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

Biblical Growth and Change, Part Two

The Struggle is Real

When we give our lives to Jesus Christ, our eternal destinies are altered. There is a radical reordering of priorities, a new life purpose, and we have the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. But with these new and good things we can also expect obstacles both great and small. Satan will not slip away from us just because we have come to Christ. On the contrary, his attacks will be all the more fierce. He seeks to hinder our growth and deceive us, doing all that is in his power to try to persuade us to turn away from Christ. Spiritual warfare is described in Ephesians, and deliverance is not by a thump on the head.

Read Mark 7:14-23. Jesus confirms that all evil is not merely a physical problem, but a spiritual issue. If I am not rooted in Christ and His Word, I am not equipped to battle life’s challenges. Change takes place through engagement in the spiritual battle with hope.

  • 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Sometimes in the Christian life we think coming to Christ is going to be easy. Change in the life of the believer is not something we should run from or push back against. Yet, we cannot expect authentic change to come easy. This is the joyful life, and for the most part, we don’t think about it as a battle. The english Congregationalist, Jeremiah Burroughs described Satan as one who likes to “present the bait and hide the hook,” using different lures according to each one’s desires. Yet, as sin increases, grace increases (Romans 5:20-21). Only one thing is strong enough to overpower a stormy life: the anchor of what God promises to do in and through Jesus Christ.

In his book Power Encounters, David Powlison penned,

Downplaying or demythologizing spiritual warfare usually creates a pernicious domino effect. Prayer and worship become hollow forms. God’s power and aid are little needed and little expected. Sin become psychopathology or social maladjustment. The Bible becomes a remote object, not the voice of the living God. Evangelism becomes vaguely embarrassing; death to self is distasteful fanatical. Normal life becomes, well, normal: work and unemployment, marriage and divorce, sickness and health, the economy and politics, traffic jams and weather, war and peace. As biblical Christians, however, we deny that this secularized rationalism makes up the Christian faith. Normal everyday life is charged with importance. We know that there is warfare to be waged, and we do not deny the existence and work of our foe.

The Christian life is one of struggle and conflict against sin. We’re often shocked when things get hard and sometimes we forget we are in a war. Again, Powlison also writes:

Gentle, loving, teaching of the truth—especially the truth of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our deliverance from sin and wrath and death and Satan—is the process in which God himself grants repentance and a knowledge of the truth, which results in an escape from the captivity of the devil. The devil cannot abide truth and light. He is by nature a liar and deceiver. He thrives in darkness. Therefore, if by God’s grace we can bring the full force of truth to shine in the believer’s darkness, the devil will not survive the light. Good, solid Bible teaching is a crucial part of deliverance from the darkening power of the devil.

  • John 15:5
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  • James 1

You will be weak therefore, powerless and comfortless in your Christian life, if you do not vigorously mortify (kill) sin. John Owen, the 17th century Puritan theologian, had some powerful things to say on putting sin to death in believers.

The vigor and power and comfort of our spiritual life depend on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh… You must mortify, you must make it your daily work, you must be constantly at it while you live. Cease not a day from this work. Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.

I find his poignant words clear. We have got to fight sin by the power of the Spirit and when you’re here to fight, you must be battle ready – God gives us armor and promises a final day when peace will reign forever. Remember, 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 has a greater outcome.

  • Ephesians 6:10-20

Faith under trial produces perseverance (Rom. 5:3), while perseverance in turn produces maturity.” – Sinclair Ferguson

God reminds us of his missional promises as He continues to rescue unlikely and unworthy people. He supremely displays grace, coming to meet us as we are, even though God is complete and perfect within himself. Authentic repentance is a repentance that trusts in Christ. Saving faith is a repentant faith (turning from sin to Christ). Following our repentance and profession of faith, our sin should cause us to grieve, asking for forgiveness from God and others as we strive to follow our Savior daily. In his Christian Theology, Millard Erickson writes “As repentance is the negative aspect of conversions, turning from one’s sin, so faith is the positive aspect laying hold upon the promises and the work of Christ…(pisteuo) to believe what someone says, to accept a statement (particularly of a religious nature) as true…personal trust as distinct from mere credence or belief.” Repentance leads to strengthening one’s faith. (Examples of true repentance are David in Psalm 51 and the 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 model.)

