THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH - Message Five
THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH
Message Five: “The Preaching of the Word Produces Change”
Practice #1: Preach the Word
The premise of the message last week was that the preaching of the Word of God always accomplishes exactly what God intends for it to accomplish.
One of the ways that God uses His Word is in the production of life. We said that there can be no life apart from the Word of God. We illustrated and validated that truth by examining the Scriptures. The Scriptures demonstrate that without the Word of God physical life would not exist – review Genesis 1 – and the Scriptures also demonstrate that spiritual life cannot exist apart from the Word of God (see John 6:63).
The Word of God has the power to produce life. There is no life apart from the Word of God.
There is a second truth about the preaching and teaching of the Word of God that we need to be aware of and that is power of the Word of God to change your life.
Scripture makes an assumption that salvation leads to a changed way of living. That may comes as a surprise to some people, but nevertheless Scripture operates under the assumption that a person who has been born again will be different after their conversion than they were before their conversion. Because the Scriptures make this assumption it provides us with two vital pieces of information. The first vital piece of information that it provides for us is it identifies the magnitude of the change that God calls us to. The second critical piece of information that the Scriptures provide for us is the means or the method whereby this change is going to take place in your life.
Let’s begin this morning by describing the magnitude of the change that God has called you to as a Christian. Let’s read together Romans 8:29
I. THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CHANGE
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” (Romans 8:29, NASB95)
When God the Father redeemed you He already knew exactly what he wanted you to become. According to Paul God has pre-destined (pre-determined) that you are going to become like Christ.
The theological term for this life long, continual process that begins at the moment of your conversion and culminates with your glorification – which takes place when you find yourself face to face with Christ. Now I want to point something out to you that is key to your understanding of the process of sanctification. Look at the Romans 8:30
“and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also
justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, NASB95)
Verse 30 is a description of everything that God does for us in our salvation. It was God who predestined us, it was God who called us. It is God who justifies us. And it is God who will glorify us. All of that is accomplished for us by God.
There is one element that is missing from that list of things that God does apart from any effort on our part. Would you like to guess what it is? Sanctification! Please don’t misunderstand God doesn’t leave you on your own. The Scriptures teach that He is constantly working in your life and He provides you with the resources that will produce change in your life. BUT! You must supply the necessary effort in order to produce this change.
Another way of looking at sanctification is the process of becoming what you truly are. Jay Adams writes “In a real sense we are not merely human beings, we are human becomings. The Christian life is not static, it is a life of change.”
A Christian is one who is being changed into the image of Christ. Focus on the word changed. There cannot be any progress in sanctification, in becoming like Christ with change.
Right away your defenses go up. Why? Because we are resistant to change! Why are we resistant to change? One reason is because of the effort that it takes on our part to produce change. We can take it even on step further and say that it takes continual sustained effort to change and to keep changing.
This is a GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS scenario. Good news is that change is possible. Regardless of what your former life was characterized by there is hope for change. Change is possible. Listen to what Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”(1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NASB95)
Paul says some of you were fornicators, you were idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards and on down the list. Then Paul interjects a most precious word and that is the word BUT! But you were washed, but you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. What has happened to them? They have been changed! Would you know this, that whatever it is that you are struggling with, you can change! If you are a Christian you have the ability and the resources available to you to produce lasting biblical change in your life.
Stop right now and ask yourself what is the one thing that you need to see changed, that you want to see changed in your life right now. What is it that you struggle with? Pride? Sharp tongue, worry, sinful ways of thinking, lustful thoughts? What is it that you need to change in order to become more like Christ? The good news is that change can begin to take place in your life today.
The bad news is change requires effort. There cannot be any sanctification apart from change. The Scriptures describe sanctification as the putting off your sinful habits and replacing them or putting on godly habits.
Where do we find what to put off and what to put on? Anybody want to guess? In the Scriptures. As we hear the Word of God preached and we study the Word of God on our own and apply it to our lives our lives are changed. Here is another opportunity for self-examination. How have you changed, how have you become more like Christ in the past week, the past month, the past year, the past five years?
Now I’m not going to kid you, the kind of substantive change that the Scriptures command us to undergo can be very difficult. Why is this change so difficult?
