Biblical Counseling, Biblical Growth and Change, Topical Study, Uncategorized

Biblical Growth and Change, Part One

We all Need Growth and Change

As believers, we have begun a new life in Jesus Christ. But similar to physical life, spiritual life must develop in a healthy way. If after careful examination you find yourself in need of growth and change, you are not alone. Read 1 Peter 2:2-3. The Christian is like an infant who needs to grow. An immutable God doesn’t change, but we all need change. Humans innately resist change, and a one-time splash of faith does not equal ongoing effort and pursuit of obedience: We are not instantly sanctified by our own accord. By nature, our minds are darkened and deceived by sin, but now that we are Christians, we must learn how to think properly and how to follow the thought patterns of the God who made us as his image. Admitting one’s need for biblical growth and change is the beginning to all meaningful discipleship. In Understanding Christian Theology, Charles Swindoll writes:

Christians are changed in their character at conversion, though even a Christian’s character still includes some vices. At regeneration Christians are reoriented toward a lifestyle of righteousness in contrast to a lifestyle of sin (1 John 2:29; 3:9–10). Unfortunately, we can retard our reorientation and transformation in character if we choose to remain in spiritual infancy and fleshly behavior. Ideally, new Christians should develop steadily in their reorientation toward righteous living, in their transformation of character, and in their growth from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. 

  • 1 Corinthians 3:7
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18
  • Ephesians 4:13-15

Perhaps you’ve become comfortable in old ways of doing things day after day and you are waiting for God to initiate growth and change. After all, if God controls all things, how can our actions have real meaning? Even in recognizing God’s providence, we are responsible to do our part. Mistakes and shortcomings become opportunities to turn a corner as we move forward. As means for long-term growth, our past is used in shaping our present and developing our future. There are events fully caused by God and fully caused by us as well: The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs and works through the properties of each created thing. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes, “We may sometimes forget that God works through human actions in his providential management of the world. If we do, then we begin to think that our actions and our choices do not make much difference or do not have much effect on the course of events.” We are still responsible for our actions and they have real results and do have capacity for change. We must act.

Determining if you are a healthy and growing Christian requires a heart check and assessment: Do I practice spiritual disciplines? Do I have spiritual goals? Where do I receive nourishment and sustenance for healthy living? Am I receiving spiritual teaching and training? Am I living life in light of the Word? Is it possible there are barriers to growth and change?

In John 6:27, 35, and 51 Jesus says that our nourishment is for eternal life. Therefore, true Christian growth is dependent on the believer’s feeding on Christ – God’s word strengthens Christians for life. Scripture is sufficient to guide the life of the believer “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). Seeking to study the Scriptures with understanding, trust, and obedience brings about the Lord’s purposes in us.

Because we live in a fallen world and have a sin nature, we can be certain that we will battle with sin and suffering in our lives. As Christian women, we talk with distressed friends over the phone, crying children in their rooms, spouses in the kitchen, fellow church members between services, and have endless conversations with ourselves. But, biblical change is more than words. In Romans 8:5, we learn that those in the flesh cannot change and please God with a simple outward, external change. Change takes place by understanding and applying the gospel. Ability to apply the gospel means we must first know the gospel. Authentic change is internal, and is for God’s own glory. The gospel model for change is Galatians 3:3, showing that sanctification is an important part of the lifelong journey of living out our salvation after justification. In his own courtroom, God justifies the ungodly. God is only pleased with us due to Jesus Christ. Because of Him, not me. Our standing before God is not because of our behavior. The Christian now looks to the future with great hope.

In reference to typical self-help efforts, Cameron Buettel writes, “Man-made efforts at personal transformation are about as useful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They are temporary, superficial, and ultimately inconsequential.” Too often we turn to the ways of the world where we are advised to look within for the answers to our problems. We are told that we are good enough, strong enough, or smart enough in ourselves to overcome any challenge we face. Hopefully, you will see in this study how the Bible calls us to someone better, bigger, and more effective than these fruitless messages. We need real answers to our struggles. 

All of us face troubles at some time that seem out of our control. It’s what you do while you wait on God that shows where you stand in your faith. Whitewashing our sin and desperation of forgiveness diminishes the central message of the Christian faith. The uniqueness of salvation and our identity in Jesus Christ is at the heart of spiritual growth. Nonetheless, the Christian life is one of struggle and conflict against sin. As we struggle with sin, we must turn to the Bible as a means to knowing God and being known or searched by him and his word. The very word of God is transformational, leading us to turn away from sin unto living as God has commanded.