Faith is the one attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. – Wayne Grudem

Sinclair Ferguson hits the nail on the head when he says, “Satan knows he cannot destroy our salvation, so he attacks our enjoyment of it. He confuses our thinking: we mix up peace with God, which is a settled permanent relationship with him, with our feelings of peace. But knowing that God has made peace with us through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16) gives us a place of grace on which we can stand (Rom. 5:2).” No matter how deep in the power of sin we have sunk, God’s grace is deeper (Romans 5:19). God is not dependent on our feelings or emotions. Choosing to trust God in the midst of our troubles is a demonstration of our faith, regardless of if our feelings immediately follow (1 Samuel 21:12). Trust is never passive; trust is an intentional act of the soul.

  • Psalm 16:8; 23:4

When we are born again, we become dead to sin and alive in Christ. Specific New Testament exhortations are grounded in the gospel. Of course, this implies that only Christians are able to truly change according to the will of God. God uses the Holy Spirit to change us. His Spirit provides the power, the conviction, and the direction for life change.

The Spirit acts like an internal alarm system when we begin to take wrong steps, and encourages like an applauding crowd when we take the right steps toward becoming like Jesus. Many times we read or hear a text from the Bible and realize a habit of heart that we have been cultivating is unhelpful or forbidden. Or perhaps we identify a pattern of life described in scripture as rebellious, for the first time seeing the depth of offense against a holy God. We suddenly see our sin as transgression and we are undone. An ongoing process, there’s always going to be a pattern of repentance and belief, and reestablishing belief over and over and over again. Read Matthew 6:5-15. Our model of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer confirms our need to confess often.

  • Romans 5:15
  • Ephesians 1-4:1, 19-24, 32; 5:2
  • Philippians 1:27
  • Colossians 1-3:17
  • Hebrews 11:6

The Holy Spirit is essential in the change process (Romans 1-8). Therefore, the prerequisite of renewal is regeneration (God bringing the dead sinner to life in Christ). Prior to regeneration, the mind of the lost person is corrupt and doesn’t choose what is good. In regeneration, the mind has a capacity for renewed, divine thoughts. Renewal of the mind/heart takes specific areas and starts working through thoughts, affections, volition, leading to godly reactions. Looking at the original circumstance and response, we can gain understanding and right awareness of the Lord and what He has done for us. Seeking to please Christ, we engage in right praying, thinking, and practice in order to offer praise, confession, thanks, and petitions as we dwell in Jesus.

  • Luke 10:27
  • Romans 1:16, 28
  • 1 Corinthians 2:11-12
  • 2 Corinthians 4:4; 5:9; 10:5-6
  • Ephesians 4:17-18, 23; 5:17-18
  • Philippians 4:4-9

Change takes place by a radical treatment of pervasive sin in response to the gospel. It’s easy to get stuck on a long list of past mistakes. Don’t give way to regret, believing past sins are unforgivable. Instead, begin to implement new structures, understanding that God won’t turn his back on you. John Newton, writer of the longtime hymn Amazing Grace, writes, “If we do not see how serious sin is we will never see how wonderful the work of Christ is. In order to sense that grace is ‘amazing’ we must see that it saves a ‘wretch like me.”

We would do well to look closely at Ephesians 1-4 when we find ourselves in need of biblical change. Identifying weaknesses and strengths improves the quality in how those growth and discipleship needs might be met. We can give God thanks for overcoming any struggles at all.

  • Proverbs 28:13
  • Matthew 5
  • Romans 13:14

We spend too much time concealing our neediness. We need to stop hiding. Being needy is our basic condition. There’s no shame in it – it’s just the way it is.” – Ed Welch, Side by Side

Ed Welch continues, “Yet, weakness – or neediness is a valuable asset in God’s community. Jesus introduced a new era in which weakness is the new strength. Anything that reminds us that we are dependent on God and other people is a good thing. Otherwise, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and arrogance is sure to follow. We need help, and God has give us his spirit and each other to provide it.” On this side of heaven, the continual struggle with our behavior is an ongoing struggle with sin, but not with who we are. That first imperative in Romans 8 is to consider your identity in Christ, remembering who you are. We have been chosen, justified, and accepted.

We are free!

