Written Word

As a Christian, I should be changed by God

There is no doubt that, through the power of the gospel, God can save us. (Romans 1:16) A crucified Christ is God’s declaration that a free and full pardon is available. (1 Corinthians 1:18) And that message of hope is for everyone; no one is outside the scope of God’s divine love and mercy.

But can the baptised believer be changed? Forgiven, yes! But changed? Can God change the life that has been shaped by a past, a past infected with all kinds of sin and wickedness? A past that has allowed the filth of this world to reside in heart and mind? A past that carries scars of emotional and physical abuse? A past that has instilled the belief that you are an unlovable failure? A past shadowed by fear, insecurity, anxiety and low self-esteem? Can the alcoholic, the pornographer, the habitually immoral, the angry, the resentful, the selfish be changed? This can be some of the “baggage” that is often brought by new believers who have come to Jesus.

Our life is not like a piece of text on a computer screen that can be highlighted then deleted, never to be seen again. We all have a past, but the past does not have to control our present and our future. Mention Peter’s name and immediately we remember that he denied the Lord. His sin is public knowledge; it’s out in the open for all to see. What Peter did was wrong, inexcusable. But this event did not control the rest of his life; this tragic event did not shape what he was to become. He didn’t feel the need to avoid farmyards lest the sound of a cock crowing remind him of his past sin. And I seriously doubt that he gave up eating fowl. The Apostle Paul had a track record of persecuting the church that followed him to his grave. He could never forget his part in the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, or his blasphemy against the one who is now his Lord and Saviour. (Acts 26:9-11) Yet the life of neither of these men was controlled by their past. God utterly changed them, empowering them to live faithful and fruitful lives in his service.

The wrecked life we bring to Jesus – with its warped way of thinking, the sinful mind that has been a reservoir for immoral thoughts, the heart that has been filled with evil of every kind – can be changed by the power of God. We don’t have to be enslaved to our past, for God has made deliverance available to us.

Attempts to bring the sinful body under control are often met with spectacular failure. In the Apostle Paul’s day, worldly attempts looked good but were futile in bringing about inner change. These practices, Paul says, “are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have the appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:22-23) Plenty of effort, but no results.

The Jews were meticulous in observing ceremonial cleanliness, but neglected the real source of their problems – the sinful heart. Jesus said to them, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’ [spiritually unclean]. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” (Mark 7:20-23) The heart is what needs to be changed. Maintaining a high standard of personal hygiene never produced a holy life.

And then there were Christians who tried dealing with sin in their life by their own endeavours. Paul asks them, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human efforts?” (Galatians 3:3) If heroic efforts could not save them initially, how could they live a changed life “by human efforts”? They couldn’t, and they didn’t.

The Divine Solution

Only God can change our life. Our efforts are doomed to failure. Through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, we have been equipped and empowered for change. The sinful thought patterns that have been with us for years, along with the behaviour that leads to sin, can be arrested and our life changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the context of living free of sexual immorality, Paul tells the Christians, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality… For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who give you the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,7-8)

God, whose desire is that we live free of sexual immorality (pornography, lust, sexual affairs), has given us the Holy Spirit to make his desire for us become a reality. Our sinful nature cannot be defeated by our willpower, our determination or our resolution; “but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) Only the Holy Spirit can defeat sin in our life. The immoral thoughts and acts can be overcome when we become dependent upon the Spirit. We must acknowledge in prayer that we cannot be pure on our own. We need divine help. By praying in this manner, we are depending upon the power of the Lord to change us. We must hand ourselves over to God each day in a spirit of dependence upon him. This will be as a response to the divine nudging of the Holy Spirit, who creates holy desires and longings in our heart. This is how God put it, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

Through yielding to the Holy Spirit, we are being empowered “not to think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14) The pull in our heart to surf the internet for pornography, the pleasure of flirting with a work colleague, the urge to engage in lusting, the desire to take revenge and be hateful can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the surrendered life will result in our being “strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner being”. (Ephesians 3:16) And as we “live by the Spirit” we have the blessed assurance that we “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature”. (Galatians 5:16) It is clear then that the sinful nature that desires gratification outside the will of God can be defeated. I sincerely believe that by the Sprit we can live holy, pure lives that do not have even a hint of immorality. We don’t have to be permanent victims to sinful ways. There is deliverance and there is divine power available to bring about a changed life if we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).