Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
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
Where do you get the power to change?
Dan came up to me the very first time I ever publically taught through Ephesians 4:1 through 6, which we covered last week. I literally got done, and a guy walks up to me – he was a young, zealous guy, played for a local college basketball team, and we’d gotten to know one another. And he was living the life. His life was dramatically changing.
And I literally got done, and he caught me, just as I was going around the corner. And he stops, and he goes, “Stop.” So, I did. And he opens his Bible, and he opens it up right here, to Romans chapter 6. He goes, “Listen to this.” He says, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed this form of teaching in which you were entrusted. You’ve been set free from sin and have become a slave to righteousness.”
And this big, 6’4” guard looked at me, and he goes, “That’s not true. It doesn’t work.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, a lot has changed in my life, but there are some areas” – and he was very specific. He said, “I can’t change. I’m supposed to be transformed, and I can’t. What’s wrong with me?”
We had a little discussion, and, literally – this is one of those bizarre experiences. I leave that, walk on around, get a cup of coffee between the services, and a young mom that I had gotten to know pretty well, who came from a horrendous background – drug, alcohol addictions, fractured relationships, difficult home life, had come to Christ, amazing transformation the last couple years. And she walks up to me with an open Bible, Romans chapter 6. I’m thinking, There’s something going on here. And she goes to a different verse.
She goes, “Look, look right here, verse 22. It says, ‘But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap is holiness, and it results in eternal life.’”
And she goes, “This isn’t working.” I’m thinking, I guess I really had a bad day on this one. And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” She goes, “Well, I’m not on alcohol, God has really changed my life, but I smoke dope every day. Every, single day.
And I’m concerned about my four-year-old daughter. And I have tried to quit, and I’ve prayed to quit, and I want to quit, and I can’t quit. Where do you get the power to change?”
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Listen to the apostle Paul. Interestingly, in the very next chapter, after chapter 6, he says, “For I desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not good, the evil that I don’t want to do, this I keep on doing.”
He’s basically saying, “I want to do what’s right. I find myself not doing it. And the very thing I don’t want to do, I find myself doing that.” Anybody in this room having that struggle at all? Yeah, same here.
Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the book of Ephesians, this is what God has done for you. Chapter 4 opens up, and this is the practice: “I urge you, therefore,” Paul says, “as a prisoner of the Lord, to walk in a manner worthy of your new life.” And then, he said, “The way you walk in this new life, the way that your belief and behavior tell the same story, is the cocoon, if you will, of community.” He says, “Be humble and gentle and patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the body in the bond of peace.”
And if I’m not humble, it means I’m proud, and selfish. And if I’m not gentle, it means I’m demanding, and harsh. If I’m not patient, it means I’m impatient, and angry. If I don’t bear with people, it means I’m critical of them, especially those who live inside my house, and judgmental. And if I’m not making every effort, I’m kind of slothful, and, actually, I disengage, instead of being connected to people.
Here’s what I want you to understand. Christ comes into our lives. His game plan is to turn us from a green caterpillar, and be metamorphosized – Remember? The walk is a process – into the transformation of a beautiful butterfly, in terms of our character and likeness of Christ.
He says, “Now, if I do what I do not want to do” – he identifies the problem – “it’s no longer I who do it, but it’s sin living in me that does it. What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And then, he gives us the answer: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
And so, the question is, “How did Jesus conquer sin, and how does that work, practically, in everyday life?” The apostle Paul says it’s going to be a struggle. In Romans chapter 6, he’s going to give us some truth – we’ll look at it a little bit later – about what is actually true of this. But how do you overcome the struggle with sin? What did I say to those two people? What did the conversation go like?
And just before we go too far, let me give you a private moment that you don’t have to share with anyone. If there is an area in your life that you would say, real honestly, you really want to change, you have the desire to change, you know God wants it to change, but you feel stuck, what’s it with you? Is it a critical attitude? Is it your addiction to work, or media? Is it some addiction? Is it…? You fill that in.
Because here’s what I want you to get: This isn’t theoretical. God has given us all the power we need to change, but until we understand what happened to Jesus – are you ready for this? – from the time on Friday night, when He died, to the time on Sunday morning, when He rose from the dead – if you don’t understand what He did, you’ll never understand how to access the power to change.
Because what is true in all the New Testament teaching is that what is ever true of Jesus, when you are united to Him by faith, you are co-crucified and co-resurrected. And so, whatever is true of Him becomes true of us.
