Monday, August 17, 2009

how we change (5b) how are you going to change?

If rules, programs and vows aren't the key to change, what is?

The key to change is far simpler and more wonderful. Here it is (fanfare please!):

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
We're not like trains, moving from A to Z. We're like trees, staying put in one place. We don't grow by moving on from faith in Jesus to something else: laws, programs, promises. We grow by digging our roots deeper into Christ.

Jerry Bridges once asked an audience what non-Christians most needed. They answered, "the gospel". He asked what Christians most needed. They answered, "discipline". But we don't move on from the gospel to discipline. We need the gospel as much now as ever. The gospel is the key to salvation and the key to growth.

We became Christians through faith (turning to Jesus) and repentance (turning from sin - Mark 1:15). We grow as Christians in exactly the same way: through faith and repentance. Repentance is not an add-on to faith, but the flip-side of faith. As Chester says, try turning to something without turning from something else and see how you go!

Here's how it looks in practice (Colossians again! - but you could also look at Eph 4:20-24, Gal 3:1-3, 5:1, 13-25):

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [faith]

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love. [repentance] (from Col 3:1-10)
When our hearts are captured by the gospel, we change. Change is about becoming who we already are in Jesus. Chester says that change is less like trying to push a boulder up hill and more like a boulder rolling down. It's God who changes us through his grace, and his work is irreversible and irrevocable: we just have to walk with him.*

A girl I know who just became a Christian sees this clearly:

I was like the blind who suddenly see who Jesus is and how he died for me. ... Now I want to do things not because I have to, but because I have been so loved by God. (cf 2 Cor 5:14)
As for me, I'm discovering that as I sink my roots deeper into the grace of Christ, reminding myself every day that I'm accepted by God not because of what I do but because of Jesus' death, I'm changing. But it's not because I've created new rules and regulations for myself. It's because my heart is singing the song of God's incredible grace.

For reflection: How have you tried to change in the past? What worked? What didn't work? Have you seen how God’s grace changes your heart more than rules or programs? How can you dig your roots deeper into God's grace in Christ every day?

*Phil 1:6, Heb 12:7-11, Rom 6:1-14, Rom 8:5-17, Gal 5:15-25

If you'd like to see or use my seminar How Change Happens, which is based on Tim Chester's You Can Change, please contact me.

quotes are from chapter 3 of Tim Chester's
You Can Change; Jerry Bridge's story is from chapter 1 of The Discipline of Grace

images are from stock.xchng


Rosie said...

Thanks again for this challenging series Jean. It's just so frustrating! I know these truths - I first read Discipline of Grace 4 years ago on a student reading week, and had studied those verses in Colossians years before that, and yet legalism still persists in my heart, and even when my motives start to approach gospel-centred ones I am just incapable of maintaining them or maintaining the godly disciplines I want to learn... Rant over. Thanks for driving me back to prayer, anyway.
With love in Christ,

Jean said...

I was talking to a friend about what you are saying just the other day. She had been feeling depressed, and said that trying to think about God's grace just added to her burdens.

I think that even rejecting legalism and trying to be grace-centred can become another legalistic practice (I know, I'm doing your head in!). Not that this means we should try even harder or repent even more.

But that it should drive us to Christ (as you say - to prayer!). It's not the amount or purity of our faith that saves us: it's God and his grace. Sometimes we need to take our eyes off ourselves and remember that yes, we'll keep failing and failing and failing, but what matters is God's faithfulness.

I'm probably not making much sense here! What I'm trying to say is that it's about God holding on to us, not us holding on to God; and that he is at work in us, even when sinful attitudes persist. You can rest in him, confident that he'll finish the good work he started in you through the gospel.

In practice, I'm learning that this means that the moment I identify a sinful, legalistic or whatever, attitude in my heart, instead of bemoaning it and saying "woe is me! I need to try harder!" I'm starting to learn to turn straight to God and say "Aaargh! I can't do it! Forgive and help me!"

Driven to prayer, just as you say! Thanks to God, who has mercy on us again and again and again.

Jean said...

... or here's another possibility ... laugh in Satan's face and say, "You can keep accusing me, but everything's ok between me and God because Jesus died for me!"

... or stop looking at ourselves and start looking at Christ. "For every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ" - see here.

And now I stop to think about it, you put it perfectly: "even when my motives start to approach gospel-centred ones I am just incapable of maintaining them or maintaining the godly disciplines I want to learn... ". Yes, you are, and so am I! Thanks be to God, who rescues us from ourselves.

I am a far greater sinner than I will ever know. But God's grace is greater still. I pray that both you and I can hold on to that!

And now the rant finisheth.

Jean said...

Dear friend who wrote me a comment privately,

Why don't you send what you said to me at so I can respond privately.

I will pray for you.

Love Jean.

Sarah B said...

At the risk of sounding glib and insensitive, I don't 'try' to change, God has just done it in my life. I shy away from approaching God in relation to change. Anytime I have asked for such a thing in my life he has set about such a painful work in me that I now fear it. I have experienced what I perceive to be 'so much struggle and sickness' that I don't want to know what else he may have in store for me. I don't want to sound negative, God has been truly faithful through all my circumstances, but it is still a scarey process and I know for sure that God's ways are not my ways.

Jean said...

Oh yes, Sarah, I am with you on that one. I once prayed for humility and the answer wasn't pretty! Like you, I find myself trusting God more and more to change me at his own pace and in his own way. I trust him and marvel at his faithfulness. He changes me at his own pace and with his own perfect timing - I can see that now! - although, of course, this doesn't do away with my responsibility to battle sin and fight, in his strength, to change. But these days I do it with my hand firmly in his.

Jean said...

Dear friend who commented privately,

Could I suggest you talk to a trusted, mature Christian about what you asked me? I think you need to be honest with someone about this even though it's hard. I think they would be able to help you see things clearly.

I hope I'm not overstepping the mark, but can I humbly say that you are secure in God's love even when you doubt it - it's not the strength of your faith, it's the strength of his grace, that keeps you safe in Christ.

God bless you richly in his grace.

In Christ,