Only God Can Change The Heart
In this series we have been talking about change. Not just any change but life change from the inside out. God changes us into a new creation instantly but then begins the process of sanctification (change).
Key truth: You and I exist to display the glory of God. We were created for Him and the power to change comes to us from God’s Spirit. (Isaiah 43:7; Colossians 1:16; Phil 2:13)
Most Christians are not changing
Why do some Christians who have plentiful exposure to God’s Word fail to change even though they want to? Just knowing and wanting to change is not enough. If I asked you, “How is God changing you?” What would your response be? Change is God’s agenda so our answer should be filled with examples of God’s work in our life.
Key truth: God’s nonnegotiable first step in change is repentance. Repentance is a change in the way I think about something and is proven genuine by behavior that is evident to all (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8)
Get specific about change
We know God’s plan for change begins with conversion and continues through sanctification. If you are struggling to change, ask yourself, do I REALLY want to change? There MUST be a commitment. Then ask in faith for God to show you what needs to change. Isolate and name areas in need of change and then begin the process of change through His power source.
Do you struggle with any…
Anger, anxiety, fear, bitterness, unforgiveness, impatience, laziness, negativity, self-centeredness, sexual lust, hatred, jealousy, opinionated, overly sensitive, profanity, drunkenness, boastful, occult involvement, vanity workaholic, stubbornness, self-pity, self-harm?
Confess (means to say the same thing about your sin that God says)
Repent – this begins with genuine sorrow, pain, anguish over sin
Express to the Lord willingness to change and your desperate need for His power
You are dead to sin; sin’s power is broken – Sin is now a CHOICE
Wash your mind with God’s Word daily and continuously
Do not just STOP sinful habits – REPLACE
Key truth: If you are still struggling with a certain sin it is because you choose to remain in that sin. We are dead to sin therefore sin is now a choice (Romans 6:1-2, 6-7).
Submitting our natural sinful tendencies to the discipline of godliness is difficult because our old sinful thinking and patterns do not automatically disappear. Yes, we are a new creation empowered by God, but we need conditioning and retraining. We need our minds renewed because we can be quickly taken captive by the world (Romans 12:2).
What does wanting the wrong thing look like? Have you ever finger pointed? Adam did. Do you find yourself thinking or saying, “If we had more money we could pay the bills and life would be easier.” “If my husband would only appreciate me and lead this family our relationship would be so much better.” “If I had married someone else, someone who respected me more, then I would be happy.” “If my friend would admit she hurt me then we could be friends again.” Biblical change is admitting – I am the problem (Romans 7:24).
Key truth: We are deeply flawed and naturally bent toward loving self above all! We are called to esteem God NOT self (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 51:5; Romans 8:7,8)!
Lasting change comes through the heart and only God can change the heart. His grace is what teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-13).
Old practices and habits must be replaced by new godly ones
The Gospel saves and the Gospel changes us
In their book, “How People Change,” Paul Tripp and Tim Lane state that a major reason Christians are “ineffective and unproductive” is a failure to grasp the need for the Gospel in the here and now. They call this the “Gospel gap” and many Christians have it.
The Gospel gap is the “now” benefits of the work of Christ, in marriages, the workplace, school, and friendships. It is missing the connection between what we are doing and what God is doing. It is living without the power source.
Now that you are saved, do you see yourself as needy and weak? Do you humbly admit you need Christ daily, or do you forget how desperate your condition really is? Do you daily rely on Christ’s present grace when your spouse fails in some way? The Gospel says that the only way to live is first to die. We must die to self-centered desires and allow this truth to connect back to the ability to respond in love to a spouse’s failure.
Key truth: If your behavior is different than what you profess to believe you have a “Gospel gap” (Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 29:13).
If your circumstances are causing out of control emotions you are living in the Gospel gap and not practicing faith. When you catch yourself in this state STOP and check your heart. Ask, “What am I wanting right now?” “What do I want so bad that it is causing me to be _____ (angry, depressed, anxious, bitter)? Ask yourself, “Since I am angry am I living by faith and trusting God’s promises, or am I wanting something?”
Do not live on autopilot
If you have the wrong thinking and behavior and are choosing to respond to pressures in a sinful ungodly way the result will be rotten fruit—behavior or emotions that are out of control. This is an implication of living outside the Gospel; in the gap.
Walking in the flesh is a daily choice. Living consumed and controlled by circumstances or fallen feelings is a choice. Christ has set us free from sin and we can live a different way. Change is centered on the Gospel message.
Key truth: The way we come to Christ is the way we follow him: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6; Philippians 1:6).
What controls you? We respond to what controls us. If your husband’s actions (or lack of) causes you to be bitter or disrespectful then your husband controls you. If your child’s defiant behavior makes you angry then your child controls you. If your friend’s abandonment creates feelings of self-pity then your friend controls you.
Who or what SHOULD control us? The Holy Spirit! If your life is not producing the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, Galatians 5:22-23) then the Gospel is not controlling you.
Key truth: Christ brings ALL the assets just as in salvation. The Gospel is not just for salvation it is for our life here and now (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 8:29).
Change is gradual, steady, constant
Change is gradual, steady, daily, and constant and it only happens IF we step out in faith in every situation. First our heart has to be changed (through salvation) and then the Gospel must permeate our responses to difficult situations. The Gospel will change the desires of your heart and control your every thought and action as you renew your mind and exercise your faith.
Key truth: We are never passive. We are always responding to the circumstances of life and this natural response is to respond sinfully (Titus 2:11-13; James 1:13-15).
The Gospel gives you the power to give up (put off) your sinful desires and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit. This must begin in the heart (mind) first. You must choose to renew your mind. Every area in your life will be different when your hearts desires are changed (Psalm 119:11; Romans 12:1-2).
Jesus Christ changes people
About the author
Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her husband, their three children and their 12 year old yellow lab…and sushi too.