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About this series
Yes! You Really CAN Change
What to do When You're Spiritually Stuck
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
Christians are transformed in community.
The reason many Christians, who genuinely have come to Christ, who honestly love God, who have some initial outward changes, and a few inward ones, and then plateau, and never deal with the deep, deep issues of the heart – dysfunction, family of origin, fears, rejection, workaholism – all the things they pass on to friends and kids. The reason those deep issues never change is, they are not in community, where the real them shows up, meeting real needs, for the right reason, in the right way, and where they are vulnerable, and someone loves the broken parts of you, and loves you enough to encourage you, and accept you, and, at the same time, hold you accountable and not let you keep being the same person.
See, it’s the Jesus inside of their body extending the love of Christ. And Jesus’ love is always soft and tender, and sometimes very hard and tough, depending on what we need. Because His goal is the outcome, not just that you feel good.
And so, he says, “This is how transformation works. Justification – this is what God has done. Sanctification – you start on a journey. The journey is, first, my beliefs and behaviors. It is an oxymoron for a person to come to Christ, and their life not change! It’s just unheard of in Scripture.
Only in America, and around the world, now, could we ever create this world where a Christian is someone who comes to meetings, intellectually acknowledges that Jesus is a Savior that died and rose from the dead, and we tip Him with a few hours of our day and our week, and we live our life completely differently and say, “This is working.” So, he calls us: “Let His life live in and through you.”
Isn’t that different from trying really hard to act like Jesus? Isn’t that different from, “I’m going to try and quit cussing, and then I’m going to try and be more generous, and then I’m going to quit trying to be so selfish”? And then, pretty soon, because we know how a Christian is supposed to act, I think a lot of us – and let me start with me. In seasons of my life, I have spent more energy appearing loving, and appearing Christianly, than I really was, just so that the other people would think I’m making progress. This is getting way too convicting; let me get back to my notes.
There’s a reason, however, and the reason is really critical. He says, “There is one body, one Spirit – just as you were called in one hope, that you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.” Every time the word one is used here, could you underline that? There are seven of them, so let me give you a minute. One, one, one, one, one, one, one.
Where it says, “There is,” will you put a box around “there is”? Because, and again, our English Bibles are absolutely fantastic, but just now and then, the Greek text is there in a way that’s a little bit more in living color. The “there is” isn’t in the original text, but it makes this sentence make sense, because what Paul has done is, he’s used a very unusual grammatical device.
And basically, what he’s saying is, “Three chapters of all that God has done for you – therefore, walk in a manner worthy! Let your life and lips tell the same story. Here’s how to do it: Get together in deep, authentic community, and treat each other with humility, and gentleness, and patience, and put up with stuff. And the only way you’ll do that is by drawing on His resources.”
And then, literally, he goes off. There are seven staccato words – Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! It’s like, “You’ve got to understand how important this is!” And this is so important. It’s not about your happiness. It’s not an “it doesn’t work for you.” It’s not that it improves your life. He’s going to do seven staccato “one,” “one,” “one,” “one,” and then, did you notice, there are four “alls”: “all,” “all,” “all,” “all.” There’s a focus of unity; there’s a focus of consistency.
And then, he does something where it’s in triads. There are three “ones,” followed by three “ones,” followed by another three “ones.” And the Trinity is in this. And usually, we think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But he doesn’t go that direction.
It’s very unusual. He’s talking about the Church; he’s talking about what Christ has done. He’s talking to them, and to us, about this transformation. And so, he starts with, “Well, how does it work?” The Spirit of God is what convicts us. The Spirit of God is what gives us spiritual birth. We’re born of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is our pledge, or down payment, for heaven, and our hope.
And so, notice what he does. Where they’re reading this – I can imagine them opening the scroll, and it going, bam, bam, bam, ba bam, bam, bam, seven times! And basically, what he goes, “There’s one body – the Church – one Spirit who creates it, and one hope. You’re the new Church! The Spirit does it. He’s taking you to heaven.”
