Change is Hard
In Part Four, we established the Christian’s union with Christ. As mentioned in Part Three, we are responsible to exert effort towards change. We approach change rightly not only for our own good, but for the glory of God. We as Christians carry the name of the Son of God. We want to represent Him rightly in our lives. Nevertheless, change is hard and our attempts often result in failure. Authentic, genuine biblical heart change goes hand in hand with growth. Consider the following:
- As a sinful human being bent toward sin, you have experienced sinful practices so that they have become a part of you, just as they have become a part of all of us. What evidence do you see in your life that the habit capacity is there?
- Many times, the problem is that it has been used for the wrong purposes. The capacity of habit works both ways. As you examine your own life, is it operating either in the direction of avoiding habitual, sinful living or godly living? Using Hebrews 5:11-14 as a guide to maturity, explain your answer.
Biblical change takes on the concept of replacement. Putting off and putting on involves old sinful patterns being replaced with new godly ones (stemming from the heart outward into behavior). Replacement’s most clear and complete reference is Ephesians 4:22-32 and Colossians 3:5-17. As we put on/put off from heart to behavior, we can look for signs of pride and areas where we might be unteachable (Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, Titus 2:11-14; Romans 8:28-32). When assessing suffering, it is important to identify your situation, consider your response and pinpoint what you want. All change whether in sin or suffering should acknowledge who God is, what he did in Christ, and grace towards holiness as the key. Fruit from true biblical change responds in love with altogether new responses to sin and suffering, while dependent on the Spirit.
What determines when and whether change takes place? First and foremost, genuine regeneration is required for authentic change. Primarily, personal revival is like corporate revival – Change takes place by dealing with the heart. God sees fit to sovereignly work in powerful ways in the lives of His people at particular times. Truth often hurts but until coming to complete surrender, the believer will not experience the power of the gospel over destructive behaviors. Romans 7:18-19 (ESV): “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
- Psalm 71:20, 85:6
- Proverbs 4:23
- Mark 7:21-23
- John 3:8; 15:5
When will change take place? Repentance, confession and forgiveness to others in light of the forgiveness we have received in the gospel, revival, the transformative power of the Word? Paul states, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God will continue his renewing work by continuing to grow that person in holiness.
- Galatians 2:16; 3:24
- Philippians 3:9
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1
- Ephesians 5:10
- John 14:15
We need forgiveness from God both before and after salvation. Concerning forgiveness, Chris Brauns says it this way in Unpacking Forgiveness: “A commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.” Concerning our forgiveness to others just as God has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13), Brauns writes:
A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”
Training requires discipline. To truly live a Christlike life, we have to order our lives around those activities, disciplines, and practices that were modeled by Christ. R.C. Sproul writes, “Just as the Word of God is used in conversion, so it is a critical instrument in our spiritual growth. By immersing ourselves in the Word of God, we begin to gain the mind of Christ and learn what discipleship is.” The disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, worship, and serving others are essential to accomplish the life change that we desire. Studying the Word, understanding it, trusting it, and obeying it provide strength and quicken the responses of grace in our lives. In addition, it makes us increasingly sensitive to the Lord’s purposes because we come to think, act, and even feel in a biblical way. At this point plans come to life, and realized ideas become choices. Progress is made; setbacks can be navigated. There are successes and failures, but the trajectory of your life’s journey is forward. Managing life in light of the Word leads to a healthier and happier lifestyle.
- 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 9:24-27
- Philippians 4:6
- 1 Timothy 4:5
- Romans 5:1-2; 12:12
- James 5:13-18
- John 4:23
- Psalm 122:1
- Acts 6:1-5
We resist change for many reasons. Change may disturb our desire to “sleep in” when we need to get up to spend vital time with the Lord. Change can bring extra burdens into our lives when we turn from a self-centered life to a life centered on others and their needs. Change can cause persecution for Christians who go public with their biblical convictions in opposition to popular opinion. We resist change for countless other reasons, and such resistance can slow and even stop sanctification, whereas receptivity to change accelerates it. So if you want unhindered sanctification, then be ready to make and accept the drastic changes God reveals in His Word and plans for your life, and God’s Spirit will accomplish those changes. – Charles Swindoll
Change takes place through applying the personal sufficiency of God’s grace through humility, prayer, the Word, and a plan for obedience. We have biblical examples to follow. Immediately after telling us to consider our identity in Christ, Paul exhorts us to take action against the lusts of the flesh. Also, Jesus tells us what we must do in order to abide in Him. We have His Word in ourselves. We are to seek His glory in prayer, obey His commandments, and love fellow Christians. Change takes place by growing in real love and generosity for others, as opposed to a life of self-focus.
