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About this series
The Miracle of Life Change
Is a "changed life" really possible? If we're honest, most of us would say no. Maybe you've tried numerous programs that promise big changes, but in reality, they deliver very little results. You long for transformation, but don't know where to begin. There's good news for you! Life change is possible! God created you to grow, to change, to experience intimacy and adventure. In this series, from Ephesians 4, you will learn how true life change can happen to you. You'll be able to identify the barriers that have held you back from receiving God's best and you'll also learn how to break out of a destructive lifestyle so you can become the person you've always longed to be. This fresh approach to spiritual transformation is designed to move you from the frustration of failure to the freedom you have in Christ.More from this series
Here’s the two reasons why it’s inconceivable for us to live immoral lives. Number one, it contradicts who we are. It contradicts who you really are. You are not a green worm, caterpillar, anymore! You’re a butterfly! You’re a new person. You’re not a slave to sin. You’re a son; you’re a daughter. You’ve been redeemed. You’re loved; you’re precious. His Spirit lives within you. You have a Father who has created all that there is. He’s got a plan for you. You’re brand new! Your life – you need to fly, not crawl.
See, here’s the issue, and here’s how moralism plays its way out: Most of us think that the issue of sin is a behavioral problem, and it’s not. The behavior is the symptom. The issue of sin is a relational problem.
See, when people are asking questions like, “Well, how far can I go?” or, “Should I do this or not?” and, “It’s kind of gray,” and, “Is this right or is this wrong?” and you know what’s right already – the focus is on these external behaviors, instead of, “Wait a second, there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. What does it look like to draw closer to God? And what are the things that put a barrier?”
For those of you who are married, you’ve been down this road. Something happens in your relationship, and you’ve hurt them, or you neglected them, or you forgot something, or you blew up in anger, or you have a history of something, and you’ve done it again. And then, you walk in the house – it happens with roommates, as well – and there’s this funky stuff in the air. And you know there’s a problem.
And you can say something like, “I’m sorry.” And the funkiness in the air doesn’t go away, does it? “You know, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” Focus on behavior – “I’ll try not to do that again.” And if it’s one like that, if it’s, “I’ll try not to do that again. I’ll try not to do that again,” and you keep on doing it, what do you get? There’s just this distance.
But when you see violations in a relationship as, I hurt that person, there’s a breech. Our love is broken down. There’s not a connection. There’s that weird thing in the air. Until you sit down, and look them in the eye – and, often, with a few tears in your eye – and say, “You know something? I told you I wouldn’t do this. I did it again. I am sorry. I blew it. Will you forgive me? I’m really, really sorry.” And when there’s a confession that’s followed by a reconnection of the relationship, then what happens?
See, the issue of sin – it’s like, well, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re not going to sin anymore. It just means that your sins have been forgiven, and it means the power has been broken. You don’t have to sin anymore.
But when you sin, what it does is, it separates you in your fellowship with your heavenly Father. And that’s why a lot of people, you don’t feel His presence. The reason you don’t want to read the Bible, or you can’t pray for more than a few seconds before your mind wanders everywhere – it’s because of unresolved issues.
The issue is your identity. The issue is who you really are. And an immoral lifestyle contradicts who you are. That’s not who you are! But it also contradicts who Jesus is. Jesus was not someone who sinned. Jesus was someone who loved. Jesus is someone who’s pure – “In accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”
So, if externally trying to keep these rules isn’t at the heart of the new life, how do you become transformed? How does it really work?
And he’s going to give us the general outline in verses 22 to 24. And he’s going to say there are three principles of renewal, three specific principles that, progressively, yes, at a point in time you’re justified; God fills you with His Spirit. He forgives your sin. He declares you. He sits you in the heavenly places. And he says, “Now there’s a journey of walking.” We achieve personal purity by following God’s threefold principles of transformation.
Number one, we put off the old. Notice what it says: “Put off the old self.” It’s a metaphor; it’s a picture of like having shabby, dirty, stinky, torn clothes, and it’s in a tense of the verb that means at a certain time, at a certain point, you make a decision, and you take them off.
Here’s the issue: The focus isn’t try hard, try hard, stop drinking. Try hard, try hard, get off the Internet. Try hard, try hard, quit pleasing people. It’s a decision to realize, I’m going to take that off. That can’t fill me.
And then, notice the second one: have your mind renewed. You’ve got to think differently. You need to see yourself as a son. You need to realize – okay, for me, I had to say, “I’m going to stop working crazy hours,” and put a box around it.
In people pleasing, I had to set some boundaries and say, “I’m going to eat dinner at home, on a regular basis. I’m not going to get with people until I get with God. I’m only going to work ‘X’ number of hours a week.”