  • Hebrews 4:12

Our struggles of sin are different from struggles of suffering in terms of cause, dynamics, emotional impact, relational influence, and other ways. While every believer is simultaneously a saint, sinner, and sufferer, there are fundamental differences between a struggle an individual chooses to do and those that happen to the individual. Just because you can’t see what God is doing in your struggle does not mean he is doing nothing. It means his plan is higher than yours and it has a greater outcome. You are never without hope if you believe. That is a promise Jesus Christ died to give you.

  • 1 Peter 5:9

It isn’t God’s purpose for any of us to live a life completely free of hardship and suffering. The path that God has appointed for his children requires there to be some suffering that we endure. Through our own hardship, the Lord Jesus (who knows suffering) is near to us so our love for him might grow deeper. In our suffering, we can respond in a manner that brings honor to our God. Wayne Grudem writes, “The knowledge that we have been called to a life which will include some unfair suffering, while it may at first dismay us, should not ultimately unsettle our minds. We should not of course seek suffering (Matt. 6:13), but when it comes we may even ‘rejoice’ (1 Pet. 4:13; Jas 1:2), knowing that in it God will draw us near to himself, and we shall know the fellowship of Christ who understands our suffering, and the spirit of glory and of God’ (1 Pet. 4:14) will rest upon us.” Thriving in the midst of suffering isn’t a matter of girding up our loins and doing the best we can. A sudden turn in life events provides opportunity to rely on God. Persevering through life’s changes requires that we continue asking God for help.

  • 1 Peter 2:21

In the way of sanctification, the common slogan of “Let go and let God” is simply unbiblical. Progressive sanctification is God’s progressive work in us and involving us. “In the first four years of my Christian life, I was not growing much in my faith because I was ‘letting go and letting God.’ I adopted a false theology of sanctification, praying, ‘Oh Lord, please take the lust away, please take the problems away, please take the difficult people out of my life.’ That was my letting go. What I was actually expecting was for God to obey me. And yet, He commands us to deal with lust, problems, and difficult people in the ways He has told us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and I wasn’t doing a thing! It was kind of stalemate and I wasn’t growing. It is important to be in the Word and personally adopt biblical theology about sin, sanctification, and the Christian life.” writes Stuart Scott in his book, Killing Sin Habits. We are righteous by faith through grace, but we still need to work. That element of working out our salvation can sometimes be missed.

  • Genesis 1:28
  • Daniel 11:32
  • Romans 1:21-25
  • Colossians 2:8

The Bible teaches principles by which we can experience significant changes in our lives. Unbiblical methods of change lead to long-term failure. In Our Sufficiency In Christ, John MacArthur writes,

They teach that Christian living requires no effort on the part of believers; the power for holiness must come from Christ living within. That view contains a germ of truth: Christians are to live by faith, and the source of power for holy living is only the indwelling Christ. But the view tends to ignore an equally important truth: Scripture does call believers to diligent effort.

Our personal goals are not merely to transform some aspects of our lives toward happiness or comfort. Paul Tripp writes, “We forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situations or relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy.” The primary goal of a believer is that we would grow to become Christlike to the glory of God. We must actively pursue holiness in light of fighting sin. The grace of God that we have received enables us to fight our sin because we recognize the depth of what he has done for us. Fighting sin is an act of belief.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Philippians 2:12-13
  • Colossians 1:28
  • 1 Timothy 4:6-8
  • Hebrews 6:11-12
  • 2 Peter 1:5-7

God has a significant role in the life-change process, yet we partner with God. “For we are His creation – created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God works in us before he can work through us. Scott writes,

We don’t stand a chance for lasting change from the inside out if we are outside of Christ. If you are an unbeliever, you are still under the law of sin (its power) and you love to sin. Some people think they are saved and they are not. As Second Corinthians 13:5 encourages us, it is a good thing to examine your faith with the Scriptures because the natural or unsaved person cannot be transformed.

God is always at work in the life of the Christian.

  • 1 Corinthians 2:14
  • 2 Corinthians 13:5
  • Philippians 1:6

Among spiritual disciplines necessary for growth, the mature Christian learns to value worship; the expository preaching from the pulpit of a Bible believing church. In this context, the Word builds up the Body and sustains believers from week to week. In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney writes, “the Spiritual Disciplines found in Scripture are sufficient for knowing and experiencing God, and for growing in Christlikeness,” but he also concludes “the Spiritual Disciplines are means, not ends. The end – that is, the purpose of practicing the Disciplines – is godliness. I define godliness as both closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ, a conformity that’s both inward and outward, a growing conformity to both the heart of Christ and the life of Christ.”

