“I’ve had enough! I’m filing for divorce! You will never change,” yelled the angry wife as the door slammed behind her. Sadly, this scenario happens all too often. Change is difficult, but we risk endless difficulties, and often, tragedies if we don’t change. Change requires self-examination, grace, responsibility, humility, discipline, and obedience…character qualities that run counter-cultural.
1. Self-examination…recognize areas that require change. Jesus often asked, “Do you want to be made well?” (cf. John 5:6). Although theologians are divided on the motive behind such questioning, one thought is clear: We must “want” to change. Take anger for example…it does not produce good fruit (cf. James 1:20). What about controlling the tongue? The Lord hates gossip, backbiting, slander, etc. What about wrong attitudes? Self-righteousness and judgmentalism are dangerous. What about addictions? This can include anything from food to caffeine, and pornography to other unhealthy lusts. Sadly, many do not want to change. We enjoy sin but not the consequences.
One of the first steps toward change is in recognizing and admitting destructive areas. C.H. Spurgeon rightly noted, “We are never, never so much in danger of being proud as when we think we are humble.”
2. Repentance must take place. Some suggest that repentance is self-improvement or a call to fulfill our natural potential. When we repent we do improve, and our God-given potential becomes more apparent, but repentance is not about self-improvement—it’s about renouncing and turning from sin. Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change in action…brokenness, genuine sorrow over sin, and humility are marks of sincere repentance. Lasting hope and joy are also by-products of a right relationship with God, beginning with repentance. There is always a link between genuine change and sincere repentance.
3. Ask God for help. Seek to identify the middle ground between our responsibility and God’s role in changing us. If the pendulum swings too far in the direction of grace, obedience suffers. The Bible is filled with passages about obedience. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” 1 Peter 1:14 adds, “As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.”
Obedience is a hallmark of genuine faith…I John 2:3-4 says, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him [Christ],’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” The word “keep” here means to keep watchful care of. In the same way that a ship’s captain is committed to keep his course to reach his destination, the sincerity of our commitment to Christ can be measured by how well we follow the scriptural course. Sanctification is God’s job, but keeping the course is ours.
On the other hand, if the pendulum swings too far in the direction of obedience, one can become legalistic and never appreciate or understand true grace. “The grace that is not strong enough to change me will not be able to save me” (Spurgeon).
Legalism can be defined as “Christ plus something equals morality.” Legalism prevents change because it hardens the heart. The legalist often justifies sinful behavior because “they are right,” at least in their eyes.
Proud people don’t change until they are broken and humble. Brokenness, humility, and full surrender provide fertile ground for change. We have responsibilities, yet we are totally dependent on God. We must do our part, but we can’t do His. It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ (cf. II Corinthians 1:21). Seek Him.
4. Avoid excuses and the victim mentality. When we fail to take responsibility for our actions, the endless cycle of blame, anger, and unforgiveness continues. Those enslaved by blame and unforgiveness are truly imprisoned, and the walls they build to protect may eventually imprison them. These destructive attitudes prohibit change. By excusing actions, we deny responsibility. Those who continue in harmful addictions, for example, often excuse their actions and even justify them. Don’t blame parents, race, spouse, circumstances, or the government. Take responsibility, even if it hurts.
5. Never underestimate the seriousness of sin. Be crystal clear on this issue—sin destroys. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10). Little sins or vices that we enjoy eventually grow and become strong influences (strongholds). Sin has a life cycle—it either grows or withers depending on whether we feed or starve it. “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you” (John Owen; Puritan).
James 1:14-15 illustrates sin’s destructive course, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Don’t blame the devil…we are often led away by our own desires.
As a note of encouragement, the last half of John 10:10 states that Jesus came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. Are you experiencing this abundant, fruitful life? If not, consider who or what is leading you—rules and traditions, or a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. “There is no peace until we see the finished work of Jesus Christ—until we can look back and see the cross of Christ between our sins” (D.L. Moody).