As Christians we should be constantly changing and becoming more Christ-like.
The elderly couple had been married for 50 years – 50 full years of misery. They had fought every day of their marriage. It was the typical standoff: she said she would change when he did, and he said he would change when she did.
The couple’s children threw a 50th wedding anniversary party for them. After the celebration had ended and the guests were gone, the wife turned to her husband and said, “We’ve lived together for 50 years, but it’s been miserable. We’ve fought every day.”
She paused. “Now I think it’s time to change. In fact, I’ve been praying that things would change. I’ve been praying that the Lord would take one of us home. And when He answers my prayer … I’m going to go live with my sister in Grand Rapids!”
What is it about us that makes change so difficult? All too often, we focus on the changes other people need to make and ignore our own inadequacies.
One obstacle is age. I already feel the calcifying effects of age – not a hardening of the arteries, but a hardening of the arguments. When someone presents a new viewpoint to my well-rehearsed, 46-year-old system of life, it’s increasingly difficult for me to respond objectively.
We encounter numerous other obstacles. A comfortable standard of living may keep us from considering changes God wants us to make. Our morals – or lack of them – may hamper our ability to change. Our pride is a problem, especially if we have been vocal in our opinions. Friendships, goals, aspirations, the desire for success, fear of failure – all these and more can make us resistant to change.
Change, however, lies at the heart of God’s redemptive purpose. “All things work together for good,” we say quoting Romans 8:28. But do we realize that good is precisely defined in the next verse? “For those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
God’s work in our lives involves change; He is conforming us to the image of Christ. Anyone who says, “I like being just the way I am,” has aborted God’s redemptive purpose.
The biblical measure of spiritual maturity is not how long we’ve been saved or how many wonderful things we’ve done. Instead, it examines how much more like Christ we are today than we were two months ago. That requires change – first in the way we think and then in the way we act.
God has ordained many agents of change. Prayer is one. I find that when I pray God often changes more about me than about my request. Preaching can be another instrument of change, depending on my responsiveness. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the ultimate change agent. His penetrating, still, small voice continually produces change as we yield to Him.
But any list of change agents must begin with the Word of God. Without the Bible, we would not know what it means to pray how to pray or even that we should pray. Apart from the Scripture, preaching – no matter how forceful or eloquent – has no life-changing authority. Even the ministry of the Holy Spirit works through the Word He has authored.
Just before the Cross, Christ prayed for our sanctification. He asked the Father to set us apart, to make us unique and useful. How? By the truth. “Sanctify them by the truth,” He prayed. “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Second Timothy 3:16 asserts that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” This statement alone underscores the power of His written word. It is the very expression of the “breath” of God, that which emanates from the essence of His being. No wonder it is the key agent of our change – “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” so that we “may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The Worth of God’s Word
If God has “breathed” His Word, then every part of it must be entirely, infallibly consistent with His character. When we read the Scriptures, we know that everything written there comes from a holy God who loves us and cares for us.
When God tells us how to handle our money, it’s not because He wants to rip us off for His kingdom. When He commands us to deny ourselves, it’s not because He is a cosmic killjoy who takes all the fun out of life. Every expression of His will is rooted in His love and directed toward His glory and our greatest good.
Because God is wise, the Bible is wise. Because He is perfect, His Book is flawless. Because He is eternal, the Scriptures are never outdated. In every point and in every way, God’s Word is completely consistent with His character.
Not only is the Bible consistent with God’s character, but because it is God-breathed, it must also be consistent with His authority. Who is God? He is the divine, sovereign Head of the universe. He is Lord, who spoke to nothingness, and nothingness became stars and planets, sky and sea, and living things. Under His authority all the universe operates.
Because the Bible comes from God, it claims total, supreme authority in our lives. It leaves no room for negotiation; it is sovereign.
One of the greatest problems in the church today is that the hearts of God’s people have been seduced by secular culture. Our society vests authority in the individual. Each person is in charge of his own life, deciding what is true or false, right or wrong. But nothing could be further from the truth. God alone is the authority! And His authority is vested in His Word.
