How Does God Change People Today?
I recently went to my parents’ home, where my 2 ½ year old son, Dustin, was staying. He’s talking more and more all time, and that Saturday night he came to me in the middle of the night. He was carrying a clean diaper, and he had partially removed the one he was wearing. And he came to me and he said, “Change me, daddy, change me.” He realized that his diaper needed to be changed, that the bad stuff needed to be taken away. He knew that he, by himself, could not change himself. And he knew who was the one to change him: his father. That got me to thinking about how God changes people today.
I’m sure we all agree that God has the POWER to change lives, to change people, to make people better. The Bible is the authoritative and inspired source for learning HOW to change. Saul of Tarsus experienced a great and sudden change when he traveled to Damascus and met Jesus. Since that time, millions of people have had their lives changed because of Jesus. And that’s what this lesson is about: How Does God Change People Today? There is a lot that could be said about this…we could talk about the Holy Spirit, about grace and forgiveness, about miracles and providence; a whole book could be written on the subject. But today we’re gonna talk about 5 specific things that God does to change people today. We’re gonna talk about baptism, about behavior modification, about focusing our minds, about the Church, and about God’s providence for our weaknesses. So if you would please, take your Bible out and join me in learning how God can change you and make you a better person.
Unfortunately, most people do not want to change. If I change, that means I have to admit that I was wrong before I changed. And many people have too much pride to admit that they have been wrong their whole life. Besides, admitting they were wrong might also mean admitting that their family members are wrong, and therefore doomed to eternal punishment in hell. So people don’t want to change because of their pride.
Other people don’t really want to go through the process of change, but they want God to change them. They want God to change their circumstances…change the rules…change the difficulty…change the question…change the challenge…change everyone around them. But they don’t want God to ask them to change themselves. They want God to do something TO them, or do something FOR them, but they don’t want God to do something WITH them or ABOUT them.
The problem with getting people to change their lives to conform to God’s will is that they don’t see a need to change. If they are happy, why change? If they have health and prosperity, why change? If they have peace with themselves, why change? You can’t hand a person a Bible and expect it to change them unless the message within it gets into their hearts and minds. They have to be willing to accept it, study it, apply it, and be changed by it. But you have to first give them a reason to want to change. You have to show them with the Scriptures that they MUST change in order to be saved.
There are many ways that God changes people today. None of them, however, are miraculous. None of them are like what Saul of Tarsus experienced on the road to Damascus. None of them are subjective. God does not change people suddenly and overnight. He changes people gradually as people allow themselves be molded by God’s Word. The more you submit to His Word, the more He will change you. So change is really a journey.
Every journey has a beginning, and joining Christ is the beginning of our journey towards God. It is baptism that puts us in Christ (Gal. 3:27), and it is in baptism that the blood of Christ is applied to our souls to wash us clean from all guilt before God. When a person is baptized, God gives that person a chance to start over. 2 Cor. 5:17 God forgives and forgets every sin, every transgression that person had ever committed up to that point. So forgiveness of sins is the first thing God does to change a person’s life.
They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But that is exactly what God does with the alien sinner who is baptized into Christ. How many of us would like to have such a chance with other situations in life? How many of us would like a second chance to make a good first impression with an employer, a friend, a neighbor, a relative, or a person who is now an enemy? Well if you have not yet been baptized into Christ, I’m telling you today that you have the opportunity to make a new first impression on God. You have a chance to start your life over before Him, to forget anything bad you’ve ever done, and to walk in a brand new life with Him. If you have faith in Him to do this, if you will confess that faith, if you will commit yourself to whatever changes He desires for you by repenting of your sins, then you can be baptized into Him today to start your life over.
Now some people in the religious world would tell you that once you are in Christ, you are always saved and can never be lost. They say that you don’t have to do anything anymore because it is all already done. But I’m telling you that the Scriptures teach that getting into Christ by baptism is not the end of the journey, it is just the beginning. Because when you are baptized into Christ, you are born again. John 3:3-6.
