Five Things You Need to Know to Change Your Life

Five Things You Need to Know to Change Your Life

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“How can I change?” is one of the more common questions asked when people think through the challenges and responsibilities of becoming a better believer. Changing, improving, and maturing is at the heart of the gospel: Christ came to seek and save the lost, giving us an alien righteousness and creating the possibility of becoming like Him. While biblical responses to the how can I change question vary, sometimes what folks say is off the mark. For example, “Let go and let God” minimizes personal responsibility. “Look out for number one” sabotages loving God and others most of all. “Let your conscience be your guide” does not consider the malleable inner voice. Christians can do better because we have a surer Word. Thus, the question remains, how do you change?

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The Change Process

The more technical term for the change process is called progressive sanctification, a process of transformation that happens over the years in various milieus as you engage God and others for the purpose of maturing into Christlikeness. In the Bible, there are five means of grace that the Lord provides for us so we can progressively mature into Christlike holiness and practical living. They are God, the Bible, Ourselves, Situations, and Friends.

Five Ways to Change Your Ways

God Changes Us

The number one contender in the change process is God Himself. Of course. God changes us. I do not think any believer would argue this point. Though there are other means of grace that we must implement at different times and in different ways, there is one steady and consistent change agent: God is always part of the change process if sustaining transformation is going to happen. The testimony of Scripture is clear: God grants change, or what we theologically call repentance. See Acts 11:18; Ephesians 2:4-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-25; Psalm 80:3. If a person wants to change, the first place he must look is to God. All authentic and sustaining change begins with Sovereign Lord.

Do you want to change? Make your requests known to God. Ask Him to transform you into the image of His Son. The Lord can do this for you. To some Christians, the request to pray to God about personal change is overly simplistic, and, according to them, it’s a worn-out attempt to no avail. I understand their cynicism. I have often prayed to God to change me, but the best I could tell, it was not happening. James gives some insight into this tension when he says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). As I look back on those times when change seemed slow or to no avail, I thought my motives and my perspectives were in line with God’s design and intentions for me. I reflectively see now that I was off-center and more self-focused, either in my motivations or my attitudes. In time, I did change, but not exactly how I thought it would happen or in the timeframe that I had hoped it would come.

The Bible Changes Us

One of those instruments of God’s grace is His incorruptible and empowering Word. (See 1 Peter 1:23; Romans 10:17) Our walk with God is a faith walk, and the way we learn to walk by faith is through hearing and responding to the Word of God. We inform our faith by the Bible, and as we walk by faith, we experience change. Here are five simple things I believe will help you to become mastered by the Word. As you grow in these practices, you will have incredible insight and wisdom regarding how to change.

  1. Pray: Before you start reading your Bible, take time to pray. Ask God to open your eyes to what you are learning. Resist reading by rote. Read because you want to, not because you have to do it.
  2. Read: Read expectantly. Expect God to reveal things to you about yourself. Look for those things like a man mining for gold. Pay attention. “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:12).
  3. Reflect: When God illuminates your mind, stop reading and start reflecting. Consider what God is showing you in light of the Word you read.
  4. Write: Take time to write down what God has shown you. When your thoughts go from a page of the Bible to your brain, down your hand, and onto a piece of paper, you will own it. It will be yours to keep.
  5. Teach: At some point during the day, tell someone what God taught you. The teacher will learn more than the student, and if you can explain what He showed you, the truth will begin to master you.

As you make this simple sequence of studying God’s Word part of your regular practice, you can also add memorization to your daily habits. If the Word of God is what it says it is, what better thing can you do than put it in your mind?

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We Change Ourselves

An imperative is a word that demands personal attention or a required action that is unavoidable if you want a desirable outcome. According to God’s plan, sanctification cannot happen without the participation or cooperation of the individual who wants to change. The New Testament is full of imperatives to which the writers ask the believer to respond. See Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:29, and Ephesians 4:32. Tim Keller gave us some wise counsel regarding the personal responsibility of the individual seeking change: “God’s mercy comes to us without conditions, but does not proceed without our cooperation.” For example, the most helpful part of a counseling session is typically outside the counseling office. The temptation for some Christians is to think if they can receive counseling, everything will be okay. Most certainly, many good things can happen in a counseling session, and there have been many times when God became involved with someone during a counseling season.

The Counseling Window

However, it is outside the counseling office where opportunity knocks. The grind of our daily lives is where we are called upon to respond to what God is doing and allowing in our lives. It is in the everyday contexts of our lives that God exposes our authentic selves. These are our opportunities to practically apply the grace that God offers to the actual situations in our lives. If people are unwilling to change themselves, they must know that a counseling session will not work. Counseling alone is not strong enough to push them over the top. Counseling is 60 to 120 minutes of advice and guidance compared to a week’s opportunity to change outside the office. Counseling success is impossible if the counseling context is the exclusive means of grace for change to happen. It is upon the individual to apply and maintain what he learns in counseling (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30).