What about those cases in which unbelievers appear to change (lose weight, quit smoking, etc.)? That kind of change is strictly outward, and not inward. This superficial change simply does not satisfy their inner need. The change we need is inward and Godward. We can go to the book of Proverbs for illustrations of how to gain wisdom. The gospel is the foundation for change in us. Wisdom without the gospel is only knowledge. Christians must fully understand what God has done for us before we can be successful in doing anything for Him. As believers, we are dead in sin and raised as a new person in Christ. We need to comprehend that who we are in Christ is the basis for the changed lives we want to live.

  • Matthew 7; 12:43-45
  • Romans 6:11; 14:23
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Ephesians 3
  • 2 Peter 1:3-4

Difficulties and temptations are pervasive in the life of the Christian. When temptation and trials arise, we begin to discover the truth about ourselves and if we are to grow, we must learn how to handle them biblically. Authentically overcoming struggles is more than behavior modification and involves genuine heart change. The heart of the problem is usually the heart itself: motives, beliefs, and choices that are self-focused. Thinking extended from the heart results in either pleasing God or pleasing self. In the change process, it is vital our motive be for God’s glory as we reflect on the Gospel of Christ and understand the importance of the local church (Ephesians 1-3).

  • 1 John 2:15-17
  • Matthew 15:19
  • 2 Corinthians 5:9
  • Galatians 5:22-24

Acknowledging real, specific history of sin or suffering and its impact can be freeing in itself, but we need not stop there. The beginning of our renewal process is understanding that sin never makes us happy for long. It is also knowing that for a Christian, the way we approach our shame, failures, guilt, and addictions is radically different from one who is not in Christ. We stop trying to solely change ourselves and instead turn to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

When you suffer through a trial, keep in mind that God knows it. He saw your situation long before you were born and He is with you to the end (Romans 8:28-38). Though we need not minimize the pain, God gives us comfort as we begin to learn from our stories and make sense of our experiences. Through those gospel stories, we can mourn the wrongness of what happened and combat the impact of suffering. We can persevere in new life and identity to which God has called us. Healthy reflection dwells on the revealed promises of God rather than relying on experience after experience. God’s promises are real and true. Those internal tensions are resolved when walking by faith paramounts feelings and experience. Consistency in Bible reading and study strengthens our foundation during those days when Satan’s delight would have us crumble.

When suffering knocks on someone’s door, Satan too comes knocking. Life is a war zone, and Satan is the enemy strategist. He waits for those times when people are in the wilderness – vulnerable, desperate, and God seemingly far away or absent altogether. That’s when Satan’s questions about God’s character, which might seem silly during the good times, suddenly make sense. Why would anyone entertain Satan’s questions about God’s goodness when everything is good? But a few bumps in the road, and our knowledge of God seems fragile, and that’s what Satan is counting on.” – Ed Welch

If you are not rooted in Christ and his word, you are not equipped to battle life’s challenges. His word brings clarity when our eyes blur in blowing winds. Through the scriptures, God is speaking to us right now, Our goal should be to hear the word of the Lord in such a way that it drowns out “what ifs.” The “what ifs” get us into trouble with our thinking. With sin, paving the way for repentance means understanding origin, motive, history, and knowing that we have misrepresented Christ. Looking further into the breadth and impact of sin requires we admit our struggles that cannot be overcome without God. Paul says grace doesn’t cause more sin; it kills sin and produces righteousness. The Gospel rightly understood produces holiness. Thankfully, Christian perseverance isn’t a battle we fight alone. Our ability to hold fast is grounded in the Father’s great love.

  • 1 Peter 1:18-23
  • Titus 2:14; 3:1-8

Paul Enns writes in Moody Handbook of Theology, “The mind will be guarded when the believer entrusts every matter to God in prayer and meditates on the things that are true, honorable, right, and pure.” When the gospel is genuinely applied, we simply can’t go on casually sinning. The old self has died. What happened to Jesus happened in you: The old self died with Christ, and we have been raised to new life in Christ. The good news extends to all labeled sin behaviors.

Read Romans 6:6-7. We are no longer slaves to sin. When an individual has struggled with one issue for an extended period of time, that struggle inevitably begins to define them. We can let go of a false identity (our label of past sin) in exchange for a new identity in Christ. We are redeemed, bought with a price, and known by God.

