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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
Listen carefully: Only God can transform a life. Only by God’s supernatural grace can a life be authentically changed, from the inside out. But He chooses to never do it alone. It’s a joint effort. Transformation, the miracle of life change – everything we’ve talked about is a joint effort. It’s completely and fully by grace. But we have a part.
Notice that, even in nature, God points this out. I came across an article – it talks about a man who found a cocoon of a butterfly. And one day, he saw a small opening appear. He sat and he watched the butterfly for several hours, as it struggled to force its body through that small, little hole.
Then, it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could get no farther. So, the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors, and he snipped the remaining bit of the cocoon, and then the butterfly easily emerged. But it had a swollen body, and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly, because he expected that, any moment, its wings would expand, and it would fly off. But it didn’t happen. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body, and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly.
What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was, the restricting cocoon, and the struggle required for the butterfly, through that tiny little opening, was God’s way of forcing the fluid from the body, down into the butterfly’s wings, so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
See, God made the caterpillar, that green worm, if you will. That green worm had exactly the same DNA as the butterfly. That DNA told that caterpillar when and what season to go on that milkweed, when to form a cocoon, and it’s all the DNA inside of that that created, from this caterpillar, into a butterfly.
But there came a time of struggle, and responsibility, for metamorphosis to occur, where that butterfly had to make every effort, and struggle to cooperate with its design, in order to fulfill its purpose. And the exact same thing is true of us.
Open your Bibles, if you will – I’ll do a quick review before we jump in to Ephesians chapter 4. Let’s go all the way back to the beginning of this series. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are the DNA that God has put us, all that He has done for us in Christ.
Chapter 4 opens up where Paul begins to talk about our responsibility. He says, “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that you received.” And then, he begins to describe what it looks like in relationships. “Be completely humble and gentle and patient, bearing with one another in love.” And then, notice, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
And then, we talked about what Christ has accomplished. We talked about the role of the Church. We talked about that threefold process where we put off, have your mind renewed, and put on.
And then, pick it up with me in verse 25, as the apostle Paul goes through five specific training stations. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” So, we talked about, be honest; go into training for integrity. “In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
And then, he goes on, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work with your hands, doing something useful, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for the building up of others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, and rage, and anger, and brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. And be kind, compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Now, I want you to see this combination. Psalm 77:14 says, “You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the people.” God does miracles. He’s done them in the past; He does them today. That’s God’s part, the supernatural.
He does miracles among us, but look at the next passage in Romans 8. He does miracles in us. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, amazingly, lives in you. “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.” God does miracles in the world. He parts Red Seas; He’s raised people from the dead.
But He doesn’t just do miracles among us; He does miracles in us. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, when you put your faith in Him, dwells inside of you. We don’t have to sin anymore. We will; we will have struggles. But you’ve been forgiven. The penalty of sin has been paid. The power of sin has been broken. And now, the Spirit of the living God that created all that there is, if you’re a follower of Jesus, lives inside of you. That’s God’s part.
Now, notice, the apostle Paul says, “But that’s not how it all works.” Philippians chapter 4 – he says, “I can do” – that’s something he does – “I can do all things” – but how? – “through Christ who gives me strength.”
In fact, the next passage, in Philippians 2, he puts the whole package together. There’s God’s part, there’s our part, there’s dependency, it’s all of grace, and yet we have to make every effort. And so, he commands us, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Then, notice the second half, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Be diligent. Be diligent. Work hard. Refuse to take shortcuts.
It says, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good.” Then, notice the purpose clause, “So that he may have something to share with the one who has need.”
The training objective is financial stewardship, and rooted in this is our work ethic. The training command is, “Steal no longer.” Grammatically, he’s saying, people in this particular church were stealing. Grammatically, it’s, “Stop stealing! Knock it off.”
Stealing was rampant in the ancient world. Now, I think it’s the same today. But when people would go to the Roman baths, and they would leave their clothes and their valuables, or when they went to the market. So, Christians, they came to Christ in the city but it was a habitual pattern, and they would steal. So, he says, “Stop stealing.”
