Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
With all the attacks upon the mind, it is absolutely essential that we “gird up the loins of our minds,” as the apostle Peter commands us in I Peter 1:13. That means that the foundation of our living and of our thinking must be grounded in clear views of divine truth.
Doctrinal knowledge is generally given little value by most today. Perhaps youth tend to undervalue doctrinal knowledge more than anyone else. One reason for that is that youth tend to think in terms of the practical. They often fail to make the connection between doctrine and practice, imagining rather that if the heart is right, and the conduct correct, then the doctrines which one believes really do not matter all that much. Or, to put it another way, a person maybe pure of practice, while his religious opinions are radically erroneous. But nothing is more contrary to Scripture and, as you will come to learn, to experience as well.
Jesus declares that His people are “sanctified in the truth” (John 17:17). That actually means that if you will be sanctified, if your life will reflect consecration to God, it will only be as you live in the sphere of God’s truth. That is an assertion quite contrary to the philosophy of this world, also the broader church world.
Most of the philosophies governing today’s thought patterns are based upon feelings. To put it another way, man’s thinking today is very much man-centered and near zero God-centered. And some of the modern philosophies .of human thought are playing havoc with your minds.
One such way of thinking is that of existentialism. It is not my intention to present the definition of existentialism as a philosophy, but simply as it stands related to how we live today. It is not, therefore, so important that you remember the term, so long as you get the idea. Existentialism in its practical outworking teaches that man has absolute freedom of choice, but that there are no rational criteria serving as a basis for choice. “Don’t worry about yesterday, don’t worry about tomorrow; just do whatever turns you on today.” We read in Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” And today the answer given is exactly the fulfillment of the rest of that verse, “But they said, We will not walk therein.” The Lord said, “Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.” Our society and much of the church world today is very self-oriented, with little or no concern about its roots or the future. What about you? Are you living only for right now? Are you unwilling to consider your heritage? Do not forget, we are sanctified in the truth. Moreover, there is a tomorrow.
Another modern philosophy attempting to play havoc with your minds is that of hedonism. Hedonism is the Playboy philosophy that says, “If it makes you feel good, do it.” Pleasure is god. That is hedonism. Not only society, but the church as well, has become feeling-oriented. We certainly confess that feelings belong to the emotional makeup of the man which God created good. That we have feelings is good. But when feelings are in control, and when we subject our thought processes to feelings, we are walking down a destructive pathway. For one thing, we are so subject to sin, and our defensive mechanisms are so highly refined, that we are able to develop good feelings toward just about any behavior we want badly enough. If you want to “get a buzz” drinking or smoking weed, if you want to fornicate, you are probably well able to tell yourself, “It feels good.” But the end of such “good feelings” is destruction and everlasting damnation, except there be repentance.
But just as deceitful a form of hedonism is seen within Christianity when truth is set aside for a religion of feelings. I have met young people whose whole relationship with Jesus Christ is a matter of feelings. If you ask the question, “Are you a Christian,” you are likely to get the answer, “Oh yes, I just feel Jesus in my life, and it feels so good.” There are young people running from one place to the next, looking to get zapped by God, to get turned on to Jesus. If they are not “feeling good” in their own church settings, and they are not having the loins of their mind girded up by faithful preaching and instruction, they turn to the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, and even sects, to find “good feelings.”
I ache inside when I see young people make a commitment as a matter of feelings. Whether a religious commitment or a marriage commitment or any other kind of commitment, if it is made on the basis of feelings and not according to the truth of God’s Word and precepts, it is bound for disaster. I well remember, prior to coming to a deeper understanding of the Reformed faith and the truth of Scripture, my involvement in a national Christian young people’s organization. There would be conventions, where music and fun was the focus, but where there would be speeches as well. And there would be a number of young people who would make “a commitment to Jesus Christ” within the context of an emotional response. Now, there is certainly a place for emotional response in the one called by God. Godly sorrow worketh repentance. I get excited when I see a man or woman or young person convicted enough to weep before God for his sins and to receive His blessed forgiveness. That is godly emotion. But when a young man or woman has a spasm of emotion because somebody sings “Just As I Am,” or some more contemporary music, and because somebody tells emotionally charged stories, finishing with an appeal to accept Jesus, the commitment invoked by that spasm of emotion cannot last. Whatever feelings are there, and no matter how deep those feelings run, they can never be sustained.
Whenever I hear someone say to young people, “If you give your heart to Jesus, things are really going to work out . . . .” I cringe. Some day .that young man or young woman may read the 11th chapter of Hebrews, and it will not feel good. Even worse than reading it, we might have to live it! It says, some who followed God were mocked and beaten and imprisoned. Others were stoned. Some were cut in half! Others wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute. The ungodly ripped them off! They had no place to live any longer. They could only wander from cave to cave, through deserts and mountains. Where would such a life leave someone whose Christianity is based upon good feelings? We are not Christians on the basis of feelings.
The Christian faith is not getting “turned on by Jesus.” The Christian faith is not a matter of mere feelings. Christianity is a relationship with the God of our salvation, a relationship that builds through time and eternity, a relationship that is established upon the knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). God will never insult you by coming to you through your feelings. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” We must live and believe, not on the basis of how we feel, but on the basis of the fact that we have put our faith and confidence in what the Lord has revealed to us in the Scriptures, and in the reality of the love of God.
Our thought patterns must not be governed by the ungodly philosophies of this world. Until your way of thinking is removed from the world’s foundations to that foundation which God gives you, you are going to live just like the world. That you are different from unbelievers and ungodly will be seen when you think differently than they do.
Often when your Christian faith really counts, when you are making decisions about relationships with your girlfriends and boyfriends, your dating standards, marriage, your field of study in school, your relationships to your family, your place in the church; when your Christianity really counts, then a weakness shows itself, a weakness that is seen in a failure to think in accordance with God’s Word.
“Gird up the loins of your mind.” That is God’s calling for you. He knows how vulnerable you are in your feelings. He knows how easily swayed you are in your feelings which have been affected by sin. He wants your mind.
Young people also are sanctified in the truth. In fact, it is only so far as the truth is received and believed, loved and obeyed, that true obedience is found in the heart and in the way one lives. To suppose that one can be sanctified, or can benefit by embracing error, is completely contrary to all reason.
We must know the truth. But above all, see to it that you are not content with a mere doctrinal or speculative religion. Listen to God, who tells you that you are in a state of moral ruin, depraved; that you need pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace; that you must be “transformed by the renewing of your minds.” The principles and practice to which you are called are not those of some sect, but those of the Bible, God’s inspired and infallible Word. You cannot escape the battles and the trials. But there is a tremendous victory, I assure you, when you think and live on the basis of God’s Word.