GOD'S METHOD FOR CHANGE
It is clear from Scripture that God requires and commands all men to change. If you are a believer you have already experienced the most radical change known to man, the "new birth." You are now a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). However, the work of change does not stop with your salvation. He wants to continually transform your character and behavior that you may be more like Him (2 Cor. 3:18). How does this occur?
I. God's method for change (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Before anyone comes to salvation they must hear the Gospel message and be taught what the truth is concerning their relationship with God. Once you made a decision to accept this truth and you repented of your sin you became born again. As a newborn Christian you naturally hunger for the milk of God's Word, as a newborn baby does for his mother's milk. Peter says, "As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2). God's Word gives you further understanding of what He wants to change in your life and the faith to believe He can do it (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, as God teaches you His Word the process of change is already beginning.
Once you are taught the Word conviction is always the next step. God begins to work a desire and the willingness to change from inside of you, which helps keep you from external works and self-effort. This is why Paul encouraged Timothy to preach the Word because of its ability to convict the people to change
(2 Tim. 4:2). Jesus also said, "as many as I love, I rebuke (convict)."
(Rev. 3:19). Therefore, God’s conviction in your life is the second means to motivate you to change.
It’s important to remember that conviction is different from condemnation. Conviction results from the love of God seeking to draw you back to Himself. However, condemnation is not used by God to motivate His children. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Condemnation is only directed toward the ungodly and those who cast off their faith (Jude 1:4) (1 Tim. 5:12).
Once you have experienced God’s instruction in the truth of His Word and have become convicted by the Holy Spirit, correction of your behavior must now occur. How does this correction occur?
1. Believe God's promise. "For sin shall not have dominion over you"
(Rom. 6:14). There is nothing in your life that God cannot change, because sin does not have the right to rule over you anymore.
2. Ask God to give you understanding. "Know this that your old man was crucified with Him" (Rom. 6:6). You need Spiritual understanding, with a heart that is fully persuaded, that your old man is dead (Col. 3:3). It would also be helpful to go back and review part 3 of this series.
3. Choose to repent concerning any attitude or behavior that God is convicting you about. Repentance is how correction occurs. The word repent means to change your mind and reverse directions. However repentance is your choice. You must decide if you will yield to the instruction and conviction that God has touched your heart with. Notice in the following passage how Paul brings together the principle of teaching, repentance, and correction as He encourages Timothy in his ministry. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
D. Training and discipline in righteousness
Every time you allow the Word of God to bring conviction and you choose to repent and correct what is sinful in your life, you are being disciplined and trained to righteousness. Every time you make the right choices you are forming new habits and rejecting others, which is what transforms your life. This is how God trains you to become a godly man or women (1 Tim. 4:7). Training in righteousness is a daily growth in self-control and self-discipline, which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22)
See these Scriptures for further understanding as to how God trains you to righteousness.
1. Yield to your conscience (Acts 24:16).
2. Receive His correction (Heb. 12:11).
3. Obedience and practice of His Word (Heb. 5:14)
II. Feelings vs. commands
In this process of God changing you there is one other issue that has a dramatic effect on your success and growth. This issue is the battle between your feelings and desires and God’s commands. Every day you must make a decision whether you will yield to your feelings and desires or obey His commands. The writer of Hebrews declared that Moses had to make this choice. He choose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). This is the choice that each of us must make on a daily basis.
1. A biblical look at feelings and desires
A. Yielding to feelings and desires is what caused Adam and Eve to disobey God’s direct command in the garden (Gen. 3:6).
B. Yielding to feelings and desires is what caused the children of Israel to disobey God in the wilderness. Scripture declares that they "yielded to their intense craving" (Num. 11:4). They did this because they didn't trust God (Num. 14:1-10).
C. Moses overcame his feelings of inadequacy by simply obeying the command of God (Ex. 4:1-20). This example reveals the way to overcome your strong desires and feelings. You must obey God no matter what the circumstances or consequences may be.