The training action is, you’re to put off stealing. Then, there’s a renewal of your mind. Recognize the value and the purpose of work. Recognize the value and the purpose of work.
And then, what we’re going to see in just a minute, he’s going to say, “Stop stealing, recognize the value of work, and the purpose of work.” And then, he says, “Now, I want you to put on – I want you to learn to work, or to labor” – and he’s talking about real, physical labor here – “but unto the Lord. I want you to work as though you’re working for an audience of One.”
So, let’s back up, and think through just a little bit. The issue behind stealing, obviously – I’m guessing that there are not a lot of you that are going, Oh my lands. You know, Whew, Friday night, I held up that guy at the ATM. I’ve just got to knock that off. You know? I didn’t use a knife, or anything – it was a plastic gun – but I’ve just got to quit doing that.
Or hopefully there are not a handful of you that are saying, It’s tax time, and I’ve embezzled a few thousand dollars, or a few hundred thousand dollars, and I’m glad I came today, because I need to repent of that. Now, by the way, if you’re stealing in those ways, for sure, you need to repent from that.
But we steal in lots of ways. See, behind stealing is, the real thing that needs to be addressed, for most of us, is the shortcut mentality. See, at the end of the day, if you went to work for two weeks, and they put “X” number of dollars out of your paycheck in a bank account, and then you want to go to dinner, or go shopping, and you go to an ATM, and you pull out a hundred dollars – because that represents what you’ve worked – and as you take that hundred dollars out, someone stops you, and either puts a gun or a knife to your throat, and says, “Give me your money” – number one, give it to them. Heroes end up dead.
But you did the work; they took your money. At the heart of stealing is, we want the product, without the process. We want the product, without the price. And for many of you, the stealing is not about money, and the stealing isn’t in your vocational work.
A lot of us want a really great marriage, but we don’t want to put in the work. A lot of us want kids who really love God, and turn out well, and tell the truth, and have great relationships, but we don’t spend any time with them around the table. We don’t tuck them in bed. We don’t teach them.
A lot of us really want our bodies to be low in cholesterol, and low in fat, and we want to be healthy, and live long lives. We just don’t want to do the hard work of working out, or watching what we eat. You get the idea?
A lot of us have overwhelming jobs, with demand, demand, demand, demand. And we steal from relationships, and we steal from other areas to fulfill responsibilities in jobs, to either please people, or be addicted to the income that it brings. See, now stealing has a lot to do with all of us, doesn’t it?
Now, here’s what you need to understand. You need to understand the value of work, the value of diligence. Before sin entered the world, we were told to work. So, work has value.
It’s not like TGIF. It’s not like the mentality we’ve been inundated with in our culture. What most of our culture tells us is: “Do as little as possible to get as much as possible, for the greatest income possible,” unless you own the business.
And, see, we then, we do the same thing in those other relationships, like I shared. We want the results, but the diligence, the line upon line, the precept upon precept, the getting up, the putting one foot after another. It’s very difficult to learn to work hard on the things that are hard for us to work on.
And so, he says, “You’ve got to understand the value of work.” Jesus, for the first thirty years, worked with His hands. He learned that things don’t happen overnight. Jesus, though He was fully God and fully Man, as a little boy, sat with the rabbis, and He memorized the passages, and He asked questions, and He did the work to learn to grow. “He grew in stature before God and before men.” So, there’s a great value in work.
But notice, also, in this passage, the purpose of work. The purpose of work just isn’t an upward, economic mobility. He says, “You who steal, steal no longer” – stop taking shortcuts – “but work with your hands” – what’s the last phrase? – “so that you may be able to share.”
Interesting little Greek word – the idea of sharing with those in need, it has the idea of doing it personally. This isn’t sharing, as in, “I get some money, and I give it to an agency, or an organization, or even to the church.” This is working with your hands, and as you work with your hands, you meet people who have actual needs. And part of the reason that you work before God is, you want to have some extra to help other people personally.