Even Christians need encouragement while pursuing the hard work of growth and change. They need truth interjected into their wrestling that will motivate and strengthen. In our new identity, the gospel motivates us with the presence of Christ and his promises in the Word. We live out of identity we have ascribed to and our responses pour out from that identity. We need to be reminded of who we are time and again. Allowing our problems to define us is no way for us to live in the victories of Christ. Paul Tripp aptly writes, “Our deepest problem is that we seek to find our identity outside the story of redemption.” It’s only when we view our story within God’s grander story of redemption that we begin to see our lives clearly.

  • 2 Peter 1:3-9

Maturity is about perspective, identity, and purpose. Biblical maturity means that we look at life from the distinct perspective of a biblical worldview. We become concerned with God’s glory, man’s sinfulness, our fallen world, the reality of opposition, the grace of the gospel, and eternity’s certainty. Change takes place by our new position and identity in Christ being understood and applied daily. Christ has set us free, and we see sin’s lack of captivity illustrated in past tense in 2 Corinthians 5:17. In Isaiah 55:1-2, we are assured that Christ offers something better – He restores and satisfies the soul. The Bible constantly reminds us that in sinful behaviors we are playing with something dangerous. He is offering better. Change takes place by making inside and outside change more personal. As a Christian, you were not made to live in disappointment, disillusionment, and defeat; God has given you the tools to live a life defined not by your trials and suffering but by your victories.

  • Proverbs 15:13; 18:14
  • Romans 2:14-16; 3:23-26; 5:1; 15:3-4
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Ephesians 1:4-6
  • 1 Peter 2:10
  • 1 John 4:19

When asking God’s will for our lives, maturity looks outward at God’s scriptures rather than inward for some kind of revelation from the world. If we are not intentional to fix our gaze on Christ, the difficulties with life change can knock the wind out of our sails. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “As Christians we need constantly to remind ourselves that God’s word teaches us to see through our ears, but what we hear in God’s word – not through our eyes and what we see.” The struggle is real. And it requires we examine our attitudes and actions. In confidence, we reflect not on us but upon His faithfulness in the past as a reminder of what He will do in the future. Jesus Christ, the perfecter of our faith, intercedes for us at the very right hand of the Father (Hebrews 12:2).

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You, and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me. He will send from heaven and save me. He reproaches him who tramples upon me. God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth (Psalm 57:1-3).

Because Jesus is Lord in his person and his work, we can have full assurance of hope until the end. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security? In Part Three, we will study the indicatives and imperatives necessary for authentic biblical change to occur.

Further Thought:

  • How have you lived, or do you live as a slave of the devil?
    • John 8:44
    • Acts 26:18
    • Ephesians 2:2-3
    • 2 Timothy 2:26
    • James 3:14-16
  • Satan is famous for dragging up the past in his efforts to hinder how we live today and alter our perspective on the future. Many times, we find ourselves wishing we had an opportunity to live our lives over, flowing a different course. What does the Bible say in dealing with the past?
  • What past experiences continue to trouble you today?
  • For each experience listed above, describe particular aspects and how it affects you today. Consider:
    • Do you have unreal expectations of others or yourself?
    • Do or have you struggled with regret, being tempted to say, “If only…”?
    • Do you tend to struggle with comparison or envy?
  • What are the most difficult challenges you are facing at this time?
  • Much like us, biblical characters dealt with life issues. Read the verses below and consider David’s past, what he deserved for his sin, what he did in response, and what was God’s response.
    • 2 Samuel 2:5-7; 11:2-5; 12:14
    • Psalm 51
  • What are the actions/attitudes of Christ to your past actions and how should these form your actions/attitudes toward someone who has sinned against you?
    • Psalm 103:3
    • 1 John 1:9
    • Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; 57:18-19
    • Hosea 14:4
    • Isaiah 43:25
    • Ephesians 4:32
    • Matthew 5:44; 6:14
    • Luke 17:4
    • Ephesians 4:32
  • Consider your list of past experience in relation to Philippians 4;19; 2 Corinthians 9:8.
    • Have you confessed sins attached to the experiences? Have you worked through sins committed by others against you? Explain.
  • Pray that God might use your past experiences in positive ways toward your biblical growth journey. List some ways your negative past can become a present positive.
  • After reading below, how do you define and weigh success or failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?
    • 1 Corinthians 10:24-27
    • Proverbs 3:5
    • Judges 21:25
  • Consider in the scriptures below: Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?
    • Philippians 1:6, 2:13, 3:3-11, 4:13
    • Psalm 49:13
    • Jeremiah 17:1- 14
  • What truth do you see in the Bible: Who must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?
    • Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 29:25
    • John 12:43
    • 1 Corinthians 4:3-5
    • 2 Corinthians 10:18
  • Do you seek God’s pleasure or the approval of men? The mirror of Scripture exposes truth.

