Creating significant change is tough. In America 25% of us blow or discard our New Year’s resolutions in the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent. One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us! The Apostle Paul wasn’t always a stand-up guy. Before he became a Christian he used to arrest and terrorize Christians. Then God got a hold of him and turned his life around. But even after God changed him, the Bible tells us in Acts 9:26:
“he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.”
It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes…
I remember my first week on the job as an associate pastor some years back. On Monday morning, the senior pastor was taking me around to introduce me to people in the office. In one room the maintenance guy was laying down some tiling. The pastor introduced us and I stepped forward to give the guy a warm handshake. I didn’t realize it but I stepped right into some tiling mud that he was using to tile the room. The pastor looks down and says, “Watch it – you’re steppin’ in some mud.” And I say, “Oops” and step back.
Then the pastor took me over to introduce me to an office admin lady. After about 30 seconds of talking, he looked down at the carpet and said, “What?!? What did you do?” There were gray footprints from the door way right over to where I was standing! I quickly stepped out of the room to wipe off my feet and, being the good Christian man he was, the pastor whipped out his cell phone and began taking pictures! What a great start, huh?
Saul did not get to start a new job and make fresh impressions. He had to change even when people did not believe he could. Similarly, when we decide to follow Jesus, we need to make permanent changes as we leave behind the old “us” and walk a new path. Romans 12:1-2 says:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Paul’s words are just as appropriate today as they were thousands of years ago. We need fresh starts. There are three things I want you to understand from what Paul is saying here, and then four things to do about it.
I. Our change is motivated by God’s mercy
1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…
God cares about you – the Bible says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” The Bible says that we know Jesus loves us because when we were still sinners he died for us. We didn’t have to get right before he gave his life for us. This is what Paul is trying to say here in Romans. “By the mercies of God….” Because of God’s compassion, he acts on your behalf. All of God’s interaction with humanity is summed up with one pattern: action; reaction. God acts and we respond. The mercy of God compels a response of continual sacrifice – a life of worship. The result of encountering God is that we are forever changed, completely transformed.
There’s a story I once heard about a mother who approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” He spared the woman’s son.
We do not live out our Christian lives because of a massive guilt trip or fear but as a loving response to what God has already done for us. Because he has mercy and compassion and acts on our behalf, our response should be to offer Him our very best-our everything. We accomplish this by turning from the world and living out a different kind of life.
II. Surrender your entire being to God
…to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice
The sacrifice is pleasing to God. What Paul is talking about is our attitudes and the contrast in who we please before we meet Jesus and after we meet Jesus. In our old lives, we lived to bring pleasure to ourselves. Now we should live to bring pleasure to God. It’s easy to picture when you think about children.
A child has only one focus in life – find pleasure. My wife and I hung a humorous little plaque in our daughter’s room that says: Toddler’s Rules: If I want it – it’s mine. If I see it – it’s mine. If it’s mine – it’s mine. Nevertheless, as children mature into adults they realize that the world is not all about them (at least they’re supposed to – I think we all know adults who have yet to mature to this point!). But that’s exactly what I’m talking about! When we make the decision to follow Jesus, our focus needs to be not on us but on Him. In this regard, I think we all have room for improvement. Have you surrendered 100% to Him?
In Romans, Paul sees the Christian life as a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, sacrifice meant killing an animal. Paul does not do away with sacrifice. He only changes what it looks like. Instead of the dead body of an animal, the sacrifice is now the living body of the believer in surrender to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for all! Worship now moves out of the temple and into everyday life. Worship is not just what we do – it is now who we are.
III. Life now needs to be different than it used to be
2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
It is no longer acceptable to be the way we were.. Paul writes that a transformation is needed. The Bible is serious about our need to change! In Ephesians Paul writes:
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Later he says, “…put off your old self…to be made new in the attitudes of your mind.”
The Apostle Peter writes:
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…”
He calls us to be changed. Do you admit that you need a change in your life? In your marriage? In your habits? In your attitudes? In your relationships? In your thinking?
It’s time to change. But how do you make change last? It’s like working out. I want to change. I want to get fit.
I know how to use gym equipment. I know things that can help me get in shape. So what’s the problem? I will never get in shape if I never do the exercise. How do we make change permanent?
1. Pray that God will help you change ~If you’re not praying about it, you must not want it that badly! God can do what we could never do. If you really desire to change, start talking to Jesus about it.
2. Become vulnerable and accountable to someone else to help you change ~ It is hard to change without help. When God turned Saul’s life around, God sent good godly men into Saul’s life to help him as he matured as a Christian. We need good godly people in our lives who can be real and honest with us an help us become the people we are supposed to be.
3. Refuse to let people, circumstances, or sin hold you back ~ The disciples did not accept that Saul had truly changed and become a disciple. But Saul continued to pursue God and live a changed life. Sometimes old friends will want to drag us back into old habits and patterns of behavior. Don’t let them. If you have to, make new friends.
4. Take it one day at a time ~ Saul did not become the Apostle Paul overnight. He spent a lot of time growing and maturing with other Christians before he became the man who wrote ½ of the New Testament. Likewise, we can get overwhelmed when we try to live for the big picture change. Focus on one day at a time, and before you know it you will actually be that person that God desires you to be!
God calls us all to be changed. Is it time for change in your life? How is God calling you to change? What are you gonna do about it?
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~ Sustaining Change in Your Life