To be transformed by the renewing of your mind is going to take a whole lot more effort than 45 minutes or an hour or an hour and a half on Sunday morning.
You’re just playing games with God and you’re fooling yourself and you’re living in a fantasy world. Romans 12:2 doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because you dedicate yourself in a specific direction.
There are a lot of people who may not be there yet. There may be believers who show up in Bible class once a week and then one day God the Holy Spirit uses whatever is being taught and they go, “This guy is really talking about commitment. He’s talking about making this a priority. He’s not kidding. He wants me to wrap my life around the Word of God so that everything I do relates to the Word of God, not to my personal pleasure and advancement. That’s a radical idea.”
You’re right. Discipleship, as we’ve gone through Matthew on Sunday mornings makes that plain. Those passages that talk about what is expected of a disciple are radical. That’s looking for someone who is really sold out to God. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a one-shot decision. It takes time and it takes study in the Word. We grow gradually.
What I took away from all of this were some of things they say at the end. They say that mental discipline and focus can truly, truly change the situation. If that’s true for anyone who is not a Christian, then certainly if you’re a believer and the focal point is on the Word of God, then it’s going to be even greater than that.
One of the terms they used to describe this mental focus is mindfulness. Here’s a quote that they have from the book, “Several studies have documented the benefits of mindfulness on symptoms of anxiety and depression and its ability to improve sleep patterns. By deliberately monitoring and observing the thoughts and emotions when they feel sad or worried, depressed patients can use meditation [we would say focusing on the Word of God] to manage negative thoughts and feelings as they arrive spontaneously.”
This lessens the problems and they can get past depression. Isn’t that amazing? I know that when I say this I’ll get letters and e-mails saying, “You don’t understand the biochemical makeup of the brain.” That’s right. I always get irritated with this. I get people who come in and say, “I’m leaving the church. I don’t understand your theology.”
I had one person say, “You need to read this.” Not only did I read that when it came out, I quoted it. I am footnoted in it. I read it five times before you were even a believer. I wish people would realize that I didn’t get a Th.M. or a doctorate because I mailed something in over the Internet. I’ve spent a lot of time studying.
In my PhD program I had to read over 250 volumes, like all of Calvin’s Institutes and other four-volume, six-volume, eight-volume works. In five hours I had to pass a written exam where the questions were like, “Please compare the major theses in Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee and demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of each one’s historiography.”
You have to recall all of that. You don’t have any notes. I’m just amazed that when I get into this particular topic it’s like, “Dr. Dean, don’t you know that this and that…” Let me tell you, you go and read Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”. You go read Dave Hunt’s “The Seduction of Christianity: Spiritual Discernment in the Last Days” which pointed out the flaws and failures of psychology and tried to wake up the evangelical church on the problems of psychology. Read Martin Bobgan’s book on psycho-heresy [“Psychoheresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity”] and then listen to the three talks he gave in the second Chafer Conference which we held at this church.
After you have gone through that as basic fundamental information, then we can have an intelligent conversation. Until you get your focus on the principle that we walk by faith and not by sight, meaning our authority is the Word of God and not empiricism. We walk by faith and not by sight and until you recognize that the truth of God’s Word is more real than your experience, the laboratory experience, the doctors’ experiences, and the 15 PhDs you quoted me experience, then you will never understand what spirituality in the Bible is all about.
It’s the Word of God that has worked to change lives and transform lives and give people joy and peace and happiness and stability for the last 2,000 years in the Church. Before that it did in the Old Testament. They didn’t have to know anything about the biochemical makeup of the brain. They didn’t have to understand anything about how to fix those problems with drugs and prescriptions and all these other things. They understood that the Word of God alone was sufficient to handle everything.
When it’s the Word of God alone, the Word of God is saying “This is radical. You have to bury yourself in the Word of God. Just going along and having a little taste of it every day and a little sample of it every day isn’t going to do it. You have to conform yourself to the Word of God and then you’ll see God’s wonderful transformation.
