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The Process of Change

In the game of tribond, you are given three words and your job is to determine what those three words have in common. 

For example, if I say the words Christmas, family, and oak – what do these things all have in common? They are all kinds of trees.

How about this one: dentures, bats, stars – they all come out at night

How about this one: skates, the lawn, and your shoulder – they all have blades.

How about this one: oil, a diaper, batteries – and as a bonus word, Christians

Answer: They are all things that are frequently changed!

  • Every 5000 km, you’ve got to change oil in your car. 
  • Every few hours you’ve got to change the diaper on your baby. 
  • Every few months, you’ve got to change the batteries in your remote
  • And every day, if you’re a Christian, you’ve got to change to become more like Christ.

And of course, this is all a segway into today’s message.

If you haven’t been with us recently, we’ve been going though a series called Visual Theology.

It’s based on a book called “Visual Theology” by Tim Challies and Josh Byers. And as you can see on the title page, there are four main sections that we’ve been looking at.

So far, we’ve looked at growing close to Christ. We’ve looked at understanding the work of Christ, and today we are beginning to look at becoming like Christ.

And that’s why I’m bring up this whole idea of change – because becoming like Christ requires change.

As you read through the Bible, you will not find one single person who accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour and then didn’t change! It’s just not possible! No one who enters into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ can ever remain the same. Change is a required part of the equation.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17

17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

That sounds to me like Paul’s talking about some pretty radical change! And Paul should know! Paul’s life changed so radically after he met Christ that he even changed his name. He was Saul (the self-righteous Christian killer) in his old life, but then he became Paul (the give everything for Jesus, church-planting, Bible writing guy) in his new life.

He was absolutely changed into a new person – his old life was gone, a new life had begun!

But I want to point out that all of this change didn’t happen immediately in the moment that Paul (or Saul at that time) accepted Christ as his Saviour. Yes, there were some significant, immediately changes that happened that day – but for most of the changes in Paul’s life, there was a process to this change – a process that happened over many years!

And that’s true for every Christian – yes, there are some immediately changes that happen when we accept Christ as our Saviour – but most of our change will happen through a long, continuing process.

And it’s that process that I want to talk about today. How exactly do we get transformed into new people – like Paul was? Is it something that God does in us? Is it something that we have to do? As we strive to become like more Christ, why is it that some people seem to be there already – and some of us seem so stuck in our old, sinful ways?

What exactly is the process of change as we become like Christ?

Those are the questions that I want to answer today.

As we talk about becoming like Christ – there is a word that the Bible uses to describe this process. The word is sanctification. 

And I know that’s another one of those intimidating words like theology or doctrine, but like those words, it’s not as scary as you might think.

Sanctification really just refers to the process of becoming like Christ. 

It’s the process of removing the sinful actions and attitudes and habits from our lives and taking on the character of Christ. It’s how we become holy – or how we become the people that God intended us to be.

And I think really, all of us want to be sanctified – we want to become like Christ. We want to become more loving to our spouse, more gentle with our children, more patient with our co-workers. We want to have more self-control in our own personal discipline, more joy and peace in our life. These are things that everyone wants.

No one – even if they aren’t a Christian – no one wants to become more self-centered. No one wants to lose their temper more often. No one wants to be filled with bitterness or jealousy!

But yet, that’s the state that many of us find ourselves in – even as Christians. We wish we didn’t do all the bad things we do – but yet, here we are.

I had a “Proud Dad” moment a few weeks ago. Ben is usually a pretty thoughtful fellow, but when it comes to his siblings, sometimes he’s less than kind. Well, on this day, Ben was in trouble for being unkind to Eliza. I don’t even remember the exact circumstances – but whatever it was, Ben knew with certainty that what he had done was wrong.

And so that night when I went to tuck him and say prayers with him, I could see that he was upset and so I asked him what was upsetting him. And he kinda burst into tears and said “I don’t want to be mean!”

And as a dad, I was so pleased in that moment that Ben was beginning to realize the dreadfulness of his own sinful nature, and to see his desire to be a better man! He didn’t want to be mean – but that’s he was doing!

