Why Aren’t You Changing?

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” -Greg Beale

Do you feel stuck spiritually? Do you sometimes wonder if there is more to the Christian life than what you are experiencing? Are you living with a sense that you are just managing your sin instead of really dealing with it? Are you quietly wondering why you are not changing as much as you would hope?

PREMISE #1: WHEN WE WORSHIP GOD WE BECOME LIKE GOD.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. -2 Corinthians 3:18

The apostle Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians that we are spiritually transformed by worshipping God, by “beholding the glory of the Lord.” There are a million different things in life that are screaming for our attention. Yet, how often do we sabotage ourselves by failing to slow down, quiet our heart and mind, and truly seeking hard after God in worship?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:38-42

PREMISE #2: ALL TOO OFTEN WE ARE GOING THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS MOTIONS WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPING GOD.

“I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. -Amos 5:21-23

Have you ever wondered why you, or anyone for that matter, can attend church, do their devotions, and yet remain unchanged spiritually? I think one of the problems is that our spiritual life has become too routine and mechanical. We are like the people that Amos is addressing. We have this tendency to drift in and out of religious experiences without a genuine, life-transforming encounter with God.

PREMISE #3: THERE ARE INDICATORS, OR SIGNS, THAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS MOTIONS WITHOUT TRULY WORSHIPPING GOD.

…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. -2 Timothy 3:5

  • You are lacking in joy.
  • You are critical with others.
  • You are easily angered.
  • You are lacking in contentment.
  • You are anxious.
  • You are irritable.
  • You are bored.
  • You don’t care much about those who are lost all around you.
  • You have unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life.

Our behavior is directly related to the condition of our heart. We change our behavior by having our heart changed. Our heart is changed by coming into God’s presence and worshipping him.

PREMISE #4: YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORSHIPPING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE AND IT IS SHAPING YOU INTO IT’S IMAGE.

Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them. -Psalm 115:8

N.T. Wright puts it like this, “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.”

Are you worshipping your job, family, hobbies, politics, success, fitness? One way to figure out the answer to that question is get alone for an extended period of time and ask God to reveal to you what it is that is most important to you in life. We are moving at such a frantic pace that often times we are not even aware of what is truly going on in our own heart.

PREMISE #5: THERE ARE HOLY HABITS THAT WILL LEAD TO SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. -1 Timothy 4:7-8

  • Ask God to reveal areas of unconfessed sin and truly repent of it.
    • I personally believe that one of the greatest hindrances to spiritual transformation (or revival) is trying to manage our sin rather than really dealing with it. This may require getting into a relationship with someone who will pray with you and hold you accountable.
  • Sing songs of worship to God during the week.
    • I would say that one of the most special times for me is on Sunday when I am singing praise to God with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But this raises a question, why don’t we do this more during the week? Perhaps we need to turn off the political talk show and listen to worship music instead.
  • Instead of merely reading Scripture meditate upon it.
    • We need to allow the Word of God to soak into our hearts and our minds. Are we really embracing the mind-blowing truth that God is speaking to us as we read his Word? What does it look like to meditate on God’s Word rather than merely reading it? Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes this, “As you read, pause frequently to meditate on the meaning of what you are reading. Absorb the Word into your system by dwelling on it, pondering it, going over it again and again in your mind, considering it from many different angles, until it becomes part of you.”
  • Commit yourself to a deeper prayer life.
    • Over the past year God has been convicting me when it comes to my prayer life. I need to pray for my own spiritual good. I need to pray so that I will not be overcome by the temptations that I face every single day. I need to pray for there to be a spiritual awakening in my church and city. We give lip service to the idea that prayer is important but far too often our lives reveal that we actually believe we can get by in our own strength and power. I think the bottom-line is that nothing much will change if we are not developing a deeper prayer life.
    • “We must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will eventually lead to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. . . . Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.” -Tim Keller

Try harder (imperatives)? Do nothing (indicatives)? How do we become more like Jesus Christ?

There has been a disagreement in the christian community about whether we should emphasize indicatives or imperatives to help people become more like Christ. Or, to what degree should we emphasize one over the other? Definitions at this point may help.

Biblical indicative – A statement of fact. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

Biblical imperative – A command to be obeyed. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 12:14

I will be leaning heavily on and quoting directly from “Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives” by Robert Kellemen to answer this question; how do we become more like Jesus Christ?

One approach has been the gospel indicative approach, which in its extreme seems to emphasize that sanctification entirely or almost exclusively involves the work of God, where our only “role” is to remember and re-believe what God has already done for us in the gospel (gospel indicatives). The other approach has been labeled the gospel imperative approach, which in its extreme seems to emphasize that sanctification, while always initially the work of God, primarily involves our active effort to change as we obey the commands of God (gospel imperatives). P.254

As you think through these theological issues you will come to realize what a enormous difference it makes in how a person counsels, disciples and preaches. Have you ever heard someone preach but they rarely emphasized the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and how it sustains and empowers us? Great recipe for burnout and fatigue. Or, the preaching that continually points to the cross and our justification but never goes on to explain how we put off our old self and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24)? Great recipe for confusion when it comes to living out our faith in everyday life. For my money there needs to be a balance. A balance, I believe, that we see in Scripture between the indicatives and the imperatives.

We ought to positively glory in the indicatives of the gospel. The indicatives ought to fuel our following of the imperatives. Our obedience must be grounded in the gospel. Sanctification is empowered by faith in the promises of God. We need to be reminded of our justification often and throughout our Christian lives. Our pursuit of personal righteousness will not go anywhere without a conviction that we are already reckoned positionally righteous in Christ.

The New Testament gives us commands, and these commands involve more than remembering, revisiting, and rediscovering the reality of our justification. We must also put on, put off, put to death, strive and make every effort…Yes this effort is always connected to gospel grace. But we cannot reduce effort to simply believing in justification. P. 258, Kellemen quoting Kevin DeYoung

Clearly Paul (and the collective testimony of Scripture for that matter) does not shy away from talking about effort and our need to pursue Christ. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Yet at the same time our “effort” must flow out of an deep understanding and gratitude for what Jesus did on the cross and the fact that our life is now hidden in him.