Part of the problem we have that comes up in this kind of discussion is related to the relationship of the immaterial soul to the brain. Fundamentally we don’t deny there are chemical changes that take place. We deny that the chemical changes are the priority. It’s the old, “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”
When we’re born we don’t have all these problems, all these emotional problems, all these chemical problems and everything else. That comes over time and I believe that the Bible tells us it’s the result of volition and it’s the result of sin and that the only solution to that basic core problem is what the Word of God says.
One last thing about this article I read is that what it teaches is that [after I’ve transformed it to our Christian framework] the adult brain can still be profoundly transformed through neuroplasticity. The way I’m going to change that is that God created us in such a way that there is flexibility in your brain, in the function of your brain. The Creator knew that sin was going to enter into your brain and was going to corrupt your brain.
There had to be enough flexibility for change. Their term is neuroplasticity. There had to be enough flexibility in your brain to be able to recover from the chaos and the garbage that sin brought into your brain. That’s understanding the truth of God’s Word.
When we address this, I’ve got several assumptions that I want to point out. First of all, we have to assume that God created us and knows every aspect of our biological and psychological function. He knows exactly how the material and the immaterial thoughts fit together and interface. He designed it. He knows exactly how that works.
It didn’t come about because Moses came up with some of these ideas on Mount Sinai or Isaiah or Ezekiel or Paul came up with other ideas. God designed this from the “get-go”. It was in His mind from eternity past. So we’re dealing with a Creator God who knows what’s wrong with us, what makes us who we are, what’s corrupted and what will fix it. He provided a salvation and spiritual life that will do it. Isn’t that remarkable? All we have to do is trust Him and do what the Word of God says.
The second assumption is that the final causation in our life is volition. It’s not the chemicals that may be there. We make a lot of bad decisions and they can screw up our minds and they can produce a lot of negative chemicals that impact our thinking. There’s no denying that.
What’s the solution? The solution is that the Word of God takes priority and it can change things. Even as unbelievers we make choices and those choices as a baby either open or close doors or either expand or diminish our options in the future. Even as young children it happens. As we grow older, we still go through those processes. We have to understand that ultimately it goes back to volition.
The third assumption is that the basic problem we all face is the corruption of our old sin nature. This is where I’m going to get controversial, like I haven’t been already. Unless our problem is clearly and unequivocally biologically caused, by that I mean unless there’s clear testing where they can say, “Look, here’s what is here on the slide. Therefore, you have this problem.” Unless it’s unequivocally biologically caused, which means we can determine either the bacterial, the viral, or some other specific organic cause determined through specific, objectifiable markers, then the cause is very likely not going to be organic.
It’s going to be spiritual. It’s going to be related to carnality. It’s going to be related to the problem of sin on your brain. God says the solution to sin on your brain is redemption. Romans 8 says our body will eventually be redeemed because it’s a corrupt little nasty thing right now and that’s a problem we’ve got.
That principle I just stated is very controversial. That’s going to upset a lot of people because they’re so influenced by the current scientific theories on human behavior. In a lot of cases, and here my pastoral concern comes in, I know there are people listening to me and they have children, some have adult children who were diagnosed many years ago with adult-onset schizophrenia. That’s a horrible difficult thing for parents to face.
Or they have bipolar disorder. They have all these emotional mood swings. Or they’ve been identified today as having ADHD or something else like that. The doctors and everyone else says, “What you need to do is medicate them.” I’m not advocating just going off and taking them off the medication. What I am advocating and I’ve said this before is that you’ve got to do your homework on this.
There are a lot of studies on this like the book that came out by Peter Breggin that came out back in the 90s called “Toxic Psychiatry”. He was one of the top psychiatrists in New York at the time and he points out the flaws in a lot of these medications and how they do worse damage than they do to help.
