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I am feeling my mortality.
On the one hand, I look back at my life and see a thousand mistakes I have made. Ways I went down the wrong path and got myself lost. It is hard to look, because the roads had consequences, ones I cannot now go back and change.
On the other hand, I look ahead and want the dreams I’ve carried all my life—but now, for the first time, see clearly—to be fulfilled. I realize I must change, if those dreams are to occur.
How do I change?
This month I am preaching from Ephesians, chapters 4 to 6. “. . . put off your old self,” the author writes, “. . . and put on your new self . . .” (4:22-4) That is exactly what I want, and what I find so hard to do. The old ways of being “me” are ingrained, like the blood in me; like my breathing.
The ideals presented by the author startle me. “. . . live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1), the author writes, urging me to be humble, gentle, patient. “Speak the truth in love” (4:15), something I now see as so important; yet I find either I am unable to tell my family and friends the truth of how I am feeling, or I do so without love. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (5:8) “Stand your ground.” (6:13)
I try to change, but I find the pull of the old me daunting. Sometimes overwhelming.
In the midst of the ideals and the admonitions, I find hope in the God-centered frame of it all.
“. . . Rise from the dead,” the author says (5:15); but that is of course exactly what I cannot do. Only God can raise the dead. So it is God who will have to make the changes in me.
And all three persons of the Trinity act to change me. I am surrounded by their changing efforts and power. Prayer connects me to God the Father, who goes ahead of me; I follow, and develop a heart of gratitude. (5:15, 20) Christ indwells me. He shines his light on me and gives me his strength. (4:13, 15; 5:14; 6:10) God the Spirit fills me and gives me power to defeat those things which pull me down. (5:17; 6:17)
Slowly, I grow up into Christ’s likeness. (4:13, 15)
The three persons of the Trinity affect the resurrection of me from the dead. They transfer me from my old self to my new self.
What it all means, I believe, is that the roads toward the God-filled life . . . toward “a life of love” that fulfills my heart (5:2) . . . become more visible, and I become more able to do them.
An ability that is the gift of this triune God who goes before me, and who indwells me. (6:19)
It is the divine gift of a new life.
I think the changing is all. God’s children are changers, repenters. We have been given the gift of repenting (able to feel remorse for past behavior and the determination to stop doing what led to it), and the gift of forgiveness (the reinforcement of positive self esteem for continuing the new behavior). Our obedient life is a continuing exercise of this sequence. We’re in good company. Saul, the persecutor of faith, became Paul, the protector of faith. All along, he felt the regret for sin too:
“This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all. But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15).
All the believers I know well are in the same boat. It is a blessing that you recognize at least some of your tendencies to separate/stray from God. Remorse is good; turning toward God-preferred practices is better. And yet — more easily preached than practiced. Thank you God for providing the strength. If only we would seize that strength, rather than preferring our comfort zone.
Thanks, Gregory, for the insight into a changed life. Reading this article, it seems that there is little hope for the non Christian. What I see here is a hope in the triune God’s working in a person’s life, as we can’t make the necessary changes ourselves. What I hear is a recapitulation of Paul’s enslavement to his sinful nature, his woe is me speech to the Romans. His only hope is Jesus who will deliver him.
I would suggest that if you want changes in your life, then change the influences that impact you. Find new friends who model the life you want to live and friends that will help you or hold you accountable. If gossip is a problem, find new friends that don’t want to hear gossip. If you want to stop cheating on your taxes, get an honest accountant to do your taxes. If alcohol is the problem get involved in AA or some other alcoholic’s group that will encourage you and hold you accountable. If you feel you measure at the low end of morality, get involved in a church that preaches and lives a high standard. If you feel cold to the needs of others get involved in a soup kitchen that feeds the poor. Most often, it is the influences that impact our lives that contribute to the way we live.
So if a person, Christian or not, is serious about changing their lives, consider what influences need changing. For most people, who are serious about change, that will help dramatically. And then attribute that change to whatever you want, whether a Triune God, the Holy Spirit, good parenting, Alcoholics Anonymous, or the God of nature. But first and foremost change those bad influences.