But it’s a decision. But what you need to understand is, behind that, it’s not just about the external behavior. It’s what that is doing to your relationship, and it’s your identity that you don’t understand. And so, then, you get your mind renewed. And you begin to think differently. And you realize, My work and performance isn’t who I am. See, when that changes, then you have the power, in Christ, to not have to work all the time.
The third step is this: It says, “Then put on” – a point in time – “the new.” As someone has said, for some of us, it’s a liar doesn’t cease to be a liar when he stops lying. A liar ceases to be a liar when he stops lying, and starts telling the truth. A workaholic doesn’t cease to – see, if it’s just the behavior – “I’m going to stop working. I’m not going to do so much. I’m going to cut back. I’m going to get margin in my life.” How many of us have said that about a million times?
See, at the core, if your mind isn’t renewed, and you don’t realize, My work is not me. What people think of me is not me. This buzz that I get that gives me – that’s not me. I’m a son, or a daughter. I’m already loved. I’m already precious. And so, in my workaholism, I say, “I’m going to stop. I have my mind renewed. My work isn’t me. I’m accepted by Him,” and then I put on Sabbath. And so, for me, all day Friday, it’s no voicemail; it’s no email. I’m not going to work.
Okay, some of you, you’re addicted to materialism, right? You buy stuff you don’t need, your credit is off the wall, because when you buy stuff, and do stuff, it makes you feel better…this issue is not, like, are you dealing with this? It’s just, how much, right?
You decide, No longer will what I have, or what I wear, or what I buy define me. I renew my mind, but I need to move from that, to being generous with my time, generous with my resources. That’s the process of sanctification.
And so many people are stuck on trying hard, trying hard, I’ve got to stop cussing. I’ve got to stop logging on to the Internet. I’ve got to stop buying this stuff. I’ve got to stop eating this stuff. I’ve got to stop, stop, stop, stop, stop. And you try hard, try hard, try hard, and you fail. Try hard, try hard, try hard, and you fail. Then you try hard, try hard, and then you just start faking it.
And we’ve got Christians all over America, and around the world, faking it. And so, the next best thing is, you learn a few verses, and you come to church some. And you’re always living with this conflict between guilt, guilt, guilt, and, “God loves me, God loves me.”
And God says, “You’re My son. You’re My daughter. I’ve paid for you. You’re deeply loved. I’ve put My Spirit in you. I want you to renew your mind. I want you to understand who you really are.”
And would you, in your notes, right in the middle, write “Romans 12:2”? What Paul is doing – in these verses – 22, 23, and 24 – he’s giving you the shortest overview of Romans chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8. If you read that, he would lay out, “This is what God has done. You’ve died with Him. You’ve been resurrected.”
And he’ll say, “Take off – don’t present your members anymore to sin. Have your mind renewed. Present yourself to God as someone who’s been raised from the dead” – that’s Romans 6. Romans 7, he’ll talk about the conflict that happens, even as a believer. We’re all going to struggle in our walk; we’ll fall down. And then, chapter 8, he’ll talk about the power of the Spirit to live His life through you.
When I meet people, and this is, I have so struggled on why, and I so want to share this with you. I meet people all the time that so long, down inside, to break out of a destructive lifestyle, but you keep putting stuff in your mind that destines you to do the same stupid stuff, over and over and over again.
You live in a world where you’re going to be the product of your thinking. “As a man or a woman thinks in your mind, so you become. The mind set on the flesh is death; the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”
This central part of renewing your mind, we know – what did Jesus say? “Man can’t live” – you can’t walk; you can’t be transformed – “by physical bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
And so, there’s this process – it’s a decision. It’s like on your computer, and there’s a program – you delete. So, it’s a point in time. You delete. Then, you install a new program, right? And it’s installed. It says, “Just a minute.” It’s booting; it’s booting, loading – di,di,di,di,di,di,di,di,di – right? And then, after it loads, then you click: “run.”
Isn’t it interesting that we create computers exactly the way God has created our minds to work? And for some of you, He brought you today, and He says, “Here’s what I want you to do. Click ‘delete’ on sexual immorality. Click ‘delete,’ today, on workaholism, or pleasing people, or alcohol.” I don’t know what it is, but you do.
But now, what He’s going to say is, if all you do is click “delete,” what would you do on your computer? You’ve got to install a new program. You’ve got to put new things in your mind.
So, instead of all that news, you need to get into God’s Word. You need to take a walk outside, and see beauty. You need to read a good book that causes you to think. You need to read some things that are refreshing, and inspiring, and some biographies. You need to hang out with some people and talk about, “What are you reading, and what are you thinking?” When you start – you’re reloading. And then, you put on.