Recent studies include the article “The Anatomy of an Epidemic” that was in the book “The State of the American Mind” whose author [Robert Whitaker] also wrote a book that came out in the 2012 called “Anatomy of an Epidemic”. He’s written one since then that is a critique of the whole structure of the psychology industry and how this is a problem. There’s a lot of corruption in these industries because money talks and getting research dollars is the name of the game for a lot of people. It’s not always about doing the right thing which really helps people.
We have to look at that. People need to make their decisions on their own. I’m not saying to go off your meds tomorrow. You need to read up and become informed and have some serious conversations with your doctor over what the long-term benefits are.
The question that I pointed out was “What comes first? The chicken or the egg? What comes first? All these chemical imbalances or sin and volition?” The Bible says it’s sin and volition. We have to remember what the Bible teaches in Romans 8:23. The body is corrupt. We’re born corrupt. The brain itself has been corrupted because of sin. Because of sin we have a predilection and an orientation to rebellion, to arrogance, and to self-absorption which is going to carve a lot of nasty neuro pathways in our brain and in our soul. That’s going to cause a lot of problems.
Let’s go forward. As we go forward and experience pleasure or pain when we’re small and babies we realize that this is good and I want more of that or that’s bad and I don’t want more of that. That impacts our chemicals in the brain. Some are going to be associated with positive emotions; others with negative emotions. It’s going to be different for different people.
As we make these decisions we’re also developing these neural pathways which make it more likely to go down that path the next time. This is just showing how modern science validates something we called habits a long time ago. What the Bible says is that sin produces bad habits and God’s going to help you break those habits.
I was doing some research on habits the other day and there was an idea that came out that you’ll hear from motivational speakers. It says you can change a habit in 21 days. That’s not always true but that’s been popularized by a lot of motivational speakers for quite a while. The result of some of the latest research on how people establish habit patterns is that depending on the person, depending on the circumstances, depending on the behavior, and depending on a host of other complexities, you can change a habit in anywhere from three weeks to a year. It doesn’t happen quickly. That’s just normal.
We’re talking about changing spiritual bad habits. That brings in all kinds of nasty things like the angelic conflict and our sin nature and other things like that. It’s just difficult but the Word of God says it’s sufficient, the Spirit of God is sufficient, and the grace of God is sufficient, so we can do it.
That’s what the Bible says. This is what we have to look at.
Another assumption I think we have to be aware of is that there are a lot of problems with psychology. Psychology since Freud has produced all these different models of behavior. I don’t know how many there are now. There used to be 400 or 500 different models of behavior and about 300 or 400 different therapies. So which one is wrong?
Remember, they’re all based on empiricism. That means that if anyone has both eyes open they’re going to have a lot of empirical truth in their psychological theory so it’s going to sound good. It’s based on empiricism which means they don’t have all the facts. If Adam didn’t have all the facts he wouldn’t have known what was going to happen when he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He would’ve thought that was just like any other tree in the Garden.
He had a fact from revelation which should have helped him interpret that fact correctly. What I’m saying here is that there’s a lot of truth in a lot of modern psychology but they’re missing critical components that come from revelation. Psychology claims to be the study of the soul and they claim to be the exclusive authority on the soul but guess what? The Bible says it’s the authority on the soul so we have to listen to what the Bible says.
Psychology encroaches on the authority of Scripture. It tells us that if you really want to change you have to understand how you got this way and why you’re doing these things. The Bible doesn’t say that. The Bible says this is what you need to do to change. You don’t need to understand why and how. You don’t have to understand all the mechanics, all the biochemistry to change. What you need to do is what the Scripture says and it will work.
The Bible is exactly right. It says basically that sin produces bad habits and those bad habits become entrenched. They appear to us to be unchangeable. That’s why you have this debate between nature and nurture. That exploded all over again with the great vote that Houston had voting down that HERO ordinance that was just designed around the LGBT provision in there. It was clear that all the people who screamed about how horrible it was to be voted down was the LGBT crowd.
