It’s been said that a treasure of incredible value is hidden somewhere in the old rock cavern located in the woods on the edge of town. For years, rumors of this treasure have been a part of the twilight speculations and campfire stories of those who live in the area.
You might ask yourself, “If everybody knows about this treasure, and everybody knows where this cave is located, why hasn’t someone gone in there to claim it?” In fact, many people have entered the cave to find the treasure, but none who has ever ventured into this mysterious cavern has returned to tell the tale of what lies within.
But, just because no one else has returned doesn’t mean that you would suffer the same fate. And besides, if the legend is correct, there could be treasure hidden within that goes beyond your wildest dreams.
So, because you are insatiably curious, stout of heart, and perhaps a wee bit crazy, you decide to ignore the foreboding indicators and explore the contents of the cavern. Equipped with all of the necessary supplies, you set out into the woods and make your way down the murky, leaf-strewn path to the entrance of the cave.
As you stand there, peering into the darkness, a low and breathy sigh emanates from the depths and a warm draft of air brushes your side like an unseen stranger. You think that seems odd as you had expected the cave to be somewhat cooler than the air outside. For a moment, you think of turning back. But, goaded by the demands of your curiosity, you venture forth.
The light of the afternoon sun extends but a few yards into to the cave before fading into shadow, so you pull out your flashlight to aid you in your search. As you fumble to turn it on, it falls from your hand and lands with a clank on the rocky floor of the cave, rolling a few feet further into the darkness. You crouch to retrieve it and paw the ground ahead of you. As you do, you feel another rush of air–this time warmer and thicker–pass you with the sound of a hollow rasp. You discover your flashlight and quickly turn it on. Your hand shakes, causing the light to dart about the cavern.
What was that?! For a brief moment, you perceived some movement within the shaky beam. You stand, steadying your hand, shining the light directly ahead of you, only to be greeted by the startling sight of…
It’s at this point in the story that I flash this image onto the screen:
The image and sound effect of a roaring panther typically sends the 3rd-5th graders, with whom I share this story, jumping out of their seats. Does it scare the kids? Most of them. Do they scream? Sometimes. Is this necessary? Perhaps not…but it’s really effective. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to help kids viscerally identify and understand a terrifying enemy.
The Enemy Within
If you actually found yourself face to face with a panther in the woods, what would you do? I’m no survivalist, so I have no idea what the best response to this kind of wilderness attack would be, but I think most of us would try to run as fast as humanly possible in the opposite direction.
Why? Because of the danger the animal represents. The panther could kill you.
But you know what? While your chances of a spelunking encounter with a panther are not very high, you are likely to face something just as scary, and a just as deadly. And this attacker won’t be hidden in some dark cave in a remote patch of the woods.
This deadly enemy is something that you will face every single day of your life. It’s hiding behind every door. It’s in your home, it’s in your school, it’s on your computer screen. In fact, it’s with each of us right here, right now. That’s because this enemy is in each of our minds.
The enemy is sin.
Each of us faces the temptation to engage in sinful patterns of thinking. And sinful thinking has the power to destroy our relationships with God, and our relationships with one another.
When we’re tempted to engage in a sinful pattern of thinking, we ought to view that temptation as a ferocious panther with its mouth open and ready to devour us. And when we recognize that, we ought to run as fast as we can in the opposite direction.
In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul lays out very clearly a three-step process for making changes in our lives. As you read the passage below, see if you can identify what those three steps are.
“…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
Did you see the three steps Paul lays out?
Step 1: Put off the old self
Step 2: Renew the mind
Step 3: Put on the new self
Each of those steps is very important because, without any one of those steps, a person can’t expect to make true and lasting changes. Remarkably, the step in this process that is often overlooked is Step 2—renewing the mind—a phrase closely tied to the concept of repentance.
“Repentance” is translated from the Greek word “metanoia,” which literally means “change of mind.” Thus, repentance is all about changing the direction of your thinking. You were headed in one direction with your thinking–your mind was filled with thoughts of revenge, self-pity, fear, worry, lust, pride, etc.–and you said, “No, I’m not going to think those thoughts anymore”, and you turned around.
