How Have You Changed?

The World Around You

A few years ago, the men in our church’s men’s ministry studied the words of the Apostle Paul to his young son in the faith, Titus. In chapter three of the letter that bears his name, Titus was instructed to encourage the people entrusted to his care to not be like the world around them – foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating (Titus 3:3). He then reminded Titus of something very important with these words: At one time the Christians on Crete had also been… just like that.

Paul told Titus that because of God’s love, the redeeming work of Christ, and the renewing and washing work of the Holy Spirit, the Christians in Crete were no longer like the world around them.

Have You Changed?

That fact, very naturally, brought up a painful question in our group discussion: What if we still are like that? What if we’re still like the world around us? One possible answer to the question was even more painful: If there has been no change in your life, it may mean you aren’t in Christ… that is, you haven’t been redeemed, washed, and renewed.

We’re all at different places in our relationship with Christ. And, of course, we all walk at different paces with him. Thus, we won’t all look alike. Yet, if we can’t look back at our lives a year ago, two years ago, or five years ago and see some sort of growth, some level of maturation in faith, love, godliness, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, then we may well need to ask the question: Am I truly in Christ? Of course, only God knows the heart, and this devotion isn’t about others judging you. But it is about each person doing an honest assessment of himself or herself.

There’s no getting around the fact that true faith in Christ will result in a changed life. We can’t possibly remain the same.

Facing the Music

About eight months after I graduated from college I went back to visit a few friends who were still there. I also returned to share with them the news that God had called me into ordained ministry and I would be heading off to seminary soon. I was very excited. I was also a bit nervous. Why was I nervous? Well, I had not always lived a godly life while in college. I knew it and I knew my friends and fraternity brothers knew it.

What happened? Well, my closest friends thought my news was great and wished me well. Others laughed me out of the room. I absolutely had it coming.

Glory to God

I give glory to God, and God alone, that over three decades later I can point to real change in my life. And, as the old saying goes, while I’m not where I pray I will one day be in my faith, by God’s grace, I’m not where I once was. I don’t know if I was the chief of sinners way back then, but I certainly was competing for the title. That fact makes the following words from Paul all the more precious to me.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15b-16)

If God could work in Paul’s life, as well as my own, then he can work in any person’s life. I praise God for the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives.

Where Are You?

So where are you now compared to where you once were? Do too many of the descriptions in the New Testament of the unbelieving world still describe you? Are you moving on to maturity with Christ, training yourself for godliness day by day? The progressive nature of growing in Christlikeness means it will never end on this side of heaven. But faithfulness to Christ does require we get started. We start with rebirth. We continue by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of God’s grace and Spirit. Are you moving forward? Have you started yet?

Walking Points

  • Can you think of a Christian you know whose life is different than when you first knew him or her? What about that person has changed?
  • How about your own life? Can you identify areas in your life that are markedly different than when you first came to know Christ? What are those areas? Did they change all at once or was it a slow process?
  • How did you know you needed to change? How did the process take place (i.e., what did the change look like)?
  • Name two or three areas that are still “works in progress” for you in your Christian walk. What are you actively doing to become more like Christ in those areas?
  • Discuss these issues with two or three Christian friends and actively pray for one another.

Prayer

Gracious God, you are the Lord of our lives. I confess that all too often I resist obeying and following you and resist the change you desire for me. I am grateful for your patience with me and for the wonderful news of your Gospel. Move me, by the power of your Spirit, to pursue you for all I am worth, for surely in that pursuit I will also find myself becoming more like you. Help me to find Christian friends who also seek to walk with you and help us to build up and pray for one another. Enable me to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, encourage other Christians to do the same, and bring glory to your name. In Christ I pray. Amen.

Repentance, Conversion, and Good Works

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 33

88. Question: What is the true repentance or conversion of man?

 Answer: It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.[1]

 [1] Rom. 6:1-11; I Cor. 5:7; II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10.

 89. Question: What is the dying of the old nature?

 Answer: It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin, and more and more to hate it and flee from it.[1]

 [1] Ps. 51:3, 4, 17; Joel 2:12, 13; Rom. 8:12, 13; II Cor. 7:10.