And so, instead of being a people pleaser, I become a servant, and I set some boundaries. Instead of being a workaholic, I have some Sabbath, and I renew myself. Instead of being an alcoholic, and wanting to cover it, I get filled with the Spirit, instead of filled with stuff, because what they both do is, they influence me – how I think, what I do, how I behave.
Here’s the hope, and I really want you to get this. He gives us this “delete,” “install new program,” and “run” in verses 22, 23, and 24, because he’s then going to say, “Let me show you how this actually works in the most practical areas of life.” And he’s going to give us five specific areas that, instead of trying hard, how to go into training, and how you really change.
In fact, let me give you hope, as we wrap this up. This is a letter I have from a friend. What I want you to listen for is: stop – decision. He put off the old self, like a bad, ugly pair of clothes. Install – renewing of his mind. And then – click – he runs the new program.
“Greetings from San Quentin” – it’s one of my prison friends, from death row. This is a very bad guy, who lost all sensibility. You don’t get on death row for doing small things.
“I’m embarking now” – he’s a new Christian – “to change in my walk with Christ. When I first received Christ” – and he gives me the date – “I felt compelled to isolate myself for a season here. Note, to the point, really, from temptations that I wasn’t yet able to resist. So, I hadn’t been out to the yard since then, and that from a man that used to hit the yard every day for my first four or five years here. And, oh yes, I was part and parcel of all that happened with the convict mentality, and all that goes with it.”
And so, he pushed “delete.” He said, “So, I’ve decided, I’m not going to go out in the yard for a season.”
Now, he runs a new program: “Meanwhile, I have saturated myself with God’s Word in various ways. Now I feel ready to face my old nemesis head on. This is at a time when I also feel I need to get around some other Christians, and have real fellowship with other believers. I tried to find some other genuine believers in this yard, but I kept coming up short.
“And then, I heard about a group of believers in another cell block, of real, genuine believers that meet, that share God’s Word, that are living it out in the prison. And so, I requested of the warden to move me from my cell block to that cell block, and I was told this absolutely never happens, ever.”
And then, he writes to me – he says, “But what I know is that the king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord, and God can do anything, and turns it whatever way He wishes.” He said, “I told the Lord, in my walk of faith, if You move me, great. If You don’t, great. I will receive it. I want to do whatever You want me to do.” Do you hear the surrender? He’s in God’s Word.
Stop – “I can’t keep going there, and be the man God wants me to be. I’m going to reprogram my mind with truth, and the Word, and now I need people.”
And then, he gets an answer. “The warden says, ‘We’ve reviewed your files. We’ve seen an amazing change from the Rick that we all knew, to the Richard that you have become. Simply put,’ he says, ‘we’ve reviewed your file, and you used to be quite a guy’ – shamefully so.”
And so, he says, “As I now will be moved to the new yard, I’m only going to attend the chapel service once, or maybe twice, a month, and ease my way in, to make it as painless as possible on the others, who probably can’t believe that I’m a genuine Christian.”
This is, like, Saul to Paul. “I don’t want to go to chapel too often. They’ll think I might try and kill them.” “I’m excited to tell you this: I’m reaping the fellowship with other believers now that I so desperately needed. God is changing my life. Please pray for me.”
There are some of us sitting in this room – your prison’s as real as his. Your prison is as real as his. He’s free now. He’s not a slave; he’s not on death row in San Quentin. In the eyes of God, he’s born again. He has a future; he’s heaven bound. He’s forgiven. There’s no condemnation. He’s a son; he’s not a slave. He’s not a person that has to live forever and ever with what he’s done in the past. It’s been put behind him. He’s becoming a new person.
But trying to become this new person, in that environment, just like your environment, is very hard. And what he understands is that who he now is has to be demonstrated by how he now lives. And in order to do that, he needs to put off the old self – a decision, a point in time, that some of you need to make today: Today, I make a decision. And then, I’m going to run a new program.
And I would encourage you to turn off the TV for three or four days, or just stop watching the news, or cut back, and start getting into God’s Word. And take a walk, and look at nature, and listen to some good music, and do things that renew you.
And then, put on; take some baby steps in positive areas. And if you’ll track with me, and let God work, in ninety days you’ll be a different person.
Last night a guy walked up, and he’s with the Salvation Army drug rehab program. He walked up, and I remember him – a few months ago, he walked up, and, “Man, there’s no hope, man,” and he’s drugged out. And I prayed with him, and this and that.
And he skipped up here last night, and he put his arms like that when he was about six feet from me. And he just lit up. I said, “What’s happening?” He goes, “I’m ninety days clean!” And he said, “Every,” he went like this, “everything you talked about, that’s how it works!” I said, “I know! It’s God’s Word!”
He wants it for you. A new life demands a new lifestyle.