Lecture 3: Change
Course: Life is a Journey
Things Are About to Change
Last time I spoke about the fact that after conversion things are going to change. I also talked about the fact that in conversion you are born again into a new life — into a new kind of life. My emphasis in this lesson is on the fact that this new life of the new believer is different; it is, and must be, different from the life lived before conversion. I want to emphasize that you have been changed, and changed people live a changed life.
What I’m going to say shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Think back for a moment to your conversion and remember what happened.
Separation from God
You certainly understood that you had been separated from God. You had come to an understanding that you were sinful. You had come to an understanding that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for your sin so that you could be forgiven. You certainly understood that formerly you did not live in relationship with God, but now he is your Father and you are his child. Even if you reflect just on these facts, you would say, “Of course my new life as a believer is going to be different; it has to be different, because I’m different.”
You certainly understood that in conversion, you were called to “repent” — that’s one of the many ways Scripture describes conversion. In Acts 3, verses 19-20, Peter is talking to the people and says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sin may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” If you mull over what it means to repent, you will understand that on one hand, it means you have changed your thinking about who Jesus is and what he has done. Before conversion, you thought Jesus was perhaps some historical figure; in conversion, you changed your thinking and now see that he is God; that is part of what repentance is.
But repentance is more than merely changing your mind; it is also the commitment to change your life, your actions. Repentance is the commitment to turn your back on sin and turn towards God and live a new kind of life. I think one of the clearest descriptions of repentance is in the book of 1 Thessalonians. Paul had evangelized in Thessalonica, probably just four to five months earlier; it was a brand new church. He wrote these words to them; listen to his description of what they have done. “You turned to God from idols, to serve the living and the true God.” This is what repentance is also about — changing your mind and making a commitment to change your actions. As you think about the concept of repentance, you’ll have to conclude, “Of course my life as a new believer is going to be different, because I’m different.”
Dead in sin, alive in Christ
Perhaps in your conversion, you even understood, as in the words of Paul to the church at Ephesus, that prior to your conversion you were dead; you were dead in your sin. However, when you became a child of God, he made you alive; it’s marvelous imagery. The fundamental core, the very essence of who you are, has been radically and fundamentally changed. You were dead but now you’re alive! Certainly, the life of a living person is going to be radically different than the “life” of a dead person. Right? People who are alive tend to have a different set of experiences than people who are dead. This is why I am saying, “Of course my new life as a believer is going to be different, because I was changed; I can’t be the same any longer.”
So even as you reflect over what you certainly understood when you became a Christian, you’re not surprised at all to hear the Bible say that life is going to change for you. Things aren’t going to be the same anymore.
As I reflected on this topic, I started thinking about all the things that happened when I became a disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, there were many things that happened to me that a seven-year-old couldn’t possibly have understood. The same things happened to you, and I want to help you gain a fuller understanding of what actually happened in your conversion. For some of you, this will be review. But perhaps for some of you who are new to your faith, your response is going to be, “That happened?” “God did that for me?” “I didn’t know that!” “That’s amazing!”
I want all of you to realize that the more you understand about the change that God worked in you — whether you fully understood it or not at the time of your conversion — the more you’re going to naturally understand that your new life must be different from your old life. Your new life as a believer is going to be different because you are different.
Let me start with what happened before conversion. Did you know that you didn’t go looking for God, not really; did you know that it was God who drew you to himself? Do you remember when you started, maybe for the first time, to feel guilty, or think, “Oh, that wasn’t right”? Do you remember when you started to feel the need for forgiveness? Do you know that that was God working in you? You were spiritually dead at the time; you couldn’t feel true guilt. Do dead people feel guilt? No, it doesn’t happen. But that was God at work in you, drawing you to himself, and his starting point is often an awareness of sin.
When you started having a sense of emptiness and incompleteness, thinking, “Something’s missing in my life” — that was not a natural thing; that was God saying, “I created you for myself, and I created a vacuum in your heart and I’m the only one that can fill that void. Sports can’t fill it. Wealth can’t fill it. Popularity can’t fill it. You can try anything and everything you want, nothing can fill it but me.”
