YOU CAN BE CHANGED A couple of weeks ago I told you that in my opinion the most difficult truth Christians are asked to believe is not that there is a God or that God became human in Jesus or that Jesus was raised from the dead. It was that every human being matters to God. That he knows each one of us and he cares about each one of us. In my opinion, that’s the most difficult truth we’re asked to believe. Of all the promises we’re given by God, and remember that’s what we’re looking at in this session of Quest, the unfailing promises that God has given us to found our lives upon, of all the promises God has made to us, the most difficult one to believe may be the one we’re looking at this morning. We can be changed. I can be changed. You can be changed. You do not have to be who you have always been. You do not have to do what you have always done. You do not have to live the way you have always lived. I’m going to intro this with a clip from the movie – wait for it: Bridesmaids. I’m doing this for two reasons. One – it introduces the question of “Do people really change?” The other reason I’ll tell you as soon as the clip is over.
Clip: Bridesmaids Two reason for the clip: One it asks the question: Do people really change? Two: because I want you to remember that no matter how bad your day might be today, at the end of it you’re still going to be a man and that means you will never have to suffer through a conversation like the one you just saw. The promise of God is that we can be changed and not merely in some kind of outward, cosmetic way so that your life may look different than it once did, but on the inside you’re the same old man. No, the promise that God makes is this: you can be changed from the inside out. Here’s the promise as stated in Ezekiel 36.26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
The core affections of your heart – that’s the promise here – the part of you that desires and yearns and loves, the part of you that decides what or who you will seek after – your heart can be transformed and you can become a new man. First thing I want tell you this morning is this:
1. YOUR HEART NEEDS TO BE CHANGED This may be hard for some of us to hear, but our hearts need to be changed. Jesus said in Mark 7.21-23: For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.
You’ve heard me say it before. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. There’s something wrong with us that originates at the core of who we are. I’m not telling you that you’re a bad person or that you’re as evil as you can be or that there’s nothing good within you. But I am telling you what Jesus taught. The things we do that are wrong, they come out of something that is wrong deep within our hearts. That’s where the problem is and that’s what needs to be changed. “Trust your heart and you’ll never be wrong.” How many bad movies have you seen where that is the greatest insight and best advice that supposedly wise parents have to give their befuddled teenager? “Just follow your heart. Trust what it tells you. And you’ll never go wrong.”
Really? You have lived long enough to bring a human life into existence but you haven’t lived long enough to know anything about the human heart? You think you’re wise enough to give advice to others but you’re not wise enough to know squat about what lives inside you? Sorry if what I’m about to say offends you, but sometimes you just got to call a thang a thang. Your heart is proud. Your heart is self-serving. Your heart is able to justify just about anything you desire if the payoff is big enough. Your heart will hide its true motives from you and make you think you are fighting for some grand principle when it’s nothing more than your seeking greater power, higher position, more possessions, or some physical pleasure. That’s what I’ve learned about my heart. And that’s what the Bible teaches. Jeremiah 17.9: The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?
And the question is, if that’s true – if it’s even partially true that are hearts are deceitful and sick – the question is: how are we going to live a life that pleases God? Yes, we can be forgiven for the past, but how are we going to live a different life in the future with the same old heart?
