Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
How to Change for the Better Resources on sale now.
About this series
How to Change for the Better
Are you tired of self-help programs that never bring results? Have you tried diets and work-out programs that only bring frustration? How does lasting change occur? This series from James 3 deals with how God changes us, from the inside out, and how this change can be lasting, fruitful, and significant in the deepest areas of our lives.More from this series
Let’s talk about application. What does this look like for you and for me?
The first is this principle of, you might write the word in, accountability. It’s a concept of judgment.
Often we think, as I at least meet with believers, and since I didn’t grow up reading the Bible, when I thought of judgment, I thought there was just this one big judgment. Those who go to heaven and those who are separated from Christ forever.
That is not true and I can’t develop it all, but let me tell you that the Bible is very clear. There are at least five different specific judgments. There are different people groups involved. The judgment of sin at the cross. But the one I want to talk about is the judgment of a believer’s works. Namely, that you and I will be held accountable for how we live our lives from the moment we trust Christ until the moment we see Him.
Now, open your Bibles with me, if you will, 1 Corinthians chapter 3. Okay? Let me let you see this firsthand. If you’re a note taker and you’re going to share this with someone at work or in a Bible study, jot down 2 Corinthians 5:8 and 9. You’ll find the same judgment.
1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul has helped birth the church, there are a lot of divisions, a lot of struggles, this is a corrective letter to get them back on the same track. And he is going to make the point, all this division, Christ, the foundation of Jesus, His work, His resurrection, is the foundation for all life.
Now what he wants to say is, “We all have a ministry in other people’s lives. Be careful how you build.” And this is the idea of your life in Christ. Picking it up at verse 11, follow along. It says, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Now, if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident for the Day of Judgment will show it. Because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” Not only what you do, but the quality, the “why you do it.”
“If any man’s work or woman’s work, what she or he has built upon it remains, he will receive a reward.” This is for believers. You’re going to get a reward. “If any man or woman’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss but he himself shall be saved – yet as through fire.”
The key word here is fear. Go ahead, write it out. Fear. I don’t know about you, I don’t know if you’ve thought about it much. I don’t think we think about it a whole lot. But there is going to come a day. Your salvation isn’t in question, but there is going to come a day when you are going to stand before a holy God and He is not your cosmic buddy; He’s not your little good friend up in the sky; He’s not an old, wise man with a white beard that really hopes things go okay with you; His dream for your life is you get an SUV, a minivan, live in a nice place and have a good, comfortable income, and your kids turn out right.
That is not His plan for your life. If you happen to get all that, thank Him for it and be a good steward. Nothing wrong with it. But that is not God’s agenda. And the day will come when you stand before Him, and I will stand before Him, and He will get right down to, in the words of Jesus, Matthew 12:36 and 37, Jesus said, “Every careless word that men shall speak, they will render an account for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Every act, every thought, every dollar, not only what you did with your spiritual gifts, with your time, with your energy, with your talent but why you did it.
See, I shared about my journey with being a workaholic. And the phone rang and I got it! And the people at that little church, they thought I was wonderful!
They said, “Jump!” And I said, “How high? I’ll be there for everyone! I can do a funeral in the morning, a marriage at night, a pre-marital counseling in the middle of the night. Call me! I’m your savior, baby!” And I thought I was just the greatest little pastor in the whole world. Exhausted.
And you know what? They did too. I’ve got news. When I stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ – those early years in Kaufman, Texas – wood, hay, stubble. Whoo. It’s going to get burned up. I didn’t answer those calls, I didn’t do those things because I loved God. I hope there was some loving God in there somewhere.
I did it because I wanted their approval. I did it because I wanted people to accept me. I did it because it felt a lot like love and I didn’t really believe, down deep, God loved me even though He did. I did all kinds of things, not for motives to honor God and please God and deeply care about people. I did all kinds of things to meet inner needs in my heart and deficits. And you know something? Fire, whoo. There’s no reward there. There’s no reward there. I didn’t model any kind of lifestyle that I would want anybody, except another insane person, to live like me.
