IF WE ARE going to grow into Christlikeness through exposure to God’s Word, one of the things we must do is to develop Bible-based convictions. A conviction is a determinative belief: something you believe so strongly that it affects the way you live. Someone has observed: A belief is what you hold, but a conviction is what holds you. You may live contrary to what you believe, but you cannot live contrary to your convictions. (This doesn’t mean you never act contrary to your convictions, but that you do not consistently violate them.) So we are talking about the development of convictions, not mere beliefs. Convictions, of course, can be good or bad, so we want to make sure our convictions are Bible-based—that they are derived from our personal interaction with the Scriptures. How then do we develop Bible-based convictions? Let’s look again at Romans 12:2.
THE INFLUENCE CONTINUUM
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 12:2)
As we look at this Scripture, one of the first things we see is that Paul established a contrast between conforming (or being conformed) to the pattern of this world and being transformed by the renewal of one’s mind. He assumes there are only two alternatives: Our convictions and values will come from society around us (the world), or they will come as our minds are renewed by the Word of God. There is no third option.
The writer of Psalm 1 stated this truth in a similar fashion. He said,
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3)
The psalmist envisions two alternatives or two groups of people. Those described in verse 1 (by way of the negative expression does not) are being drawn more and more under the controlling influence of wicked people until at last they themselves begin to influence others. To “sit in the seat of mockers” probably refers to a position of influence and authority similar to that exercised by the teachers of the law who “sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2). So these people are not only captive to sin themselves but influence others to sin.
The second group of people are those who delight in the law of God and meditate on it or think about it continually. Again note the psalmist presents a contrast between two diametrically opposing influences: the pervasive influence of sinful society or the life-changing influence of the law of God. There is no neutral sphere of influence. We are being influenced by the forces of sinful society, or we are being influenced by the Word of God.
The truth is, of course, that we believers are probably being influenced by both society and the Word of God. We can think of these two opposing influences as representing the two extreme ends of a continuum, as shown in the following illustration:
All of us who are believers are somewhere on that continuum, partially influenced by sinful society and partially influenced by the Word of God. The more we are influenced by society, the more we move toward the left end of the continuum. The more we are influenced by the Word of God, the more we move to the right. What determines whether we are moving to the left or to the right? The psalmist gives us the answer: our attitude toward the Word of God and the time we spend thinking about it. Nothing else will determine where you are on that continuum.
The person who is living toward the right end of the continuum is described, first of all, as one who delights in the law of God. Like the apostle Paul, this person has determined that God’s law is “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). He or she sees God’s law is not onerous or burdensome but is given to help us please God and live lives that are productive and satisfying (see Psalm 1:3). One who delights in the law of God sees the Bible not just as a book of rules that are difficult to live by but as the Word of his or her heavenly Father who is the God of all grace and deals with him or her in grace.
The person living toward the right end of the continuum also meditates on God’s law day and night. As used in Scripture, the word meditate means to think about a truth with a view to its meaning and application to one’s life. As God told Joshua, “Meditate on [the Book of the Law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8). It is the application, or the “doing,” that should be the goal of meditation. Included in this concept of meditation is reflection on one’s own life to determine what conformity, or lack of it, there is between the scriptural truth and one’s character or conduct. As the psalmist said,
I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. (Psalm 119:59)
He not only thought about Scripture. He also thought about his life and the extent to which it conformed to Scripture.
“Day and night” is an expression for continually. If we want to live toward the right end of the continuum of influence, our minds must be steeped in the Scriptures. We must constantly turn our minds to the Word of God, pondering the meaning and application of its truths to our lives. The idea of continual meditation may seem unrealistic and unattainable in our busy age when our minds need to be occupied with the various responsibilities we all have. “How can I meditate on Scripture,” you may ask, “when I have to think about my work all day long?”
We should not think of the concept of “continually” as meaning every moment. Rather we should think in terms of consistently and habitually. What does your mind turn to when it is free to turn to anything? Do you begin to meditate on Scripture? I often ask people this question: “When you can think about anything you want to think about, what do you think about?” Do you think about your problems, or do you engage in mental arguing with someone else, or perhaps even allow your mind to drift into the wasteland of impure thoughts? Thinking is our most constant activity. Our thoughts are our constant occupation. We are never without them. But we can choose the direction and content of those thoughts.
Meditation on Scripture is a discipline. We must commit ourselves to be proactive. We must memorize key passages (or carry them on cards) so that we can think about them. We must be alert for those times during the day when we can turn our minds to the Word of God, and then we must do it. Even the practice of daily Bible reading is insufficient if we go the rest of the day without meditating on some truths of Scripture. We must choose to meditate instead of thinking about other things or listening to the radio or watching television. We simply have to decide which end of the influence continuum we want to live on and take steps accordingly.
One thing we can be sure of: If we do not actively seek to come under the influence of God’s Word, we will come under the influence of sinful society around us. The impact of our culture with its heavy emphasis on materialism, living for one’s self, and instant gratification is simply too strong and pervasive for us to not be influenced by it. Once again, there is no such thing as a neutral stance on the continuum of influence. We are being drawn more and more under the transforming influence of Scripture, or we are being progressively drawn into the web of an ungodly society around us.
The next thought we see in Romans 12:2 is that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We have already looked briefly at the word transformed in chapter 4. Transformation is much more than merely a change of outward conduct. It is a renovation of our inner being—our true self. It means our motives as well as our motivations are being changed so that we want to change our outward conduct.
Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.