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Change We Can Believe In
Change is a word that seems to be bandied around quite a bit. It’s a word that for whatever reason seems to be in vogue. In politics “change” is a buzzword, like Barack Obama’s initial campaign slogan, “Change we can believe in.”
People are always changing. They’re moving towards healthier lifestyles, like changing their eating habits, from pizza to salads, or from sitting on the couch watching TV to working out while watching TV.
People are also making changes in the way they appear. A change of wardrobe is seen as a way to build a person self esteem. Books from the 80’s talked about how people could dress for success, and now we have personal shoppers who will match a person’s wardrobe to fit their body type, personality, and career.
People also talk about our need to change the way we think. Tolerance is the buzzword of our day, but we’ve changed the way we view it. It used to be that differences were tolerated and people were free to disagree and discuss their differences. Now tolerance has changed to intolerance because we’re no longer free to disagree.
The Bible also talks about the desperate need for humanity to change before it’s too late.
“Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die … Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31-32 NKJV)
God’s desire is for there to be a change in the way we live so that there can be a change in where we spend eternity, and that change is called repentance. And so today I’d like to talk about a change that we truly can believe in.
As believers we talk about how God has changed our lives. But how does God do that? Does He change our minds, does He do some closed heart surgery, or does He zap our spirits to change us.
There’s also a lot of conflicting advice. We hear people tout our need to wait upon the Lord, while others say, “If it’s meant to be it’s up to me.”
So how do we facilitate change? Is it our responsibility, God’s, or a combination of both?
The Apostle Paul deals with this issue. It’s found in his letter to the Philippian church. And what we see is that both God and ourselves have a part to play.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV)
Underline “work out,” and “work in.” To work out is our part, while to work in is God’s, and what Paul is saying is that we’re to work out, that is, to develop what God is working in.
Notice Paul didn’t tell us to “work for” our salvation. Instead he said to work it out. It’s important to understand we’re not to work for our salvation, which Paul makes clear.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
Getting back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it’s important to know that Paul is addressing believers, and since we can’t work for our salvation, what he’s saying is that we are to develop what God has created to us to be. It means growing in our faith, or what is called, sanctification.
Also, by inserting the third person, “your,” he’s telling us to accept personal responsibility for our growth.
God has made each on of us unique, because He doesn’t want cookie cutter Christians. He doesn’t want a bunch of spiritual clones. He doesn’t need another Billy Graham or Mother Theresa; rather He wants us to be exactly what He’s created us to be.
This is why he says we’re to do this with fear and trembling. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re to be afraid of God, but rather we’re to be afraid of missing out on what God has made us to be. Nothing is more important as believers than our own spiritual growth.
Paul then shares with us God’s part in this overall change.
“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13 NKJV)
The word Paul uses for “works” is where we get our word “energizer,” or “energy.” God is the energizer for change. He’s the One who will give us the power to do what we know needs to be done.
I believe this is why Paul said later on, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)
Therefore it is the Lord who will give us the power and ability to make those God honoring changes, along with the desire and capability to change.
How then does God go about facilitating such changes? What are those resources?
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)
The Bible is “profitable.” That is, it is useful, beneficial, and advantageous in teaching what is true, reproving what isn’t, along with correcting and instructing us on how to get and stay right with God.
The Bible is God’s word for our lives, and as we read it, it’ll begin to change the way we think and view the world around us. If we want to get serious about change, we need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into us.
This is done through reading it, studying it, and meditating upon it; living out what it says in our lives. The more we get the Word of God into our lives, the more our lives our going to change into the image of Jesus Christ.
The Bible says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17 NKJV)
And so when we get into the Bible, God works His word into our lives to make those changes that are needed.
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, God places within us the Holy Spirit. This is where the real power to change comes from. After the resurrection Jesus told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the power necessary to change the world.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The Greek word for “power” is where we get our English word, “dynamite.” And so we receive the dynamic power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit to be those witnesses for Jesus and change this world.