And of course, that led into a discussion about our sinful nature and how awful it makes us feel and how desperately we need Jesus to change us so that we can be the kind of people that God created us to be – the kind of people that we want to be!

But I think Ben’s experience is common to all of us. We don’t want to be mean. We don’t want to be selfish. We don’t want to be short-tempered. But yet, so often, we are.

So our desire and our need for change is obvious, but how? How can we be sanctified and changed in our character to be more like Christ?

Well, first of all, you should know, as much as you want to become like Christ, God wants that for you even more! In fact, that’s the very reason He chose to draw you to Himself. That’s His plan and his purpose for you! Romans 8:29 says…

“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son.” Romans 8:29a

God chose you and saved you from your sin – so that you could become like Jesus. That’s the whole point of your salvation! God doesn’t want you to have to live in your sinful, selfish state for eternity – that would be awful! But rather, God wants to free you from your sin and change the very core of your character so that your deepest desires are to do the good things that God created you to do.

And so God absolutely wants to help you change and become more like Jesus. But he doesn’t do it without our cooperation.  God doesn’t magically change our hearts overnight while we’re sleeping. But rather, He partners with us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to slowly bring about those changes in our character.

So to help us work through how all this process of sanctification works, I want to take us through the story of the Prodigal Son.

Now of course, Jesus didn’t tell this story to explain the process of sanctification (that wasn’t really his intention) – but none the less, I think it illustrates the pattern that we need to follow to see true change in our lives.

So let’s take a look at that story. This story is found in Luke chapter 15, starting at verse 11. It begins like this:

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.

14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

Luke 15:11-16

Ok, so that’s the setup to this story. We have a foolish and rebellious young man refusing to live under the care and provision of his father. Instead, he wants to get out and be his own man – do things his own way. So he takes his inheritance and goes to a distant land and proceeds to waste everything that he has on wild living! Parties, Girls, camel racing – whatever they did for fun back then! But before too long, everything began to fall apart. His money ran out, a famine swept the land, the only work he could find was feeding some pigs and apparently that paid so little that he became so hungry that he wanted to eat the food that the pigs were eating!

But it’s at this point here that we begin to see the first steps in the process of change. Verse 17 begins with these words:

17 “When he finally came to his senses, …. Luke 15:17

And I’ll stop there. “When he finally came to his senses.” That’s the first step. Coming to our senses! Realizing that we’ve been making poor choices. Realizing that this is not what God wants us to do. Realizing that something needs to change.

This is a spiritual awakening.

A spiritual awakening is when God works in our life to convict us of sin. This is actually one of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit.

 And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment….  [then down a few verses….] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.

John 14:8, 13a

The Holy Spirit awakens us to the reality of our situation. He makes the truth obvious to us. He causes us to come to our senses, so to speak. He convicts us of our sin and prompts us to do something about it. 

And the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin in a number of ways. Sometimes he uses circumstances – like in the case of the prodigal son. The young man found himself without money, without food, without friends, without family… And it was through these hard circumstances that he came to realize what a fool he had been.

Many times, the Holy Spirit will use these difficult situations to help us realize that we’ve been going down the wrong path and something has to change. Sometimes our hearts are so stubborn that it takes extreme circumstances to get our attention.

But of course, that’s not always the case. The Holy Spirit convicts us in many other ways too! Sometimes we get convicted simply by reading a Bible verse – and the Holy Spirit makes that verse feel very sharp as it points out something in our lives that doesn’t line up with God’s commands.

Other times, we get convicted through a sermon or Bible study – sometimes through a song on the radio or maybe even just an off-hand comment that someone makes. The Holy Spirit can use anything he wants to convict us of our sin and to bring about this spiritual awakening.

And really, this conviction is really an incredible gift of God. It’s a little bit like our pain receptors. No one like to feel pain – but pain is what tells us that something is very wrong. When you put your hand on the hot stove, the pain warns you that if you don’t do something quick, your hand will be irreparable damaged!