THERE IS A LEGEND THAT COMES FROM INDIA ABOUT A MAGICIAN AND A MOUSE. THE MOUSE HAD DONE THE MAGICIAN A FAVOR AND THE MAGICIAN AGREED TO GRANT THE MOUSE ANY WISH HE CHOSE. THE MOUSE HAD ALWAYS BEEN AFRAID OF CATS AND ASKED TO BE CHANGED INTO ONE SO HE WOULD NO LONGER HAVE TO BE AFRAID. THE MAGICIAN AGREED. SOON THE MOUSE, NOW A CAT, RETURNED. HE HAD ENCOUNTERED A DOG, AND ONCE AGAIN HE WAS AFRAID. COULD HE BE CHANGED AGAIN – THIS TIME INTO A DOG AS FEROCIOUS AS THE ONE HE HAD SEEN? THE MAGICIAN ONCE MORE WORKED HIS MAGIC. LATER THAT DAY THE MOUSE, NOW A DOG RETURNED. HE HAD SEEN A TIGER AND ONCE MORE HE WAS IN FEAR. AGAIN HE ASKED, AND AGAIN THE MAGICIAN ACQUIESCED. AS NIGHT WAS FALLING, THE TIGER RETURNED. OH, GREAT MAGICIAN, HE SAID, I HAVE SEEN A LION. AND I AM FULL OF FEAR. CHANGE ME ONCE MORE. BUT THE MAGICIAN SHOOK HIS HEAD. I HAVE TRIED TO CHANGE YOU BUT I HAVE FAILED. FOR THOUGH YOU HAVE THE BODY OF A TIGER, YOU STILL HAVE THE HEART OF A MOUSE. HERE’S THE TROUBLE WITH TOO MANY GOOD, RELIGIOUS FOLKS, TRYING TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: THEY DON’T HAVE THE HEART FOR IT. I’M NOT SAYING THAT IN A CONDEMNING WAY. I’M JUST TELLING YOU THE TRUTH.
YOU CANNOT LIVE A NEW LIFE WITH AN OLD HEART. YOU CANNOT LIVE A DIFFERENT KIND OF LIFE WHEN YOU’RE THE SAME OLD MAN.
And that’s one reason people reject the Christian faith. They try to live like a Christian and it’s frustrating and they fail. And they either become resentful towards a God who expects them to do what they cannot do or they become so discouraged and ashamed that they give up and walk away from the faith. But the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came preaching, is not a set of rules to follow that we can’t possibly fulfill. It’s a promise that we can be forgiven for our past sins and our hearts can be transformed so we can live a new and different kind of life that pleases God. 2. YOUR HEART CAN BE CHANGED Let’s look at the promise again in Ezekiel 36.25-26: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
THERE ARE THREE APPROACHES TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE THAT I’M GOING TO SHARE WITH YOU. THE FIRST TWO, I BELIEVE, ARE DEFICIENT. BUT VERY COMMON. SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE HEARD ME TALK ABOUT THIS LAST SUMMER EITHER IN THE LOFT OR AT WOODFOREST. MY APOLOGIES.
BUT IF YOU HAVEN’T YET BEEN SO TRANSFORMED INTO THE IMAGE OF JESUS THAT PEOPLE ARE OFTEN MISTAKING YOU AS GOD’S OTHER ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON, IT MAY NOT HURT FOR YOU TO HEAR THIS AGAIN. I’M GOING TO SHARE WITH YOU THREE APPROACHES TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE TWO OF WHICH ARE DEFICIENT. BUT ONE OF THESE WILL DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE. I’m going to illustrate these three approaches using the testimony of one of our brothers who attends Quest. He was converted about a year and a half ago and I asked him to write up his story so I could share it with you. He did and it’s such a powerful story, I wish I could share all of it with you. I can only hit the highlights, though. I’ll refer to him as Gene. Let me say that not everyone’s experience is the same. Some of us have one huge moment of transformation. Others of us it’s more of a process. You don’t have to have Gene’s experience. But you do need to have your heart transformed by the Spirit of God. Here’s how Gene’s story begins. Our Brother: For the first 62 years of my life, I did not know God. It would not be right to say that I hadn’t found God because I wasn’t looking. But God found me, and He has made all the difference in my life. For most of my life, I relied on myself above all. Then at age 55, just 8 years ago, I found myself alone in a small apartment, divorced, isolated from my family, friends and colleagues and sitting in a bathtub with a gun to my head. I
remember being very calm about it. Let me tell you brothers, there is no feeling as empty as when you realize the world has nothing for you. Got your attention? Gene grew up in a home where there was no mention of faith and with a father who was an alcoholic and who would walk around the house with a shotgun or a pistol, talking about killing everyone in the family including himself. Professionally Gene became very successful working for a large oil company for 38 years until he retired three years ago as an executive. Unfortunately, Gene learned to survive the dysfunction of his childhood by isolating himself emotionally, which led to the failure of his first marriage to a good woman who could no longer live with a husband who was distant, controlling and judgmental. He met a wonderful woman who was a member to our church and they married in 2011. He began attending church with her. We’re going to stop the story there and talk about the first of the approaches for living the Christian life. It emphasizes 1. Information. It assumes the more I’m learning, the more I’m growing.