Reflect on your trust in God and the Bible.

  • My goals for fully trusting the Bible are…
  • As a result of my confidence in the God of the Scriptures, I hope…
  • My prayer for living and believing is…

Sources for this series can be found here.

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.

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

Upcoming Series: Biblical Growth and Change

At the sound of the alarm each morning, we push back the sheets and step into our routines. Day after day we do the same things, and in short-term thinking we often expect different results. Human beings are creatures of habit, both good and bad. When we come to Jesus, we do so as sinners. As fallen, messy people we come with heavy baggage; we come with a multitude of negative behaviors that must be overcome. So what is the Christian to do when we identify an area where growth and change are needed?

Search me, O God, and know my heart! 

Try me and know my thoughts! 

And see if there be any grievous way in me, 

and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139:23-24

Looking forward, readers can expect a six-part series studying Biblical Growth and Change. This series provides a glimpse of the biblical counseling perspective* on growth and change, sharing what the Bible says concerning change in our lives through means that honor Christ, His church, and His Word. God has given us Himself, the Gospel, the Bible, and the church, promising that they are effective for all things pertaining to life and godliness. Our task as Christians is to grow in our understanding of and ability to apply these resources to our struggles. 

Reading each post and included scripture passages, implementing questions, and working through practical help within the study offers individuals a glance at how to live a transformed life in Jesus Christ. As born-again believers, we can learn to satisfy our souls and renew our minds with what God has given us in the gospel.

It’s important to note that this study will be helpful, but not exhaustive. Much can be gained from the local church and/or spending time with a biblical counselor regarding growth and change.

Sources for this series:

Jay Adams, Godliness Through Discipline

Gregg R. Allison, 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith

Joel Beeke, Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth

Sinclair Ferguson, Maturity

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ

John Owen, The Mortification of Sin

J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness

John Piper, When the Darkness Will not Lift

David Powlison, Power Encounters

Stuart Scott, Killing Sin Habits

Stuart Scott, From Pride to Humility

R.C. Sproul, 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow

Charles Swindoll, Understanding Christian Theology

Paul Tripp, Instruments in The Redeemer’s Hands

Ed Welch, Side by Side

Rankin Wilbourne, Union With Christ

Class Notes, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

*Note: A trained biblical counselor through Association of Certified Biblical Counselors’ CDT, the counsel I provide is in accordance with sound interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. My training continues through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. No claim is made or implied to licensure by the state of Arkansas or any other state.

Anxiety, Biblical Counseling, Fear

Withstanding the Winds of Change

We find comfort in our routines, locations, relationships, and health. Change, whether positive or negative, brings stress into our day-to-day lives. When life is interrupted, emotions run high. When fear of the future presents itself, we have questions: What if I lose my job? What if my family must relocate? What if my husband walks out? What if Mom doesn’t recover? Left unchecked, “what if” lodges in the crevices of the heart… anxiety takes a foothold.  

Oftentimes, the struggle comes with things like loss of sleep, and even completing small tasks can become big challenges. When we aren’t careful, we can easily turn into problem-focused people. Becoming comfortable with a self-focused, “victim” identity is dangerous. But how can Christians withstand the winds of change? Thriving in the midst of change 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. 

“Our worries tend to imagine a future without God in it. Without God we have to prepare for those future threats on our own. Life gradually gets smaller. Our mission to trust Jesus and love other people gets temporarily lost amid our future preparations.” – Ed Welch, Author/Counselor 

What outcomes can we expect if we simply choose to resist change? Unrealized expectations tempt ungodly thoughts and words, which works to erode our spiritual lives. Resistance to change encourages bitterness. We should learn to identify the warning signs and pressures that would lead us to shaky ground. Christians ought to be careful about what goes into our minds; who we listen to and what we hear. We believe we know what is best for us, yet many times (most times), change precedes growth. Sudden life change is a time when we have an opportunity to listen to God.  