Physically speaking, when a person is “born,” they come out of the mother’s womb as a tiny baby, an infant, totally helpless and dependent upon the world around for survival. That little baby is born into a brand new world that he will explore and discover. Spiritually speaking, when you are born again of water and the Spirit, you also begin a new life, and you begin as a baby in Christ. Peter said that like newborn babes, we should long for the pure milk of the word, that by it we can grow in respect to salvation (1 Pet. 2:2). Paul talked about spiritual growth to the Ephesians too. Eph. 4:14-15. We are to grow up in the Lord, we are to mature, we are to go forward and progress spiritually. So the second way God changes us is by teaching us how to modify our behavior. He tells us what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. In fact, most of the books of the New Testament were written to Christians who weren’t behaving like Christians to teach them how to behave! That means it was also written for you and me today, because we don’t always behave the way we ought to, and we know it!
This body is temporary. It is like a garment worn over our immortal spirit. It is like a robe wrapped around our soul. And every time we sin, we soil our garment. We make our clothes dirty. Just like my little boy who dirtied his diaper, we get sin-stains on our lives. When my son dirties that diaper, sometimes nobody wants to change him because it stinks so bad! Likewise, if you fill your life up with sin, righteous people will not want to be around you. The only people who will want your company is other sinners. And the only way to avoid these sin-stains is to stop sinning! We must change our behavior. Paul told the Ephesians how to change their behavior in Eph. 4:17-24.
He told them to stop living like the sinners they once were, and start behaving like children of God. As parents, sometimes our kids do things that embarrass us. Sometimes they make us wonder if they really are our kids. We say to our wives, “Your son did this today,” as if the child is not our own. We say to our friends, “he learned it from his daddy” as if the mother didn’t have any influence in his life at all. We say to our kids, “You know better than that. You were taught better than that. So why did you do it?” I doubt that there is a parent in here who has never said that to their child at least once.
And so it is with our spiritual growth. God sees when we sin. And I’m sure He wonders why we behave like we are not His children, like children of darkness rather than children of light. And He even disowns those children who refuse to follow Him, because He can’t change your life if you refuse to let Him change you. God does not force His will on anybody; if He did, we would be robots with no accountability. Instead, God encourages us to modify our behavior, and He has even provided some specifics to help us out. Paul told the Galatians how to be spiritually mature by comparing the fruit of a godly life with an ungodly life. Gal. 5:16-25.
Even in first century, there were people who thought that they could continue living in sin after being baptized. Rom. 6:1. Paul was astounded that they thought such a thing. But changing your behavior can be difficult to accomplish. Old habits die hard. Jesus said that the source of our behavior is the inside, your heart, your mind. Matt. 15:19.
In order to make changes in our lives, we have to change on the inside first. Jesus told the Pharisees to “first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Matt. 23:26). We have to get our hearts right, we have to focus our minds on serving God. And so the 3rd way that God changes us today is guiding us in focusing our minds. Phil. 4:8.
If we will focus our minds on good things, on holy things, on spiritual things, on godly things, it will be easier to change our behavior. I Cor. 2:16 mentions having the mind of Christ. But if you think bad things, you will do bad things. If you have a bad attitude, you will have bad behavior. If you think only of yourself, you will act selfish. If you are judgmental and condescending on other people in your heart, then your actions will betray you. But if you set your mind on things above, not on things below, you will see the world in a whole different light. You will see yourself differently, from God’s point of view. You will see other people differently: your enemies, your friends, your family, your employers, and everybody you know and meet. When you take God’s view of the world, and think like God, you will begin to behave in a godly manner. In fact, you can’t expect to please God if your mind is not set on spiritual things. Rom. 8:5-8.
We need to be mentally prepared to face trials and temptations if we expect to succeed. Peter said to “gird your minds for action” (1 Pet. 1:13). Of course, sometimes we forget. We have our moments when we lose control and say something that we shouldn’t have said to someone we didn’t mean to hurt. We leave undone something we should have done for somebody who needed our help. We forget that we are children of the Most High God, who is always watching, and we commit sin. Paul told the Romans that, instead of becoming more like this world and being influenced by it, they needed to renew their minds. Rom. 12:2. Every time you sin, you need to renew your mind and commit yourself to not ever do that sin again.
So far we’ve discussed 3 of the things God does to change us. Baptism, behavior modification, and having the mind of Christ. We have just 2 more to cover, and then the lesson will be yours. The last two are the church and God’s providence.