People with this view GO TO CHURCH or TO QUEST, LISTEN TO SERMONS AND READ THE BIBLE, NOT REALLY TO FORM A NEW LIFE; BUT TO INFORM AN OLD MIND. Back to Gene. This was where he started. He writes: I listened to the sermons and they resonated with me on a practical level, that is, good advice on how to live my life. And he started attending a Bible study and he enjoyed what he was learning. But that’s as far as it went. Unfortunately, this is as far as it ever goes for many men who go to church. Church is about gathering information, learning more about God or about how to live. THIS IS A VERY WESTERN AND A VERY MALE APPROACH TO LIFE. SO IT’S VERY EASY FOR GUYS LIKE US TO FALL INTO. WE THINK WE HAVE MASTERED A SUBJECT WHEN WE CAN DISCUSS IT AT LENGTH AND DESCRIBE IT IN DETAIL. AND IT NEVER OCCURS TO US THAT OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH SPIRIYUAL TRUTH IS NOT ABOUT OUR MASTERING IT, BUT ABOUT IT CHANGING US.
THE INFORMATION APPROACH TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE REQUIRES LITTLE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND NO EXISTENTIAL COMMITMENT. THIS PERSON MAY NOT BE GROWING MORE LIKE JESUS, OR BECOMING MORE COMPASSIONATE OR PATIENT or CARING MORE ABOUT THE POOR. BUT HE THINKS HE’S GROWING BECAUSE he knows WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF JUDE AND HE CAN TELL YOU THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICTION. ANOTHER ONE OF OUR GUYS WHO ATTENDS QUEST TOLD ME THAT HE BEGAN TO CONTEMPLATE HIS LIFE WHEN HE CAME OUT OF A SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS WHERE HE HAD WAXED ELOQUENT ON SOME SPIRITUAL TOPIC. AS THEY WALKED TO THE WORSHIP SERVICE, A CLOSE FRIEND ASKED HIM, “HOW DO YOU DO IT?” CERTAIN HIS FRIEND HAD BEEN IMPRESSED WITH HIS BIBLICAL EXPERTISE, HE SAID, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” INSTEAD OF DELIVERING THE EXPECTED COMPLIMENT, HIS FRIEND SAID TO HIM, “HOW DO YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF THE WAY YOU ARE?” THAT WAS 40 YEARS AGO. I WISH I HAD TIME TO TELL YOU ABOUT HIS DRAMATIC ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS AND HIS PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION THAT LED HIM INTO A MINISTRY THAT HAS CHANGED THE LIVES OF LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AND THAT HAS MADE HIM AN EXAMPLE TO SO MANY OF US.
INFORMATION IS IMPORTANT. THE MORE I KNOW, THE MORE I CAN GROW. BUT INFORMATION ALONE DOES NOT CHANGE US, IT DOES NOT TRANSFORM THE HUMAN HEART, AND IT DOES NOT MAKE US NEW MEN. THERE’S A SECOND APPROACH TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. IT SEES THE CHRISTIAN LIFE AS A PROCESS OF 2. REFORMATION. HONESTLY, THIS IS WHAT GETS MANY FOLKS COMING TO CHURCH. THEY WANT TO IMPROVE THEMSELVES AND BECOME BETTER PEOPLE. THEY HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ANGER. OR THEY’RE ANXIOUS ALL THE TIME. OR THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY KEEP REPEATING THE SAME MISTAKES. AND THEY WANT TO CHANGE. WHEN A PERSON GETS TO THIS POINT, VERY OFTEN THEY THINK: I’LL GO TO CHURCH, I’LL GO TO WORK ON MYSELF, AND I’LL MAKE MYSELF A BETTER PERSON. AND WE CAN CERTAINLY APPRECIATE THAT DESIRE. Again our brother Gene. Our brother: After the low point in my apartment, … I knew I was going to have to live differently but I wasn’t sure how to change.