And the Christian life isn’t trying hard to live like Jesus, or achieve some morality. The Christian life is a relationship with God the Father, through the work of the cross, as the Spirit enters your life, and you live this new life. Remember? “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, in this human body I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And this new life I live” – how do we live it? – “by faith in the Son of God” – out of what? – “who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
Now, verses 7 through 10 of Ephesians 4 will explain how it happens: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” You might circle the little phrase “grace given.” It means “an endowment.” It’s not the same word as a spiritual gift; it’s the idea of a sacred trust, or an endowment, a treasure that’s being given to you.
“And therefore,” it says – he reaches back and quotes Psalm 68:18. He makes some small modifications, but he says, “When He” – speaking of Jesus – “ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”
And then, now he explains: “Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens” – and here’s a purpose clause – “so that He might fill all things.”
What’s it mean, “He ascended,” “He descended,” “lower parts of the earth,” “captives”? Does any of that make sense to you?
Now, for some of you it may. But here’s what I want you to get: It tells us Jesus’ identity, and it tells us what He did on our behalf, in such a way that if you get it, like the Ephesians got it, it’ll help you understand how to grasp the power to really change.
These key words, “He led captive a host of captives” – right above that, I want you to write, Victorious Savior. These key words are going to tell us Jesus’ identity, and what He actually did. The next key phrase is “lower parts of the earth.” Above that, write the words, Righteous Judge. The last phrase is “that He might fill all things.” Above that write, Lord of lords, and King of kings. And what you’re going to see is, the apostle Paul will take some different pieces, and pull them all together, and he’s going to describe for you and me what Jesus accomplished. And whatever He accomplished that’s true of Him, becomes true of us.
Phrase number one: “He led captive a host of captives.” Here’s the picture: You go to battle against your foes – maybe they were in a large city. It may take months, or even years, in some of those battles.
And then, you defeat your enemy. And once you defeat your enemy, in those days, you would often deport them to other places. And when you would defeat your enemy, you would come back to your hometown, and celebrate the victory. Often, the general or the king would be on a white horse. Behind him would be all of his army, often in their best battle array.
Behind them would be the captives that are described here. And they would chain them – three, five, seven across – and they would be stripped to the waist. And then, behind them would be what are called “the spoils.” There might be all the cattle, all the donkeys, all the gold, all the silver, all the jewelries. So, this is a procession, or a train.
And so, imagine this general coming back into his hometown, people cheering. He’s on a white horse. He’s demonstrating, “We’ve won the victory. Here is who won the victory: the soldiers. Behind them, here’s our humiliated, defeated foe. And behind them – the evidence of the great victory – are the spoils: gold, silver, animals.”
And so, the people would cheer, the military would get much of the spoils, but then, the spoils, or the gifts, as an evidence of the victory, would be given to some of the people in the town. So, if I was a lady cheering, I might get a cow. And so, I would get these gifts, but these gifts are an indication of a victory that’s been won, and a foe that has been defeated.
And Paul uses this imagery of Jesus as the victorious victor over sin, over death, and over Satan. And he’s going to talk, in a minute, about the captives – who He’s overcome – and what He’s done in giving us gifts, or spiritual gifts, as the evidence of that victory.
The next key word is, “He is the righteous Judge.” It says, “The lower parts of the earth.” Now, if you’re familiar with the New Testament – and some are, and some aren’t – let me encourage you, later today, to just read Luke chapter 16, beginning at about verse 19. And Jesus tells a parable, and the story of the parable is pretty simple, but it gives us a picture of the Jewish view of what happened to people when they died in the Old Testament economy.
But the picture I want you to get is, there’s this reality of a Jewish ultimate picture of what was going on when people died. Here’s what happens. When Jesus went into the lower parts of the earth, He made a proclamation, and an announcement. He proclaimed, “A victory has been won,” to the abode of the wicked. And then, He proclaimed the Good News that the Savior, the Messiah is going to – do what? “All that you hope for, and all the animal sacrifices, all that you believed of God, all the promises of God – they’re finished. It’s been won. The Messiah has come.”
Follow along, if you will. Hades – this is what it says in 1 Peter 3:18 and 19, “For Christ died once for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous” – why? “to bring us to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.”
Important: The word preached, here, is not the same word, we’ll see in just a minute. This is a word for a pronouncement of judgment.
