My Bible study class studied for several weeks a book by Chip Ingram on the Miracle of Life Change. I recently discovered nine foundational truths about life change (from Pastor Rick Warren):
1. Understand that the goal of all change is Christ-likeness. God doesn’t want us to be happy; he wants us to be holy. We become holy as we become more like Jesus. When you see people, remember this – God’s goal for the people you see isn’t balance, happiness, or comfort. He wants nothing less than for them to become like Jesus.
Paul tells us in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We have a phrase here in America, “Like father, like son.” God wants nothing more than for us to become like Jesus, in how we act, how we talk, how we relate to others, how we relate to God, and every aspect of our lives. This is always the goal of biblical change.
2. Realize that both you and God have a part to play in changing. You can’t do God’s part in the change process, but you must do yours. You can see this clearly when Paul writes in Philippians 2:12-13, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Notice Paul says, “Continue to work out …” That’s your part. Then he says, “for it is God who works in you …” That’s God’s part. We both have a part to play.
The Bible doesn’t say to work for your salvation. It says to “work it out.” There’s only one way you can find salvation – by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Think about it, you don’t work out in the gym to create muscles you don’t have; you work out to strengthen the muscles God has given you. When you “work out” your salvation, you don’t earn it. Instead, you strengthen what God has already given you. You can’t transform or change yourself, but – because of the cross – the Holy Spirit can. But you have a part to play.
3. Accept that lasting change starts with choice. Whatever hurt, habit, or hang-up you have, change begins with a choice. Choice is one of the greatest gifts that God gives us. In the Bible, God tells us to make healing choices (Deuteronomy 30:19), “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
4. Change requires truth. Jesus said in John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth may set you free, but first it makes you miserable. The reason most of us aren’t free is that we don’t want to face the truth about our sin. We don’t want to face the truth about others, our relationships, our parents, or our past. The Bible says our hearts are “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
That deceit has to be balanced with the truth of God. Why does truth set us free? Because the way we think affects the way we feel. The way we feel then affects the way we act. If you want to change the way you act, you don’t want to start with your behavior, you start with your thoughts. The battle over sin always begins in the mind. You can’t stop the thoughts that come into your mind, but you need to know how to divert them. Change happens when we’re honest about what is in our heart and then we challenge it with the Word of God. The truth is, behind every self-defeating behavior in your life is a lie that you believe to be true.
5. Lasting change happens in community. God has wired us to only get well in community, not a cocoon. Koinonia (the Greek term for fellowship or community) simply means being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ, and sharing a common life.
Change happens when you open up and share your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. It’s the only way to get over them. James 5:16 tells us to, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Revealing your feelings is the beginning of healing. If you want to see true life change, you need to develop Christian community or fellowship in your life.
6. Lasting change is a step-by-step process. The kind of change that we really long for won’t happen by accident or by chance. Change happens intentionally and incrementally. The Message paraphrases 2 Corinthians 3:18, “Our lives are gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” When God enters our lives, we become gradually more like Jesus. That is sanctification.
7. Lasting change requires multiple reinforcement. You’ve got to get truth in a lot of different ways to make the way for lasting change. How can people listen to Pastor Skip’s sermons for years and not grow? People just don’t grow by listening. James tells us not to merely listen to the Word of God but to obey it (James 1:22). He goes on to say that the one who “looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
It’s the person who remembers the Word of God and does it who is blessed. Leaders must teach people the Bible in multiple ways to make that happen in their lives. God loves variety. He wired some people to learn through what they hear. Others learn from they see or read. Others learn by doing. Those who participate in worship will hear the Word. They talk about it in their small group Bible studies. They read about it in a book.
8. Lasting change requires new habits. I’ve heard it said that you are the sum total of your habits. You’ve got both good and bad habits, but what you do habitually is what you are. You don’t have to think about taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or shaving. You just do it. Those are habits. You’re not an honest person unless you are habitually honest. You’re not faithful to your spouse if you’re only faithful 98% of the time.
For 2,000 years Christians have been developing good habits. We often call them spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, quiet time, Bible study, solitude, fasting, service, journaling, etc. These are building blocks of spiritual growth. Not many believers have been to a boot camp for spiritual growth because. We just did not know that we needed it.
9. Real change changes others. A lot of people come to marriage counseling and say they wanted to change their spouse, when what they really needed to do was change themselves. You can only change someone else by changing yourself. When you change, you force the other person to change because they can’t respond to you the same old way. When God changes you, he’ll use you to change others.
How do you know someone’s life has been changed by God and they’re spiritually mature? You know the same way that you know if someone is physically mature – reproduction. Spiritually mature people reproduce. As people experience real life change, they’ll help others find the same hope.
God says life is a choice. Jesus says, “I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). Life is a choice, but most people are just existing. They get up in the morning, go to work, come home, watch TV, and go to bed. Then they get up in the morning, go to work, come home, watch TV, and go to bed… over and over, repeating that same pattern. One day they wake up and realize there is more to this life than just existing!
The kind of life that God wants us to have is not automatic. Spiritual growth is not automatic. You have to make choices to help yourself grow.