And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.Genesis 1:11, 12
It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m a bit of a sports nut. You can probably blame that on my grandfather and my parents. Growing up in rural South Louisiana, summers were filled with farm work and baseball. Fall weekends were harvest and LSU football. It has been said that the two state religions of Louisiana are Catholicism and LSU sports, with the New Orleans Saints a close third. You’d be hard pressed to prove me wrong.
Every spring and summer until the middle of high school, I would gather with the same basic group of friends on our local little league baseball team and three times a week we would gather in a field behind one of the coaches homes to practice. Typically practice would last for 2 hours a day, but it wouldn’t start until everyone had a chance to get their homework done and then would be done in time for dinner, bath, and bedtime. In the summer we would play our league games three nights a week and in some seasons, when there were odd numbers of teams, there would be the occasional doubleheader for one of the teams.
All of those games, you could tell who came prepared, even as young as we were. The teams that prepared well and learned the game and played the fundamentals were typically the teams that would win the league that year. The teams that played around and didn’t execute and didn’t prepare typically would find themselves at the bottom of the standings by the end of the season.
In college, I still participated in intramural sports. Softball, flag football, basketball. Even tennis. I really started to get into tennis during my junior year of college. I love the aerobic aspect of the game, the adrenaline rush of running back and forth after a yellow ball with an aluminum Wilson racket. One of the greatest tennis stars I can recall in recent years made an amazing quote that has stood by me for a number of years and it’s true of all athletes or competitors of any kind:
In the sports arena, I would say there is nothing like training and preparation. You have to train your mind as much as your body.Venus Williams
I would dare say that this truth extends beyond the realm of sports, but into the realm of business as well. However, perhaps the most important application of this truth is in matters of spiritual growth. There is nothing like proper training and preparation for you put into practice the truths of Scripture so that you can properly understand the value of the Word of God as it applies to your life and how to live out the gospel in your daily walk.
The Battle for Soul
One of the many overarching themes of the Scriptures is the theme of transformation. Transformation in the life of the believer begins when we start changing the way we think about our reality and our lives in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God. And to complicate matters, there is a war of the will that continuously rages in the hearts and minds of believers – a war that will never abate until we reach the golden shores along the crystal sea of Heaven.
The world we live in seeks conformation to the ways of the flesh. The world is constantly trying to get us to think in a manner that is the antithesis of what the Word of God teaches. The world teaches that it is okay to occasionally tell a lie in order to protect someone’s feelings. Now the world teaches us that the standards of behavior prescribed by God’s Word are antiquated and they attempt to support these truth with so-called “science” when in reality the truth is far from scientific. In fact, denial of the truth of God’s Word is what God the world in the shape it is in to begin with.
“He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say…'” (Genesis 3:1) It is the first inkling that there was something wrong in the realm of the spirit. A creature spreads the seed of doubt in preparation for the rebellion against the King of Creation. But it is the seed of the accurate knowledge of the Word of God that combats the seed of doubt. The woman’s response was not only to repeat God’s Word, but her first error was to add to it: “neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” (Genesis 3:3) It is one thing to know the Word of God, but it another thing entirely to add our own “wisdom” to it. But the serpent’s lie gave the woman confidence in her flesh: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6)
This is the same appeal to the flesh that we wrestle with every day – appeals to fleshly appetites, personal pleasure, and self-importance. It is the same battle that is waged today, but to win the battle, we must be prepared for the attacks to come. Throughout the epistles of Paul, we find him appealing to the battle of the mind, the struggle for obedience to the Word of God against the wisdom of the world. It is here that the transformation begins by filling the emptiness of the heart through transformation of the mind.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12
Renewal of the Mind
The world seeks to conform us to its will. To seek after our own appetites. To seek after our own desires. To seek after our own wisdom. But it is the wisdom of God that makes the transformational difference in our world. “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Our world is constantly inundated with new philosophies that promise deliverance, but fail miserably because it is grounded in appeals to the self and to the flesh. Critical race theory is grounded in the search for vengeance, masquerading as an appeal for justice and equality. Modern interpretations of “separation of church and state” seek to guarantee freedom from the influence of religion in the public square, instead of the original intent to prevent government from imposing a state-mandated religion. The list goes on and on, but none of these new philosophies are have any roots in the God of Creation.
Paul constantly reminds his readers to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). ” To the Roman believers, he writes “For those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5) It is the “things of the Spirit” that make a difference in the world. It is only the things of the Spirit that can bring transformation in the hearts of every believer.
Things of the Spirit
But what are these “things of the Spirit” that we are to set our minds upon? Well, Paul explains to the church at Philippi: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) There is only one source of truth that meets these specific standards and that is the truth of the Holy Word of God.
However, it can be quite a daunting challenge for a new believer to start to understand the Scriptures. Transformation takes time, but it more importantly it takes humility and submission to the Holy Spirit. It means laying aside our preconceived notions of what is true and taking Him at His Word. As a believer, you have access to the Holy Spirit living in you to guide you in understanding the truth of His word. “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. ” (John 16:13, 14)
As a point of practical application, I would recommend beginning your exploration of the Word of God in the beginning. Starting in Genesis 1 and slowly, with an open heart, seek His truth about who you are and the world around you. I would also recommend studying the Gospel of John alongside Genesis. Both begin at the beginning and together you can see the intricate weaving of the truth of who Jesus is and His role in Creation and His role in recreating you into His image.
Fruitfulness of the Spirit
As you pour yourself into the study of Scripture and seek to absorb all that you can about who God is, who Jesus is, and how the Holy Spirit transforms the landscape of your life, you will begin to see changes in your heart and behavior that will draw others to want to know more about this transformation. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24)
The fruit of the spirit are those characteristics that your heart will begin to take on that will demonstrate a change in your motivations and your behaviors. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:25, 26) It is this fruitfulness that will multiply within your own heart and fill the emptiness that was once characterized by submission to your flesh instead of submission to the Word of God.
Remember, from the beginning, God has always been about the work of illuminating darkness, organizing chaos, and filling the emptiness. In order to fill the emptiness, He must create an environment that is conducive to supporting that which He intends to create. In the process of recreating you into the image of His Son, He will illuminate the darkness that has kept you blind to the truth of who you were created to be, set you a foundation upon which to build your new life, and begin preparing you for what He has in store by transforming your heart and mind through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you. Only then will you have the vision to see the future and all of the joy that it will contain as you walk with Him from day to day.