Can You Change?

Is change possible? Several years ago, a Christian brother said to me, “People don’t really change.” This guy is not a pessimist, but he counsels people in life-threatening circumstances, most of whom fail to make necessary changes to alter their lives. I have to agree that the vast majority of people don’t really change, even Christians. But does that mean we can’t change. Certainly not! Change is possible, but we have to recognize that will power only gets us so far (thus, all the broken resolutions you and I have experienced).

We resumed our study of Romans 6 on Sunday, examining verses 8-14. One of the crucial points Paul tries to drive home is that believers can change because of our identification with Christ, having conquered sin and death. Paul says to “count [reckon] yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11, NIV). The word “count” is a commercial term that essentially means “bank on it!”

In fact, as you read through the Apostle Paul’s letters, you find that a repeated expression regarding the believer’s position is “in Christ.” [1]  A favorite of mine is: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6, NIV). Wow! Positionally, you are in the presence of God, unhindered by sin, sorrow, and separation. You are free to praise, pray and petition because the righteousness of Christ and your position in Him makes you suitable to be in the Holy of Holies.  This is a fixed and final position, as well (Ephesians 1:13-14).

While our position in Christ is fixed, our condition is changeable. Miles Stanford puts it this way:

Our condition is what we are in our Christian walk, in which we develop from infancy to maturity. Although our position remains immutable, our condition is variable… In most cases, a believer is more aware of his condition than of his position. This is the reason for so much failure and stagnation. If we are to grow and become fruitful, our faith must be anchored in the finished work of our position—in Christ… Faith in our position will bring growth in our condition. [2]

When I first read these words thirty-six years ago, they prompted me to draw more from my position in Christ to bring change in my condition. Even now, I don’t pretend to have it all together…there are things I still need to change. But, knowing that I am positioned in Christ has given me the confidence and power to change. Paul concludes this section with this command:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:12-14, NIV). [3]

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[1] If you want to study the “in Christ” passages, here is a link to biblegateway.com for a search on the phrase “in Christ” in Paul’s letters. Not all speak of our position in Christ, but  many do. Find out what benefits your position in Christ can yield you in your present  condition.

[2] I would recommend The Complete Green Letters by Miles Stanford, which includes the book Principle of Position. The above excerpt comes from: Miles Stanford,  Principle of Position, http://withchrist.org/MJS/principle.htm

[3] As this passage speaks of offering the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness, Brian Goettsche makes the following suggestions:

  1. When you wake up each morning remind yourself that you have been set free in Christ.
  2. Every time you face a  temptation say to yourself, “I don’t have to give in!  I am no longer helpless.  God’s strength is sufficient for me to resist this temptation . . . if I give in, I am choosing to walk away from the Lord.”
  3. Every time you stumble . . .get back up!  Claim the victory and ask God to help you to tap into His power so you can experience His victory in your daily living.
  4. As you plan your calendar, spending, and leisure activities ask: “am I giving myself to serve sin or to serve righteousness?  Am I going God’s way or am I turning away from God’s way?”  Make deliberate choices for your life.
  5. To keep you from getting discouraged use your non-dominant hand and write on a card, “I am dead to sin, but alive to Christ”.  It won’t be pretty but it will remind you that the process of growing in Christ will take time but with practice, growth will happen.

Do You Really Want to Change?

Last week, we talked about several commitments we can make in the New Year that can significantly change the way in which we show love to God and others. I’d like to continue that theme, expanding one of the five points.

On Sunday, we explored how to spend more time with God. Some may ask, “What am I supposed to do in that extended time with God?” Prayer should be one component. It is our means of communicating with God. But too often, prayer is a one-way communication…I praise and thank God…I confess my faults… and I ask Him for help and direction for others and me. So, how do I hear back from God? It’s been my experience that God speaks and responds to my requests through His Word, the Bible. Unless I spend time accessing (hearing/reading), assimilating (studying, meditating, memorize) and applying scripture, I am cutting off God’s best method of speaking to me. If I really want to experience transformation, becoming more Christ-like, time in the Word is essential.

Our denomination’s publishing arm, Lifeway, conducted research that indicates about 84 percent of church members don’t read the Bible daily. About 68 percent of them don’t read it once a week. Is it any surprise that only 37 percent say the Bible has made a significant difference in the way they live their lives? An additional 2009 study by the Center for Bible Engagement, an arm of Back to the Bible, agreed that Christians simply do not read the Bible enough. But for those who read the Scripture at least four times a week, they not only have lower rates of immoral behavior, but also spend less time dwelling on temptation. [1] So, if you really want to change, regular Bible reading is key!

What should be involved in reading? First, ask God’s Spirit to help you in your reading to have spiritual understanding of the Word. Jesus promised But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13, NIV). Next, get into the Word, making sure to cover these three areas:

Access the Word. …humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (James 1:21, NIV). We have never had such ease in reading the Bible. If you are reading this blog, you can link to a number of reading plans online, add an app to your phone and even have one of those electronic means of accessing the Word read it to you.[2]  Of course, you can even fall back to the “old-fashion” means of having a Bible in your lap. Find a reading plan and translation and get started!

Assimilate the Word.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:23-25, NIV).

It’s not enough to hear or read the Word. Investigate what it means. Rick Warren has a great acrostic to help you analyze what God is saying through His Word by asking, “Is there a:

  • Sin to confess? Do I need to ask forgiveness of anyone or make any restitution?
  • Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
  • Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
  • Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
  • Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy or a negative one to avoid?
  • Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
  • Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to, or beware of?
  • Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the other biblical teachings?
  • Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?”

There may be some times that you need to dig a little deeper into the Word by looking up cross-references, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries. When a verse really speaks to you, commit it to memory.

Apply the Word.   Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22, NIV).  In the words of the old Nike® campaign, “Just do it!” When God reveals something for you to confess, claim, change, etc., don’t delay in seeking to put it into practice. Quite frankly, the better you know the Bible, the more the Spirit is going to bring scripture to your remembrance and help you put into practice.This is when you begin to see real change in your life. The psalmist said, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV). Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist from the 19th century, echoed the psalmist by saying, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

Like all resolutions, daily time with God will take serious discipline. But in the end, it will reap more rewards than any other discipline you could pursue. As Paul said,  “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, NIV).

[1]http://www.christianpost.com/news/new-year-new-hope-for-turning-the-tide-of-bible-illiteracy-48279/  For a complete report of the Center for Bible Engagement’s 2009 report on Understanding the Bible Engagement Challenge: Scientific Evidence for the Power of 4, go to: http://www.centerforbibleengagement.org/images/stories/pdf/Scientific_Evidence_for_the_Power_of_4.pdf

[2] Here are some online reading plans. The “Read the Bible for Life” site has some great podcasts by Dr. George Guthrie that are excellent in helping to understand different literary forms and contexts, translations and more. You can subscribe through iTunes®.  Check all the reading plans out and find the right one for yourself. Invite someone to join you and hold one another accountable (Proverbs 27:17)