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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
The third observation is: change occurs from the inside out. It’s not a set of rules, it’s not, Oh, I’ve got to do this. And I get that from this little phrase, “We are being transformed.” And the word for transformed is that old biology term, metamorphosis.
It’s also the same word, remember when Jesus went up with His key disciples: Peter, John, and James. And He was transfigured up on the mountain. It’s the same word.
And what is important about that is that it says, “And He shone brightly.” What they saw was the light, it was like He unzipped His humanity and He opened up Himself and deity came out! The change came from the inside out.
When He transfigured, what He did is He allowed them to see Him in His power, in His glory, and that’s why they fell down as dead. And so, change, it happens the same way. The Spirit of God, when we trust Christ, enters our lives, manifesting the presence and the power of Christ in us; we are sealed by the Holy Spirit; we are adopted into His family; and we are empowered then and so God wants to change us from the inside out. That’s how it works.
Change is a progressive, ongoing process. Notice it’s from glory to glory. It’s like from degree to degree. And this really makes people like us crazy. Because, see, we want to change. I made a decision; I want the change now! I’m working on being patient; I want it now! Hey, that was a good illustration about your wife having a lousy self-image, you know? This is the way you talk in the coffee shop. You would never say that to our faces.
But you would say, Wow, I want what she got! Or, boy, could my wife use that or could I use that! And you know what you forgot? We talked about fifteen years of work, remember? Of renewing of the mind. Of trusting God. Of growing.
And so, the questions I want to ask are: How does change occur, when does it occur, what is our part, what is God’s part, why do we keep on sinning if they say our sins are forgiven and they are taken away? Some basic stuff.
Where does change begin? It begins, the origin and the whole progress, it begins at spiritual birth. John 3:5. “Unless a person is born again,” spiritually, “he’ll never see the kingdom of God.” What do people need to hear or believe in order to be born again? And that message is the gospel! The good news.
And that is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1 through 4 and then also, the verse that most of you know that has it in capsule form, is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world,” – remember this? “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe,” or, “trust in Him shouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life.”
That is the message that must be believed for a spiritual birth to occur. What is the biblical term for all of this? It’s called, salvation. The clearest understanding is in Romans chapter 1 through 5. And in parentheses, what we are talking really about here is justification.
It’s a word used in Scripture. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” That’s Romans 5:1. Now, what is justification? Some of you are starting to turn me off. You’re thinking, It’s a big word! I’ve never heard words like that! And a lot of you are thinking, That’s an old word.
What is the definition of it? It is twofold. Justification is a coin. On the one side, definition, it’s a legal declaration of our standing before God. It’s: God looks at you and He is going to make a legal judgment. You have sinned. And then He looks at Christ’s work on the cross and He is going to take your sin and place it on the cross and look at you because now you are pure and His legal standing will be, “I declare you innocent. I declare you forgiven.” It’s a legal thing.
And then after He takes away your sin, He flips over the coin and He imputes the righteousness of Christ to your standing. And this is a terrible illustration but it communicates for me.
You know the Star Trek deals? When they get there and they go, Bzzzzzzzzz, “Beam me up.” And then some of the really weird ones, have you seen one of the weird ones where this guy, he goes, Bzzzzzzzzz, and another person comes into his body? Have you seen some of those? Right? Okay. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ is like that.
What He does is He takes away your sin legally. We’re not talking just experience. We’ll get to that in a second. But He legally takes your sin, puts it as far as the east is from the west, and then, Bzzzzzzzzz, He imputes, or pours forth and puts in you the righteousness of Christ so that the old Sunday school term, justification, it’s just as if I didn’t sin.
And you possess the very righteousness of Christ. That’s what happens at salvation.
Now, the time, when does it begin? It begins at a point in time, the moment a person repents, turns away from whatever he is trusting, and believes in Christ. A point in time.
The basis of it, it’s by grace through faith, “For by grace we are saved through faith – it’s not of yourselves, it’s a gift of God – not as a result of works, lest any man should boast. Regarding sin, it deals with your guilt and the penalty of your sin. That’s critical. Your guilt is gone! And the penalty is gone. The means of grace? It’s the gospel as you hear it or you see it in the lives of others. It’s the Spirit’s convicting ministry, John 16. He’ll convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. And it’s creation. Creation lets us know there is a God that we are accountable to.