 90. Question: What is the coming to life of the new nature?

 Answer: It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ,[1] and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.[2]

 [1] Ps. 51:8, 12; Is. 57:15; Rom. 5:1; 14:17. [2] Rom. 6:10, 11; Gal. 2:20.

 91. Question: But what are good works?

 Answer: Only those which are done out of true faith,[1] in accordance with the law of God,[2] and to His glory,[3] and not those based on our own opinion or on precepts of men.[4]

 [1] Joh. 15:5; Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6. [2] Lev. 18:4; I Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10. [3] I Cor. 10:31. [4] Deut. 12:32; Is. 29:13; Ezek. 20:18, 19; Matt. 15:7-9.

An Epiphany!

(Part 2 of a series. Click here to read Part 1)

Epiphany

One day, the young man and a friend were sitting in a garden, when suddenly, he cried out to his friend, “What is wrong with us?”

He then said,

“as I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house. The voice repeated over and over again, ‘pick up and read, pick up and read.’ At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used, But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me – to open the book and read the first chapter I might find. I picked up the book of the apostle, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: It said, ‘Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’”

After he read these verses from Romans he testified,

“I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of the sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”

After this experience, the young man searched for his mother to tell her all that happened. After sharing his joy with her, they moved back to Carthage together. Two days later his mother died. It was as though she didn’t need to live anymore, for her son was now a Christian – he had tasted the Bread of Life.

Taste and See

This man who had lived a sinful and idolatrous life, whose daily life was filled with sexual immorality and drunkenness, who bowed before the altars of false gods and philosophies; this very man who tried everything the world had to offer, finally found the one thing the world couldn’t offer. He found the bread of life – Jesus Christ.

You may know this man of whom I am speaking. And those of you who don’t have probably heard of the city and beach that bears his name. His name is St. Augustine, and he became one of the greatest saints in the 2000-year history of the Christian church. Protestants and Catholics alike claim Augustine as a patron saint. God used this man with such a wretched past, to bring honor and glory to Christ’s name.

Augustine found the very bread Jesus was speaking about in John 6. The crowds were following Jesus because of the miracles he did. They wanted him to provide more bread for them to eat. But Jesus told them not to put all their hope in bread that would spoil, but instead, to seek that bread which would give them eternal life. The crowd, however, didn’t understand Jesus’ words. They said to him, “then give us this bread that you are speaking of.”

Jesus responded to them in verse 35,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Then in verse 40, Jesus described what God’s will for them was on this matter. He said,

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

A Treasure Found

This is the treasure St. Augustine found. This is the bread he tasted. This is the single most important truth he knew he would ever find in his life. Augustine responded to Jesus, the bread of life, the way Jesus told the disciples they should.

In Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, two men found treasures beyond their wildest dreams. Both men sold all they had to secure their discoveries. They recognized the value of what they had found, and they determined to have it. They sold all they had so they could buy it, and that’s exactly what they did.

Jesus told his disciples that this was the reasonable thing for them to do. It would have been foolish of them to find the great treasure and do nothing about it. Augustine saw the great treasure. His mother had been telling him about it for many years, and yet he did not have eyes to see it. And then suddenly, the veil was lifted and he saw it – and he sold all he had to purchase it. He sold the pleasures of all his sin. He sold the prestige he had as a famous teacher. He sold his friendships he had with those who would no longer be his friends. This was no light decision, free of consequence.

Stay tuned for Part 3.

The Hope of Real Repentance

2 Chronicles 7:14 – …if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Good News, Bad News

The Lord was pleased with the Temple Solomon had completed. God said he would take up residence there to receive worship and sacrifices. Then something a little strange happened, at least from our perspective. In a vision, God spoke sobering words to Solomon by telling him that, should God decide to shut up the heavens to prevent rain from falling, or command locusts to devour the land, or even send a plague on “his own” people (v. 13), he would still show mercy to genuinely repentant hearts.