And then, for what? Who’s the focus? One Lord Jesus, one faith, one baptism. Jesus is the focus of it all. Each one of you have taken this step of faith, and each one of you have graphically, publically told the world and said your past is behind you, and what you did is you said, “My old life died, and I have been resurrected with Him.” And all the privileges, and all the persecution.
Think about when this was written. “I’m going to walk with Him. There is one Lord.” This was written when there was a god on every corner. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” – and then, it goes to the Father: “There’s one God. But He’s different than this god that makes everyone afraid.”
Notice, “There’s one God. He’s the Father. He’s kind. He’s a dad. He’s an Abba. He is the Father of all.” And then, notice, He is sovereign. He’s the Creator. He’s – what? “Who is over all and through all and in all.”
And so, He gives them this extraordinary, high, lofty view of who God is, and in essence – listen carefully, here’s what he’s saying: “This is what God has done for you” – chapters 1 through 3. Here’s the command: “Let Him live His life through you, so that your behavior and your lifestyle match what’s true.” The way to do that isn’t about activity, or dos and don’ts, or external rules. It happens in community, in deep, authentic relationships, where you give to people what you really don’t have to give, and so you draw on dependencies, you abide in Christ, and you love others.
In fact, the way Jesus loves people – He gives you a moment with His Spirit; He speaks to you through His Word, but the way Jesus is going to hug most of us is, you’re not going to get an angel from heaven at the foot of your bed tomorrow morning going, “Hey, you need a hug?” He’s going to hug you through me! He’s going to hug me through you! It’s going to be the person in your small group; it’s going to be the Jesus living in this body.
And He says, “As you do that,” do you remember what Jesus said? “The way the world will know that the Father has sent the Son is” – what? “by the authenticity and the genuineness of our love for one another.” And Paul says, “That’s what’s at stake.”
Now, we’re going to be on a journey, okay? So, I can’t cover – most of you are thinking, You have already covered too much; your head hurts. But what I want to do, before we go on, is, I want to give you the three reasons, as you flip this text around, and when you look at people’s life experience – I want to give you some practical tools about, so, what keeps us from metamorphosis? What are the barriers for all of us?
And as I go through this – and don’t get covered over with, Oh, that’s me. I’m a terrible person. No, no, no. God brought us here to say, “Let’s go on a journey.”
If most Christians understood justification, and sanctification, and how it worked, most Christians would look a lot more like Jesus. And so, let me give you these three things – I’ll give it top level – and we’re going to be unpacking these, three reasons we fail to be transformed.
Reason number one is spiritual ignorance. Not stupidity. This isn’t that people are stupid. We just don’t know. Our failure to understand our true identity in Christ destines us to the “try hard, do good, fail” syndrome. The problem is a lack of knowledge. The solution is: Discover your new identity.
I didn’t know. I grew up in a church that didn’t preach the Bible, and I became a new Christian, and the Spirit came into my life, and I got around a group of people that were really activity oriented – which was good. And so, I tried hard, did good, failed; tried hard, did good, failed; tried hard, did not so good, faked it. And then, I quit trying.
I remember, I was a Christian just about a year and a half or two years, and I had this poster – it was in college. And I had a poster, and I had my Bible there. And it was some poster about God, so when people came into my room, you know, “Hey!” You know? “’Yo.” And I remember, okay, some things changed. And then it was just, I was playing basketball and baseball, and I was an RA. And in my private moments, I realized, lust had not changed; my ego really hadn’t changed.
I was now reading the Bible, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, and I knew I was. All I knew was, I was trying as hard as I could, in my energy, to be like Jesus, because I thought that’s what a Christian was.
And I’ve got news for you: You can’t do it. No one can live the Christian life but Jesus. And the way the Christian life is lived is when we abide in relationship, and the Spirit of God takes the Word of God, in the context of the cocoon of community, and He produces the life of Christ. We have a part: make every effort. But if you don’t know how it works, you can try really hard.