See, it goes from saying, “I’m not going to steal,” to, “I want to be generous. I want to be like God. I want to be like Christ.” Remember? “As a prisoner of the Lord I say to you, no longer live in this way but walk in a manner worthy.” That means you’re going to look, and think, and talk, and share the way Jesus does.
The training apparatus that’s been most helpful to me is – I’m going to encourage you to write out a “to-be” list. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned to work best because of mentors. My first mentor was my father. Say no more.
There are some of us that grew up with, “I learned how to work.” He passed it on – and, by the way, there are some things about my dad that weren’t really helpful. This was very helpful. “Son, that’s okay. Now, try it again the right way.” Anybody remember that?
When I taught my kids early on, it wasn’t just about cleaning this, or doing the garage, or doing their room, or making their bed. It was, they needed to learn that the diligence, not taking shortcuts, is a discipline, and it’s difficult, but as you go into training, you can learn how to do it.
So, probably one of the best gifts Theresa and I gave our kids was teaching them to work. And early on, yeah, I mean, it was terrible. They would vacuum, and then you’d say, “You know what? You have to move these things, and vacuum them, not just go around them.” Or they needed to clean their room, and you’d open the closet, and you realized, it looked clean when you walked in, but it looks like a mess there. And so, you teach them.
You look at a homework paper, and you go, Oh my lands. You have to have x-ray vision to figure out what this says. You know? “Rewrite it. Do it right.” It takes time.
And when I say a “to-be” list – here’s one of my biggest mentors, other than my father, and a few other people. I shared with you, Professor Howard Hendricks was a great mentor in my life.
In my third year of school, there were about ten or twelve of us. We met with him for lunch. And we’d have a brown bag lunch, and we would talk. And I was working full-time, going to school full-time, had three kids, and had just started out pastoring a church.
And so, my life was crazy. It was up at four in the morning, and you study here, then you do this with the church, and then you drive in, and then you go to school. And then you try and be a good dad. And it was nuts.
And I’ll never forget him talking about, “Men, the problem with a lot of your lives” – because we’d ask him questions for an hour, every Wednesday afternoon, over lunch. He says, “You need to create a ‘to-be’ list, instead of just a ‘to-do’ list.” My “to-do” lists were this long, and I could never get them all done.
And I’ll never forget – you might be thinking, What do you mean by a ‘to-be’ list? He said, “You will never be more loved than you’re loved right now. You’ll never get all your ‘to-dos’ done, and your life isn’t based on your performance. So, what you need to do is get very, very clear about: Who do you want to be? Who do you want to become?”
And I don’t know how this works, but I’m praying – I prayed for you all today – that this will happen in your life. I don’t know how it is when certain truths – it’s not like I never heard it before, but you know how they ignite inside your mind, and then, somehow, they get down into your heart, and you feel compelled, I have to act on this?
And I remember driving away from that little seminary, and stopping at a Dairy Queen in a little town called Crandall, and then, on the back of a napkin said, “I’m either going to make a ‘to-be’ list, and follow it, or I’m going to keep living this crazy life, where I’m not quite the husband I need to be, and I’m not getting enough sleep, and I’m not working out anymore, and I’ve got school over here, and life is crazy.”
And on the back of a little napkin, I said, “I want to be a man of God. I want to be a great husband. I want to be a great dad. I want to be a great friend. I want to be a great pastor. And I want to be someone who takes care of my body.”
And then, what Prof. Hendricks said was, “You take those, and you stick them in your schedule, before you do anything else. Sure, you’ll still have a lot of to-dos to do, but when you stick those in, if you will be diligent, the person you are a year, three years, five years, ten years,” that was thirty years ago, literally, to the year.