And then finally, what is our response? Our response to the gospel is faith. We believe it, and that always leads to obedience. And so, trust and obey, that old hymn, is still pretty accurate. “If any man is in Christ, salvation, he is a new creature. The old things,” progressively, “pass away. New things come.” That is your standing. That’s called, salvation or justification. You got it?
How does it continue? How does it grow? Spiritual growth. 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babes long,” or, “crave for the pure milk of God’s Word, so that by it you may grow with regard to your salvation.” So, this isn’t just an automatic – God doesn’t zap you and then leave you alone and say, “Go, baby, go!”
But Galatians 2:20, in a nutshell, gives us a good picture of what it is. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ,” historical fact, Romans 6, “nevertheless, I live.” I’m still living in my – he says – “There is my position and that’s what it is based on. I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live.”
“Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me.” You got it? “And the life I live,” experientially, “I live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself for me.” And so, in a nutshell, what he is saying is the Christian life is not trying harder. The Christian life is understanding what Christ did on the cross and the whole teaching on this is in Romans 6 through 8. Romans 6 are the facts, Romans 7 is the struggle, and Romans 8 is the deliverance in the Spirit.
And so here he gives it to us. “I live by faith, in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” It’s exchanging my life. I’ll give it to you in a different way a little bit later. This is called, sanctification. This is really progressive sanctification.
It’s a continuous process of becoming more and more righteous or holy in daily experience. This is our state. Now, let me say something for some of you. Some of you have prayed to receive Christ about two hundred times, because you don’t understand the difference between justification or salvation and sanctification. Once you ask Christ in your life, repent, and you are genuinely born again, His Spirit dwells in you, you are legally forgiven.
Now, at that point, a progressive process of ups and downs, the Spirit living in you, progressively wants to make you, in your daily life, what is true of you in your standing before God.
And so, the Spirit works in you. So, you are going to sin at times, you are going to blow it, and that’s why there is 1 John 1:9. When you blow it, you say, Oh, God, I have sinned. I confess my sin, and He says, “Well, I am faithful and I am just to forgive you your sin and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.”
This has to do with salvation. This has to do with your fellowship with God. I have met people that every time they sin they think they have to invite Christ back into their lives. He never leaves! But the fellowship gets broken.
It’s a continuous, ongoing process. What time does it begin? At salvation. And it continues until death or the Rapture. The basis of this, get this, it’s by grace through faith. The argument of the book of Galatians is this: However you get saved, that’s how you walk. However you get saved, that’s how you walk.
And so, what he told them, he says, “Who bewitched you? Was it out of self-effort that you saw the power of the Spirit working in your life? No!” So then he goes on regarding sin and sanctification, the Spirit deals with the power of sin in my life, not the penalty. Not your guilt. It’s the power and the key passage there is Romans 6.
The means of grace, how do you become more holy? Well, one thing you do, the body of Christ, spiritual gifts of others, rubbing off against one another, loving one another, personal time with God. The ordinances as we take baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there are pictures and God gives us grace as we watch and examine our hearts.
The Spirit’s convicting and empowering. He just changes us. When there is something wrong, if you’re open, He’ll let you know. And then, finally, the practice of the disciplines: prayer, the Word, silence, solitude, coming away from the world, the practice of spiritual disciplines to train yourself in righteousness.
And then what is our response? It’s the same: faith and obedience. I trust God, I identify myself, I am in Christ, I have the power, His Spirit does it, I yield myself to Him.
At the end of Romans 6, he gives us a little acronym, not acronym, but there are three little words. He says, “Know this is true,” or reckon it. “Know it, then reckon it,” or consider it to be true, “and then present yourselves as members as those who have been actually crucified are now alive from the dead.”
And so that is where it begins, this is how it continues, where does it all end?
This is Romans 8:30 through 39, “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We have been predestined, foreordained that we should not only be sanctified but also glorified.”