And so, you have to discover your identity in Christ. I’ll give you one verse to get you going, and maybe a couple resources. Galatians 2:20 is the apostle Paul, in one sentence, saying, “If you don’t understand the Christian life, and you want to know the identity in Christ’s truth, here it is, in one sentence.” If you want the longer version, read Ephesians 1, 2, and 3. If you’d like a more technical version, read Romans 6, 7, and 8. But let me just give it to you. This is the elevator pitch on your identity in Christ. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives within me. And this new life that I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
See, Paul realizes, when he trusted Christ, he died with Christ. His old man died. He was resurrected with Him. He is living out of who he already is. And yet, he’s saying, “I still live in this world, but yet not I, but it’s Christ lives in me.” And the way you appropriate grace, the way you experience the truth of Ephesians 1, 2, and 3 – it’s a faith walk through grace. That’s why the metaphor of “walk” is so important.
I’m starting to feel like I’m old. I want you to know, I’m not really old. I started very young, and Theresa started even younger. But I can tell you, from when my kids were small, and, now, with all these little grandkids, can you remember what it was like when you saw children learn to walk for the first time? Do you remember what it was like? They’re kind of like this, and they’re on the coffee table.
And you know what walking is? Walking is moving out of your comfort zone, and getting ready to fall, and catching yourself just before you fall, and then getting out of your comfort zone, and ready to fall again. And then, you do it again. And it’s amazing. It’s an off-balance, out of where you were, from comfort to a moment of fearful indecision.
Now, with practice – let me show you something. It can be done like this, eventually. But when your little kids fell down, and they took two steps, what did you do? “Ah! Ohhhh! That was so good! That was so good! That was so good!” Did you focus on their falling down, or the few steps they took?
Could I tell you, the apostle Paul said, “Walk in a manner worthy,” because he wants you to know that Father God – He rejoices at your steps of faith, and He’s not shocked when you fall down? And because we’ve created this pseudo-culture of Christianity, the great majority of us spend half our energy trying to hide when we fall down. And what we really need to do is realize, God is cheering for every step of faith. And we need to be in that cocoon of community, where we can be loved through that journey and process. But you have to learn, you have to learn how to – I call it “appropriate grace.” You have to learn: how do you allow Christ to live His life through you?
The second reason we fail to be transformed is spiritual isolation. Our failure to actively – notice, that’s the key word – actively participate in deep, Christ-centered, honest relationships makes transformation impossible.
The problem – and please don’t feel too bad about this one, but it’s pride. I don’t mean necessarily just the pride where you stick out your chest, and you think – it’s the pride of self-dependency. Because if you don’t have deep, authentic relationships – and whether that’s in a small group, or whether that’s around the table with your family, or with a couple guys, or a couple gals, or two or three couples. I’m not talking about just being in a small group. That’s the container. I’m talking about really doing life authentically, and openly, and lovingly, with people who know what’s really going on. And you get accepted, even when you blow it. And you get kind of kicked, lovingly, when you know you need a kick, because they really care.
See, the reason we don’t do that is, my agenda is I think is more important than God’s agenda. When you tell me, “We don’t have time,” well, just, all I have to do is say, “Well, tell me what your schedule looks like.” “Well, I work, work, work, work, work, and then we have youth sports, and then I have this, and then I have this hobby, and I work out and, then I’ve got to go to the gym, and then I…” Okay. So, all you’re telling me is, that matters more than what God says is the very place where He’s going to transform you.
At the end of the day, everyone does what matters most. Period. We never have a time problem. All of us have priority issues. And for some of you, here’s the application. It’s very, very simple. The solution is, do life in community. And for some, it’s changing how life happens in your home. For others, you need to join a small group. We are off the charts on that, because butterflies get transformed in cocoons; Christians get transformed in community.
But there’s a second application. It’s not just, join a group. It’s, get real in the group. And if you can’t do it with a whole group, maybe there are a couple people, or even one, you really get close to, and you feel like, You know what? I could really do life at a deeper level with this person.
I’m pretty comfortable, sharing what’s going on. I work with great people. My wife is very open, and we can share things. But it was probably about three or four months ago, as I was looking at, Okay, the next year, in this next season, and I see what God is doing at the church, I see what He’s doing at Living on the Edge, I see these things bubbling up – you know, when God starts to prick you, and you realize, I need to address some things. And, Well, who would I do that with?