You didn’t hear any veterans screaming that they didn’t have any rights and it was terrible. They ran that commercial day in and day out until I wanted to barf. He didn’t come out after the vote and say he was going to be discriminated against because he was a veteran. No, the people who screamed were all the LGBT crowd.
It was about 28 pages long and 27 pages were just a smoke screen dealing with the LGBT rights aspect. That tells you everything you need to know about it.
What we say in the Bible is that there’s no sin which is unchangeable. You’re not born that way. You say that today and the world is going to say, “What do you mean? These people are born that way.” What happens in our lives is we become so entrenched in bad habits and sinful habits and we love them so dearly that we don’t want to do what is necessary, what God says is necessary, to change them.
That’s the value of the testimony that I keep going back to that is so remarkable in this book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Here she is, this radical Marxist lesbian who is totally committed to lesbianism as the right thing and that marriage and Christianity is all wrong. She gets saved and because of her background and training in literature she realizes that this is a worldview shift. To trust in Jesus means that if she’s going to go this way she has to go 100 percent. She has to have a 100 percent worldview change and she had to bury herself in the Bible and let it really live through her.
She spent five hours a day in the Word of God. A lot of people don’t have that kind of time. I know that in her story she had a friend who was a male homosexual. He got saved and was trying to deal with his male homosexuality. The difference between her and him is that he’s not immersing himself in the Word of God. But she is.
She’s just burying herself in the Word of God. I believe that is what really gave her the power to change things.
So sin produces bad habits. Second, God solves the sin problem and He can change the bad habits. He’s promised us a new life. He can really do it. The issue is do we really trust Him? Do we really trust Him enough to do what the Word of God says to do?
We can conquer drug addiction problems and gender identification problems. We can conquer sexual identity and promiscuity and pornography problems and problems related to anger and depression if we just apply God’s remedy. We need to focus on the Word.
So here are some things related to the problem. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as a man thinks in his soul, so is he.” See, from the “get-go” as a new baby, you start thinking and if you’re thinking human viewpoint and you’re thinking according to arrogance and self-centeredness, that’s what is going to be produced.
In regeneration that can change but the principle is still as you think in your soul. So if you’re giving yourself over to things you shouldn’t be thinking about like anger or resentment, bitterness, revenge, lust, and all of these, and that’s what you’re thinking about, that’s going to work itself out in your brain. That’s going to impact your brain chemistry. “As a man thinks in his soul, so is he.”
Another thing related to the problem from Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression.” Notice how the Bible connects anxiety, fear, and worry with depression. What do you have to do? Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God and the peace that passes all comprehension shall defend your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
If you want to deal with anxiety, you have to focus on the Lord in prayer and what it’s going to do. The side benefit is that it’s going to flush your depression. This day’s reading I’m talking about is that if people learn to focus on things and develop excellence in the everyday human realm, it’s going to have an unintended consequence of getting rid of their depression and anxiety. What the Bible says is that you can wipe it out if you’ll just focus on the Word.
That doesn’t mean your nasty little sin nature isn’t going to throw depressive slings and arrows at you every now and then. You’re going to shoot it down and defend yourself with the Word of God. It’s radical.
Sometimes we read this so much we forget how radical this sounds. “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” Not in your Bible, not in your notebook, not on your MP3 player, not in your library but shall be in your heart. The Psalmist says, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” It’s not the Word I put in my doctrinal notebook.
Then, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “Teach them diligently to your children.” What does that mean? It means to talk of the Word of God when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, or when you lie down. Think about your day. When are you not sitting, walking, or lying down? So when you’re sitting, walking, or lying down you need to be focusing on God’s Word.
That doesn’t mean you can’t work but that means that when you have opportunity to let your mind go to something else, you ought to let it go to the Word of God. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand.” This just means you have to wrap your life up with the Bible. It’s got to be the dominant influence in your life.
Psalm 77:12 says, “I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.” That’s mindset. That’s focus. It’s meditate on Your work. It’s not meditate like the one form of meditation that says to empty your mind. That’s Eastern mysticism. What the Bible is talking about is that meditation is filling your mind with the Word of God and the works of God.