As Christians we need to recognize that what we currently are the sum total of numerous factors in our lives. The family that we were raised in has exerted influence and taught and trained you, if you were raised in the church that has affected you, if you were not raised in the church that has affected you. How you were taught to handle or not handle problems and your reaction to different situations in your life all of that has gone into shaping you into what you are today. Then you have to factor in time as well. You’ve been acting and reacting in the ways that you do if you’re are an adult for years. All of these individual factors go into shaping your personality. Many people hold a false belief, that false belief is that their personality cannot be changed. They express this belief with phrases such as “I was born that way” or “That’s just the way that I am”. Again the underlying assumption is that they cannot change. But that is never true for the Christian. What motivates a person to come to Christ? When they get a true picture of who they are and who God is and they recognize that someone has to change and it’s not God! Why do we begin the Christian life by desiring change, but so quickly resort back to the belief that we can’t change? When God saved you He changed you, but it is your responsibility to work out who you truly are.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB95)
I believe that the desire for change, to be more like Christ is a part of every Christian. Every true Christian desires to grow in godliness and holiness. But desire to change; the desire for growth is not enough. The desire is simply a starting point.
If we have the desire to change then why don’t we change? Let’s talk about that for a few minutes. Why is our desire for change not always accompanied by change?
Let’s start by looking at from a negative perspective. Here is a sure fire way not to change.
Ø You cannot change as long as you focus on the past. Why? The reason is very simple. What can you do about the past? You can’t forget it, it’s a part of you. And you can’t change it! You can’t change the past because in one sense the past doesn’t exist anymore. It is not the past that needs to be dealt with, it is what you are in the present that can be and must be dealt with. It is what you are in the present that can be and must be dealt with. Your actions in the past, how you reacted to situations are present in your life right now. Those are the things that you can deal with. You cannot go back and undo the past. You can begin even today to change how you have let the past affect you. Let me try and put it another way. Your past is not your problem. It is how you are presently responding to your past that is your problem. That is incredibly good news because there are Scriptural ways of dealing with present actions.
QUESTION: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH PAST FAILURE?
ANSWER: THE SAME WAY YOU WOULD DEAL WITH PRESENT FAILURE!
Ø Repentance (which if you take the time to think about it is change – repentance always leads to change)
Ø Confession of sin
Ø Making restitution when necessary
Ø Reconciliation when necessary
Why is it that our desire for change is not always accompanied by change?
1. People simply don’t know what the Scriptures teach about change!
Ø For some reason people think they are a passive participant in the process of change. In other words they mistakenly believe that they will change if they simply ask God to change them. They pray, and nothing happens. They pray some more and nothing happens, they pray harder and more sincerely and still nothing happens, they beg God to change them and still nothing happens. Finally they give up any hope that they once had that they could change. They silently wonder what went wrong.
2. People sometimes give up on the process of change.
Ø There are three crucial components of change.
o Knowledge – you have to know how real change takes place
o Effort – change requires effort – continuous, consistent, sustained effort.
o Time – Many people seem to forget that it has taken them years to develop many of the sinful habits that they now desire to be free from. Just as it has taken years of repetitive sinful actions to develop a sinful habit, it is going to take some time to develop a godly habit based upon godly actions repeated over time. Lest you be discouraged by that thought, the Scriptures teach that change can begin immediately, today and with the power of the Word of God and the power of the Spirit of God change can happen rather quickly, but not necessarily overnight.
3. Another factor that people have to come to grips with is that failure is neither fatal nor final. We will never be sin free in this life. Even in our efforts in changing we will fail and fall back to our old sinful ways. Failure may derail you for a time, but it does not have to be final.
HOW CAN I CHANGE?
1. Realize and accept the reality that change is possible. Regardless of who you are, what your age is, young or not so young, or whatever you may be at this moment you need to embrace with all your might that change is possible! This realization is not simply based upon wishful thinking, positive thinking or possibility thinking! Your confidence that change is possible is based upon the Word of God! Jay Adams writes “Counselors may take it as a rule that any quality of life, attitude of mind, or activity that God requires of man may be acquired through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. Accept the fact that change is hard. Go into this process of change with you eyes wide open, and with realistic expectations.