1 Peter 5:6-7 

Living in harmony with God’s word provides stability in times of adjustment. A God-focused mentality shifts our priorities. Practical ways cultivate spiritual life and health in the midst of change. Practices like initiating a regular quiet time, meditating on the scriptures, and spending time in prayer is, in fact, peace giving. Consistency in Bible reading and study strengthens our foundation during those days when Satan’s delight would have us crumble. In adversity, we have an opportunity to focus on God. 

Psalm 119:105; Deuteronomy 31:8; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 33:11 

Interruption gains our attention and we yearn for absolutely anything concrete. Hebrews 13:8 is a reminder that our God is not like us: A God of permanence is one without change. His love for us will never change and we can trust the unchanging word of God. In times of transition, we would do well to pause and remember what we know to be true rather than rushing to the “what ifs.” An almighty God is sovereign over all in all times. 

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8” 

Malachi 3:6; Exodus 3:14-15; Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 1:19; Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 123:1; Philippians 4:8 

Is there danger in dwelling on what once was, what we had, what we knew? Yes. Pouring over the past is a lame way to face what’s ahead. If we are not intentional to fix our gaze on Christ, the difficulties with sudden life change can knock the wind out of our sails. In confidence, we reflect not on us but upon His faithfulness in the past as a reminder of what He will do in the future. 

Healthy reflection dwells on the revealed promises of God rather than relying on experience after experience. Those internal tensions are resolved when walking by faith paramounts feelings and experience. 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.” Genuine faith both allows and requires that we trust God in times of uncertainty. 

Hebrews 12:10-11; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28; John 16:33 

Remember, the way of faith is far better than the way of sight. Ask yourself, are you living consistently reliant upon God? His love is not tied to nor dependent upon our circumstances. God cares much more about transforming our hearts and minds than leaving us in our places of comfort. Faithfully withstanding the winds of change requires we rely on God, listen to God, and focus on God. 

Biblical Counseling, Topical Study

Idols of the Heart

When it comes to broken relationships, the issue is never really the issue. We don’t have relationship problems; we have character flaws that show up in relationships. When we are God-centered, we choose to live our lives for God, resulting in doing things according to God’s standards. When we are self-centered, we choose to live our lives for ourselves, resulting in doing things according to our own agenda. In doing so, we become a product of our idols of the heart.

Psalm 119:105

2 Timothy 3:1-4

The three reasons a Christian will not obey God are a lack of knowledge, a lack of skill, and wrongful will. Essentially, the Christian can fall in three categories: They could lack maturity in the Word and not know any better, they could not have been properly discipled and don’t know how to obey, or they could choose to live in sin, with a hardened heart and refusal to obey. Having knowledge and choosing to live in sin is a result of stubbornness and rebellion.

Oftentimes, there is a choice to make in the midst of difficult relationships, and it could be that God is teaching you something about yourself through people around you; God is using them to expose who you are. Choosing to live God-centered lives requires we live by covenants and convictions: We live by God’s own agenda. Man-centered lives are based on feelings and man’s own agenda. When we choose to live for ourselves instead of living for God, we will live in slavery to sin. When we choose to live for God instead of living for ourselves, we live in slavery to God.

Galatians 5:16-25

Proverbs 5:22

Romans 6:22

Whoever controls your mind controls your decisions. When our thoughts are not in tune with the will of God, they are driven to self. Our choices are driven by our thoughts. When we are self-centered, our thoughts are dominated by lies and self-ambition. As a result of those lies and self-ambitions, our thoughts tend to be driven by and reduced to what we have been denied, what we believe we deserve, what we want, what we think we should have, or what we think we need. We become friends with the world and unfriend God.

Romans 8:5

James 3:13-18; 4:1-10

God-centered thinking is dominated by truth and wisdom. In obedience, we can focus on what God has done with a willingness to serve him rightly. We are driven by what God promises to do for us and when to expect it; we tend to focus not only on what God is doing, but also what we can be doing for others and how to do it accordingly.

Focus once more on James 3:17-18. Our thoughts are motivated by either the flesh or the Holy Spirit. When our thoughts are motivated by the sin in our hearts, we become preoccupied with issues such as whatever brings me pleasure apart from God, independence from authority (not having to answer to anyone), materialism, and entitlement. This thinking only leads to further disobedience to God. Ultimately, this leads to a guilty conscience, a fear of God’s judgment, and a desire to flee consequences.