How about you? Did you ever give much thought? In fact, I remember a time I was in school and we had one of those very, some professors you kind of categorize as an “egghead.” This guy has a doctorate from Dallas and another one from Cambridge. And so he does a chapel, I’ll never forget this chapel.
He says, “Men, forgive me,” he’s in the Hebrew department, he said, “I would like to do a word study.” And he goes through in Hebrew, the word fear means and in Greek the word fear means, in Ugaritic the word fear means. And he gets all the way to the end and you know what? He wasn’t an egghead, he was smart.
He said, “Men, I want you to know, from the original text, what the word fear means. It means fear! It means fear! It means fear!” When you meet people in the pages of Scripture and they come face-to-face with God, they fall flat on their face! We have a culture with Evangelicals, they meet God face-to-face, “Hey, high-five, baby, what’s happening with You? What have You done for me lately? Genie in the bottle. Make my life work out. By the way, have You heard? I’ve got a few things that aren’t really working out right now and I want them now.”
He is not your cosmic buddy. He is a God to be feared. The writer of Hebrews says to a group of believers, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He loves you, He is good, He is powerful, He is all-knowing, He is just, but He is a just, holy, judge. And you know what? That guilty feeling stuff? It doesn’t work. And that, “meet my own needs” stuff? It doesn’t work because it all really revolves around short, little, above the water changes.
I’ll tell you something. I got serious about core issues in my life when I realized, not only was I destroying my life, destroying my family, and not really helping the Church. I’m going to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account and you know what? I had a holy fear come over me. When was the last time you had one of those experiences?
You want to be motivated to get in the Scriptures? You want to be motivated to have your life match what you say you believe? Spend some time thinking about fear. Fear. It’s a powerful motivator.
I majored in psychology. The greatest motivational techniques we can learn are negative consequences along with positive reinforcement. You do all the tests with animals and all the rest. If you have negative consequences intermixed with positive reinforcement, that’s how you train. That’s how you train things.
And when you look at what God says, there are some negative consequences to living our lives apart from the will of God.
My father, I’ve told you a little bit about him, but he smoked three and a half packs a day, of Lucky Strike, for thirty years. “Forget them filters! Them are for wimps!”
And he was a science teacher. Now, he joined the Marines when he was sixteen and he said, “Man, I wasn’t trying to learn to smoke. The only way you could a break was to take a smoke. And so, when my unit stopped and they passed out cigarettes, give me one. You know?”
So, he is teaching science. He’s got thirty years under his belt. And they had this exhibit. And in one of those big jars with formaldehyde in it, was a lung of a person who died of cancer. But what they had in the lung was a person who smoked one pack a day for ten years.
My dad also taught math, so he did the math. And it was black as the ace of spades. And he looked at that jar and thought to himself, What must be inside of me? And guess what, he got afraid! He had tried every possible way to quit smoking. Guess what happened. He quit.
God wants you to know He loves you and you are a steward. And the day will come, you will give an account. That’s a lasting, highly motivating, prioritizing way to have your life and your belief system match up. Now, that’s sort of the negative side. Let’s look at the positive side. The second principle is the principle of rewards. This is the concept that we reap what we sow. You might jot down Galatians 6.
He says, “God will not be mocked; as a man or a woman sows, so shall he or she reap. If you sow to the flesh,” you sow to selfish ambition, you sow to things you know aren’t really good for you but they feel really good right now, it reaps death and corruption.
“If you sow to the Spirit,” follow after the things of God, do the things that are hard, honor Him with your time, develop the kind of relationships you know that matter, he says, “it brings life and it brings peace.” And so, there is this sowing and reaping and the problem is you never reap in the same season that you sow.
There was a lady midway through this row and I was kind of just saying hi to people as they came in this morning. And she said, “Well, God must really be working.” I said, “Why do you say that?” She goes, “I did one of those real honest inventories and I made some pretty difficult decisions.” She said, “All hell broke loose in my week last week.” I said, “That’s pretty predictable. One, you got someone’s attention and, two, you’re now swimming upstream.”