That’s exactly the purpose of the Holy Spirit and his conviction of sin. It warns us that if we don’t change what we’re doing, we will cause irreparable damage to ourselves or to others.

We are fools to ignore the conviction of the Holy Spirit. As painful as it sometimes is, that spiritual awakening is really an incredible gift from God.

So that’s the first step in this process of change – we have a spiritual awakening. But what do we do then? Well, the next step, as we’re going to see, is true repentance.

We continue our story in verse 17….

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!

18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ Luke 15:17-19

So in this passage we see that the next step in this process of change is true repentance. And repentance kinda has two parts to it. 

The first part is just admitting your sin.

When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, the first thing you need to do is to agree with him and acknowledge that you have indeed sinned. Most of the time we tend to downplay our sin. Maybe we try to justify our actions to ourselves – we say “I only did it because… whatever.” We convince ourselves that it’s not our fault – that it’s “not that bad.” It’s not really sin.

But when we do that, we’re just leaving our hand on the stove and the damage continues.

When we are convicted of sin – if we want to see any change – we have to admit our sin. We have to recognize that what we’ve done is an offence to God and/or to others.

No excuses. No justification for our actions. We have to take responsibility for our actions and attitudes. That’s what we see in this story. The son realizes and prepares to admit to his father that he has sinned.

The second part of repentance is regretting your sin.

This isn’t just regretting the pain you feel because of your sin. It’s regretting the pain you’ve caused others.

I know many times when we discipline our children – we catch them in the act of punching their sibling or something – and we tell them to say sorry to their brother. And so they grudgingly do. And their “sorry” is half true – and they’re sorry they got caught, and they’re sorry that they are being punished, but they’re not really sorry that they hit their brother… They don’t feel bad because of their brother’s pain – they only feel bad for their own pain. That’s not repentance.

Repentance requires that we feel sorrow for the hurt that we’ve caused others – including God. That’s why the prodigal son says “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you.” He doesn’t talk about how he’s sorry that he lost all his money or he’s sorry that he ended up feeding pigs. He’s sorry for the hurt he’s caused his father and for the hurt that he’s caused God.

We can’t just regret the consequences that we feel because of our sin – that’s not enough to lead us to truly change. That will just encourage us to not get caught next time… If we truly want to see a change in our life, we have to be able to see the hurt that our actions have cause others.

So if you’re feeling convicted of some sin, one of the best practices you can have to deal with is to consider how your sin impacts the people around you. How does it make them feel? How does it make God feel? A lot of times we’re so self-centred that we never even consider how our actions impact the people around us. So just taking the time to consider how your sin has impacted the people around can be a great motivator to change.

And that takes us to the third step in the process of change – and that is….

#3. New Behaviour

And I think this is really lumped in very closely with repentance. Anytime the Bible teaches about repentance, new behaviour is always part of that repentance process. If we’re not ready to start a new path of behaviour, then I don’t think we’re honestly repentant.

But a change in behaviour is exactly what we see in the story of the prodigal son. He doesn’t just keep doing what he’s been doing – he plots a new course. In verse 20 we read:

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

Luke 15:20-21

The son is ready to make a few different changes here. First of all, he returns home and submits to his father. No longer rebellious or proud or stubborn – he’s ready to accept any possible consequences of his actions. In fact, he’s ready to work as a mere hired hand – instead of living in the comfort and with privileges of being the son.

This is new and different behaviour for his young man – and this is the evidence that his repentance was real.

The Bible often talks about putting off our old sinful behaviours (or putting them to death!) and in their place, we are to put on new Christ-like behaviours.

For every evil behaviour that we are to stop, there should be a new Christ-like behaviour that we are to replace it with.

Or to put it in a more catchy phase: “For every vice – there is a virtue.”

For everything God asks us to stop doing – there is something else that He wants us to start doing.

Just to give you some quick examples, let’s look at a few verses in Ephesians chapter 4. Paul begins by saying:

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24

And then he goes on to give us some examples of what that looks like:

25 “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth.” Ephesians 4:25

When the Holy Spirit convicts of you telling lies, stop lying and start telling the truth. Replace the vice of lying with the opposite virtue of honesty.