- John 14:15; 15:1-13, 17
- 1 John 2:6, 10
- Romans 6:12
- Ephesians 4:2; 6:18
- Hebrews 4:16
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
- Philippians 2:13
- Galatians 5:22-23
Oftentimes, it surprises new believers to find that they still struggle with sin. We must believe in change, so long as it is change oriented toward godliness. The Christian life is a life of continual growth and change. Christ tells us to take up our cross daily and follow, yet too many give up. Although we have been united to Christ and justified by his righteousness, as long as we are on this earth, we still have a sinful nature and must daily resist temptation. In order to fight sin, we have to believe what God says about it.
It typically takes about three weeks to make a practice part of routine, but many get discouraged before that time. Others go on in spite of fear and discouragement. We as Christians are called to not be fearful of change or defeat.
All of the stress that the Bible puts upon human effort must not be misunderstood. In this series, we are talking about grace-motivated effort, not merely the work of the flesh. Paul Tripp writes, “Remember, it is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. Point to His strength by being willing to admit your weakness.” It is through the Holy Spirit alone that we might endure the change process.
Also, we would do well to understand that God uses various means to accomplish change. His Word is a powerful agent for change, and we must discipline ourselves toward godliness by seeing regular Bible study as an essential factor. We should pray for God to revive us. Sometimes the Lord brings circumstances into our lives to change our course. Sometimes God sends someone to admonish us.
- Hebrews 4:12-13, 12:4-13
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- Psalm 119:25, 37, 40, 67, 71, 88, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159
- John 15:2
- James 1:2
- Galatians 6:1-2
- 2 Samuel 12:1-25
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we see that God has chosen His Word to be the primary means of causing growth in the lives of His children. God trains us in righteousness by enabling us to develop life patterns of obeying the Bible.
In renewing the mind/heart we can take a specific area and start working through thoughts, affections, and volition. We should consider our thoughts and desires that affect our responses in life circumstances. Right awareness of the Lord and what He has done for us guides us in right praying and right thinking. The result is right practice, seeking to please Christ.
- Matthew 7:1-5; 18:21-35
- Ephesians 4:31-32
- Psalm 85:6
- 2 Corinthians 10:5-6
- Ephesians 4:23
- Philippians 4:4-9
- 2 Corinthians 5:9
Jay Adams writes about liberty in comparison to a train, “It is free only when it is confined (if you will) to the track. Then it runs smoothly and efficiently, because that was the way that its maker intended it to run. It needs to be on the track, structured by the track, to run properly. You too need to be on the track. God’s track is found in God’s Word.” Life’s structure is found in the Bible and by the grace of God, we can conform to that structure.
Scripture speaks of sanctification in past, present, and future. These are defined as definitive, progressive, and final sanctification. Furthermore, God wants us to change and bear fruit for His glory. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 says, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” Once more, the gospel is the key to change and we are responsible to exert effort to change. Read the following verses, and specifically summarize what the Isaiah passages teach about the way we should approach God’s Word.
- 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11
- Hebrews 10:10-14
- Romans 6:11, 19
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
- Philippians 3:21
- 1 John 3:2
- John 15:1, 8
- Isaiah 55:1-2
Approach the Bible with a willingness to evaluate yourself and everything in your life by it and with a willingness to be submissive to whatever it says. The Bible has a lot to say about personal growth and change. In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that growth is one of the biggest themes of the Bible. Its dynamics enable deep transformation of our desires and behavior. Success for growth and change requires we preach the gospel to ourselves daily. God’s grace in Christ ignites our response of love for God and an understanding of how the Spirit uses the gospel itself to motivate and empower us to resist habits, as well as appetites that breed shame and defeat. Matthew 14 is the perfect picture of change. Peter is walking on water, which is totally out of his own ability. He looks to Christ and steps out in obedient faith. We can do what is contrary to our nature, because He enables us to do what we cannot. He gets the glory!
- Acts 16:31
- John 3:16-18; 6:35, 49-51; 7:38
Consider this if you have desired growth and change but have been unable to change: have you experienced God’s gracious love in Christ? Have you personally confessed your sin to God and called upon him to save you? Once you repent and believe, God’s work by the Holy Spirit in your life will enable you to be more like Jesus Christ. Your standing with God is secure in His Son. Christ is better than the sins which tempt us.
