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Four Sequential Steps to Change Your Life

Four Sequential Steps to Change Your Life

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Because of the clarity of God’s Word, the path to life change is not mysterious or elusive. If it were complex, we’d all be in a mess. Did you know that Paul gave his protege, Timothy, a practical plan for change that we can replicate in our lives, too? Though Paul’s process is not the final or plenary word for transformation, it’s one of the most excellent thumbnail sketches you’ll find in Scripture. It’s concise, understandable, and, best of all, attainable.

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Christian Life Plan

“Dad, why do you counsel someone so long?” – Daughter

“Because it takes a while to help them change.” – Dad

“It seems that it would only take a minute. You say, ‘Repent;’ the person changes, and that is all you have to do. What else do you talk about with them?” – Daughter

We smile, though our daughter does have a point, which can cause one to wonder how much relational conflict and dysfunction we could eliminate if we followed her approach. I’m sure it wouldn’t clean up all our messes, but it would probably make a dent in some of the junk we spread amongst our relationships. Because repentance is not native to us, God is patient as He comes alongside us to teach us how to change. After Adam first sinned, he decided not to repent, blaming his problems on someone else (Genesis 3:12). Have you ever tried that? As sons and daughters of Adam, blaming, rationalizing, or justifying problems away are the things that tempt us as we adjust our fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).

Mercifully, God perseveres with us by not allowing us to stay tangled in our sinful isolation, creating a duality—who we are versus the person we present to others, hoping they might like that version better (Galatians 6:1). One of the primary means of grace the Lord uses to help us change is His Word. For example, when Paul was teaching his young pastor friend, he highlighted how God uses His Word to change us by laying out a four-step plan for change. My intent is not to be as simple as our daughter by suggesting this is all you need, but this working thumbnail will stick with you for life if you make it yours by applying it.

Elements to Change

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

The words I want to focus on are teaching, reproof, correction, and training. I realize the point of the passage highlights and elevates God’s inspired-sufficient-plenary-authoritative Word. My aim is not to devalue the text’s purpose, but I want to turn it over again and look at it more practically. What if we highlight these four elements of change that Paul laid out for Timothy? What if we applied them to our lives? If you try this at home, I promise it will change your family dynamics. So, let’s begin with teaching and roll slowly through the other three while asking ourselves a few insightful questions along the way to ensure we’re making those tweaks that will glorify God, change us, and impact our relationships.

After God had regenerated you—assuming you are a Christian, He began to teach you His Word—a process of recurring illumination, instruction, conviction, and transformation, called progressive sanctification (John 17:17). God’s Word is one of the primary means for us to mature into Christlikeness. Through contexts and people, the Word of God penetrates our hearts for personal transformation. If we follow Paul’s prescriptive progression in this passage, we will notice how the use of God’s Word is to stop dangerous thinking by reorienting our minds to sound teaching. As noted in the Timothy template, the Lord terminates inadequate teaching by reproving us.

The word reprove means to knock us down. The idea here is that the Lord brings sound teaching into our lives to put us on our backsides. We begin to see the light through the Spirit’s illuminating conviction (1 John 1:7–10). How often has God brought His Word to you to stop you from your course of action? Though sometimes God’s adjustments can be inconvenient and even painful, it is His mercy to care so much about us. He wants to change us. Before I proceed, will you take some time to assess yourself to see how well you are responding to Paul’s first two points regarding the change process? The Word of God is profitable for teaching and rebuking. Here are some helpful questions for you and your friends regarding your teachableness and receptivity to rebuke.

Teaching

  • Are you teachable? Ask a friend if you are easy to teach. If you have a spouse, ask them about your teachability. Do you create an environment of grace where they can step into it and teach you?
  • Is it easy for people to care for you because of your hunger for the Bible’s teaching? Are you more concerned about learning than your reputation? Do you recognize that what you don’t know outpaces what you do know, so you’re eager to learn?
  • Do you seek those you trust and are competent enough to teach you? Polling ignorant people is not wise, so you’re looking for those farther down the sanctification path.
  • Are you a question-asker? Do you pursue others with questions about how to change your life while not succumbing to the temptation of letting their opinions manage you? Are you oversensitive? Does your insecurity hinder people from speaking into your life?

Because teaching is the door through which you will grow, it is incumbent upon you to be teachable. You will not be able to change your life if you are not teachable, the first step in the change process. Your teachability is the litmus test that will inform others about your seriousness to growing in Christ. If you’re unteachable, perhaps there will be those who want to care for you, but the sign on the door is clear: No Trespassing.

Rebuking

  • Are you a rebukeable person? Can you receive the corrective observations of others? When someone reproves you, how do you initially respond? Are you more focused on the person who said it and how they said it, or how you can humbly react to it?
  • Are you tempted to sulk or go into self-pity mode after someone reproves you? If so, what does your response tell you about your relationship with God? Why is He not all-sufficient and all-sustaining in your life? Perhaps fear of man is in play, and you’re permitting the opinions of others to control you.
  • Do you express gratitude to those who love you enough to bring correction into your life? You can measure your relational wealth by the number of friends you invite into your corrective care sphere. All parents should be shepherding their children to become part of this sphere as they mature.

Being reproved or rebuked is tough stuff. Nobody enjoys it. To be willing to have others speak into your life is one of the high marks of Christian maturity. Rebukeable people typically have humble and wise perspectives about themselves. They are rebukeable because the gospel rightly informs them. (See Romans 3:10–12, 23, 5:12; Isaiah 64:6; 1 Timothy 1:15.) Being informed by the gospel means they were in a helpless and worthless condition before the Lord chose to save them. They were dead in their sins, hell-bound, and outside God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1–10). Alienated from life in God was their spiritual condition (Ephesians 4:18).