When you started to understand these things, it wasn’t you doing it, but it was God at work, drawing you to himself. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
In fact, when you were finally faced with the claims of Christ and he asked you to believe, do you know that the very faith with which you responded was a gift from God? Your decision was real, but your faith was a gift. Paul tells the church in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And that” — meaning the entire salvation process — “is not of yourselves; it is a gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
So even if you didn’t fully understand it, that was God working, pulling, convicting, encouraging, and bringing people into your life, so he could draw you to himself.
Responded in faith
There were so many more things that happened to you at conversion.
When you were faced with making the actual decision and you did respond in faith, at that very moment you were “rescued,” the Bible says You were rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into his marvelous kingdom of light; you changed allegiances, and your sin was totally forgiven. There is nothing you could have done to put yourself outside of God’s ability to forgive you; that’s the power of the cross.
You were justified. “Justified” is a legal term meaning you were acquitted of all your guilt and all your sin; God, the Judge and the jury, forgave you. You were freed from all condemnation, because on the cross Jesus’ death absorbed all of God’s wrath against your sin so that you can stand before him without condemnation; there is no one to condemn you when the Judge has forgiven and the jury has acquitted.
You were redeemed. “Redeemed”” is a term from slavery,teaching us that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price to secure your freedom so that you’re no longer under the mastery of sin; you and I were redeemed.
You were “sanctified,” which means you were made holy. You may not always act like it, but you were made holy. Jesus’ holiness, his righteousness, was imputed (it’s called) to you. Because Jesus is holy, you and I now possess his holiness.
All these things, and more, happened when you and I said, “Yes” to Jesus.
A new creature
But wait, there’s more! God caused you to be “born again.” He made you into a new creation, a new creature. He “adopted” you as his child. He brought you into a new family with a new Father, brothers, sisters, a new inheritance, and a new home. This world is not your home; your citizenship is in heaven. Then God gave you his “Holy Spirit” to encourage you, to guide you, and to guarantee that what Jesus has promised to you will in fact come to pass.
You know what? I could go on for hours because the Bible is constantly trying to fill out our understanding of conversion as it struggles to use language to describe what is ultimately indescribable.
But the fact is that our lives are going to be different. Our lives can’t possibly be the same because you are not the same; that’s just the way it is. One of the most powerful passages that describes this is in Romans 6. Paul had to deal with the issue of ongoing sin in the lives of believers — children of God. In other words, what do you do with disobedient children who break God’s laws?
In Romans 6, verse 2, Paul summarizes his answer. “How can you, who died to sin, still live in it?” That’s basically what I’ve been saying. When you consider what happened in conversion and how you “died to sin,” how can any of us continue to be okay with ongoing sin in our lives? I was changed, so therefore my life must change. Yes, we still stumble and fall, we sin, and I will talk about that in the next lesson. But to explain what Paul means by “dying to sin,” he goes into a discussion, in Romans 6, of what is called baptism.
You might not be aware of what baptism is, other than seeing the word “Baptist” on the side of some churches. Allow me to explain.
If you are going to be baptized, you will probably go to a place where there is a pool of water of some sort. You’ll go down into the water with a pastor, or perhaps your mentor who led you to Christ. You will stand in the water and he will ask you to tell your story — your “testimony.” Then, you will profess of faith in Jesus — you’ll say, “Yes, I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” — and he’ll lower you under the water, and then bring you back up; that’s the act of baptism.
Understand that baptism is not an act of salvation; baptism doesn’t save anybody. Baptism is an act of obedience; you are commanded to be baptized by Jesus.
What you’re doing in your baptism is publicly proclaiming that God has changed you. When you are baptized, you’re saying, “I want everyone to know that I believe in Jesus.” As you go down under the water, it is not only demonstrating that your sin is washed away, but it’s also saying that you are buried; in other words, you died to your old, sinful self. As you’re coming up out of the water, it not only represents that you have been washed clean from your sin, but also that you’re rising up to a new and different kind of life — a changed life.
I needed to say all that as background; otherwise, what Paul continues to say in Romans 6 wouldn’t make any sense. Paul continues, “Do you not know that all of you who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too might walk in newness of life.”
Paul is asking you to think back to your conversion; think back to the public professions you made — or will make — in your baptism. What happened? As you went under the water, you died to your old self; you died with Christ. You were somehow mystically joined with Christ, and you died to that old life that you had lived. As you came up out of the baptismal waters, you were raised. Just as Christ was raised from the tomb to a new kind of life, so also you came out of your conversion–baptismal experience, raised to a new kind of life. That’s the point Paul is making in Romans 6.
