Change - Part 2


In the first article we saw that God has a master plan to change lives. It began in eternity past, it was made possible through the cross and it will be completed in glory. The question is: how do we get on board with God's change programme in our lives? What can we do to co-operate with God's programme to rid us of sin and make us like Jesus?

The first step is to rightly diagnose our problem. With the Bible’s help, this is a simple, but devastating exercise. Scripture exposes the reality that our hearts are idol factories (John Calvin’s expression). We are irresistibly prone to idolatry (see Romans 1:21-25). Our hearts chase after and worship every conceivable alternative to God – wealth, power, status, relationships, sex, family, sport etc. These become the things that capture our attention and orientate our lives. And although most of these things are good gifts from God, when we make them ultimate things in our lives, when they eclipse the place that only God has rights to, they become deadly. We need Scripture to help us see that.

Like the unforgiving lighting in a Woolworths fitting room, God's Word shows us who we really are. And when we see ourselves as we truly are, the only proper response is to turn our backs on our idolatry and turn back to God. The Bible calls that repentance. And what we’ll find when we turn back to God is that he is the source of true joy and fulfilment. He provides the happiness that sin falsely promises.

But once we’ve understood that, what positive steps should we take to effect change in our lives so that we are not drawn back to idolatry? It’s tempting at this point to revert to rules – a list of do’s and don’ts. Or perhaps to make a resolution or vow. But the gospel’s solution to living a godly life is simpler and more wonderful – grace. Titus 2:11-14 says that our personal trainer in the area of godliness is God's grace.

The problem is this: no amount of will-power or human resolve can bring about lasting change in our lives. There was a big push a few years ago (especially in America) urging young people to make a pledge of abstinence; to keep sex for marriage. Those who participated were given a ring as a reminder of the pledge they’d made. Recent research in America has revealed that of the more than 12 000 who made those kind of pledges, 80% had sex outside of marriage within the next 7 years.

The success of change doesn’t lie in personal determination and positive thinking. It doesn’t lie in check lists and vows. It doesn’t lie in beating ourselves up and making even stricter rules (see Colossians 2:20-23). It lies in coming to a deeper understanding of the grace of God in the gospel. In the gospel, God has done everything needed for our acceptance before him. But more than that, he has given us a new identity. We are in Christ. We are completely forgiven. We are part of God's family. We are indwelt by God's Holy Spirit. One of the most paralysing things in life is a poor self-image. Grace teaches us because it shows us a vision of who we really are in God's sight. It makes us see ourselves as a people who have been freed from sin; who have been made perfect in Christ; who are being renewed in God's image.

But grace also teaches us because it makes us realise the massive scope of God's love for us. It’s one thing to be obedient to a father who is a tyrant; waiting to beat his children if they step out of line. He will garner obedience, but it will be the obedience of fear or the obedience of a child always seeking to prove himself in order to be accepted. Grace-driven obedience on the other hand is obedience to a father who loves unconditionally; who is always ready to receive his children back with open arms.

If only we would keep God's grace fixed in our minds, sin would have less of a hold over us. And because we so easily forget, God in his kindness has given his people what Christians down through the ages have called the means of grace – His word, preaching, prayer, meeting with God's people, sharing in the sacraments together. These are God's gifts to us so that we would be growing in our understanding of his grace.

When we start to really understand what God has done for us in the gospel, and how God is the only source of true joy and satisfaction, then sin doesn’t seem all that attractive anymore and Godward change becomes possible. It may not happen instantly – it rarely does – but it’s the direction, not the speed that matters most.

Click here to read part 1 of this series.

Written by Nils Holmgren

Change - Part 1


God's Master Plan for Change

If you love someone you won’t try to change them. Love accepts people as they are, warts and all. Maybe you’ve heard that relationship advice before? But is it always true? Is acceptance of someone’s shortcomings really a demonstration of true love? God's love for us is a perfect love. And yet doesn’t love us for who we are. He loves us in spite of who we are. And because He loves us, He very much wants to change us.

You could say that the whole Bible story is about God's master plan to change lives. None of us are who we should be. Our lives are a very pale reflection of what God intended. Sin has taken its toll. We are all in need of a complete overhaul. That’s where God's master plan for change comes in. Before time began, God set His sights on loving and calling and restoring broken people. Romans 8:28 tells us that God is orchestrating every moment of every day so that everything we experience, if we are God's children, has been designed by Him to change us into the people He intended us to be – people whose lives look more and more like Jesus.

Made Possible by the Cross

God's great change project was made possible through the cross. The death of Jesus made real personal change not just a pipe dream, but an achievable reality. Titus 2:14 says that “Jesus Christ … gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” As Jesus atoned on the cross for our sin, paying its penalty and destroying its power, He opened up the possibility for change. That is why Jesus died. That possibility then becomes reality in the most incredible act of God's power and grace. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God unites people to Christ as they put their faith in him, so that they benefit from all that Christ achieved. God's simple purpose in doing this is so that “we may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4). The Bible calls this the new birth.

But God doesn’t stop there. Not only does God set his affection upon individuals in eternity past, not only does He unite them to Christ at the point of conversion in the present, but He also promises to see his change project all the way through to that point of completion in the future glory. Philippians 1:6 says that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God is in the business of changing lives. He never does half jobs. And He has a 100% success rate. Through Christ He destroys the penalty of sin and the power of sin so that one day we will be free from the presence of sin.

Some of the implications

The implications of this are huge. Firstly, it means that change is inevitable for God's children. God is transforming us into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). So I don’t have the option of stagnating on my journey to becoming more like Jesus. I must not be satisfied with mediocrity in my Christian life. If God's goal is perfection, then I should aim at nothing less. Secondly, it means that the key to bringing about change in my life and dealing with specific sins is found in the gospel. The gospel is our power and motivation to change. In the fight against sin we can do no better than preaching the gospel to ourselves again. Thirdly, it means that because God is not finished with me yet, I should not become overwhelmed by discouragement when change seems painfully slow. When persistent sin seems impossible to overcome and failure feels like a way of life, I need to remember God's commitment to present me spotless and pure on the final day. Because He loves me, that is His goal. And He will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Recommended reading: You Can Change – Tim Chester; How People Change – Tim Lane & Paul Tripp; Finally Alive – John Piper