See, once you start moving in ways that are very positive that will have long-term, great blessing and great reward, it’s hard! It’s difficult. And the early consequences are usually, it’s just like your human body. Anybody decide to get in shape, haven’t done it in a while, decide to go out and jog, like, two or three miles?
Now, what happens? Your body has now gone into shock. What happens the next morning? Oh! I’ll tell you what has happened. You have pushed muscles, those muscles are filled with lactic acid. Muscles, the way they grow, they are fibers and they are split. And the way they grow is they split and you keep working on them, then they grow, and that’s how they are enlarged. Short-term pain, long-term gain.
And God says there is this principle of rewards and the key word here is hope. And here is what keeps me going. When I didn’t feel like reading my 3x5 cards, when I didn’t want to read a book on this, when I didn’t want to say, Okay, I am not going to answer that phone. I’m going to stay at the table with my family. What kept me going was the certainty and hope that if I will do life God’s way, there is reward.
And the word hope, I use that in a biblical sense. We use the word like, “I wish.” I hope the 49ers win, I hope my marriage gets better, I hope my kids turn out right. Well, that is a good wish. The word hope, in Scripture, has to do with an absolute certainty that because it is absolutely certain, I am going to hang in here because God promises He will make it happen.
Jot down Philippians 1:6. Paul says, to a group of people going through some not very easy times in the New Testament times, he says, “For I am confident of this thing that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is on your team! He loves you! He is good!
You think you know what a good marriage would look like? His is better and bigger. You think your life affecting other people might be something exciting? His is bigger and better and more exciting. But the pathway there is doing it His way.
Romans 8:28, we always quote that to people in the hospital. We ought to quote it to people going through life. “God works all things together for good, for those that are called, for those that love Him.” That means He is working in your job situation, your marriage situation, your singleness, your struggles, your temptation, your boss, your kid that is giving you a hard time, the part of your body that is not working very well.
He is working all things together for good, including the stock market. To orchestrate, not that everything works out fine, but to orchestrate the person of Christ being birthed and fully formed in you to make you like Him. And if you will sign up, if you’ll not bail out when it gets hard and say, “Since there is a great reward down the road, I am going to hang in there. I’m going to hang in there.”
See, that’s why I could read my 3x5 cards. I didn’t feel like it. We are living in a culture of, like, emotional namby-pambies. I don’t know about you, but a lot of things I do, I don’t feel like doing it.
If you wait until you feel like doing things, it’s called a fruit of the spirit, it’s called self-discipline. Doing what you are motivated to do doesn’t take a lot of self-discipline. But as you take yourself into training, and you sow and you do it God’s way, and this concept of an all-knowing, just, loving Father who is good and all-powerful and longs to give the best, it motivates you to endurance over the long haul.
I decided about eight years into being a Christian, maybe seven, not because I ought, not because I should, not because others thought, but after I went through this deal with being a workaholic, I decided, and I knew, I don’t get any brownie points for this. I’m not better than everyone else. Everyone gets to decide what you want to do with your life.
And I would make this assertion. However your life is coming out right now, you are designing your time and energy and focus to produce exactly the results that you’re getting.
See, if sports are really important to you, you have designed your life around reading the sports page every day, watching three or four ball games, and being in two or three leagues. Well, great! If money is important to you, you must read the Wall Street Journal, you check this, this, this, and this, and you read books and Fortune 500. Now, is there anything wrong with either of those? I don’t think so.
Here’s the deal. When your life ends, wherever you invested it, then you reap either a reward or some sorrow. But even better, way before your life ends, however you have designed your life, you’re going to hit the target that you’re aiming at.
And so about eight years into my Christian life, I decided, not ought, should, not going to feel guilty, don’t care what anybody else does, I made a decision. It really flew out of 1 Corinthians 9:24 to 27, the apostle Paul said, “A lot of people run the race of life but only a few win the prize.” I am going to run life in such a way to win. Not to just be a spectator, not just to be in the game. I want to run to win.