THE GOAL OF CHANGE
The goal of change is not for you to necessarily stop doing a particular activity. The goal of change is for you as a person to change. For instance a liar can stop lying for awhile but if there isn’t a fundamental change in him he is still a what? He is still a liar!
Dr. Adams explains it this way; he starts by using a joke. He asks the question “When is a door not a door? When it is ajar! Not extremely funny, but it is helpful.
Let’s ask the same question but this time we will supply a different answer. When is a door not a door? When it is something else!
That is the goal of Biblical change. The goal of Biblical change is to change you from what you are to what God wants you to be! The Bible’s goal is not to get you to stop doing something. God’s goal is for you to be conformed to the image of Christ.
But again we are confronted with the question “How can I experience real, lasting change in my life?” We find the answer to that question in Ephesians 4. Let’s begin reading in verse 17.
"So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:17-32NASB95)
Paul begins this portion of Scripture by issuing a command to live a life that is markedly different from the life that those who are not Christians are living. Notice what Paul says, “that you walk no longer”; in other words Paul says “Here is a way of life, the lifestyle of the un-believer.” But now that you are a believer your lifestyle should be different from the way you lived before you were a Christian. Now that you are a Christian you should change the way you live. Notice that Paul doesn’t make the assumption that so many seem to make today and that assumption is that when a person becomes a Christian they are going to automatically change and that they know what to change and how to change. Paul doesn’t make that assumption. In fact He assumes just the opposite – that they don’t know what they are to change and how they can bring about this change.
So what does Paul teach them and us about effecting biblical change in our lives? There are two important phrases that you must learn to practice if you are going to experience progress in becoming like Christ.
The first phrase is found in verse 22. Paul says that now that you are a Christian you must lay aside or you must put off your old way of living. To put off simply means to stop doing what you have been doing. If you’re old life was characterized by lying; now you must stop telling lies. Just plug in any sinful activity and the instruction is the same. You must stop doing it. But remember that the goal is not simply for you to stop doing a particular action. The goal is for you to change as a person. In other words you want to become something other than a liar.
Here is where the second phrase comes into play. The second phrase in found in verse 24 in verse 24 Paul tells the Ephesians that now that they have stopped or put off their sinful ways they still have work to do. What is that work? You are to put on the “new self”. In other words biblical change is defined as the putting off a sinful activity and putting on the Christ-like activity. Let’s go back to the door. When is a door not a door? When it is something else; when is a liar not a liar? When he has become something else! What is the Christ-like action that a liar must put on in order to be something different? He must put on the truth! When is a liar no longer a liar; when he has begun to consistently tell the truth.
That is the biblical way to change. That is the process of sanctification at work in your life. Listen carefully; this applies to each and every area of your life. Regardless of what ever sinful action or habit that you find yourself struggling with the solution is always the same. You put off the sinful action and you put on the Christ-like action. And you continue to practice this process until one day just as you found it so easy to sin because it was your nature to sin, so too can you train yourself to habitually practice doing the right thing so that it becomes the natural thing to do.
You may say that sounds so simple. You’re right it is simple but it is not easy. There is where your effort comes in. Listen carefully to Paul’s instruction to Timothy.
"…train yourself for godliness;" (1 Timothy 4:7ESV)
The concept here is that the training required for you to become godly, is going to require the same kind of strenuous training that a world class athlete has to undergo to when they race and compete for the gold medal. Here is where the continuous, sustained, and consistent effort has to come into play.
Here is what separates your effort as a Christian from the effort of the unsaved person. You have a partner in helping you to effect your growth in Christ-likeness. That is God Himself. What did Paul write in Phil. 2; 13?
"for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13NASB95)
Please don’t ever forget this; you have the Father’s promise that He will supply the power if you will supply the effort.
We all have several areas in our lives that we can begin to apply these truth’s to even today. That is why the preaching and teaching of the Word of God must be the consistent practice of the church. As the Word is opened and taught and you begin to see more and more actions and attitudes that you are to put off you should immediately look for the corresponding activity to put on. The Word of God not only has the power to produce life, it has the power to change a life.