We Can’t Change on our Own
Realizing that change is something that has to take place in the heart is just the first step in the battle for change. Once we understand this, it moves the battle for change from trying to modify our behaviors to trying to transform the deepest motivations of our hearts. However, this actually makes change harder, doesn’t it? It is relatively easy to adjust our outward behavior for a little while, but this adjustment will never change who we are internally. In fact, the same old patterns of behavior always seem to pop up again and again because our hearts remain unchanged. We still naturally desire to seek our righteousness and our identity in things other than God Himself. The problem really is that we can’t seem to change our own hearts!
We are not the first people to have experienced this problem. If we think back in God’s Story to Deuteronomy we find Moses restating the Law that Israel was to keep because they had entered into a covenant relationship with God at Mt. Sinai. In the midst of urging Israel to “fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statues of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good” (Deut 10:12–13), He tells Israel in Deuteronomy 10:16 to “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” Circumcision was the outward sign that Israel was called by God to reflect His image to the world. However, Moses tells Israel that outward circumcision is not enough. Rather their hearts needed to be circumcised if they were going to be faithful to God.
The amazing thing is that later in Deuteronomy, Moses later tells Israel they would fall into unfaithfulness; rather than leaving them in their failure, God Himself would come and circumcise their hearts so they could live faithfully as God’s people. This promise of God was echoed later in the Old Testament in places such as Ezekiel 36: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
So change—both in our hearts and the actions that flow from our hearts—must come from God Himself! The Apostle Paul describes this amazing transformation in his letter to the Ephesians.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. —Ephesians 1:3–14
Notice here how the full power and energy of God are at work to liberate us from our oppressive sinful nature and desires! The Father desired to set us free from the sinful desires that enslave us and restore our status as sons and daughters. He set in motion a plan carried out by His Son Jesus and the Spirit to deliver us from both the penalty and power of sin.
Jesus does what legalism can never do: He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. Without that inner transformation, we can never please God. People are not changed by therapy or analysis—not even biblical analysis. They are changed by God. The Father renews, liberates, and sanctifies through the Son by the Spirit.
Sanctified by Faith in the Gospel
Even though Jesus reconciles us to the Father through the Spirit entirely by His work, this doesn’t mean we get to put our feet up and relax as though we had nothing to do. Even though the Spirit’s power accomplishes both our reconciliation to the Father and our transformation into the Son’s image, every day we are faced with the choice to submit to His leadership or to go our own way. We must enter into a process of daily repentance and faith in the truth of the gospel as we choose to entrust ourselves entirely to God. Understanding what Jesus has done for us and worshipping God in response is the only thing that will bring lasting change.
This blog post is an excerpt from Growing in Christ Together. Learn more and get your copy here.
How have you experienced the Father renew, liberate, and sanctifie through the Son by the Spirit. ?