The problem we face as Christians is how we grow in Christ-likeness. Our doctrine of sin explains why we fall so far short of God’s holy ideal. We are familiar with and reject the teaching that says that we will be made better by just trying harder. We can change by ‘trying harder’ for sure. But such change can only reach to our surface behavior, and cannot address in any lasting way our inward motivations. And Jesus says, of course, that what truly corrupts is what arises from within. So, how do we change?
When we affirm that real change, sanctification, is something that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in us, and is therefore something we do not accomplish on our own, so that He receives ALL the glory for whatever change is observable in our lives, the question arises, “Well, what, then, is MY role in that?” Instinctively we know that we must do SOMETHING, and Scripture does confirm that. But we puzzle over how ‘doing something’ differs from seeking simply to ‘try harder’. The difference is in where we are looking for the change to occur. To ‘try harder’ is to look to our own strength in hoping to bring about change. In reality, change can come only when we are looking not to ourselves but to Christ.
As I’ve wrestled with this over the years, I’ve concluded that there are five ‘things that we do’.
1. Know who you are
2. Seek the work of God’s grace to change you
3. Put yourself in the way of grace
4. Mortify sin
5. Rejoice in the gospel
If I were to think more fully I could expand the list. But this seems to be the five things you need to keep in mind as you seek godliness in your life. Over the next several weeks, I intend to address all of these. Succinctly. I promise.
1. Know who you are
This is the starting place. Paul in his discussions of sanctification is quick to say ‘consider yourself’ followed by some reality of our union with Christ. I have a choice to make in considering who I am. I can look at myself as the low down, no good scumbag that an analysis of my most recent outburst or anger or oversight of a Christian duty reveals me to be. But that is NOT who I am. Those outbursts or oversights are aberrations, contrary to who I really am. Who you are is defined by your union with Christ, not by your feelings or your actions. If you trust in Christ, you are united with him, and all the fruit of that is true of you. You are justified, fully accepted and love. You are adopted, open to all the blessings of the child of God. You are liberated from the bondage to sin – you do not have to sin. There is another way opened to you.
I quoted Linda Ronstadt in my last post. This ‘voice in our head’ tells us, endlessly, “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good….” But the gospel tells us otherwise. We are beloved, we are welcomed, we are righteous, we are the apple of our Father’s eye. To know this and to believe this is to start to have the foundation upon which to battle sin.
As I was preparing this post, a funny thing happened. I was listening to music new to me on Pandora Radio (more on this in a subsequent post). As I was typing, a song was playing whose lyrics caused me to sit up and take notice. It is a song by an artist named Johnny Flynn. I know nothing about the guy. But in this song, ‘Tickle Me Pink‘, his lyrics express a familiar longing:
Don’t know where I can find myself a brand new pair of ears
don’t know where I can buy a heart
the one I’ve got is shoddy
I need a brand new body
and then I can have a brand new start
My boy, you can’t buy a new heart. Mine was pretty shoddy, too, but the old is gone, and the new has come. I’ve been given a new heart, and if I can begin to really believe that, I can have a brand new start. Do you believe that to be true? Know who you are.
And for those voices in our head?
Pray for the people inside your head
for they won’t be there when you’re dead
muffled out and pushed back down
pushed back through the leafy ground
And who am I?
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)