Proverbs 6:21 says, “Bind them continually upon your heart [like Deuteronomy 6]; tie them around your neck.”
Psalm 1:1–3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord.” You think I can’t wait to get to Bible class tonight or you wake up in the morning and say, “I can’t wait to read my Bible this morning.” We have to focus on this. “And in His law he meditates day and night.” What part of the 24-hour cycle does not fit into the category of day and night?
That means everything around the clock. God’s not kidding. If we immerse ourselves in the Word of God and it saturates our soul, it changes us. It resets our souls.
That word hagah means to moan, to speak, to whisper, or to murmur. What it refers to in meditation is to the person who is memorizing Scripture and goes through the day just muttering it to himself and whispering it. He goes through it again and again and again so it really enters into their mind and thinking. That’s one form of biblical meditation.
Psalm 63:6, “When I remember You on my bed…” You wake up in the middle of the night [no show of hands but a lot of you have middle-age insomnia], you should go through your list of memory verses. If it’s just one, you need to memorize more verses. Go through that list of memory verses. By the time you get to the fifteenth or twentieth verse, maybe you’ll be back to sleep again. That’s what David is saying, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.” When you wake up and you can’t go back to sleep think about God. Think through various doctrines. Think about the work and the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You have to be in Bible class long enough to get some doctrine in your soul in order to do that. Psalm 143:5, “I remember the days of old; I meditate [hagah]; I muse [shiach] on the work of Your hands.” So I’m thinking about God’s Words and His works. That’s not just thinking, “Oh, isn’t creation beautiful?” A biologist, a geologist, a meteorologist are meditating on the works of God if they have the right mental attitude as a Christian. They’re looking at their study of biology as what God created in terms of life. Make it theological. It’s not neutral which is what you get in science class.
Psalm 104:34, “May my meditation be sweet to Him.” That’s a different word to muse, commune, and speak or to complain.
Okay, two more verses. I know some people are getting restless. Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us the bottom line is to meditate [LOGIZOMAI, to count, think, calculate] on these things. Logic comes from this word LOGIZOMAI. They’re all related. When you wake up in the night don’t think about fantasy things. Think about what’s true.
Don’t think about having a good conservative in the White House. [I got someone’s attention.] In other words, don’t live in a dream world. Think about what is true; think about things that are honorable.
This word means that which is consistent with God’s character. Whatever things are just, whatever things are consistent with God’s integrity. Whatever things are pure, that’s morally unstained. Whatever things are lovely, that is acceptable and pleasing to God. Whatever things are of good report. If there’s any virtue [morally excellent] and if there’s anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things. Not on all that other garbage you’re thinking about that clutters up your mind.
Mental discipline and mental focus is what the Scripture is saying is the solution.
Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds [they mentally focus] on things of the flesh.” That means if you’re living on sin, you’re going to focus on sin. “But those who live according to the Spirit, they meditate or set their mind on things of the Spirit.” That’s exactly what that article was talking about.
If you develop the skills of mental focus which is part of doctrinal orientation, then the Word of God is going to change your life. Not in a week. Not in a year. It’s going to take time. It’s going to be permanent and it’s going to be true. It’s not going to be the result of taking a pill. It’s not going to be the result of psychological manipulation that only masks the problem.
Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind [PHRONEO] on things above and not on things of the earth.” Focus. All of that is just doctrinal orientation. I just wanted to expand on what I’ve taught in the past on the spiritual skill of doctrinal orientation.
Next time we’ll come back to continue to understand the issues related to suffering.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and be challenged by Your Word. We realize that Your Word is transformative. That’s what You’ve said. There is real hope based upon Your Word, understanding truth, and walking by the Spirit. That’s what You’ve promised us, that we can have real joy, real peace, real stability that is not overshadowed by society and depression and all these other things that get in the way. What we have to do is retrain. It’s volition. Focus, refocus, and refocus on Your Word and on our walk with You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen."