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About this series
How to be a Christian Without Being Religious
Is it possible to be a Christian without being religious? More than a list of activities, behaviors, and rules, this series will show you that the Christian life is, at its core, an ongoing relationship with the living God. You will discover how to live a life of faith; how to portray Christ's love and character in your everyday activities; how to know if you are growing spiritually; and how to develop a dynamic, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.More from this series
There are times where you need to stop reading your Bible and start meditating on it.
And so, I’ll take the one verse that might slightly stick out to me and then I’ll say it out loud. And then I’ll emphasize different words. “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. But you shall meditate on it day and night and you…” And then all of a sudden it goes from something that God said to Joshua and, see, what meditation does, it takes the cold light of Scripture and it turns it into the hot passion of God’s very personal Word to you.
And that only comes by meditation. But that also explains why people can read the Bible, hear the Bible, and live such ungodly lives. See, they don’t meditate. It’s the missing link. We need to say, God, what does this mean? What does this mean to me? God, what – I’ve read this – what do I learn about Your character today?
See, the key to meditation really is asking good questions. It’s like taking that passage like the prism and turning it: God, is there a sin in my life that You want to point out from this passage? Is there anything else You want to talk about? I don’t really want to deal with that one today. Okay, yeah, I got You. Isn’t that how it works with you?
Is there a promise for me that You want me to claim? See, it’s just asking key questions. What does it mean? What does it mean to me? Is there a sin to forsake? Is there a promise to claim? What can I learn about You? And then often my mind will shift and I’ll realize: God is faithful. God comes through. God didn’t – here’s Joshua, he’s got these millions of people. He didn’t say, “Good luck, Josh.”
He said, “Josh, here is what will help you make it through.” And I don’t have any kind of responsibility like Joshua. And if this book of the law shouldn’t depart out of his mouth, God, I think I’ll take this one verse and memorize it this week. And I think I’ll put it on a 3x5 card and I think, not while I’m driving, but maybe while I’m shaving I’m going to ponder it. And then I’m going to go beyond meditating, because meditating gets me ready, it personalizes and I really see how God speaks to me. Then I’m going to go to phase three. I’m going to apply it.
See, the truth gets digested, then it needs to be applied, because why was Joshua told to meditate? This book of the law, reception, you’ll meditate day and night – why? In order to obey all that is written.
See, this is why people never get to application, because they don’t meditate. How many times have we read something and you couldn’t even tell anybody what you read or what it meant to you?
Jesus made an incredible statement to a group of Jews who just believed in John 8. They had just come to Christ. And He said, “If you continue in My Word, if you abide in My Word,” and the word means not only to receive the Word, but to hold on to it and put it into practice, He said to them, “If you continue in My Word, you will know the truth.”
See, knowing the truth isn’t intellectually having it. Knowing the truth isn’t reading the Bible. Knowing the truth is: Ah! This is what is right for everyone, but this is what is right for me. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you…” Isn’t that what you want? I want to be free.
See, God points out sin in my life, not because He is down on me. He doesn’t want me not be greedy or not be lustful because He goes, Oh, gosh, Chip is doing it again. It so embarrasses Me. It’s because He is a holy, heavenly Father and He says, That will destroy Chip’s life. That’ll destroy your life. I want to point out sin to My children so instead of going over the cliff, they just hit a guardrail and they stay within the boundaries and walk in wisdom.
And so, you receive the Word; God speaks. You get it personal; He speaks to you. Meditation. Then you respond and you apply it. And your attitudes change and your behavior changes. And like for me this week, I was meditating on a passage and for me I meditate, I have memorized some verses and so when I review them, it seems to be a time when God speaks to me.
And I was reviewing a passage about integrity and about speech. And I was involved in a big meeting recently and in that meeting, we really shared our hearts with one another, and something came out of my mouth that was just wrong. Words have two possibilities: they can give light or they can give heat.
Light helps people; heat wounds people. And you can even use the right word and it can really give light, but the impact is: it hurts them. And in that meeting, I realized there was some light, but I gave some heat out. I gave heat out because I was hurt. I gave heat out because my pride was wounded.
And so, I’m meditating on this passage and wake up in the morning and God says, I want you to deal with that. I don’t want to deal with it. So, I called the fellow that I needed to apologize for and was thankful that his line was busy. I put it off a day. So, I get a call from a close friend early in the week and he says, “You know that meeting we were in? Yeah.” He said, he was really gracious about it, “you did this well, you did this well, you did this well. Something came to my mind. You know that phrase you used?” I said, “Oh, thank you. Yeah, God already told me.”
So, I tried to call one more time and he wasn’t home. Praise God! And so, then I went away to pray for a day and came back and then another good friend came and said, “You asked me, remember a while back? You said if there is ever anything in your life…” I said, “The phrase? The meeting?” “Yeah!” I said, “I gotcha. Before the week ends, I’ll make sure.” And I had a very positive conversation, confessed my sin, received forgiveness, had peace restored.
See, that’s applying the Word. See, that changes your life. See, God wants you to receive it, He wants you to meditate on it, but if you don’t meditate on it you’ll never apply it. And then after you apply it, then the truth gets integrated and that’s transformation.
So, you literally grow from growth in knowledge, growth in understanding, then you grow in grace when you apply it. You can’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it work, but when I take the step of obedience, whoo, there’s grace.
And then when you grow in grace, then there’s growth in fruitfulness. You become a more Christ-like woman, a more Christ-like man, a more Christ-like student.
And so, this is the process that God wants us. Over time, you build new ruts, if you will, in your mind where when this happens, you are honest instead of lie. When this happens, you are less greedy. When this happens, instead of it letting you be wounded and strike back, you get a hold of your anger.
In the early days, maybe it’s biting your tongue, but over the years, as you meditate on the Word and as you deal with it and as you apply it, what happens is you’ll find you’re not an angry person. You’ll find that over a period of years and months, you will no longer be a proud person. You will find over years and months you will no longer be a lustful person. Yes, you will have ups, downs, and struggles, but you will find as you receive the Word, as you meditate on the Word, and as you apply the Word, you will be transformed. It will be integrated into how you think and how you act and guess what – people will say, “Wow, he was exposed to the Scriptures here, he or she’s life is changed here.”
And isn’t that the plan? As I read through the New Testament, doesn’t this seem to be the basic plan that we would be conformed to the image of His Son?
Well, now what I want to do is give you the key phrase here and then talk about how it works in daily practice. The key phrase, the key to change is: renewing your mind. You might want to jot that down. Renewing your mind.
That is what meditation and application does. It renews your mind. You can be exposed to a lot of the Bible, you can hear a lot of messages, you can even memorize and study, but it doesn’t necessarily renew your mind until you meditate and apply it.
The connection between what goes in your mind, what you keep out of your mind, and what you meditate or ponder or muse or think on is the key to life transformation and giving the Holy Spirit raw material so that He can give you grace to change your life.
Let me give you a concluding passage that will wrap up and show you how this works in daily practice. The big picture: Psalm 1:1 to 3. The transformational process: Joshua 1:8. The daily practice: Romans 12:2. See? Listen. This verse has the same outline or component parts as Psalm 1 to 3.
Notice the first portion of this verse is what a person does not do. The second aspect of this verse is what a godly person does. And the third aspect of this verse is the impact that it will have on your life. Does that sound familiar? This is the New Testament Psalm 1.
Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed,” molded or squeezed is the idea. “Do not be conformed to this world.” Don’t let the junkyard of thought life in our day and culture that is apart from God conform or squeeze you into its thinking.
Thoughts like: I need to have a lot to be a lot. Thoughts like: I’ve got to be beautiful. My body has got to be perfect if I’m going to be worthwhile. Thoughts like, If I’m not married I’ll never be complete. Thoughts like, All my kids have to turn out perfect or I’m a failure. Thoughts like, If I don’t have lots of money, boy, stored up and lots of big places, then I’ll never be secure.
Those are all thoughts of the world. But they drive us, don’t they? They drive us. They drive your values. Thoughts of: I’ve got to get my needs met or I won’t be fulfilled. Thoughts, I’ve got to be happy every moment. Everyone needs to come through for me. They can’t come through for you.
“Don’t be conformed to this world, but,” – okay, that’s what you don’t do. Here’s what we do do: “…but be transformed” – how? Are you ready for our phrase? “…by the renewing of your mind.” Be transformed. Literally the word is: be metamorphosized. Remember ninth grade biology? Metamorphosis. It’s a transformation that begins from the inside out.
And then notice the result: “Don’t be conformed but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” here’s the impact: “that you may prove or demonstrate, test what the will of God is.” And what is the will of God? “That which is good, acceptable, and perfect.”
You can apply it to every area. Don’t be conformed to the world and how you think about relationships. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Think about relationships the way God does. Then you’ll test and discover how relationships really work, that they are good, acceptable, and perfect. You’ll be swimming upstream, mind you.
Now, there are a couple key phrases here that I would like to highlight and then I want to tell you a brief story – before I understood anything that I have ever shared – how this actually worked in my life.
I’d like you to notice that a literal translation of “Don’t be conformed” is: “Stop being conformed.” The grammar here indicates that the apostle Paul, by means of the Holy Spirit, assumed that people were being conformed.
So, he says, “Stop being conformed.” So there is an action. You need to stiff-arm the world. But notice the second half, a literal translation would be: “Start allowing yourself to be transformed.” Don’t fall into the self-help mentality here. Don’t pull up your bootstraps: I’m going to read the Bible, I’m going to memorize, I’m going to meditate, and I am going to get like God. It won’t work!
It says, “Start allowing yourself,” that’s the passive voice. The only one that can change you is Christ. The only way He can change you is His grace. You have to put yourself in a position where His grace can operate. Start allowing yourself to be transformed so you get the Word in your life, you talk to God honestly, and you meditate on it and you take steps, dependently, and He changes.
I had no idea, to be candid, how any of this worked. I opened this book for the first time when I was eighteen. I came to Christ the summer after high school, went away to college, met a bricklayer who was trained by the Navigators, and I spent the next six or seven years or so with him learning to be a follower of Jesus.
This group was really high on Scripture memory. I was a Christian about two, two and a half years or so, my roommate was a – I was the black sheep of the ministry. Everyone said, “You ought to do that,” and I questioned everything.
So, they were making progress and I was always behind. And they were really big that everyone needed to memorize Scripture. My theory was: if I want to find it, it’s in the book, I’ll look it up. And Scripture memory seemed like an awful lot of work, so I didn’t want to go for that.
But my roommate was going to go to this summer training program and he had to have these sixty verses memorized before he could go. And out of the purest of motives: ego; pride; I’m better than you; I’ll show you, Bob! When he left, he had these sixty verses on these cute, little cards. I wasn’t going to pay for the cards, so I cut out 3x5 cards. These are my originals from over twenty years ago. And I cut out the cards and when he was out of the room, I wrote down all the verses he was supposed to memorize. And since my pride and ego were involved, he was going to do three verses a week. That’s what wimps do! Real men do a verse a day! So, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell him. I just couldn’t wait, after sixty days, when I walked in and said, “Hey, Bob, go ahead, give me one of those cards.” I was going to show him.
So, anyway, I get these cards and I do a verse a day. The first one about killed me. I thought, I can’t memorize this. I tried and tried and tried and tried. And so, and then I reviewed every verse I learned, I reviewed every day, because what I realized is, Boy, you can learn them and four days later forget them.
So, I’m walking around. I’m walking to baseball practice, I’m in psychology class; it was very boring. And I’m reviewing, reviewing, reviewing. Now, why am I doing all this? I’m doing it because I want to beat Bob. But why did – I didn’t tell you is that I had a problem. You guys will probably not understand this, but I’m going to share with my heart.
After about two and a half years, you know the external, big, moral issues? I don’t remember the day I stopped cussing, but I stopped cussing. And some of the big sins that probably Christians aren’t supposed to do – I quit hanging out places and doing things that were just blatantly wrong.
But this problem of lust that no one else could see that was in my mind and in my heart – I couldn’t lick it. I had those, Oh God, oh God, oh God, help me, help me, I’ll never think that way, I’ll never do that again, never, never, never.
Four minutes later. And then I got so discouraged, I prayed, Help me, help me, help me, sorry, sorry, sorry, help me, help me, help me, sorry, sorry, sorry. And finally, about two and a half years I thought, Okay, this is the unconquerable sin. All men live with this. Clean up the big, major areas. No one can see what is going on in your mind, and just pretend. So you look at girls a certain way, you play certain games, and you see, but down deep in your heart you lust all the time.
I didn’t think you could win. I didn’t know. And I didn’t know about this process. But after memorizing a verse every day for three and a half weeks – now, I don’t know what that is, twenty-five, twenty-six verses? I remember having a conversation with a very attractive girl that I had lusted for before. And she was a believer and that maybe even – guilty – we are talking about God and in my heart these things, Oh, ugh. You been there, guys? I’m just telling you where I was at.
And so, anyway, I had this conversation and then we part and I start walking to a different cafeteria. And I’m thinking, Why am I walking to this cafeteria? I always eat with the basketball team above the freshmen dorm of girls and I always sit with them and we make crass remarks about girls and I lust with them. I just had a conversation with a girl; I didn’t lust. I don’t know why. And I know I don’t want to go to that cafeteria today.
And I memorized the rest of the sixty verses and then I did about three to five verses a week for the next five or six years. And I’m not going to tell you, men, that I never have a lustful thought. I’m telling you that I struggle like everybody else, periodically.
The stranglehold on my life – God transformed my thinking. Now, I didn’t know about meditation. All I knew was is that if I didn’t review them every day, I kept forgetting them. So, I would review them. And when you review 1 John 2:15 and 16, “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. And all the things of the world are going to be gone, but He who does the will of God abides forever.”
When I pondered that, when I meditated on it, when I reviewed it, what I realized was I was breaking God’s heart, I was thinking in a dysfunctional way, and I would never have the kind of relationships God wanted me to have if I thought about the opposite sex that way. I was programmed for eighteen years to think like the world and think of women as objects and hormonal releases. And God says they are co-heirs of the grace of God and they are people and they are to be treated with dignity and you look them in the eye not at other places and you love and care for them as people.
And that’s the kind of man, a really godly woman is going to be looking for down the road. And four and a half years later, instead of getting someone who may have met my physical need and I would have played all kind of games with, I met a godly woman and had a great marriage and ended up with four kids.
Like a tree firmly planted by the streams of water, yielding its fruit in its season and my leaf didn’t wither, and whatever I did prospered. Stop conforming to the world. Eliminate – can I encourage you? – the spiritual toxins in your life.
You’d be surprised how your mind is so infiltrated. You have to stop the spiritual toxins. Ask yourself, What do I think? What do I view? What do I read? What movies do I go to? What people do I associate – what comes out of their mouth that are spiritual toxins? Stop being conformed to the world and allow your mind to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. How do you do it? Biblical meditation.
Here’s the game plan. It’s not original; I got it from a missionary in South America many, many years ago. And he called it the 2PROAPT method. And there’s no hidden spiritual meaning to 2PROAPT.
So, here’s what the 2PROAPT stands for. First, pray. Ask God to speak to you. I’m amazed how many times I just forget that. Expect Him to speak to you. The second P: preview. Read through the passage quickly for an overview, where it’s a paragraph or a chapter, whatever. Just read through it quickly just to get the big picture. The way your mind works, it wants to get the whole picture so that it can put in the pieces.
The next letter is R: read. Read the passage a second time slowly and contemplatively. And I would add: out loud. There is something to hearing your own voice hear the Word of God out loud.
The O stands for: observe. You’re now going back and reading it for the third time. Observe. Go back and underline key words. Circle words or phrases that are repeated and highlight the most meaningful verse to you. See, this isn’t real hard.
And then A stands for: apply. Choose one specific way to put into practice the truth you have discovered. It might be memorizing the verse. It might be, like me, you call someone and apologize. It might be writing an encouraging note. It might be choosing to serve to help someone. But don’t leave this book until you decide to do one, specific thing.
And according to Jesus, when you respond to the Word, you get more light. But those who think they have, even what they think they have will be taken away – the context is Mark 4, responding to the Scripture. After you apply, then pray. Ask for God, ask God for power and wisdom to follow through with your application. This isn’t about you trying harder. It’s about you depending more.
And then finally, tell. Share with at least one person what new insight, truth, or application you have made in response to God’s Word to you. And if you do, you will become like a tree firmly planted by the streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season. Your leaf will not wither and whatever you do, you’ll prosper. So, the conclusion is: stop just reading your Bible and start meditating on it.