D. Jesus gave another very important instruction to His disciples as to how they could overcome their feelings. He taught them that even if a person sins against you seven times in one day, and repents each time, you must forgive him. The disciples were amazed when they heard this teaching. They said, "increase our faith." Jesus proceeded to tell them a simple story concerning a field worker. This man had worked all day and was tired when he came home. He didn't feel like doing any more work that day; but his master said, come and serve me, then you can sit down to dinner. Then Jesus said, “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not” (Luke 17:9). Jesus is relating the action of this servant to His disciples. They are called to forgive even when they don’t feel like it, simply because they are commanded to do it. Therefore, if you wait for a feeling of forgiveness you'll never do it. Do what is right because you are commanded to it, like the field worker.
E. All aspects of the Christian life and the victory you hope for will be determined by your decision to obey God’s commands in spite of your feelings. Don't wait for a feeling before you obey God. Choose to obey Him whether you feel like it or not. The correct feelings will always follow your correct obedience (John 13:17). Remember, you probably didn't feel like getting up out of bed this morning to go to work. However, you chose to do it because you knew you must. After you got up and were off to work your feelings changed.
2. How do Feelings, Thoughts, and Your Behavior Work Together?
A. First, you must understand the connection between your feelings, your thought life, and your behavior.
1. Your feelings are directly associated with your thoughts. If you want to control your feelings you must first control your thought life. In Mark 14:72, when Peter thought about his denial of Jesus it declares that, he wept. Notice that his feelings and emotions were directly controlled by what he thought. In Lam. 3:19-20, when Jeremiah remembered all of his afflictions he said, “My soul…sinks within me.” When Jeremiah speaks of his soul sinking he is undoubtedly referring to his emotional state. However, when he thought on God's mercies he experienced hope within his mind (Lam 3:21-23).
David explains this same connection between his thoughts and feelings in Psalms 73:16. When he incorrectly thought that the wicked would escape the judgment of God, it was too painful for him. He became upset and angry. However, when he went into the Sanctuary of God, (vs 17-28), the Lord gave him a new perspective and he found strength (vs 26).
2. Your feelings are directly associated with your behavior. If you want to control your feelings you must also change your behavior. When your behavior is sinful your conscience will accuse you. These accusations enter your mind through your thoughts and then affect your feelings and emotions. In Romans 2:15, Paul teaches that the conscience uses your thoughts to either accuse you or excuse you. Sinful behavior without repentance will naturally cause accusing thoughts, which result in, depressed feelings. Godly behavior demonstrated by obedience to God's Word will result in just the opposite. Godliness results in thoughts that excuse you, which make you feel good about your action. In Phil. 4:8-9, Paul instructs, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Note that Paul believed that if we would follow his example and do what he did, we would experience the peace of God. Similarly, Jesus gave the same exhortation for how to be happy. After teaching the disciples to be servants He said, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17). Jesus taught that happiness results from doing what you know is right. Therefore, you shouldn't wait till you feel like doing what is right. Take the correct action and your feelings will follow.
B. Next, to control your thoughts and feelings you must make some choices.
1. Choose to examine your behavior and thoughts with the Word of God. Test what you are doing and what you are thinking with what Scripture declares (1 Thess. 5:21). If your thoughts and feelings are contrary to His Word, then you must acknowledge that these thoughts are wrong and reject them. By testing your thoughts and rejecting those that are not of God you are submitting yourself to the Father. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Is. 55:7).
2. Choose to pray and ask God to bring every thought into the captivity of the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) (Phil. 4:6-8). Prayer is your choice. Prayer is the only way to receive the grace you need to help control what is inside you. He is able to control your thoughts.
3. Ask God to purify your heart before Him. Why is purifying your heart important? Because out of an evil heart proceeds evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19) (Acts 8:21-23). If your heart is angry, self-righteous, or resentful you won't have correct thoughts, nor will you behave in a godly way.
4. Choose to think and meditate only on what is good, just, pure, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8-9). Note: Choosing to control your thoughts will many times be an extreme struggle within, but you must fight this battle moment by moment choosing to surrender your thought by faith to God. In the beginning it is helpful to make a written list of things you want to think about instead of the hurtful or evil things you have been dwelling upon. Take this list with you everywhere to enable you to refer to it often.
When you find your mind drifting back to sinful thoughts, ask God to forgive you, pull out your list and begin meditating on what is good, and God will restore your peace again. You can control your thoughts and feelings if you will take these steps. God promises it, in Phil. 4:9.