Start Off 2024 with an Act of Rebellion
By David F. Watson
There’s nothing more central to the postmodern Western mind than radical autonomy. Put more simply, we can express the common mindset of our age as something like, “I’ll do what I want and be who I want. I’ll live as I want and die as I want. I am my own master, and none will master me.”
Whether we’re talking about gun laws, abortion, gender identity, sexual expression, or “medical aid in dying” (assisted suicide), our default conviction is, “My will be done.”
We don’t normally perceive this mentality any more than fish perceive the water in which they swim, but it guides our thoughts, words, and deeds. Our minds are neatly conformed to the patterns of this age.
Orthodox Christianity offers us a remarkably different vision of the self. The NRSV renders Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The phrase “to this world” in this passage is more accurately translated “to this age” (Greek: aión).
The current age misshapes our minds. We’re like out-of-tune instruments. In order to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect – about ourselves, other people, and God – we must be transformed. It is necessary for God to renew our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit. As God does this necessary work, we see the world with increasing clarity. The scales come off of our eyes. The Holy Spirit heals the corrupting influence of sin on our minds, and the ways in which we were conformed to the present age become ever more apparent.
If my students or former students are reading this right now, they’re probably rolling their eyes. I’m like a broken record on the epistemic consequences of sin, also called the noetic effect of sin. These are just ten-dollar phrases which mean that sin warps the way we think. The patterns of this age are distorted by sin, and we soak in this distortion by osmosis from the time we’re born. (Yes, I know I talk about this too much but it’s important, okay? No, I’m not defensive. Why do you ask?)
I’m a Wesleyan. Nothing against Calvinism. It’s just not my jam. Being a Wesleyan, I believe we can resist the effects of God’s grace in our lives. What is crucial if we wish for God to renew our minds is a posture of openness to the transforming love of God. That means we give up our commitment to self-will and offer ourselves in joyful obedience to God’s will.
Wesley’s covenant prayer is a great way to enter a posture of openness and obedience to God. I recommend praying this prayer not just at the beginning of the year, but throughout the year. It is a beautiful expression of obedience and devotion to the God who saves us.
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Seedbed also offers a contemporary rendering of John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service, which would be great to use in small groups or Sunday morning worship.
Begin this year with an act of rebellion against the patterns of this age. Begin to know yourself as God knows you. Yield to God. Make yourself fully available to receive his transforming power. We Christians are no longer our own. We are God’s. To live out this truth may be treasonous to the spirit of this age, but then, as Jesus said, no one can serve two masters.
David F. Watson serves as Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He holds a Ph.D. from Southern Methodist University, and is an ordained elder in the Global Methodist Church. Dr. Watson is also the lead editor of Firebrand. This editorial is reprinted from his Substack column found here. Duccio di Buoninsegna was an Italian painter in the late 13th and early 14th century. His Pentecost painting is found at The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, an art museum in Siena, in Tuscany in central Italy. Public domain artwork.