And glorified here, a good key passage is 1 John 3:2. 1 John 3:2 says, “We do not know what we will be like, but this is what we know. That when we see Him, we will be like Him.”
See, finally, the final result as we are in the definition, you are going to get a glorified body, you’re going to see Christ face-to-face in heaven, and that is your destination. One day, you will see Him, and you will be changed forever.
This begins, in terms of time, at death or Rapture and lasts forever. The basis: It is because of grace forever. And how does it deal with sin? It removes it. There is no sin in heaven. It’s gone forever.
The means of grace is a face-to-face revelation of Christ. And our response will be worship. Practically speaking, you know what you all need to hear and I need to hear on this one? Practically speaking, there are a lot of us that want this in this life, and you’re never going to get it. You’re so hard on yourselves all the time. I don’t mean playing with sin.
But you want life to be perfect, you want everyone to treat you right, you want tit for tat. If you do good, then people should do good for you. You want peace, prosperity, and everything to fall into place. And you are in a fallen world, marred by sin, yours and other people’s. And there are a lot of things that God has promised in His Word that you will never get, and I will never get, until we get there, and that’s why it is a blessed hope.
And so instead of trying to get everything out of this life and getting frustrated, we should walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and realize, Until you get there, on the other side, there is no perfection anywhere. So lighten up.
Four key concepts to put this together and, by the way, before we do that, I wrote a little note to myself. This is an overview. If you would like to understand salvation and the basis for living a holy life, True Spirituality, by Francis Schaeffer, you’ll want to look at it. Great impact in my life in understanding what we have talked about tonight.
If the area of changing and growing in holiness, this is by Jerry Bridges of NavPress: The Pursuit of Holiness.
It’s excellent, practical, theologically sound. If the whole area of the disciplines: solitude, prayer, the Word – How do you train yourself in discipline? I don’t know what you’re talking about. The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard, excellent book. The final book, it’s an overview, 30 Days to Understanding the Christian Life, by Max E. Anders. He gives a big picture, you read a chapter a day, and you get that under your belt and you’ll understand a lot of what is going on.
What I am trying to do is whet your appetite and realize that this is a long-haul issue.
Now, summarizing in a little bit different fashion, and then I think you can take it home and you can look up all the verses, it makes a great Bible study.
Four concepts about change. First, spirituality is the life of Christ. Paul said, “For me, to live is Christ; to die is gain.” We read earlier – what? He prayed that you would allow Christ to dwell deeply in your life.
Secondly, spirituality is the life of Christ reproduced in the believer. It’s not you trying harder to get more like God. It’s you allowing the Spirit of God to take what is true of you and see it produced or reproduced, by the Spirit of God, in your life.
Three, spirituality is the life of Christ reproduced in the believer by the Holy Spirit. That’s who does it. That’s who changes you. You have a responsibility, and we’re going to hit that just as we end. But it’s a yielding to what is true, dependent on God’s grace.
And then finally, spirituality is the life of Christ reproduced in the believer, by the Holy Spirit, in obedience or response to the Word of God. And you just see over and over in Scripture, there is no way that you change apart from the Word of God filling your heart and your mind and transforming your thinking. That’s how it works.
Max Anders puts it in a little formula that I think is worthy. He has: The work of God, under conclusion, WKG, the work of God, what Christ did on the cross, your identification with Him, His Spirit dwelling in you, plus the Word of God, that’s the raw material, plus personal commitment. We have to respond, don’t we? Romans 12:1. Plus other believers, the role of other believers in bringing about change and maturity, plus time and trials.
All these things are true but you know what? It just takes time. And usually it takes a lot of hard knocks. I hate to tell you this, but the most holy, godly people I know are the people who have been through the hardest of times, and have responded to God in the midst of them. That equals maturity.
You can try as hard as you want, but you need to develop a training system of getting into the Scriptures, a training system of learning to respond when your tongue tells you something came out of your heart that isn’t right. A training system of prayer, of fellowship. A training of grace and discipline, of learning to yield to the Spirit and over and over, over time, like a muscle, as you learn to do it, what happens? You grow.
The issue isn’t trying harder. The issue is training in grace and dependence upon the Lord.