How do you change your life when you’re the same old man? But that’s what gets many people coming to church. They know they need to change; they know they need to work on themselves and improve themselves. But there is something very important that we have to decide. Is our problem, our selfishness, our impatience, our lack of spiritual growth, is it in our lives because we haven’t learned enough and we haven’t tried hard enough, or is it there because there’s something wrong within us that trying hard won’t fix? Think about it with me. Your will power – and that’s where people who think the spiritual life is about reformation turn – your will power – all it ever does it express your nature. Your will power doesn’t determine what you want – all it does is attempt to achieve what you want. But what if there is something wrong with what you want? What if there is something broken inside you, sick even? Your heart – the seat of your desires, that part of you that determines what you value and what you pursue – what if there is something wrong with that part of you? Then your willpower will never be enough to live a different kind of life.
Here’s a scene from the LOTR, The Two Towers where Sméagol wrestles with his alter ego Gollum. Clip: Two Towers And Gollum does disappear. But he doesn’t go away. He ends up returning and taking over and destroying who Sméagol had hoped to become. You can fight your nature, and it may be contained or go underground for a while, but you will not be free of it until it changes. Willpower says: By my own strength of will, I will change myself. I will tell myself to be different, I will hate the part of me that’s ugly and mean and self-centered and tell it to go away. But as long as our hearts are wrong, our willpower, no matter how strong, will eventually express what’s in our heart, and our lives will be wrong. As long as our hearts are angry or lustful or greedy or malicious or insecure – we’ll continue to struggle with immorality, dishonesty, pride and a temper that does damage to the people we love. Why? Because willpower expresses what’s in the heart. But it is powerless to transforms the heart and its desires. Again from Gene.
Our brother: Leading up to my conversion, my focus had continued to be on myself, making myself a better person through my own efforts. It felt good to work at that and I made progress, but I was still burdened by my past sins and my inability to get past the sins of others. … I still had issues periodically with anxiety and anger. My self-talk was relentlessly negative, focused on conflict and the slights and aggressions of others, real or perceived. My stress level was high and constant.
Reformation. Look at that word. It begins with re-form. It takes the old stuff that’s there and re-forms it, reshapes it, moves it around, and re-orders it. But re-formation does not change the stuff that’s there. And reformation doesn’t change what’s wrong within our heart. Now if you don’t like me telling you that there’s something wrong with you, well, first, grow the heck up. I can’t be the first person to tell you that. But if you don’t like ‘wrong,” think broken. There’s something wrong/broken/twisted/sick at the core of who we are, and willpower will never get at that. Here’s what I have come to conclude about myself. See if you can buy into it. I can make myself a better person. But I cannot make myself like Jesus. I can change my priorities, but I cannot change my nature.