It is vital we not set ourselves up for defeat. The grand indicatives of what Jesus has done for us and the assurance of the Father’s invincible love toward us are not intended to make us passive, but to sustain our hope and to resolve to work against sin while pursuing holiness and love. Our God loves us, not because there is something in us that attracts Him. He loves us because He has determined to love us, in spite of our unattractiveness. His love, though we are undeserving, is a love that will never end. His love is at the cost of His Son. It perseveres even when we fail Him.
- Change is possible. Change is all about choosing your words and actions wisely, and God will give you the grace to choose. Determine to be intentional, rather than reactive. Where are places where you will be tempted to go back to the old way?
In our struggles, we have hope. Healthy reflection dwells on the revealed promises of God rather than relying on experience after experience. Change takes place by means of a more prevailing hope, the promised hope of complete transformation at Christ’s return. Understanding there is joy in obedience and following Christ, there’s nothing we can do more important than being prayerful: confessing and asking God for change. God is good and merciful and knowing that should cause us to only want more of him. We should want more of him and less of our sin. We should strive to make biblical growth and change a constant and consistent part of our lives. “Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you…” – Colossians 3:16. The blessings of living as a follower of Christ include knowing the whole story of the Bible and having the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In the Christian life the spiritual balance and poise that are characteristics of maturity come through a growing confidence that God loves us, cares for us, that we belong to him, and that he will never let us go. In fact, the promises of the gospel would be emptied of their power if we had no confidence in the God who makes them and whose character is expressed in them.” – Sinclair Ferguson, Maturity
Hope lies outside ourselves, and His name is Jesus Christ. In John 15, the disciples were plainly told, “without me you can do nothing.” The whole concept of fruit bearing in John 15 has to do with abiding in the vine. Without the source of nourishment from the vine, no branch can produce fruit. Abiding in the vine is the pathway to growth in Christ. Genuine change that glorifies God is rooted theologically in the fact that every believer is in union with Christ (Romans 6-8). By way of progressive sanctification, union with Christ brings healing to our hearts and minds as the Holy Spirit works through them conforming us further to the image of Christ.
- 1 Peter 1:3
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:15-16).
- What are the two choices for responding to the Word and the result of each described in James 1:22-25? What life changes have you made because you chose to be a doer of the Word? What verses from the Bible did you specifically put into practice? What areas of your life have you not subjected to the authority of God’s Word? Is that because you do not know what the Bible says on that topic or because you choose not to obey it?
- God gave you the ability to live a life. This does not demand conscious thought about every action or response, but practice itself can work either as a blessing or a curse, depending on what you have practiced. Problematic emotions, anger, codependency, and an abundance of other issues are fed with wrong thinking. It is what you feed your life that matters. From where does your daily life feed? Are you aware of your life patterns and do you evaluate them by the Word of God?
- Discipline first requires self-examination, then crucifixion of the old sinful ways. Do you practice following Jesus Christ by the guidance and strength that the Holy Spirit provides through His Word?
- Perhaps you have long-time sinful habits that you are questioning. When a practice has become so much a part of us, it can change by the grace of God. When you discipline yourself for righteousness, you don’t have to do it alone. What habits might you practice that are seemingly impossible to change?
- What is the purpose of life? What does hope look like? To view the Bible accurately, we see fallen people in need of redemption. Because of God’s great mercy and love, He has paved the way for us to view earthly life from heaven’s viewpoint.
- Reread 2 Timothy 3:16-17. What do these verses indicate about the way we should approach our study of God’s Word? What do these verses indicate will happen in our lives if we use God’s Word in the way He intended? Explain in practical terms.
- Structure alone brings an element of freedom. What spiritual disciplines might you implement as a short-term goal in order to reach a long-term goal? Do you know the Scriptures well enough to make application of principles to your problems? Describe any ways you think you need to change in terms of the way you have been using Scripture in your life.
- In your own words, state the truth about God’s love. Write down specifically what the truth about God’s love should mean to you and do for you according to these verses below.
- Psalm 42:8; 63:3; 86:13; 100:5; 145:8-9
- Isaiah 43:1-3
- Jeremiah 31:14
- John 3:16; 15:13; 17:23, 26
- Romans 5:8; 8:38-39
- Hebrews 12:5, 6
- 1 John 4
- As you recall a summary of what you have learned in these scriptures and through this study, what impact should this truth about God and His love have on your thinking and living?
- My goals after completing this study are…
- As a result of my studies, I hope…
- My prayer following the completion of this study is…
All sources for this series are listed here. https://debbieswindell.com/2020/07/22/upcoming-series-biblical-growth-and-change/