And so, I buffet my body and I set goals and I box not like in air, I come up with strategic, clear-cut goals and targets about what God wants and I am going to go after it. And I decided, from inside, that’s what I wanted to do. I decided I want to be a man of God, I want to be an effective father, I want to have an intimate marriage, and I wanted to take the spiritual gifts that I could identify and I wanted to flat out steward them to the max.
And then I arranged, and then I got out my schedule. And I didn’t care what was on Monday night or Thursday night or Friday night. I didn’t care what anybody else was doing. I got out my schedule. To be a man of God, I need this much time in the Scriptures. Here’s where I need to grow. These are the kind of people I want to be around. And I put it in my schedule.
To be an effective father I am going to just design a day where I’m going to meet with each of my kids, I’m going to come up with a strategy, I’m going to decide what they need, what I need to give to them, and who I am going to expose them to.
If I am going to have an intimate marriage, it doesn’t matter what is on TV, it doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing, I’m going to read these books, go to these conferences, build in two or three times away with my wife and I’m going to put it on the calendar.
If I am going to steward my gift, I am going to practice it, I’m going to read up on it, I’m going to go to conferences, and I am going to say, God! Help me be a man of faith.
Now, I didn’t feel like it a lot of times. I have gone, at times, for two or three years without watching TV. It didn’t make me more spiritual. I just found it was hard hitting my targets and watching a couple of hours of TV a night.
I found I could go to bed at nine o’clock and get up very early in the morning and have three or four hours before everybody else knew what was going on. I just found that putting aside that time with my kids, it was hard and I was a terrible person and all the other kids got to do this and my kids and I was this taskmaster and I was this terrible father. I’m kidding. I mean, that’s how it felt because I asked my kids to be counter-culture. And I got deeply engaged in their lives and I gave them what they needed instead of what they wanted. Very imperfectly with lots of ups and downs.
Here’s what I want to tell you. Just please hear this. I don’t know how to get my arms around this. I just want to tell you. I sat around the table and I heard what was on their heart and I heard how God is using them. And hearing their prayers and sensing the unity and I looked across the table at a woman that I have busted it with.
And I see things that I have begged God, for breakthroughs in our relationship that took not three, not four, not eight, it took ten and fifteen years. And I’m looking across the table and thinking, I never dreamed, I never dreamed God would bless in ways beyond my wildest imagination. I never dreamed God would put on my kids’ heart what it is and I never dreamed He would take my gift and steward it and multiply it and have emails from around the country and around the world.
That’s not something that happened overnight and it’s not because I’m better than anything or anyone. It is all the grace of God. But hear it! If you believe there is a reward for walking righteously, then you just decide, This is what I am going to do. And what keeps you going is, God is good, God is faithful. What He wants to give you is so great. But there is a price tag. There is a price tag. It’s hard work.
“Discipline,” the Bible says, “discipline yourself unto godliness.” Bodily discipline has some merit, for a time. But spiritual discipline has great impact, not only for this life, but the next.
And so, what I see is, I am watching the Church sort of float around and people not realize that you are going to stand before God, I am going to stand before God. I don’t know about you, that’s a lot better than guilty feelings. I get motivated.
And the flip side is, God loves me so much, most of us are experiencing this and God wants us to experience THIS. But you have to go into training for the things that count! And you say no to putting junk in your body and you say no to putting stuff in your mind. And you say, “I’m not going to do that, this is what I am going to do, and I am going to do it with a group of people.” And you align your priorities that way and in three or four weeks, I will guarantee, if you decide to do this, your life will be terrible.
And some of the people that are closest to you that are Christians will start calling you a fanatic and, “I think you’re taking this a little too far.” Yeah, okay. Look at where their life is. Look at where their marriage is. Look at where their kids are. And you ask yourself where you want to be.
Where do you want to be? The fundamental question in life is: Where do you really want to be and how badly do you want it? You can be as righteous as you want to be. That’s not heresy. That’s from the lips of Jesus. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They will be” – what? “satisfied.”