You have died to sin; you have been buried with Christ; you were raised to a new kind of life. If you really understand that, then it will make perfectly good sense when I say, “Of course my life is going to be different, because I’m different. I’ve died to sin. My old life of sin was buried with Christ. How can I now live in sin? I can’t.”
What does this new life look like?
So what does this new life look like? What does this newly changed life look like? There are many descriptions in the Bible of what the new life looks like; I’ll be coming back over this topic all the way through this class. But there are two teachings of Scripture that I want to introduce to you up front, to help define what this new life is going to look like.
The new life of someone who comes out of conversion is going to be a life of “discipleship.” When you become a Christian, you become a follower of Jesus. We understand that Christianity is not some one-time, emotional experience. We know that conversion is a crucial and necessary step, but it is only the first step in a life of be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
One of the most powerful passages along these lines is Mark 8, verse 34, where Jesus says to his disciples, “If you want to follow me” — in other words, if you want to be a disciple, if you want to be a Christian — “you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.” Jesus is telling his disciples that if they want to be Christians, if they want to be disciples, if they want to be his children and part of his family, they have to deny themselves. We have to relinquish our wills, and submit to the will of God, and then every day live as those who have been crucified to ouir own ambitions and desires and live for the will of God.
Think about this scenario. Something happens to you, you get hurt, and your sinful response is, “I have a right to get angry; that person hurt me.” Then you hear the words of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “not my will, but yours” — God’s — “be done.” So you deny yourself, you submit your will to God, you relinquish your will to God, and you forgive the person who hurt you.
I know that sounds difficult; forgiveness is hard. But I am thankful that life is a journey, that we don’t have to be perfect, instantly. Life is a journey, and we learn as we walk though life. And Jesus is perfectly comfortable with the process. I will talk abut this in detail in our next time together.
Or think about the scenario when something unfair happens to you. Your natural response is, “I’m going to get even; that wasn’t right. I’m going to teach that person a lesson.” Then once again, you hear the words of Jesus, “not my will, but yours, be done.”
You and I are called to deny ourselves, to relinquish our wills, and to respond with kindness, in humility. The Bible says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32) That’s what the life of discipleship is about. It is a life of saying, “This isn’t mine any longer, but I live for God’s pleasure and his glory, his will and not mine.” We daily, by the minute and sometimes by the second, are called to relinquish our wills and say, “I’m not Bill Mounce; I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ.” It’s a wonderful journey.
That’s one of the most powerful pictures of what this new life of discipleship looks like — a life lived following and submitting to Jesus.
2. “Fruits of the Spirit”
A second powerful picture of the life of discipleship is the phrase, “Fruits of the Spirit.”
When I talk about the Fruits of the Spirit, or when I even talk about the Spirit with a capital “S,” I’m talking about God’s Spirit, someone who is called the “Holy Spirit.” Before I can explain who the Holy Spirit is, though, I need to cover a little background.
Christians believe in “monotheism.” “Mono” means “only” or “one,” and “theism” means “God.” We’re monotheists; in other words, we believe there’s only one God. The Bible says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). So we’re monotheists; we don’t believe in multiple gods, we don’t believe in local pagan deities, but we believe in one God.
We also believe God is a “Trinity.” We believe he is a Trinity not because it makes sense to us, but because the Bible teaches it. “Trinity” is a word that means “three-ness.” What the Bible teaches is that while God is one, there are also three “persons” in God: (1) God the Father; (2) God the Son; (3) God the Holy Spirit. Each one is fully God, and yet each one is distinct and has his own set of responsibilities, and yet there is only one God. We believe this simply because it’s the only way to understand the Bible. It’s a mystery! I don’t know if we’ll ever fully understand it even when we see him face to face in heaven, but we believe that there is one God and yet he is three.
This third member of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, and “Fruits of the Spirit” refer to the changes that the Holy Spirit makes in our lives. It was the Holy Spirit who drew you to God. It was the Holy Spirit who enabled you to respond in faith. The Holy Spirit regenerated you and gave you new life. The Holy Spirit guides you and empowers you every day in your Christian walk. The Holy Spirit also gives you the ability to bear spiritual fruit.