  • Romans 8
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 7:23
  • Ephesians 1:13-14
  • Colossians 1:13-14
  • 2 Timothy 2:19
  • Hebrews 9:11-12

The love of Christ for me will get last say. He is merciful to me for his name’s sake, for the sake of his own goodness, for the sake of his steadfast love and compassion (Psalm 25). When he thinks about me, he remembers what he is like, and that is my exceeding joy. My indestructible hope is that he has turned his face towards me, and he will never turn away.” writes David Powlison.

The gift of faith entails the capacity to grasp truth about hope in the work and person of Jesus Christ. Some think of the gospel exclusively for justification, but don’t see its relevance for sanctification. In the Bible, we see that genuine heart change is through the gospel and reflects much more than mere behavioral change. Authentic change is by way of justification, sanctification, and ultimately glorification. We can now look to the future with great hope. Read Ephesians 1-4. We see in chapters 1-3 what God has done on our behalf, and chapter 4 explains our personal response to that. The gospel is just as important for your sanctification as it was for your justification. Change takes place through a personal, abiding and growing relationship with the Lord Jesus. It’s a process Ed Welch keenly describes, “Sanctification is like a clumsy, slow walk rather than a light switch that we turn from off to on.” God is continually active in our sanctification.

  • Romans 6
  • Galatians 3:3
  • Philippians 1:6; 3:21
  • Hebrews 10:10, 14
  • 2 Peter 3:18
  • 1 John 3:2

God sends personal seasons of revival and change. As illustrated in the Bible itself, the gospel is the very foundation of change. C. S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain. We are right to plead with God, but we must also realize that sometimes he sends trials as a way to prompt change. God uses circumstances to change us. The circumstances are the problems, pressures, heartaches, difficulties, and stress of life. Suffering gets our attention. The painful circumstances, whether we bring them on ourselves, or other people cause them, or Satan himself incites them, are used by God to help us grow in likeness to his son. Change takes place by learning the biblical perspective of trials and suffering. He began work in us, and wants us to be fruitful.

  • Psalm 119:25, 37, 40, 67, 88
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • Philippians 2:12-13
  • 1 John 2:6

We all have a story to tell. If you are not fighting any battle and think you are fine, it’s good to go to the Lord and ask him to show you, because you should be fighting a battle if you are to grow. The courage to be honest about our suffering or sin is often the essential expression of faith God calls for in overcoming a life-dominating struggle. The Lord is always working on us, and when compared to His Word and His standard (not our comparison to other people), you can always find room to grow. God encourages us to persevere (Hebrews 12:10). Knowing this truth should spur us on to dedicated pursuit of growth and change, “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” – Colossians 1:10 

In closing, we have established that biblical growth and change begins with the Gospel. As we learn to satisfy our souls with what God has given us in Christ, we abide in Him and become equipped to fight the battle of killing sin. In Part Two, we will look further into the need for biblical growth and change.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples. I will sing praises to You among the nation, for Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens and Your truth to the clouds. Be exalted above the heavens, O God. Let Your glory be above all the earth (Psalm 57:7-11).

Further thought:

  • What successes and failures might the believer experience who tries to change by his or her own power?
  • As an attempt to help you more fully understand yourself, you need to assess whether your values are really in line with God’s values in hopes to promote repentance and change where they are not. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish? What do you seek, aim for, pursue? Make a list of ten things that you are most interested in and dedicated to doing. Be honest. Reflect on the list of things you made and determine which of them brings you the most satisfaction.
  • In the above list, determine which thing brings the most satisfaction. Why is that so important to you? What are your goals and expectations? Go back over the list as if God were rating the things. Would He rate them the same? Are there ways in which your values don’t reflect God’s?
  • What do you feel like doing? What do you think you need? Is your life unbalanced in that you neglect some important activities or focus too much on a limited number of activities?
  • Let’s go deeper in drawing out the purposes of the heart. Scripture gives us many windows into the heart and what functionally rules it. Read:
    • Matthew 6:19-34
    • Proverbs 11:23; 13:12, 19
    • James 4:1-10
    • 1 Corinthians 10:13-14
  • These passages should help you to look for themes and patterns that define your heart tendencies. What do you love? Hate? What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey? Where have you struggled with fear, worry, or anxiety? When do you tend to experience disappointment, anger, or problems in relationships? What are the situations of life that you find particularly difficult?
    • Matthew 22:37-39
    • 2 Timothy 3:2-4
    • Luke 16:13-14
  • From this study, write out at least three things you learned about yourself that will help you to become more focused on following Christ.

Reflect on your reasons for doing this study.

  • My goals for this study are…
  • As a result of my studies, I hope…
  • My prayer for this study is…

All sources for this series are listed here. https://debbieswindell.com/2020/07/22/upcoming-series-biblical-growth-and-change/