When I was in the pastorate, a couple came to me for advice on a thorny problem. They had been wronged by another family in the church, and now they were considering litigation.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” I said. “God’s Word speaks clearly to this problem.” Then we turned to 1 Corinthians 6, and I outlined some biblical alternatives.
After a brief discussion, we prayed together, and they got up to leave. I thanked them for coming and said, “I’ll be praying for you as you seek to apply God’s Word to your life.”
The husband turned and said, “Well, thank you – but we really aren’t sure we’re going to do that.”
A lot of us approach the Word of God as if it were a smorgasbord. When I go to a dinner buffet, I like to walk by it twice to scout out the territory. Then I go back and select what looks good. Tragically, many of us come to the Bible in the same way. We scout it out for tasty morsels, then pick and choose only what we want. We leave the rest as if it didn’t matter.
My oldest son, Joe, is a clerk in the Deutsche Mark pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. As we ride into the city together each morning, we sometimes listen to an all-news station. When the business report comes on, Joe instantly takes out his pencil and records what the U.S. dollar is worth that day. Why does he do that so faithfully? Because everything he does on that fast-paced trading floor hinges on the worth of the dollar.
We need to listen to God’s Word with the same respect, reminding ourselves daily that everything we do hinges on the worth of that Book.
The Work of God’s Word
Our homes have valuables sitting useless on mantles or locked behind glass doors. God’s Word is different. Not only does it have tremendous worth, it also does a tremendous work. It is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Through this process of change, we become “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
Businessmen know what it means to concentrate on the “bottom line.” Perhaps it’s time we did the same. This passage shows us how God’s Word can increase our spiritual profit factor – in terms of God’s kingdom, eternal values, and treasures in heaven.
Teaching. All of us need to be taught. We are born into God’s family spiritually ignorant. Lives that are saturated with false values need to be reprogrammed with truth. We need to know what to do with our time, talents, and cash. We need to learn how to treat friends and how to handle enemies. We need to learn how to invest ourselves in service to Christ and His church.
Through the change agent of His Word, God changes the way we think. He reshapes our attitudes and transforms our lives.
Some might feel that they can learn enough about God through nature. Psalm 19 does say that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1). We can see evidence of God when we study the stars, when we walk in the woods, or when we hold a new baby. But nature alone cannot reveal the fullness of God. Through Scripture we learn truths about God that we cannot learn elsewhere.
A few years ago, my wife and I had the joy of watching humpback whales off the coast of Hawaii. Humpback whales reach about 40 feet long at maturity and weigh about one ton per foot. They may carry a thousand pounds of barnacles. When the whales “breach,” or leap out of the water, they extend themselves totally in the air and then fall back into the ocean with a splash visible five miles away.
The guide on our whale-watching boat told us that the whales come down from Alaska every year to calve in the warm Hawaiian waters. Year after year, they return to the same place.
The calves, which weigh about five tons, are born tail first. If they were born head-first, these air-breathing mammals would drown. They are born tail-first so another whale can come alongside and push them up to the surface so they can take their first breath of air.
Our guide also told us that these whales sing a “song.” The song changes slightly each year, and every humpback whale in the world sings the changed version. What an incredible display of God’s creative power!
But after describing all these wonderful facts, our guide said, “If we had been here 50 million years ago, we would not have been able to watch the whales. They evolved from land animals…”
I could have wept. Those whales showed me the glory of our Creator, but our guide, not having believed or not having been taught the Word of God, did not know the Creator.
How did I know about the great Creator who had made those whales? The Word of God taught me that truth. Even greater, that same Word teaches us that this Creator loves us personally, and that He has made it possible for us to know Him.
What a hollow, empty thing to see the marvel of those creatures and say, “Well, it all happened by chance.” This Book is profitable for teaching; it lifts us from our ignorance.