The past sins of God’s covenant people against the Holy One was no trifle to be winked at. God taking up residence in the Temple was also no excuse for disobedience and idolatry. These were great offenses. But our gracious Lord offered hope in verse 14. God declared that when these calamities (consequences for sin) befall his covenant people, there would be something they could do.

Four Steps of Repentance

First, his people were to humble themselves. There was no room for pride and self-dependence here. Instead, God’s people were to fall on their faces before God as an act of spiritual poverty and brokenness. They had neither strength nor wisdom in and of themselves. God was then, and remains now, the Source for all that and more.

They were also commanded to pray. Prayers of adoration to God, confession of sin, expressions of their helplessness, and complete dependence upon their sovereign God would be good places to start.

Next, they were to seek the face of God. Imagine that great Day when we will behold the face of God. It is that face which we are to pursue in this life. We too need to cultivate the character of God in our lives, trust him alone, follow his commands, seek his presence, and enter into intimate communion with him. 

God also said his people must turn from their wicked ways. The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse of what those wicked ways looked like: God’s people had been turning away from and forsaking God and his decrees, as well as serving other gods and worshipping them. This is wickedness in the sight of God and is why God said he might bring disaster on his own people (v. 22). God’s people were to abandon such spiritual adultery at once. That’s repentance.

Forgiveness and Healing Await

If God’s people humbled themselves, prayed, sought God’s face, and turned from their wicked ways, God promised to hear them, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

Ours is a land in desperate need of healing. Whether it’s our country, culture, local church, or family, there is much need for the healing power of God. But it will not come merely because we recognize the need. That’s a good first step, but more is required – genuine change – change that results in humbling oneself before God and clinging to him alone. Saturating ourselves in prayer, grieving over our transgressions and seeking his forgiveness and restoration is essential. Following hard after God – his will, commands, presence, and pleasure – should be our life’s pursuit. And biblical repentance is necessary – turning from our wicked ways and leaving them behind and turning in a Godward direction. Our prayers should include pleading with God to enable us to do just that.

Holy and Gracious

We want to experience God’s forgiveness and see our land healed. But change will have to first take place. Until then, we should expect the discipline of a loving Father – one who loves us too much to let us continue down a destructive path, and who, therefore, will do much to bring us back to the right one. Because he is holy, he will never overlook our transgressions.

Because he is gracious, God will continue to call us away from the gods of this age. He summons us back to obedience and submission to his Lordship. And with that comes his promise to forgive us and heal our land. Thanks be to God – the great Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper.

Walking Points

·         What comes to people’s minds when they hear the word, “repentance?” What working definition do you think they use? Why?
·         Which of the four steps of repentance is hardest for you? Why do you think that is?
·         What are 2-3 ways you could make repentance a more natural part of your life?
·         What are the positive results that would happen if you more faithfully practiced biblical repentance?
·         Do you spend much time crying out to God in intercessory prayer on behalf of your family, community, church, culture, country, and world in which you live? If not, why not?
·         We cannot make other people genuinely repent, but how can our intercessory prayer still be a blessing to our land, as we beg God to heal it?
·         If you meet with other Christians, include such intercessory prayer this week. If you don’t belong to a small group, give two or three friends a call and get started. You won’t believe the difference it will make in your life. And based on our Scripture, who knows how God will answer your prayers for our world?

Prayer

Forgiving and healing God, you are holy and full of grace and you alone deserve to be worshipped. I give you praise that my sin, while detestable to you, does not prevent your continued offer of forgiveness and restoration. I ask you to never cease providing me with godly humility, so I can turn to you in complete recognition of my own sin and as well as my need for mercy and grace. Help me never believe I’m sufficient in and of myself. But more than mere recognition of my sin, I pray you will also enable me to turn away from sin and toward you in a life of joyful obedience. Give me also, O Lord, a heart that breaks for the land in which I live. Burden me with a desire to intercede for this pitiful and fallen world, knowing you long to hear such prayer and bring healing. My own rebellion and idolatry are surely representative of the wider culture in which I live. And so, dear God, I pray you will help us all see the destructive path we’re on and draw us into deeper and more intimate communion with you. In Christ’s holy and gracious name, I pray. Amen.