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Bad Precedes Good

The Lord’s view of you before salvation was outside God’s favor. Nothing anyone could say to you is worse than what the Lord has previously declared about you. Understanding this aspect of the gospel prevents you from fearing what others can say or do to you. Couple this gospel truth of what you were to whom you are in Christ, and you most assuredly have nothing to protect, fear, or hide (Romans 8:31–39). If you have been born again (John 3:7; Romans 10:9, 13), you are a child of the King—a person who has gone from the worst possible position that you could be to the best possible place you will ever know. If you are not living daily in this gospel truth, temptations will lure you toward insecurity that will motivate you to protect and defend your reputation before others. That kind of pride will truncate the effectiveness with which your friends can speak into your life—a soul-stunting posture before the Lord and others.

While the gospel is good news, its message also implies terrible news. You would not need the good news if there were no bad news. The same is true in Paul’s progressive keys to Christian maturity that he laid out for his friend Timothy. Teaching brings reproof, which is supposed to knock us off our feet. That is the bad news. Thankfully, the Spirit of God would never leave us down and out (Psalm 23:3). He is the Healer who binds our wounds (Psalm 147:3). A careful and accurate rebuke from the Lord paves the way for His corrective measures that we can implement into our lives. The word “corrected” means to be stood up or made erect. God is a fixer. He does not rebuke us because He enjoys bringing pain into our lives. There is always a redemptive purpose for His corrections.

If the Lord does not convince you of this, you will be tentative about receiving reproof (Hebrews 12:6). Some will argue that they don’t mind the rebukes of God, but it is the rebuke of sinful people that rubs them the wrong way. Horizontal soul care is a problem, for sure. It would be great if we perfectly rebuked people, but that is impossible among fallen creatures. Imperfect people reproving imperfect people will have an element of imperfection in it. Though there is a lot to say about wrongful rebukes, the point, for now, is whether we are mature enough and hungry enough to find the Lord’s rebuke even through imperfect vessels. Can we learn anything from a poorly given rebuke? We can if our goal is Christian maturity. Maybe later, you can help the person who admonished you poorly.

Correction

  • Are you more likely to focus on the reproof or the correction? (The former tends to be proud, while the latter tends to be humble.)
  • Are you more preoccupied with arguing with the “rebuker” or maturing in your sanctification for God’s glory?
  • Do you believe you need others to help you walk through sanctification issues?
  • Do you enlist the help of your friends so that you can change?
  • Do you believe others need you so you can help them walk through their sanctification issues?
  • Would you say your commitment to change is more significant than your commitment to your reputation?

Righteous Training

Paul’s four progressive and essential keys to change are teaching: “I want God’s Word to teach me.” Reproving: “As I learn from God’s Word, I expect it to reprove me occasionally.” Correcting: “To be reproved is a door that leads to correction.” Training: “After I’m corrected, I jump on God’s training track where I can run my race more effectively.” (See Hebrews 12:1 and 1 Corinthians 9:24–27.) Each time you make it through steps one, two, and three, you will be ready to participate in ongoing training for righteous living. This process of progressive sanctification is not a one-and-done deal.

These steps are recurring and unending until you see Jesus. Each day is a new opportunity to learn (teaching), fall (rebuke), get up (correction), and run a new way (training in righteousness). Imagine what it would be like if the Lord loved you enough to identify areas that could change your life daily. That kind of love invigorates the soul. Only Christians possess that kind of incremental, ongoing, unending, progressive path to freedom in Christ. Only Christians can change in long-term and sustainable ways. Imagine if the Lord saved you and left you to your former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22) with no way of changing—no chance to mature spiritually. Let’s review!

  1. Teaching: How often do you learn something from God’s Word?
  2. Rebuke: How often do you let the free conviction from the Spirit course through your mind?
  3. Correction: How often do you benefit from His rerouting correctives?
  4. Training: How often have you taken a new path to run your race for the Lord?

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).

I recommend you teach your family and friends this template to help them mature in this progressive process. Invite them into your life growth plan. Appeal to them to come alongside you so you all can benefit from mutual and reciprocal gospel-shaped care. You’re welcome to use my questions under each step. I recommend you add others along the way. Each person you meet with will add new insights, and the more you work through this template, you’ll be the biggest winner. One of the best perks of my job is that I soak in sanctification truths every day, year in and year out. The more you teach, the more you’ll learn and grow.

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Two Traps

Bad Experience: Some believers have had bad experiences with other Christians. In such cases, the temptation is to map their bad experience over what God could do redemptively in their lives. Sometimes a bad experience can be a person’s worst enemy. It can also make you cynical about future grace, always thinking the worst about people’s motives. Don’t do that. Have faith in God (Hebrews 11:6). Let your faith in God’s current process overcome the past evil that someone did to you. God’s grace can outmaneuver and defeat bad experiences regardless of what they were.

Isolating Yourself: Don’t isolate yourself from the community of faith. It is rare for a person to deteriorate in grace if they actively pursue gospel-shaped relationships. Isolation is the enemy’s victory. We need loving and intentional friends interested in personal and practical exploration of life change. Most of the time, when I get in trouble, I isolate myself from the community. Sitting, soaking, and spectating on Sundays will not help you. You must engage God and others to change your life. Be open. Be honest. Be taught. Expect reproof, and anticipate correction, releasing you to run a spiritually productive race.

Call to Action

  1. Will you work through the questions I have asked you in this chapter? It would benefit you if you brought along a friend for the journey. You can mutually encourage each other with some intentional and intrusive iron-sharpening conversations. Ready? Start running.

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).

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