It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changes us, that brings into the whole of our being new strength and vitality to become everything God has created for us to be.
God therefore tells us how to change through His word and empowers us to do so through the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately we don’t always follow God’s word or the Holy Spirit’s lead, and so God uses other means to accomplish His goals to change us.
God allows problems, difficulties, trials and tribulations in our lives to get our attention. C.S. Lewis said that suffering was God’s megaphone to get our attention.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NKJV)
God allows both good and bad circumstances in our lives, and what we’re promised is that God will work them out for good, that is, through them He is changing us more into the image of Jesus Christ.
Please understand that God isn’t interested in our comfort or happiness as much as He is in our becoming more like His Son.
Let’s think about this through another perspective, through another lens if you would. Let’s look at what Jesus learned through what He suffered.
“Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8 NKJV)
So if God allowed suffering as part of Jesus life so that He could learn obedience, then it’s a good bet suffering will also be a part of our lives so that we can learn and grow thereby.
Solomon understood this fact. I like the way the Good News Bible interprets Solomon’s words.
“Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30 GNT)
I’ve heard is said this way, we don’t often change the direction of our lives when we see the light as we do when we feel the heat. The painful circumstances of life are God’s way of lighting a fire under us to get us moving.
Now that we’ve seen God’s part in this whole process, what’s our part? How are we supposed to work out what God is then working in?
Growth is not automatic. Change is a choice, and a part of that choice is deciding what we think about. Solomon says to guard our hearts because they affect every area of our lives, and as we think in our hearts, that is who we’re going to become. (Proverbs 4:23; 23:7)
God is telling us to be careful not only in how we think, but in what we think about, because our lives our shaped by our thoughts.
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NKJV)
Change begins with new thinking. The word for change is where we get the word, “repentance.” In the Greek language it means to change our minds. When we repent we change the way we think about God, about ourselves, and about the world around us. We change our outlook and perspective on life. We begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus, and in the process begin to challenge some of our long held beliefs and values.
To the church in Rome Paul says,
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
Psychologists discovered that the way we think determines the way we feel, and the way we feel determines the way we act. So if we want to change, we need to change not only the way we think, but also what we think upon, which clearly is the word of God.
King David said,
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2 NKJV)
And so if we want to be blessed, then we need think about God’s word throughout the day.
And so the first way we work out what God is working in is by deciding to think on what God says in His word.
As we saw earlier, this is where God’s power enters.
Jesus said something very interesting,
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NKJV)
A branch is totally dependent upon the vine. When it’s cut off it won’t bear any fruit; rather it will die. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself. It must be connected. To help facilitate change we’ve got to be plugged into God’s power.
Further, fruit is an inside job. What would you think if I planted a dead tree and then tied some fruit to its branches? You’d probably think I’ve lost my mind, or that I’m just fooling myself, or trying to fool others.
Well this is what a lot of people are trying to do. They’re trying to tie good works onto their lives trying to fool themselves and others into thinking that they’re Christians.
Instead of depending on the Holy Spirit, they’re depending upon their own works.
We need to respond rightly to life’s circumstances. There’s a direct parallel between God’s resources and the choices we make. God has given us the resource of His word, now we’re responsible to read it. God has also given to us the Holy Spirit, and it’s our choice to depend on Him and upon His power to change our lives.
As we have seen, God uses circumstances in our lives to get our attention; therefore it’s our choice as to how we’re going to respond to them.
The Apostle James said,
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NKJV)
We shouldn’t resent these trials as unwelcomed intruders, but rather welcome them as friends. To do so we need to realize that God brings them to test our faith and produce within us the qualities of patience and endurance.
The Christian life is not an event but a process. It’s an event only when we come into the saving faith of Jesus Christ. But after that initial event Christian life is a process, which is often described as our Christian walk, or sanctification.
And so what we’ve seen today is that as believers we’re to start working out, that is, develop what God is working in through His word, the Holy Spirit, and life’s circumstances.
This then is a change we can believe in, a change that God works into us that we then work out through repentance.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study