Most people have something they want to change. Generally, bad habits or unhelpful attitudes show up at the top of lists. In the greater population including many Christians, often these lists highlight the goal to just make yourself or your situation better.
As followers of Christ, our list of things that we want to change hopefully is informed more by the Bible than just those items we think would make life better. The motivation for the follower of Christ to change should reflect an individual’s purpose of life: to become more like Christ. Thus, as we read and learn the Bible, alongside the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin noticing things in our lives that need to change. As one grows in the Lord and is under the preaching of God’s Word, the list focuses less on what would simply make your life better to more substantive issues of behavior, thinking, attitudes, motives, and affections. Sometimes our list includes sin, sometimes issues of folly.
For those of you with a stubborn something on your list that has been hard to change, there is hope. Change is possible.
In Ephesians 4:20-21, after describing the life of an unbeliever, Paul writes, “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
Here, Paul refers to your salvation as learning Christ, where the truth you accept is truth about Jesus Christ. For true change to take place, it is important to understand what you “learned.” To do so, there are four key concepts to understand here in order to evaluate yourself pertaining to “learning” Christ.
Because you heard the truth of the Bible and learned about sin, you acknowledged you both have sinned and are a sinner. In other words, sin impacts you two ways: 1) You have committed acts of sin, and 2) You are a sinner by nature.
It is not enough to just simply acknowledge sin, you must take responsibility for it. Specifically, you recognize similarly to David that the sin in your life and in your heart is your sin. Writing to God, David wrote, “Against you and you only have I sinned.” Essentially, like David, one must go to God in repentance and recognize that not simply does sin exists but it is my sin. Every follower of Christ must own his or her personal sin and sin nature. This is part of being taught be Christ.
The next element of learning Christ is to seek and pursue a heart change. After you acknowledge your sin, you humbly come before God and ask His forgiveness of your sin. You ask Him to change your heart. This means you recognize that God fundamentally needs to change your inner man from what it is to what He wants. You ask God to accept what Jesus did on the cross—as your personal substitute—as the payment for your personal sin for which you are accountable, and apply Jesus’ righteousness to you. Paul describes it succinctly: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The final element of learning Christ involves a desire for life change. You begin to want to follow Jesus as your Lord. That is, you want your attitude, thinking, motives, and behavior to all reflect the character of Christ. You seek and pursue change at a whole new level. In every aspect of your life, you recognize the need to live holy as God is holy; righteous as Christ is righteous, and pure.
If you have learned Christ in this way, then you become a true follower of Jesus Christ. In this sense, true change is possible because true change has already happened at the heart level. You transitioned from a heart past feeling to a heart that now desires to become like your Savior and Lord, Jesus.
The Hope for Change
In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul explains this new heart and provides true hope; “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
In these three verses, Paul explains why and how you have hope for change. Literally, Paul tells you that you can change and that there is hope. He does this in three ways.
Your old sinful disposition, which was dominated by your sin nature and made honoring God impossible, God removes. In this text, Paul refers to your slavery to sin as the old man. He says that in Christ at salvation your old man is put off. In the English language it reads as if you put it off; but, in reality, Christ is the one who puts it off of you. Similar to taking off a layer of clothes within which you are wrapped, at salvation Christ takes off your old man. Further, notice how this old man is described: “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Herein lies the problem. Your old man is dominated by your lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Because of your old man, the Bible calls you a slave to sin and without hope in the world. Even earlier in Ephesians, Paul describes the one without Christ who is not saved as, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
God gave you a new man; that is, a new righteous disposition which desires to honor God and become like Christ. Again, notice how he describes it. This new man was made according to God, which reflects God’s righteousness and holiness. God placed that on you. Similar to the way God removed the old man, God clothes you in the new man. You are wrapped in this new man—no longer a slave to sin and your lusts, but now capable of living a holy and righteous life. Where you once could only sin, now you can choose righteousness. In fact, not only can you choose righteousness, but you want to choose righteousness.
God also began a new process in your mind known as renewal. God now begins to change or renew your mind through His Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in you. The process God begins in your inner man provides you the new and exciting opportunity to understand the significance of the Word of God. As you grow in your understanding, you begin to have discernment and wisdom. The more Word of God you know, the more the renewal process impacts you. You recognize how loving God and loving your neighbor begins to play out in day-to-day living. Further, you see how you have choices, how what you want impacts your choices, and how what you worship ultimately matters in each moment of life. You recognize worship as it relates to what you treasure, love, and serve.
Do you have hope? Absolutely. Not because you have the inherent ability to change, but because Christ makes change possible since you have been clothed in the new man.