Christians, when they behave like a Christian should behave, stick out like a sore thumb in the world. Where ever you go, you will probably dress more modestly than those around you. You will speak with different words than those around you. You will behave with respect and peace towards other people. But man has an innate desire to blend in with those around him. Man tends to conform to his social environment, to walk the walk and talk the talk of people around. Peer pressure builds up, and erodes away the spiritual shield of faith that we set up to protect ourselves from the world. And the more time we spend in the company of sin and people who are slaves of sin, the weaker our shield of faith gets, until finally it breaks, and we give in to temptation. Fortunately for us, we do not have to spend every single day in the company of sin and sinners. We do not have to be exposed to temptation and peer pressure every moment. We do not have to subject ourselves to continual attacks from Satan. We have a place of escape from the world. Of course, it is not really a place; it is more of a society. It is a society of Christians: people who still value peace, mercy, justice, kindness, and genuine brotherly love. This society of people is called the Kingdom of God, and there are people on earth who are members of it. There are people right here today who are members of it. When these people get together, they form a church.
You can be a part of this church. In this society, you won’t be pressured to violate your conscience. You won’t be asked to do something shady, questionable, or illegal. You won’t be expected to do something harmful to your body or shameful to your reputation. Instead, you will be treated like a brother or sister, like a child of God, like a member of God’s family. You will be appreciated and loved. And while you are among us you can polish up that shield of faith that protects you from the world so that it will be strong again when you have to back into the world. The fourth way God changes us is by providing this environment, the church, where we can refuel our spirit, recharge our soul, renew our minds, repent of our failures, and resume our journey to heaven. We can draw strength from each other, and find support in times of sorrow or weakness. This society, this church, has been provided by God for each one of us. But it will not do you a bit of good if you are not here. It will not help you change if you do not come. God has done a great thing for us in setting up this organization called the local church, but He has done even more than that, which brings us to the final point in this discussion, God’s providence.
I’m not talking about the physical blessings God provides for us. Instead, I’m talking about the spiritual things God has provided, that He actually does Himself because we can’t do them ourselves. God changes us by taking up the slack where we fall short when we give our best effort. And there are 2 spiritual things I want to mention: escapes from temptation and forgiveness of sins. As Christians we continue to face temptations every day. God never said that He would take away the temptations, or make them easier to defeat. But God did promise that He would always provide a way for us to escape the temptation so that it would not overcome us. 1 Cor. 10:13. The escape from temptation is always there. We are not forced to sin; we do have a choice. We either choose to sin, or we choose to escape from it. But we don’t always choose to escape. Sometimes, in fact, we choose to ignore God’s escape path even though it is obvious to us. Our desire for sin overcomes our desire for righteousness, and we betray God. We rebel against Him. We soil our garments, we commit sin.
Fortunately, God has not abandoned us to live helplessly in sin. As parents, we sometimes tell our teenage children that we’ll take care of them until they graduate high school, but after that, they are on their own. God isn’t like that. He never tires of helping us to change. He never misses an opportunity to show us how to improve. Nevertheless, God is holy, and will not tolerate the presence of sin. You cannot expect to receive the fullness of God’s blessings as long as you have sin-stains in your life. God knows this, and in His mercy and love for us, He has provided a way for us to be forgiven of sins that we commit after being baptized. You don’t have to be baptized again. Instead, you must first recognize that you have sinned, and realize that it was wrong. Second, you must make any amends that can be made for the consequences of your sin. Matt. 5:23-24. If there are people who know you sinned, you need to tell them that what you did was wrong, and ask them to forgive you. Third, you must talk to God about your sin. Acts 8:22. You must pray for Him to forgive and cleanse you again. “Change me, daddy, change me.” “Lord, take my sin away. Remove the burden of my guilt. Free me from the penalty I deserve. Wash me and make me whole again, Lord.” And God has promised that He will forgive. 1 John 1:9.
God does change people today. He is still at work, and accomplishing a mighty work in the world. He can change you, no matter how sinful you might be, He can improve you. And no matter how righteous you might think you are, God knows your weaknesses, and He can help you with those too. We all need to seek God’s help in changing our lives to conform to His will. Where do you stand today? Will you let Him change you? Will you let Him show you how?
Written by David F. Sims, doing my part to "turn the world upside down" (Acts 17:6)
All quotes taken from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise stated.
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