28 “If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.” Ephesians 4:28

Same principle. When the Holy Spirit convicts of you stealing, stop taking and start giving. Replace the vice of stealing with the opposite virtue of generosity. And Paul continues with more examples:

29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful.” Ephesians 4:29

31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

For every evil behaviour that we are to stop, there should be a new Christ-like behaviour that we are to replace it with. This is particularly true with those habitual sins – those sins that we have such a struggle with. 

One of the best ways to put that sin to death is to identify “What is the opposite virtue of this sin?” and then work hard to continually put that virtue into practice!

That’s really sanctification in a nutshell – it’s continually taking off the old sinful behaviours and attitudes and putting on the new Christ-like behaviours and attitudes.

And as we continually put on those new behaviours and attitudes, we’re going to see that our life is changing more and more. We get less like Saul and more like Paul.

But there is one more element to true life change – and this one is often over-looked, but it is very important. And that is that we must receive forgiveness.

One of the greatest obstacles we face in this whole process of change is our pride. Many times we are simply too proud to receive forgiveness for what we’ve done.

But we don’t see that in the story of the prodigal son. Let’s finish up the story at verse 22.

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:11-24

As we see the father lavish his son with overwhelming love and compassion, in response, the son humbly receives his father’s forgiveness. He receives his father’s embrace – he receives the ring, and the robe and the sandals. He goes to the party.

No where in there do we see a fake humility – where he refuses his father gifts – saying “No Father, I’m too wicked to be forgiven! Throw me out and let me grovel in the mud.” That might give the appearance of humility – but its really just pride.

But the son doesn’t do that – He just humbly receives his father’s forgiveness. He humbly and gratefully accepts the fact that his Father still loves him and is eager to welcome him back as his dearly loved son.

And we need to do that too. It takes a lot of humility to receive forgiveness. But if we don’t accept the forgiveness that is offered to us, Its like refusing to accept someone’s gift. It’s really just another slap in the face of the person we’ve wronged.

Receiving forgiveness is a critical part of the process.

And even in the case where the person you’ve hurt refuses to forgive you, if you’ve gone through this process of true repentance, you can know that your Heavenly Father has forgiven you and you need to accept his forgiveness.

Because really, at the end of the day, every sin is a sin against God. And yes, we need to make things right with others, but even more so do we need to make things right with God.

Thankfully for us, God has already done everything necessary for us to be forgiven. God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, has already taken the punishment for our every sin – when he died on the cross and rose again! And like the Father in the story, God is running towards us with arms open wide – eager to forgive us and to accept us again as his dearly loved children.

All we need to do is to accept his forgiveness. That’s a key part in the process of change.

To close this morning, I don’t know everything that’s going on in your life right now – but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit is at work. I know for myself that it’s a regular occurrence for the Holy Spirit to convict me of some sin in my life – and so I wouldn’t doubt that He may be doing the same thing in your life.

After all, God doesn’t want to just leave us with our hand on the stove. He loves us too much just to let us keep hurting ourselves or others. And so when the Holy Spirit gives us that spiritual awakening, and He points out that area in our life that needs our attention – there’s only one good response to that.

True repentance. Don’t fight the Holy Spirit – agree with him. Acknowledge your sin and acknowledge how it hurts both God and you and the people around you. 

But don’t stop there. Take the next step and do something about it. Stop whatever it is that God is convicting you about, and start doing the opposite instead. Trade your vices for God’s virtues. Take on those new Christ-like behaviours and attitudes. Be transformed into that new Creation that you already are!

And as you do all that, be willing to receive forgiveness. Jesus Christ was willing to die for you so that you have have the free gift of forgiveness. Accept God’s gift today! 

And don’t ever think that your sin is too great for God to forgive! That’s just a twisted form of pride. Your sin may be great – but God’s forgiveness, God’s grace, and God’s love for you are greater!

Humbly accept his forgiveness today – allow Him to absolutely change your life!

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