2 Timothy 3:1-9

Proverbs 28:1

When our thoughts are motivated by the Holy Spirit, we tend to be preoccupied with a desire to know Jesus Christ, to become like Christ, and to being useful to Christ. Our focus is on not only the blessings in this life but also the life to come. This thinking leads to further obedience to God, with a desire to draw ever nearer.

Galatians 5:22-25

When our thoughts are driven by the flesh we will begin to worship our desires, turning them into the lusts in our lives. Our minds will be set on things below instead of heavenly things, leading us to make self interest a priority over God’s own will. We focus less and less on loving God and loving others. We focus more on using God and using others in accordance to self interest. We become servants of our flesh to satisfy these desires we have started to worship. Our desires that we treasure and worship above loving God and loving others are idols of the heart.

James 3-4:3

Philippians 3:17-19

Galatians 5:16-21

As we make choices according to the desires we have begun to worship, we will find ourselves on a path of difficulty and hard times; we will become a slave to that which we pursue. Sinful habits are hard to repent from and replace. Once developed, they become a result of wrongful worship and misplaced love. Reaping negative consequences of our sinful habits and pursuit of those desires is inevitable. In turn, we have a negative effect on the lives of those around us.

Proverbs 5:21-22; 13:15

2 Peter 2:18-19

Galatians 6:7-8

1 Corinthians 5:1-6

Through the Person, power, and precepts of Jesus Christ, we can turn from a self-centered life to a God-centered life. To do so, we must identify the areas of our lives where we are dominated by lies and self-ambition. This process necessitates the specifics of where this is happening in our attitudes, intentions, desires, actions, relationship patterns, and service to God. Bringing healing and restoration requires we confess and repent of these things accordingly. We must consciously decide to to make God a priority in all that we think, say, and do.

Romans 13:8-14

Proverbs 28:13-14

1 Corinthians 10:31

Areas of our lives where we become dominated by lies, selfish ambition, materialism, entitlement, and lustful pursuits must be replaced with specific obedience to God in those areas. In other words, we must guard our hearts from self-centeredness by walking in genuine love for God and others in our attitudes, intentions, desires, words, actions, relationship patterns, and service.

Colossians 3:1-25

Luke 9:23-25

1 John 1:9

Ephesians 4:17-32

Philippians 2:5

When reflecting on past choices you have made, were you self centered or God centered in your decision making? Identify thought patterns which might be rooted in lies and selfish ambition. What desires have you allowed to become a form of worship, further complicating life? What thoughts, motives, words, actions and relationship patterns, and service do you need to walk in to replace sin? You can honor God when you recognize, repent and replace, and walk in the Spirit.

For a related post see:

Biblical Counseling, Reading, Uncategorized

Love and Marriage

The chasm between the biblical vision and society’s view of love and marriage has never been broader. It rings true that previous generations’ view of marriage was never high enough but we have reached a low, casual attitude of both what constitutes marriage and warrants it disposable. What would seem ludicrous in generations past has become the norm. Marriage is fundamentally God’s own design, confirmed by Jesus in Mark 10:8.

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 19:4–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 2:24–25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 10:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Love doesn’t come easily and as a counselor, I see women who’ve become tired and frustrated in marriage. It takes intentional work and time to model God’s good design. Much like other relationships, love is best shared when applying biblical principles. It’s shameful that many couples are no longer willing to exercise patience, preferring to simply throw in the towel. David Powlison said it best, “It’s no accident “Love is patient” comes first in 1 Corinthians 13. Patience isn’t very dramatic, but it counts.” 

If we are to be biblical Christians, God will be honored in our relationships. The book titles I refer to time and again are: God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger, Preparing for Marriage by by Boehi, Nelson, and Shadrach (edited by Dennis Rainey), What did you Expect? by Paul Tripp, and The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller.

Below are words penned by Timothy Keller in his book, The Meaning of Marriage. Whether you are long-time married or merely contemplating marriage, I suggest you read Keller’s book.

“Our culture says that feelings of love are the basis for actions of love. And of course that can be true. But it is truer to say that actions of love can lead consistently to feelings of love.”

“Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” 

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” 

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” 

“You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.” 

“Only with time do we really learn who the other person is and come to love the person for him- or herself and not just for the feelings and experiences they give us.” 

“What marriage is for: It is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be.”