Reproof. Not only is God’s Word beneficial for teaching, it is also beneficial for reproof. This word literally means to shed light on something to reveal its flaws or problems.
If you’ve ever had a broken bone, your doctor probably put you under an X-ray machine so he could see the nature of your problem. He used the X-ray to “reprove’ you – to shed light on your problem so he could correct it. God’s Word does the same thing for us spiritually.
We need God’s reproof. We get so self-motivated and independent. As we begin to think, “I’m just going to do what I want to do,” the Word of God interferes and rebukes us. It convicts us.
We can trust the Word of God to reprove us in moments of independence and rebellion, as well as in those times of quiet submission and careful study. It will work as often as we let it.
Correction. If we are sensitive to God, His Word will also provide correction. This process is like setting an airliner on automatic pilot. The airliner is equipped with a sophisticated mechanism that continually, but almost imperceptibly, corrects the flight path to keep the plane on track. When we yield control of our lives to God, He uses His Word to keep us on course. It nudges us and corrects us. It affects the way we think, the way we draw conclusions, the way we make daily decisions.
A friend of mine tells of how he was approached by two prostitutes in a hotel one night. Galatians 6:8 immediately came to his mind: “The one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption” (NASB). He says that verse was like a shade drawn down between him and the temptation. The correcting Word of God kept him on course.
Training in righteousness. Finally, the Bible works to train us in righteousness. Righteousness is God’s divine standard. It is perfect, and it is perfectly consistent with who He is. It holds true in every situation.
Unfortunately, we live in a standard-less society. The Judeo-Christian ethic is all but ignored, and most people do whatever they want. That’s why Scripture is so important. The word training is the same word used for child-rearing. The Word of God parents us. It rears us in righteousness so we can live by our Father’s standards.
Because the Word of God is such a powerful agent of change, we ought to read it expecting change. As we open the Scriptures, we should pray, “Lord, this poor servant of yours needs to change, and I’m ready to change. Teach me; use the Scripture to light my darkness. Correct me; keep me on course. Train me in righteousness.
When we approach God’s Word expecting Him to work in us, He will. He may do it through one phrase, one paragraph, or one chapter. How much we read is not important — what’s important is why we read. We should be ready to say daily, “God, here I am, change me.”
The Wonder of God’s Word
One of the most discouraging things I do every day is get up and look in the mirror. I think, What can I do with this? The apostle James wrote that the Word of God is like a spiritual mirror (James 1:22-25). I read it, and I see myself as I really am. And each time, my response should be, What can I do with this?
Pity the person who leaves the mirror and makes no attempt to change. “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:23-24).
According to Hebrews 4:12, the Word is sharper than a two-edged sword. It pierces to the center of our being, cutting through our excuses and uncovering our inner motives. I don’t always know why I do the things I do, but the Word of God explains my actions. It lays me open and says, “Stowell, look why you did that. You are selfish.”
While studying the life of Saul recently, I noticed that one of his tragic flaws was self-promotion. In fact, after one victory in battle, before giving an account to the prophet Samuel, he stopped to “set up a monument in his own honor” (1 Sam. 15:12).
Isn’t that interesting, I thought. I know a lot of people who build monuments to themselves. But then the Holy Spirit put me in a full nelson as if He said, “What do you mean you know a lot of people who do that? Maybe it’s your problem as well.”
Not long after that, I was with a friend who had just returned from speaking at a national conference in Canada. As he reveled in the thrill of it, relating how he’d had a tremendous time and how the people had been so responsive, guess what I wanted to do? Encourage him? Listen carefully to what he had taught? Ask what God did? No, as soon as I found a crack in the conversation, I butted in and said, “Yes, I know, I spoke there last year.”
That instant, like a two-edged sword, God’s Word cut into my heart. “Stowell, why did you say that?” the Spirit asked. “Are you building monuments to yourself again?”
It was time to change the way I thought, time to change the way I acted. The Word had done its work again.
by Dr. Joseph M. Stowell
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