The lower parts of paradise – 1 Peter 4:6, “For this reason the gospel was preached” – different word – “even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men with regard to the body, but live according to God with regard to the Spirit.”
Now, what I want you to do is open to John chapter 5, and I want you to listen to what Jesus said would happen.
Beginning at verse 24. Now, listen to what He says. He is giving this tremendous offer. He says, “Truly, truly” – or, “I tell you the truth” – “whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me” – notice the tense of the verb – “has eternal life.” And the result of this present possession of eternal life, when you believe or trust in Christ, is, “he will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth” – notice what He says – “a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”
Notice what Jesus’ role is: “For the Father has life in Himself, and so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to” – what? “to judge because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and will come out – and those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
And the apostle Paul is saying, in this little picture here, when He went into the lower parts of the earth, Jesus was, first, the victorious victor over sin, and death, and Satan. Second, He went into the lower parts of the earth, and He condemned and gave judgment on the wicked, and then told those who had been trusting in Him, “It’s over. Your faith has been fulfilled.”
Finally, this last unique phrase: “That He might fill all things.” And the idea of “fill,” here, is the idea that Jesus is taking back all territory. He is the Lord of lords, and the King of kings. There’s victory over sin; there’s victory over death. There’s victory over Satan.
Remember when He’s tempted by the devil? And the devil said to Him, “If you will bow down before me, I will give you these kingdoms.” Apparently, in God’s economy, he had responsibility over a certain reign upon the earth, because of sin. And Jesus avoided that temptation.
But now, what He does – Colossians 2 says He destroyed the works of the devil, and He is now proclaiming. He fills all things. He’s the Ruler. He’s the Lord. He’s the King of kings, now, in real time. It’s a defeated foe. You can look death in the eyes, because its sting is gone. Sin’s power? Broken. Sin’s penalty? Gone.
In fact, we pick this up in Revelation chapter 5. Follow along, and listen carefully for the very end. “They sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God and every tribe and every language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’
“And then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. And they encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. And in a loud voice they said: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever!’”
Life change always begins with the truth. It’s objective. Here’s what I want you to get: We are so in an existential world. We think it’s our experience, we think that life change is trying harder, we think there’s some formula, we think of religious activities – we have all kinds of people telling us self-help ways of how life change happens. Life change, metamorphosis, from the inside out, New Testament – it always begins with the truth. And here are three truths that come out of this: Number one, you are free. Sin’s power has been broken. Write that in your notes, “I am free.”
Number two, you are forgiven. Not only has sin’s power been broken, but sin’s penalty has been paid for. Christ, when He hung upon the cross – the sins of all people, of all time, were placed on Him, and He absorbed it for you, in your place. So, write, “I’m forgiven.”
And third, you are secure. Death doesn’t have dominance over you anymore because you have eternal life. The moment you turned from your sin, in the empty hands of faith, trusted in Christ, the Spirit of God came into you, sealed you with His Spirit, adopted you into His family, took you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, gave you new relationship with God the Father through the blood of Christ, relationship with a supernatural community called the body of Christ, gave you an inheritance. He’s preparing a place for you, deposited spiritual gifts in you, gave purpose for your life, and you’ll never be the same.
But it happened in objective, space-time history. These are facts. Satan does not have power over you anymore. You can give in to sin, you can give in to temptation, you can be fearful of demonic spirits, but you, as a believer, a child of God, a son or a daughter, can look death straight in the eye, can look sin in the eye, and realize, you can give in to it, but it doesn’t have power over you. You’re not a slave to it. You have a choice. You have power. You have access. Truth.
That’s the beginning of real life change. You can feel it, or not feel it. You’re forgiven, you’re free, and you’re secure. It begins with the truth.
Fact number two: We become co-partakers of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan the moment we receive Christ as our personal Savior, by faith. Remember what I said? Whatever is true of Jesus, the teaching of the New Testament and the Bible, it’s true of you.
This gets a little bit vague, and hard to understand. I’ve got a picture that will help you. But I want you, if you will, turn to Romans chapter 6.
The apostle Paul – what I’m going to share is so radical, even in that day, because God is going to say that the grace of God is so overwhelming, no matter where you are, or how far you are, however deep the sin is, grace abounds still more.
