A couple of weeks ago I wrote about prayer and Bible study and how they are “The 2 Essential Means of Christian Growth.” This week I want to talk more about how those two means work themselves out on a practical level.
Welcome to Mondays @ Soul Survival
How Do We Grow & Change?
The goal for a believer is to become conformed to the image of Christ. In fact, He has predestined us to do so (Rom. 8.29). Though we won’t reach that perfectly in this life, God is at work in us here and now.
Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1.6).
While we tend to believe it’s things outside of us (our family of origin, other people’s sins, our financial situation, other circumstances, etc.) that cause us to sin or hold us back, those are the things God wants to use to propel us forward, to grow us into the character of His Son (Jas. 1.2-5).
But this won’t happen without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit working in our lives. Philippians 1.6 is a promise for believers. And, while God will get us there if we belong to Him, we can choose to co-operate with His work or grieve the Holy Spirit and hinder His work (Eph. 4.30; 1 Thess. 5.19). When we do, we shouldn’t be surprised if God turns up the heat (Heb. 12.6).
So, how do we co-operate with God’s work in our lives?
Examining Ourselves in Light of Scripture
Reading God’s Word shouldn’t be something we do so we can check it off our Christian-to-do list. Neither should we read for head knowledge alone. We should read with a view to apply it to our lives (2 Cor. 13.5; Jas. 1.22-25). David prayed:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting (Ps. 139.23-24).
God does that by showing us where we’re not like Christ as He’s revealed in the pages of Scripture. Much of that will relate directly to the tests and trials in our lives and how we may not be responding in godly ways.
I recently assigned a counselee the book of James as homework. For several weeks we had been discussing what she considered the right way of handling a difficult custody issue. When we met the following week, I asked what she had learned as she read through the book. She immediately went to this passage in James 3:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
She went on to share with me how she realized what she had been doing looked nothing like verses 17 and 18. Instead, it looked a lot more like the first four.
What had happened? Because she opened her heart to what God wanted to show her, the Holy Spirit had used the Word of God to break through her attempts to justify sinful anger and self-reliance.
Then He provided her with the will and the desire to do what pleases Him instead of continuing to do what seemed right to her.
God’s Methodology for Change
In biblical counseling we talk about what we call put-offs and put-ons. I discussed this yesterday in regard to our thinking in “Do Wrong Thoughts Run Your Life?”
Ephesians 4.22-24 says:
22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
The New Living Translation says it this way:
22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
The idea is that we should throw off “old man” habits and ways of responding and put on “new man” ways of living.
Many people either try to stop doing things they believe are not Christian (drinking, cursing, etc.) without putting on biblical behaviors or they try to put on things they believe are (church attendance, hanging around believers, etc.) while holding on to many other behaviors (pride, anger, dishonesty, sexual immorality, etc.). Some of them have never been truly converted. Others are nominal believers who will remain spiritual babies unless they grow in their understanding and willingness to change (Heb. 5.12-14).
Look back at Ephesians 4.22-24. In order to grow we must first recognize our old man behaviors, confess them to God and choose to put them off with help of the Holy Spirit (v. 22). Then we must put on new Christlike behaviors that are to take their place (v. 24). In the midst of it all, we’re to continually renew our minds with the truth (v. 23).
In the rest of Ephesians 4, we’re told to:
Put off lying and put on speaking the truth in love (vss.15, 25).
Put off stealing and put on working and giving (v. 28).
Put off corrupt speech and put on what is good, edifying and gives grace to those who hear (v. 29).
Put off bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking and put on kindness, tenderheartedness (compassion) and forgiveness.
In Philippians 4.6-7 we’re told to put off fear and worry and put on prayer and thanksgiving.
The Epistles are full of passages that tell us what to put off and what to put on, though, sometimes one or the other is implied. For instance, Ephesians 5.22 and 33 say wives are to submit to their husbands and show them respect. The put offs that are implied are disrespect and attempts to usurp our husband’s leadership.
If you begin to look for these put-offs and put-ons, you’ll be surprised at how many you find. A good way to become more aware of them is to put a (+) over and put-ons and a (-) over put-offs.
Direction not Perfection
We have been commanded to grow (Eph. 4.15), to put-off ungodly behavior and to put-on Christ-like behavior. Sometimes the amount of things we see that need changing in us can be almost over-whelming. But the good news is God knows we won’t live the Christian life perfectly. That’s why Christ died. We need to remember God is looking at the heart. It’s about the direction not perfection. God just asks us to be faithful to change those things He shows us one day at a time. Confessing when we fail. Getting back up and trusting Him to help us grow in our obedience.
New on the Blog in 2018
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I blog through the Bible each year by adding my thoughts about that day’s readings.
It started as a challenge to a group of women in our women’s ministry. My goal was to encourage them to read their Bibles more. I promised to send out a daily email sharing something I had taken away from my reading. But when my email list grew into the hundreds, I decided there must be a more efficient way to share. So in 2012 Soul Survival was born.
My goal is still the same. God in His mercy has given me a love for His Word and I want others to know the life-changing truths it contains.
But this year I’ll be adding something new. As I read, I’ll be looking for those passages that I want to pray back to God and that I think you might, too. I’ll be turning them into prayers that we can pray together for ourselves, our families and those God has put in our lives.
As we do, let’s expect God to work in powerful and miraculous ways. Let’s expect loved ones to come into the kingdom, life-dominating habits of sin (addictions) to be broken and replaced by spirit-filled living, marriages to be strengthened, and relationships to be healed. Let’s expect to walk in greater degrees of true prosperity and blessings. And, perhaps most important, let’s expect a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Let’s expect to know His character and to grow in our ability to trust in Him and see His glory.
I hope you’ll join me by signing up for the daily emails.
Here’s what is coming up this next week in the daily posts. In the next few days, we’ll talk about whether our faith is genuine, God’s teaching on women, anger toward God, the veracity of the Scriptures and more.
Be sure to sign up so you won’t miss any of them.
An Announcement for My Blogging Friends:
This will be the last linkup, at least for a season. I’m planning some changes here in my corner of the blogging world, one of which I shared above. I’m, also, planning to role out a new theme in the near future and some new features by the end of the year.
I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting. I’ll be visiting many of you on your blogs and linkups. Thanks so much for linking up each week! And in the meantime …
IF YOU ARE A BLOGGER, NOW IT’S TIME TO LINKUP!
IF NOT, CHECK OUT THE GREAT POSTS LINKED BELOW!
Mondays @ Soul Survival is a place to share your insights about God and His Word, parenting, marriage, homemaking, organization and more. Feel free to link up multiple posts as long as they are family friendly. Remember this is a Christian site.
This post may contain affiliate links, but I only recommend books and resources that I believe are theologically sound and beneficial to the reader. Thank you for supporting this blog and ministry by supporting my links!