In aeronautic terminology “attitude” refers to “the orientation of an aircraft’s axes relative to a reference” point such as the horizon. For the record, I am not an aircraft aficionado so my explanation of aircraft terminology is based on my own research and therefore susceptible to flaws. But as I understand it, the attitude of an aircraft is its position relative to other objects on the axes of roll (i.e. rotation from the longitudinal axis that is controlled by the aileron and determines the angle or banking of the aircraft’s wings), pitch (i.e. rotation around the lateral axis that is controlled by the elevator and determines the up and down movement of the aircraft’s nose), and yaw (i.e. rotation around the perpendicular axis that is controlled by the rudder and determines the side to side movement of the aircraft’s nose).
Attitude is particularly important when an aircraft is landing. As an aircraft descends from flight the pilot must ensure that the attitude of the plane is aligned properly with the ground or else it may make contact with the ground at the wrong angle and potentially result in a crash. Therefore, in aeronautics maintaining a proper attitude is essential to successful flight and, in particular, a safe landing.
Attitude matters a great deal in aeronautics, but does it matter to the same degree in the Christian’s life? Let us consider for a moment what Scripture has to say about our attitude.
- First, Scripture indicates that God knows our attitude. The prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 12:3 (NASB), “But You know me, O LORD; You see me; And You examine my heart’s attitude toward You.” Jeremiah indicates that God sees everything about us including our “heart’s attitude.” That means that our attitude is not hidden from God. This divine knowledge of our attitude is evidenced throughout Scripture. For example, God demonstrated knowledge of the Babel builders self-centered attitude in Genesis 11:1-9, Jonah’s prejudiced attitude in Jonah 4:1-11, Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogant attitude in Daniel 4:28-37, the Pharisees judgmental attitude in Matthew 9:1-8, as well as Ananias and Sapphira’s greedy attitude in Acts 5:1-11. There is nothing that escapes the sight of God because He is the “Father who sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), and so we need to be cognizant of the attitude we possess because it is part of the entity that God sees when He looks at each of us.
- Second, Scripture indicates that God will judge our attitude. The author of Hebrews said in Hebrews 4:12 (NIV) that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The author of Hebrews takes God’s awareness of our attitude one step further than Jeremiah by indicating that God not only sees the “thought and attitudes of the heart” but will judge the “thought and attitudes of the heart.” Based on this passage, our attitude is critically important because it will impact our final destination. Just as an airplane must maintain a proper attitude to complete a successful journey so must we since God will judge “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
- Third, Scripture indicates that God expects us to possess a particular attitude. Throughout his letters, Paul indicated that when one becomes a Christian he or she leaves behind the old self in order to be transformed into a new person. In particular, Paul says that we crucify “our old self” and begin to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, 6), we become “a new creation” and “the old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we “put off [the] old self” and “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22, 24; Colossians 3:9-10). In regards to this new life that we are expected to adopt when we become Christ followers, Paul indicated that it is to include a new attitude. Look at what he wrote in Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul then expounded on this “new attitude of the mind” in the following verses noting that such an attitude lacks deceit, anger, bitterness, and malice but possesses forgiveness and compassion (Ephesians 4:25-32). Based on Paul’s instructions it is apparent that there is a particular attitude that God expects His people to possess.
Paul expounded on this attitude in Philippians 2:5 (NASB) where he instructed the church in Philippi to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul indicated that our attitude is to be oriented around Jesus, and Paul described Jesus’ attitude in the verses that immediately followed, focusing on such traits as humility, servant mindedness, and obedience. However, if you continue journeying through the Philippian letter you’ll also see him describe an attitude absent complaining (Philippians 4:14), self-righteousness (Philippians 3:2-10), and worry (Philippians 4:6) as well as an attitude possessing joy (Philippians 4:4), peace (Philippians 4:7), and contentment (Philippians 4:10-13). In fact, it is in Philippians 3:15 (NASB) that Paul reiterated the expectation of possessing a Christlike attitude when he wrote, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” Paul makes it very clear in the Philippian letter that God expects us to have a particular attitude and part of the reason He sent Jesus was to demonstrate that attitude.
Since God knows our attitude, will judge our attitude, and has expectations of our attitude, we should all examine our attitude frequently. Is God pleased or disappointed with what He sees when He looks at your attitude? Is your attitude mimicking or contradicting the attitude of Jesus? Is your attitude commendable to heaven or condemnable to hell? If you choose the latter on any of the above questions then it is time for you to change your attitude by orienting it around the ultimate reference point, which is Jesus, because maintaining a Christlike attitude is essential to successful (i.e. heaven bound) living.