If that’s where you are, then this next version of the Christian life is the one for you. 3. Transformation Here’s a definition. Transformation: to change in character or condition; to change a thing into a different thing
This is the promise of the Gospel – we can be transformed. We can change in character. Our hearts can be filled with goodness and we can become more like the God we love. The promise is not that we can transform ourselves, but that God can transform us. Back to Gene – and Jesus. This is November 2015. Our brother: I participated in my first Quest mission to Honduras. One day during the lunch period, I walked alone into the tiny church on a mountain top that was our base. hanging on the walls of the church were simple banners on which were written the various names of God. The local pastor came up to me with an interpreter … He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said “I know you have a heart for God. I know you feel him calling you, and you are resisting him.” When I returned from the trip, I started a study of the Gospel of John called “Who is Jesus?” One night about 3 am when I couldn’t sleep, I was reading in the Gospel of John when I saw Jesus clearly and intensely in my heart and mind. I saw Him on the cross, beaten and bloody, and I knew at that instant that Jesus had died for my sins, not just the sins of others. I fell to my knees weeping, repented of my sins and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. This same experience happened again about one month later. I joined the Church shortly after that and at age 62 was baptized by immersion in August 2016 in front of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
He goes on to say “After I accepted Jesus, everything changed, and it changed overnight.” He writes that his purpose has changed from living for self to living for God, his priorities have changed – what once consumed him have become unimportant, his relationships have changed – primarily because he has changed, he now lives to serve God and others, especially the poor, and his prayer life has changed and he has experienced that it is “so wonderful to have Someone who loves you with you all the time so all you have to do is open your heart to be with him.” Last quote: Brothers, before I accepted Jesus, I relied on myself to find my way in the world of men. In reality, despite outward evidence of worldly success and being considered a “good person.” I was just stumbling from one crisis to another. My selfgratification came from solving each crisis even as I knew that I probably caused many of them. … Make no mistake; my life is far from perfect. But there is no mistaking the changes that have been made in me.
Not everyone’s coming to faith is as dramatic as Gene’s. But everyone one of us needs our hearts to be changed and every one of us can be transformed by God from the inside out. That’s the only way God does it. If you have truly accepted Christ, the transformation has already begun. 2 Corinthians 5.17: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!
If you have received Christ, God’s Spirit lives in you, you have been born again, born spiritually, you are a new man, and the process of transformation has begun. Even people who have had a dramatic conversion like Gene did, will still discover that the total transformation of our hearts is an ongoing process. Our principle desires the direction of our lives may be changed in a moment, but we will continue to fight battles so that the change God has worked in us grows into every area of our lives. Philippians 2.12-13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.
God is at work in you, Paul tells the Philippians. He’s giving you the will and the power to act according to his purpose. So join him, use the power he’s given you, act on the new heart he has placed within you, to do his will.
We don’t have much time left, but I need to nuance this for you. Even with a new heart there will be battles to fight against temptation and sin. And there will be times that we will have to exert our will to express our new nature and to turn away from what’s wrong and to step into God’s will for us. But ultimately the battle is not won by our willpower even after our conversion. It will be won by letting God go deeper in our lives and completing his work or transformation within us. How does that work? Way, way, way too briefly here. 1. Spend time with Jesus. John 15.1-5: Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. … Apart from me you can do nothing.
Prayer. Worship. Inviting him into every part of your life. Not leaving him at church when the service is over or at home when you go to work. Remaining in relationship with him throughout the day.
Listen, you cannot live the Jesus life without the life of Jesus living in you. So, anything that keeps you open and connected to Christ, do that so the Spirit of God can do deeper within you. 2. Spend time with his word. John 8.31-32: If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Abide means remain in or dwell in or live in. Spend time reading God’s word, studying God’s word, and contemplating God’s word, meeting with God through his word. And reading and studying, not just to learn something but to bring your life before him and to be changed by him. Freedom from old desires, temptations and sin come when we get into the word and we get the word into us. Start with book of John. 3. Spend time with others who are being transformed. Hebrews 10.24-25: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Meeting together, sharing life with others who are following Christ – Hebrews says that will spur us on toward the new life of love and good deeds. It talks about encouraging one another.
You know that word – it means to put heart into each other. Being around people who know Jesus, who love Jesus, who are serving Jesus, and who are being transformed into the image of Jesus – that will spur us on to want more and to be more and to let God do more in us so we can be fully transformed into the image of his Son. Prayer – pride greed anger need to justify myself and be right insecurity anxiety critical spirit Small groups