Heaven is not saying, “Oh, man, we’ve got too many people pounding on the door to want to be like Christ, we just don’t have enough grace to go around!” The fundamental problem is most of us want God to come through and work out our life our way, under our conditions, with our priorities, and our expectations, instead of saying, God, I want to seek first the kingdom of God and Your righteousness. And then as I do that, I’m going to trust that promise of reward. All these other things will fall into place. You know how much money I need, You know where I need to live, You know the issues of my baggage and my background, You know my parents, You know my kids, I’m going to trust You.
So, where do we go from here? What do you do? The motivation is fear, stand before God. The motivation is hope! There is a great reward. Where do we go from here?
The last principle is the principle of what I call strategic application. And where I get this is James modeled it for us. He hits it. I don’t know about you but this is hitting me pretty hard.
So, where do you begin? What if you’re here and you have a drug or alcohol, or a sexual addiction. What if you’ve got a marriage on the rocks? Or a single person living in a way that you know is not healthy? Or what if you have an eating disorder? Forget eating disorder, you just eat a bunch of junk and you don’t want to but you keep doing it.
Or what if you want to be in the Bible but you can’t do it more than about two days in a row? You want to learn to pray or you have made all these promises and guilty feelings and trying to fulfill yourself have never worked. Where do you go from here? What do you do?
After James gave this on motivation, the very first thing he talks about is the tongue. Because the tongue, according to Jesus and James reveals that which fills your heart. And it will help you see core issues. I call it the “logjam illustration.” Picture water coming down a stream and there are all these big, huge logs. There are two ways to get a logjam unhooked, isn’t there? One is you take one off, one off, one off and in about thirty years, you get it done. The second is you ask an engineer to come.
And you say, “Dear engineer. Would you look at this and let me know which log is strategically placed that when we pull it out, boom, boom, boom, boom, all the logs go?
See, God wants no one walking out of here thinking, I have to change my eating habits, my media habits, my this habits, my this habits. I don’t know what to do. Ah!
You know what He wants you to do? Strategic application. Start with your relationship with God. You get that one in line, you will be amazed. He can solve your financial, marital, single, work issues.
There was a fellow, I got to meet him, this was just a humbling deal. There was a guy who was homeless, living on the street. Wife and he married about nine years, two kids, she leaves him, he is desperate.
But he sees this parking lot every day, he said in his letter. It’s empty, filled. Empty, filled. He said, “Something has got to be happening over there.” So he decided he would come to church. So he comes to church and of all Sundays, are you ready for this? Remember the Malachi 3 challenge? He came that week. Oh no! One week and we are going to talk about God’s view of money. I’m thinking, Oh man.
But you know what? See, God talks a lot about money and when people are desperate, he heard the truth. He didn’t hear anything bad. He didn’t have anything. Two kids and he’s on the streets. He said, “At the end of the message,” he said, “I heard you say, ‘Test God. God wanted to show up for me. And God would prove Himself.’” And he said, “I reached into my pocket and I had seventy-five cents. And it’s all I had.” And he said, “I felt foolish and I put that seventy-five cents in.” He said, “The next day, God gave me seventy-five dollars.”
Well, I made that promise. I took seven-fifty and I gave it to help someone.
He said, “Then the next day, “God gave me another seventy-five dollars.” And so, I took seven-fifty of that and I tried to help someone else.”
Now he goes on to say that in the last six weeks he has delivered ten bags of groceries to fellow homeless, hurting people and with each bag, he tells them, “This is what God has done for me.” Sowing, reaping; sowing, reaping; reward, joyful. And he said, “And by the way, all my kids have now gotten connected.
He said, “We are in God’s will, we have come to know Christ.” And you know what he reminded me? It’s not about changing big, big, big, all, all, all. It’s about, What is the seventy-five cent issue? What is the one thing, as I have been talking and the Spirit of God has been moving, that you know, I need to do that? And you do that, watch out.
One, it won’t be easy. Two, it will be great. Because God wants to make you like His Son a lot more than you really want to be like His Son. But it’s awesome. It’s awesome.