And I have a friend that I have known for thirty years. We did ministry when I was twenty-eight years old, and we were partners together in a ministry, in a church of about thirty-five in Texas. And we got to work for another fifteen years later, and he’s now a pastor. And we just tried to get on each other’s schedule. And I remember realizing, No one knows me, on this entire planet, better than him. I’ve got issues that could make or break what God wants to do in my life, and through my life. And in my self-dependency and overscheduled arrogance, I have not taken advantage of that.
And about three months ago, I asked if we could have breakfast. And it took us – you know, our schedules are three weeks to even get breakfast on one morning. And I asked, “Would you meet with me every other week?” And he said, “Well, like, for what?”
And I said, “I need a place of someone who has all my history, where I can be as honest with you as I am with Theresa. And I know God wants to do some things to take me to a level, and I don’t know where to go. I can go down pretty deep. But there are a lot of these people now, they think I’m way smarter than I am. They think I’m more holy than I am. And you know the truth of all of that, right? It’s been thirty years.”
And the only day I could do it was on a day that I really wanted to reserve for other things. And every other week, we’ve been meeting. And we got done this last week, early in the morning. He turned to me – and we were finishing up at Starbucks – and he just looked at me, his eyes wet and my eyes wet. He goes, “Man, I’m sure glad we’re meeting again.” I said, “Me too.”
Do you have that? It’s not going to be easy. It will cost something. But remember how we started the message? What’s that one thing you’d really like to change about you? Reading the Bible more? Coming to more services? There’s got to be community, at a deep level.
The third reason we fail to transform is – I call it “spiritual myopia.” That’s a word for near-sighted. In other words, we fail to see the big picture. The problem is our culture of consumerism. The solution is to get a high, holy view of God. And here’s all I want to say, and I’ll try not to go off on this. I’m going to try and contain myself.
The Christianity of the last thirty or so years in America – or forty – that we’ve sent to the world is a consumeristic, “God is my cosmic vending machine; Jesus is my personal trainer/self-help guru,” and the whole goal of the Christian life is, “Am I happy? Am I fulfilled? Do I have a great marriage? Have I found the right person? Do my kids all turn out right? Are we upwardly mobile? Am I healthy, wealthy, and everything going my way?”
And if not, Jesus, You’re not coming through for me. When did You forget that I, this narcissistic, consumeristic Christian, have taken Your Word and made all of it about me, and You’re supposed to make me happy, and healthy, and wealthy, and wise, and wonderful, and, someday, all my kids around the Thanksgiving table, singing “Kumbaya,” and everything turns out right, I never have a problem, tragedy never happens, cancer never happens, and if I really believe, then everything goes my way. And we’ve been exporting that stuff around the world.
I’ve got news for you: If He gives you a rich, deep marriage, if He gives you health, if He prospers your business, if your kids grow up and love God – all those are really wonderful, wonderful byproducts. But I will tell you, Christians living like Christians are the acid test of whether God sent His Son.
There is one Spirit, there is one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father over all – “one,” “one,” “one,” “one,” “one,” “one,” “one,” “all,” “all,” “all.” And how we live or don’t live says to the world, “God is really God; Jesus is the Savior.” And when we don’t live like Christians, your happiness, and my happiness, and our fulfillment is very secondary.
He’s the Creator; it’s about Him. He has an agenda, and we sign up to say, “How can I serve You, O Lord and Master and Creator, who is worthy of glory and honor and power, for You have created all things? And by You, all things have created, and in and by You, they have their being.” And we are finite, little people, in this teeny, teeny thing called “time,” and time will go away, and it will be all eternity, and we will worship a living God in a new heaven and a new earth. And what we do now matters for that, and forever. And He calls us to live those kinds of lives.
And like you, I’m inundated. If you thought, Where did he get that rant and rave about…I’ve done that! We’ve had cancer in our house. I’ve had struggles with my kids. Things have gone wrong. And I find myself starting to whine, instead of, Well, wait a second. The Bible says those are all the things that are going to help change me. I don’t like them. But is God good, or not? Is God sovereign, or not? Is God in control, or not? Is He the center, or am I?