It’s just what you would do if you were suddenly faced with a panther. You were headed in one direction as you traveled into the cave. Then, you saw the panther, and you turned around and started going the other way.
Why Should You Repent?
For too long, you were pursuing your former manner of life—the way of the old self.
And what was that old self like? According to Ephesians 4:22, your mind was “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.”
That means that your old way of thinking had been ruined because you desired things that could never fulfill their promises. You wanted things that wouldn’t satisfy you, that couldn’t truly make you happy.
These “lusts of deceit” come in many different forms—money, convenience, revenge, the praise of men, etc. When you want these things, you think, “If I can only get this, or if I can only have that, then I’ll be happy.” But these things don’t satisfy us because the joy they deliver is only temporary. They leave us constantly wanting more.
Don’t Be a Wolf
Do you know how Eskimos trap and kill wolves? First, they coat a knife blade in several frozen layers of blood. Then they bury the knife handle in the ground so that the bloody blade is sticking up. When the wolf comes along and smells the blood, it begins to lick the blade. The more the wolf licks, the stronger its thirst for blood becomes.
That’s a picture of what we become like when be engage in vengeful, proud, or lustful thinking. We know it’s wrong, but we don’t want to stop.
In short order, the wolf licks down to the blade and slices its own tongue. But by that point, the wolf has become so ravenous that it doesn’t even notice that it’s consuming its own blood. Eventually, the wolf dies because of its own blood thirst.
Sinful patterns of thinking can affect us in the same way. To avoid being trapped, we have to renew our minds.
An Extreme Makeover For Your Mind
When we begin to renew our minds, we say, “I’m no longer going to pursue those things. I’m repenting. I’m changing directions. And I’m going to clear those things out of my mind. My mind is going through a total makeover.”
Have you’ve ever seen Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? On that show, they renovate homes. They clear them out and remake them in such a way that the original home is all but unrecognizable. Some of the things they do are absolutely incredible.
When we repent, when we renew our minds, we need to go through an extreme thinking makeover. That begins first by changing the things that influence our thinking. Our thinking is affected by all kinds of things. It’s affected by the teaching we receive, by the things we view, by the things we hear, by the people we’re around, and by the games we play.
What are you watching on TV? Are the things you’re watching causing you to think in ways that please the Lord God? What about the music you listen to? Is that music encouraging you to grow closer in your relationship to God? What about the video games you play, or the things you view on the internet? Are these things helping you use your mind for God, or are they hurting your relationship with Him?
If the things you’re watching and hearing and playing and reading are causing you to pursue the old self, then you need to repent. You need to change your direction and start replacing those things with other sources that are going to encourage you to grow in your relationship with the Lord.
You Can’t Do It By Yourself
It’s important to note that you won’t be able to change directions on your own. If you try to make these changes without God’s help, you’ll fail. You won’t be able to do it. You need Him.
And receiving God’s help begins with placing your faith in Jesus. If there’s never been a definite point in your life when you’ve acknowledged your sin, and your need for Jesus to rescue you from your sins, I would encourage you to do that right away. And, if you have questions about that, talk to someone that you know is a follower of Christ. Most would love to sit down with you to help you understand how you can be certain that you’re on your way to heaven.
For those who have trusted Christ, repentance isn’t a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of thing. God has provided all kinds of resources designed to help you grow in personal holiness. He has provided practical and convicting instruction from His Word, the abiding and empowering presence of His Holy Spirit, along with the encouragement and accountability of His church. We all need to avail ourselves of these resources to help us walk in greater conformity with our Savior.
For Further Discussion
- How is temptation like a ferocious animal? How should we respond?
- Read Romans 12:2. What does it mean to “renew our minds?”
- How will renewing our minds equip us to face temptation?
- In each of the following forms of media, what kinds of things can we do to renew our minds?
- Books or Magazines
- Video Games