The Great Wall of China is one of the great feats of
engineering of the ancient world. Built of bricks and stones, it is a massive
man made structure that can be seen from space. Beginning in the 7th century BC,
this 13,171 miles long fortification stretching from the northern eastern borders
of China to the west was built to keep out the northern nomadic tribes. These tribes
were making incursions into the Middle Kingdom. It was so effective that
legends claimed that the walls were never breeched. The northern tribes were
only able to gained access when corrupt officers or traitors opened the doors
of the wall from within.
Edinburgh castle is a mountain fortress which dated from
around the 12th century AD. It is an imposing structure built on a
cliff and is accessible by a series of winding corridors protected by defensive
gatehouses. Again, legend has it that the walls of Edinburgh castle were never
breeched. The castle fell by treachery from within when treacherous persons
opened the doors or when the besieged surrendered.
In spite of what many people think, the greatest challenge
to our spiritual life comes not from outside. Perhaps exterior circumstances
may be non-conducive to our growth into Christ-likeness. We may live in a truly
pagan/non-Christian environment with little morality or are actively hostile
towards Christianity. We may be under persecution for our faith. Even our
family: father, mother, brothers and sister may be turning on us because we
seek to be obedience to the teachings of Christ. Perhaps we are unevenly yoked
to non-believing spouses who limit our opportunities for Christian fellowship. Yet,
these challenges may not break us. They
may instead make us more resolved in our efforts to resist, stand our grounds, overcome
them, and keep the faith.
The greatest challenge to our spiritual life often comes
from within. In resisting external influences we may become successful.
Unfortunately spiritual success as in other types of success carries with them
the seed of their own destruction. Spiritual successes may lead to spiritual
pride. Spiritual pride may lead to self sufficiency and self-righteousness. Spiritual
successes may also lead to complacency or what the desert fathers call acedia. We became too confident and
relax our defenses, thus allowing our enemy to gain a foothold. Both turn our
attention from God, who is the true author of our successes, to ourselves. As
the church in ancient Ephesus discovered; distraction from their first love
(God) is a form of idolatry.
How then do we hold onto our center and maintain our
vigilance against spiritual corruption? The answer lies in guarding our minds
and our hearts. Paul writing to the church in Rome commends, “Do not conform
any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of
your mind” (Rom. 12:2a). The apostle knows that true transformation can only happen
and be maintained by the renewing of the mind. It is an ‘action’ type of statement
implying that renewing our mind is a continuing process, not a once off event.
The writer of Proverbs knows of the importance of the heart
in the character of a person. In the times of the ancient Israelite, the heart
is regarded as the seat of the soul, the point where emotions originate, and who
the person is. The heart does not refer to the muscular organ that pumps blood
around the body. We are warned: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is
the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
The biblical teachings is that we are to continually renew our
minds and guard our hearts if we are to resist corruption from within that will
allow the enemy to take a foothold in our spiritual life. We are told that the
enemy is always looking for the weak points in our armors. Peter who knows from
personal experience, advises, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the
devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter
The key to continually renewing our minds and guarding our
hearts is intentional discipleship. Discipleship involves living a life as if Jesus
Christ is with us all the time (described as life with Christ) and following
and obeying all his teachings. It is intentional because we have to make the
effort to become a disciple. We do not automatically become a disciple just because
we believe Jesus died for us on the cross. A person can become a Christian without
becoming a disciple. However that person will be missing out on the greatest treasure
of discipleship – that of growing into Christ-likeness.
Living a life of intentional discipleship is living a disciplined
life. That means we have to intentionally make time to pray, worship, studying
the word of God, becoming aware of the presence of God, making the right
choices, keeping our thoughts and behavior pure, and allowing the Holy Spirit
to bear fruit in us (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) in our busy lives. Intentional
discipleship is not works-righteousness. We are not doing this to earn merits
from God. Intentional discipleship is creating spiritual habits that will
transforms us into the likeness of His son.
Our minds and hearts are the gateways into our innermost
being. It is through here that corruption is seeded to destroy us from within.
Even as Christian, our old self/old man/old nature still remains as remnants.
These remnants are easily stirred to life if we allow it. Intentional discipleship
prevents that as intentional discipleship is all about removing the old self
and putting on the new.
Soli Deo Gloria
Labels: Discipleship, Spiritual Formation