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