So what does it mean to “bear fruit”? Just as a healthy fruit tree produces fruit — a good orange tree produces oranges, and a good tangerine tree produces tangerines — so also a healthy Christian’s life will change, and those changes are called “fruit.”
Paul writes to the church in Galatia, “But the fruit of the Spirit” — the changes that the Holy Spirit is going to affect in your life — “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
For example, you’re going to realize that while you’ve always found that certain person difficult to get along with, now, where there was no love before, or perhaps an imperfect love, you find something inside of yourself that wants to put them first; this is called love, and is a fruit of the Spirit.
You’re going to realize that when things get difficult and there’s conflict or suffering or pain — where in the past you completely fell apart — now you realize that there’s joy in the midst of the pain! Where did that joy come from? The work of the Holy Spirit.
All of these changes are the Fruits of the Spirit, and this is where your life as a new believer is headed. God the Holy Spirit is at work inside of you, and you will start to experience these types of changes. Remember, changed people lived changed lives; your life will begin to show the fruits of the Spirit.
How Do I Change?
You may have already started to see this process of change. Sometimes change is slower than you like. Sometimes you will stumble and not act like someone who has been changed. Changing and growing is a process as you walk with Jesus, bearing fruit, and living changed lives.
But is this change automatic? Another way to ask the question is: What is my role, your role, in this change, or do you even play a role at all? Let me briefly share a few things.
Change is not automatic
Is this change automatic? “No.” In fact, you can fight change and you can win, at our own peril, but the change that God wants to effect in your life is not automatic. When you and I became Christians, the mastery and the tyranny that sin had over us was broken; we no longer have to sin, but sin is still present, and sin is not passive, and it doesn’t want you to change.
One of the lessons I’ve been learning is that for some reason, I had this picture of sin as being passive, just lurking around in the recesses of my mind. But sin is not passive; sin is active, it is aggressive, and it is going to do everything it can to bring you back to Satan. When you and I became Christians, and we were moved out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, we made an enemy. He is a formidable enemy, and his name is Satan. However, Jesus is greater than Satan, and he has conquered Satan. But Satan did not like losing us from his kingdom, and he is going to fight to get us back.
God enables you
So change is not automatic, and it’s not something that just kind of happens. However, don’t get discouraged. God is not sitting there saying, “Okay, you must love, you must be at peace.” No, that’s not what’s going on. Rather, as the Bible says, “God is going to be at work in you, and he is going to be giving you new desires and then the ability to achieve those desire.”
The key to change is this: you cooperate with God.
I’m not talking about salvation; you did not cooperate with God in your salvation, because you were dead at the time. You didn’t do anything to earn God’s favor. However, when it comes to area of Christian growth — or what we call sanctification, holiness — God gives you the desire and then the ability, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish those desires, to move forward and take that next step in the journey — but you must take that step.
There are two passages that talk about this topic; one is Philippians 2, verses 12-13. Paul is talking to the church in Philippi and he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words, you’re not earning your salvation, but you’re doing the next thing; you’re working out the consequences of your conversion. Then Paul says, “for it is God who works in you”; that’s incredible! The God who creates galaxies with distances beyond human comprehension is at work in you. God is at work in you! Then Paul says that God gives you the desire and then the ability to accomplish those desires. You and I can’t do it on our own, and God knows that “our frames are but dust,” as the psalmist says (Psalm 103:14). And so God helps.
But having given you the desire and the ability, God says in Romans 12, verse 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God” — in other words, because of all that God has done for you in his mercy — “I appeal to you ... to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What does that mean? As another translation says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
God gives us the desire and the ability to grow up spiritually, but we have to take the next step in the journey.
So that’s the balance of this new and great Christian walk. God gives you desires. He gives you, through the power of his Spirit, the ability to pursue love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But then he says that you must take that step and learn to love, to live with joy.
I’m reminded of passages such as Proverbs 3, verses 5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him”; that’s what you do. And then the Proverb continues, “and he will make straight your paths”; that’s what God does. Trust in him. Lean on him. He is our Rock. He is our Refuge. He will direct your paths. He will make your spiritual journey straight.
And then, you and I are called to do our part, to be the salt of the earth as Jesus says elsewhere (Matthew 5:13). We are called to be different from everyone else.
Life has to change because you’re different. It’s a wonderful walk; it’s a joyous journey as you are changed, as the Bible says, from one degree of glory to the next, and you look more like your Savior Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).