  • If God’s grace is empowering, which it is.
  • If God can change me, which He will.
  • If the Spirit can enable me to change, which He does.
  • If God’s Word is sufficient, which it is.

Then, the big question when change does not happen is, “Why do I not change?” If you want to change, you must not think you can just let go and let God. You must respond to God by engaging the discipline He provides; be a doer of the Word, working out what He is working into you. God helps those who help themselves. In the divine wisdom of God, He has put part of the change responsibility on us to make the necessary adjustments to mature.

Situations Change Us

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph told his brothers that God meant “it” for good. The “it” in this oft-quoted verse is profound. The “it” represents the cruel situations God allowed in Joseph’s life. For thirteen seemingly wasted and harsh years, Joseph was going through “it” for his good, the glory of God, and the survival of an entire nation. The “it” in Joseph’s life included:

  • Sibling rivalry and conflict.
  • A failed murder plot.
  • Physical and verbal abuse.
  • The loss of his family and friends.
  • Kidnapped and transported to another country.
  • Sold as a slave.
  • Forced into servitude.
  • Recipient of lies and slander.
  • Imprisonment, though he was not guilty.
  • Abandonment by friends.
  • Called to rise above “victimization.”

I have never counseled an individual who experienced the accumulative cruelty of the situations the Lord permitted in Joseph’s life. Most definitely, the events in Joseph’s life far exceed the circumstances of my life. Though what he went through was harsh and complex, we know the good Lord was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2), and He was allowing the situations in his life because there was a more excellent plan in the works. You know the rest of the story: God used those situations to change Joseph.

Joseph did not sinfully resist the situations that had happened to him. As best we can tell, he had a God-centered expectation regarding the circumstances God wrote into his narrative. We also understand he embraced his challenging circumstances, and God used them to shape him into the person God wanted him to become. If you believe this and if you will cooperate with God, your conditions can change you too. The question should never be, “Do situations change me?” The real question should be, “How are my circumstances changing me?” In a split second, or in the heat of the moment, or by a phone call, or when criticism comes, or an unfavorable event happens, we have a choice. The situation, regardless of what it is, will change us one way or another. We have no choice about this. The real issue is whether or not we will view and respond to what happens to us as an opportunity to glorify God, or will we react to the situation in our lives in a self-centered way?

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People Change Us

Nathan said to David, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7)!

David slept with another woman. In the heat of the moment and the dark of the night, David committed adultery. Rather than changing his ways, he chose to cover his steps. You know the story. He had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed so he could marry her. Once married, he covered his sin, and there was no compelling reason for him to own it or try to change because of it. What David did not count on was the relentless love of his heavenly Father. God loves us too much to let us linger forever in our sins. Sadly, David was lingering. He was physically and spiritually deteriorating because of his unwillingness to change (Psalm 32:1-4).

Because of God’s mercy to David, He sent his friend, Nathan, to help him change. Though the Lord is the one who ultimately changes us, He may allow people—even our enemies—to be a means of grace to help us change. Nathan was the instrumentation of grace that God chose to use to help David repent. People helping people to change is not a foreign concept in the Bible. See Romans 10:13-15; Matthew 18:15-17; Genesis 2:18. Though He can use anyone, including our foes, God values community. The Father, Son, and Spirit are the original community. He expects His community of faith to partner with Him when it comes to helping people change.

Call to Action

How do you change? Are you a Lone Ranger, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of Christian? Or, are you a Christian who values all the means the Father provides for your transformation? To help us think about our progressive sanctification, I have put together some questions for application that can lead to change.

  1. What is one thing you need to change about yourself? Be specific.
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your faith in God as it pertains to Him changing you? (One being weak and ten being strong)
  3. Briefly describe a situation in your life that was challenging, but God used it to change you for His glory. What about a time when you responded poorly; how did that go?
  4. How are you generally characterized when unfavorable situations happen to you? You appropriate the grace of God typically and work through the situation biblically, or you generally react sinfully and make things worse.
  5. Describe how God is using a current situation to change you. What are you learning? How are you changing?
  6. How much do you cherish the community of faith as a means of grace to help you change? Do your closest friends know all that is appropriate for them to know about you? Why did you answer that way?
  7. How has God used your enemies or unbelievers to help you mature into Christlikeness?
  8. Talk about how you do or do not create contexts of grace for your more personal relationships to bring correction to you. How aggressive are you in pursuing correction from others?
  9. Would you say your friends characterize you as someone who pursues them to help you change? Are you holding them accountable to help you improve?
  10. Name one thing you would not want your friends to know about you. Read Psalm 32:1-4 and apply it to your life.

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