Without taking anything away from our last post, The End of Sin’s Power?, we do need to talk about how this works in practice. The message of the New Testament – the indwelling resurrection power of Christ in our lives and the thousand new things that come with it – is all true, but experiencing this power is a process.
The path to all that happened at our new birth becoming our normal practice is hindered by at least two barriers. The first is our group of enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – that seek to empower our moribund sin nature. I will not elaborate here as we have discussed this challenge many times (see Galatians 5 and The War with the Flesh).
The second barrier is what I call the timeline of our lives. We start off at birth with a sin nature, personality quirks, and all kinds of things that make us us (Nature). As we grow, we are influenced by our family dynamic, our upbringing, our poor choices, etc. (Nurture). Added together, Nature and Nurture become a volatile combination of selfishness, ambition, pride, laziness, lust, and the list goes on and on.
Somewhere along the way, in the beauty of God’s grace, Christ breaks through this volatile combination with His salvation and we are delivered to a new life. “If any man or woman be in Christ, they are a new person. The old has passed away. New things have come” (II Cor 5:17). When Christ enters our life, we become a new person. However, we still retain some of the parts and pieces of the old man, even though dead, that was our normal way of doing business. So then, the normal Christian life is a life of constant change, renewal, and repentance.
And the prospect of change should excite us. Who doesn’t want to be a better person? Who doesn’t want a better marriage? Who doesn’t want more family unity? As a new person in Christ, we don’t want the volatile combination to continue. Change is what we want. When we fail to change or change moves too slowly, we become discouraged and are tempted to give up. And the excitement of change grows dim.
What I have tried to say in a multitude of ways during these posts about our promised victory over sin’s power is that Christ has given us the promise of change and the power to change by the gift of the Holy Spirit who lives inside us. This unseen change is instant and real, but the outward expression is not automatic. The outward change is not overnight. But the promise and power to change is available to every believer.
I have observed two accelerators that speed up our spiritual transformation; the outward practice of the change inside. The first is the Word of God. “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). To “save your souls” means to deliver you from your present enemies in your struggle with sin. The “implanted Word of God” that we receive through reading and study delivers us and feeds our spiritual transformation. One of the keys to change is to change our thinking – getting rid of our former grid that we interpreted the world through – and begin to interpret the world through the grid of God’s thought process. Here is a simple question, “How long will it take for your thinking process to become like God’s thinking process if you are never reading God’s Word, where His thinking process is described and explained?” The answer might be infinity.
The second accelerator is our community of believers. Change does not happen in a personal vacuum. It happens in a community. Lasting change has the most hope of success when we grow together, side-by-side. Is there a place for working on personal transformation by ourselves? Yes! But personal change has the best chance of “sticking” if it happens in the context of community. Growing in Christ together is the emphasis of the over fifty “one another” passages of the New Testament. “Love, encourage, greet, build up, be devoted to, accept, admonish, care for, serve, be kind to, speak truth to, be subject to, forgive, comfort, and have fellowship with one another” are just a few. We need each other to flesh out what life looks like on the new path God has for us.