Let me give you a picture that’s been very helpful to me. I’m going to just take this block of wood – I put a cross on it – and let’s let this represent Christ. And let’s have this very heavy-looking bolt represent us, apart from Christ. And all I want you to get is, what we know is, wood has a certain nature, or properties, and steel bolts have a certain nature, or properties. There’s a gravitational pull in life, and there’s a gravitational pull, for all of us, away from God, called “sin.” And left to ourselves…
Does anybody know, if I take this heavy bolt and put it in this water, what will happen? Any predictions? It’s going to sink. Let’s test this theory. My lands! We’re an amazing group!
Now, the properties of wood are quite different. If I take this piece of wood, and lay it in the water, can you tell me what’s going to happen? It’s going to float. Why? Is it better? It’s just different. It has a completely different nature.
What the Bible teaches in Romans chapter 6, what Paul is explaining in verses 7 through 10 of Ephesians chapter 4, is that Christ died in your place. He descended to the lower parts of the earth, He declared victory over the wicked. He proclaimed new life. He rose from the dead. He’s conquered sin, death, and Satan. And the moment that you believe and trust in Him, you become a co-partaker, by faith, which is this rubber band.
And so, what you see is, when God the Father sees you – remember week one? Justified? When God sees you – and you need to get this. You need to get this in your intellect, and get it into your heart. God declared you righteous, based on His work. And when He looks at you, despite your experiential times of sin, He sees you as righteous, as forgiven, as through the lens of the blood of His Son, as precious, as a child, as adopted. You will never be more loved than you are today. And you’re connected to Him forever.
Now, in this journey of sanctification, how do I live out what’s true of me? He says, “This is how it works. Whatever is true of Him is now true of you.”
Now, can I pull the rubber band off, and get wet if I want to? Sure. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And this life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me.”
It’s not religious activity. It’s not a formula. It’s not my self-effort of trying hard. It’s understanding the bedrock truth that when you trusted Christ, you’re connected to Him for all eternity.
So, principle number one: Life change begins with the truth. Principle number two: We must act on the truth for life change to occur. Life change demands that we act on the truth.
Do you know what acting on the truth is called in the Bible? Faith! Faith! That’s what it is! Now, faith isn’t a feeling. Faith isn’t some ooey-gooey thought. Faith is believing what God has said to the point of acting on it, whether I feel like it or not. Let me say that again, because sometimes I think we think, I don’t have enough faith. You don’t have to feel anything! Faith is believing what God has said to the point I act on it, whether I feel like it or not.
God says that, “Sexual purity is My will for this relationship.” I don’t feel like that, maybe, in a relationship. And I say, “You know what? I’m going to act on that.” And the moment I act, and make provision to be sexually pure, God gives grace. And then, He does a lot of wonderful things in that relationship that sin blocks.
Faith says, “I’m going to prioritize the first portion of my life, my future, my priorities, and my relationships by what God says.” I don’t always feel like loving my wife. I don’t always feel like turning off the remote, and walking over and dealing with one of my kids. I don’t always feel like doing it, but when, by faith, I trust. The other side of faith is, the moment I take that step, it’s obedience, and I get grace.
That’s how transformation occurs. Left to myself, I don’t do very well. So, there’s community of people whose gifts, and love, and encouragement help me on my walk. Because remember? What did we learn about the little babies when they walk? Step, step, step, great, then…right? And we’re all going to keep falling. And we have a heavenly Father who understands, who says, “Look, that’s who you really are.”
Life change begins with the truth. Life change demands that we act on the truth, by faith. The truth is Romans 6:23. It says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now, what I’ve put there is a picture of two cliffs, if you will. There’s us on this side, and there’s God on this side.
And when you look at that, on the “us” side it says, “The wages” – what are wages? It’s what you earn, right? It’s what you get for what you do. “The wages of our sin” – what’s sin? It just means you miss the mark. It means you blow it. It means you had a thought that was not a good thought. It means that you know what’s right to do but you don’t do it. Everyone has sinned, and falls short of the glory of God. But the wages of sin…
There’s this chasm, like in Luke 16. There’s this chasm that separates us from God, forever. But the free gift of God, through Jesus – you have eternal life.
So, what you need to do is, you need to pull your pen out, and I want you to make a bridge, because, well, Jesus is the bridge to life. So, make a little bridge, okay? And once you make the horizontal line, why don’t you make it a really cool, nifty bridge, and put a vertical line. And if you put a vertical line and a horizontal line, what do you have there? You’ve got a cross.