And I decided, If I’m going to be a man of God, I’m going to meet with God at least an hour every morning, before anybody else. If I’m going to be a great husband, well, my wife’s going to know that every Friday, for three hours, we’re going to have a date, uninterrupted, that she has me, with my undivided attention. And every night, every night after a meal – it might be ten minutes, it might be thirty minutes – but we’re going to talk and connect from the heart.
I went through, and I put my kids’ names in my schedule, on the same calendar, and “to be.” Then, I said, “We’re going to eat together, and I’m going to meet with my kids individually.”
And then, there were two or three guys that I really liked. I said, “I want to be a great friend, and I want to work out, and I love being with you guys, and I need to process some stuff with you that I don’t need to talk about with my wife.” And I built that in my schedule.
And then, I changed my calendar, and I said, “You know what? There are two or three things, as the senior pastor, that only I can do.” And all of Wednesday was going to be sermon preparation. And I was going to have my deadline – And it was so hard, and it was three steps forward and two steps backwards. But I was more concerned about my “to-be” list, than my “to-do” list. Be diligent. Work hard. Don’t take shortcuts.
Because, see, here’s what happens. I can’t tell you that everything, overnight, at all, got way better. It’s a lot like this exercise right here. You know when you go – everyone likes to pump a lot of iron? Right? You do the curls and, “Hey,” get the – well, I’m not going to do that, because it could be embarrassing. But you get the big guns, or you get the big pecs, right?
But how many people go, “Hey! How are those back muscles coming?” “Man, she’s got an awesome back. He’s got a great back.” Have you ever heard that?
See, this is diligence. These are the kinds of exercises, personally, I hate. Right? You do these, and it’s like, c’mon! I mean, no one sees these things. Of course, these are the balancing muscles to these.
And then, you can’t just do one side; you’ve got to do both sides. And what happens is, for those who do the actual personal training, what they tell us is that every muscle, you have to work the other side. And as people get older – have you noticed how many people, when they get older, they walk like this? Because they don’t have these strong muscles.
Diligence. You go into training. You get diligent about, I’m going to make my marriage a priority. I’m going to make my personal time with God a priority. But it’s not about the activity. It’s: Who do you want to become? You are currently becoming someone, and who are you becoming? You’re becoming where your time, and energy, and focus – you’re in training right now; you just don’t know what it is.
But you may be training to become a workaholic. You may in training for your marriage to drift. You may be in training for your kids to be disengaged twenty years from now. See, the problem is, I can do this three times a week, and you can hardly even see the back muscles! You don’t see the results.
Most of everything I said about the “to-be,” I saw no difference, for a year, or two, or three, or five. But here’s what I’ll tell you: I can remember, ten years into my marriage, thinking, Wow, instead of being in marriage counseling – I didn’t believe it could get this good.
I remember, twenty years into my relationship with my kids, I’m thinking, Boy, I said “no” to this, and “no” to that, and it was a hassle, but we ate together; I tucked them in, and now I’ve got grown kids, by the grace of God, and their individual choices, who love God, and you have a relationship.
There are no guarantees, but there is a guarantee if you aren’t diligent. See, sowing and reaping, right? We all believe that? You always reap what you sow. But here’s the catch. You never reap in the same season. You never reap in the same season that you sow. So, let me encourage you: Be diligent. Go into training.
Station number four is, be positive. Don’t wound with your words. Don’t wound with your words. Be positive. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment.”
“So that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Here, we have the training objective is: positive speech. The training command: Say only that which helps. Stop saying unwholesome words.
Instead, say words that build up, that help, that edify, that encourage. And the idea of this phrase is, encourage specifically, at specific times, according to the needs, as you’re engaging with people.
The training action is, put off negative speech; renew, recognize the power and the consequences of your speech. So, first, we’re going to put off negative speech.
And then we’re going to start thinking. Instead of not thinking much about my words, I’m going to renew my mind, and I’m going to realize the power, and the consequences of what comes out of my mouth. And then, what I’m going to put on is, I’m going to put on positive, encouraging speech.
Be positive. Don’t wound with your words.