Now, here, we’re right back to what Jesus said. Jesus said, “The day will come when I’m going to speak to all that are dead.” One day, all of us will be dead, and one day, Jesus will return. And He said, “Truly, truly” – or, “verily, verily” – that’s just for emphasis; this is really important – “I say to all of you, those of you who hear My word and believe on Him who sent Me has” – present tense – “eternal life.”
So, you are looking at truth. The truth is, there is a fact that the eternal Son of God, fully man, fully God, walked upon the earth, lived a perfect life.
He built a bridge, and He paid for the wages of your sin, and He atoned, or He’s covering, death. And it’s by grace; it’s a complete free gift. And if, by faith, you received the free gift, you move from this side of the bridge to the other side.
And according to Jesus, it means you hear His Word, and then you believe. And when you do that, the gift of eternal life: You’re taken from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. You’re free, you’re forgiven, and you’re secure.
There are some of you today that this is the most wonderful day in your life, ever. Today is better than the day that you were born, because today is the day that you will be born a second time, or be born spiritually. Jesus said, “Physical life requires a physical birth; spiritual life requires a spiritual birth.”
If you have never, by faith – not come to church, not tried to be a moral person, not tried to read the Bible a little bit. I’m not talking about being religious. If you have never, by faith, said, “I’m going to trust in the objective facts of what Christ did in my place,” then right now, in your seat, the greatest thing you could do is cry out to God, whether you feel, or not feel, is to say your sin separates you from God, for all eternity.
And God’s Word says, His desire is that not one person would perish. And so, He has offered you a free gift. And so, you, by faith, say, I’m going to trust in Christ. I want to be united to Him. Will You please forgive me, right now? I’m sorry for my sin. I turn from it – it’s called repentance – and I want to receive, right now, eternal life.
You can pray that right now, at this moment, and God will hear. Jesus came to give you that today.
Fact number one: His death and resurrection is the key. Life change always begins with the truth. Fact number two: You become a co-partaker when you receive Christ personally. Principle number two is, life change demands that we act on the truth.
Remember when the conquering victor, general, or king – when he was declaring his victory, remember? There’s the military, he humiliates his foes, but remember what’s in the back? The spoils. He gave gifts to everybody. He gave gifts of what was conquered. So, every time people got a gift, they were reminded – what? The love of their king, and the victory that they shared in.
Fact number three: Every believer is given a spiritual gift, a supernatural enabling, at the moment of salvation, for two reasons. Every believer. What does it mean? He gave gifts to men. Reason number one: To remind us that life change occurs on the basis of grace, not self-effort.
When that lady’s milking that cow, when that other lady sees the bracelet, when the blacksmith – when the king came through town, he said, “Hey! Wow! Here, you can have a donkey, and two camels.” When he’s taking care of those animals, he’s reminded, My king won a great victory. The evidence and reminder that I was given this gift is my king’s work for me. And that’s the imagery.
Can you imagine what would happen if every time you used your spiritual gift – if you really discovered what it was, and you realized you have this supernatural, sacred endowment that you use to get to love people in a supernatural way – that it would remind you, it’s a gift? Your salvation is a gift!
The second reason is to be empowered as others-centered agents of grace, who supply what others need to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Remember? If life change happens in community, in that spiritual cocoon?
Well, I was pretty honest with you. This last week, I wasn’t humble, and gentle, and patient, and bearing with, and making every effort, all the time. I had a lot of the right side. And you know what I need? To learn to be humble, I need people who put me first. I need people who will be patient with me. I need people who won’t be critical and judgmental, who will be grace-filled, and loving, and kind.
Because you know what happens? Whoever you’re around, you become like. And when the Jesus inside of you, and the Jesus inside of me, as we do life together, from the heart, honestly, the Spirit of God will take your gifts and meet my needs, and my gifts to meet your needs. And so, you’ll have wisdom, and I’ll make a great decision to experience God.
Or I’ll really blow it, and I’ll feel ashamed and down on myself, and beat myself up, and the enemy will say, “See, Ingram? You’re a lousy, stinking…” And you’ll have the gift of mercy, and you’ll say, “No, no, no, no, no. Chip, that’s your experience. This is who you are. God loves you. The world’s not over.”
And so, it gives us power as we use our gifts with one another. The principle is: life change is both a gift, and a responsibility. It’s a gift.