Not too long ago, I heard a secular song in a public place, and the repeated words were, “Don’t try to change me.” It struck me how this the philosophy of the world and its citizens in general. The sin-corrupted man defies and resists change, insisting that doing what is “right in his own eyes” is the correct path. He doesn’t know he is changing all the time, but for the worse. Sinners have been taken captive by satan, through their own obedience to sin, to do his will. They do not realize they are obeying his will, and the will of his servants, and that their own will is being enslaved. “I will do what I want” is merely slavery dressed up in a costume that pretends at freedom on a stage that is destined for destruction.
Even professing Christians resist change, but they should not. If they have truly been converted from rebels to children of God, surely they know they need to change? And not just change on the outside, but in the deeper inward parts from which motives unseen produce noticeable actions. I think those who are consistently resisting change have not been born again. Repentance is, at it’s core, change from rebellion to obedience, and without this fundamental change of heart and direction, one is still in satan’s kingdom.
After that fundamental change from self to God that heads one in the right direction, the life of sanctification that follows is more change and more change and more change. Newborns and toddlers and teenagers don’t know everything in their various stages of growth, and aren’t expected to do all that adults do. But as they learn and become capable of doing more, they are certainly expected go on to perfection (Heb. 6:1). It is the same with the Christian. As the Spirit reveals what needs changing (something He does regularly if we have ears to hear), we must yield to Him. We must let Him prune our branch that we may bear more fruit. As He says, “I now expect more from you,” we say yes to Him from our hearts. Even if what He expects is difficult. Unless we embrace such a relationship with the Master of the Vineyard, we cannot expect to continue bearing the fruit without which we are destined for the fire.
Believers are commanded to be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:2) For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the world, have we not? (I Pet. 4:3) And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (I Jn. 2:17). And whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom. 8:29) And you are His brethren if you do the will of God (Mark. 3:35). Therefore, seek to be changed–repeatedly and entirely–until you look like the Son–not just in the image others see, but in the heart and mind you and God see. We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I Jn. 3:2-3) This verse is speaking of believers. To purify yourself is to change.
Practically then, how can we “purify ourselves”?
It is Christ who purifies for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:14), but we must submit to and engage in that purifying process, knowing it is for our good. Our minds need to be renewed (purified) by faith in the Word of God over our own imaginations or ideas. If the Word is not studied and adopted as Truth, and if thoughts are not brought into obedience to that Word, those renegade thoughts will lead the soul astray. Though we may have come to see things a certain way, we can begin to see things God’s way if we will trust what He says over what we’ve always believed, or what we now feel.
God has also given the saints to tribulation for their perfecting (changing), and we must through this purifying process to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Did Jesus not say a cross and a life of self-denial was appointed to every disciple? He meant it. False doctrines have been created by which men hope to escape this suffering, but Truth is never changed by the manipulations of selfish men. Though they heap up teachers that tell them they can float to heaven on a silver cloud, by refusing the cross, they refuse Christ. By refusing to suffer with Christ, they keep themselves from being glorified with Him also (Rom. 8:17). They are like plants without roots that are blown over by a gust of wind. When tribulation or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly give up the cross (Matt. 13:21), and eternal life with it, rather than seeking from God’s throne the strength to endure the pain and win the promise.
If Christ is to rule in His temple (our heart), we must be changed, and it isn’t going to feel good when our corruption is exposed, condemned, and killed (all of which must be endured if we are to be resurrected with Christ). “I” (the self) is a deceitful and terrible antichrist, the one we most need to fear. While people speculate on which world leader could be the antichrist, the “I” antichrist is often in their own hearts, enslaving them, and they do not see him or oppose him. When a brother or sister brings a word of correction, they say “Don’t judge me.” What they mean is that they refuse to change. And even if the word of correction is God’s very Word, they would rather silence the messenger than alter their course by a single degree. What can a Shepherd do with such “sheep”? Eventually He wearies of trying to correct them. Why should they be stricken again? They will revolt more and more, so corrupt have they become, and so sure that they don’t need guidance from another.
Some also have cleaned the outside of the cup (forsaking certain obvious sins like drunkenness, fornication, and swearing), but their eyes are closed to God’s desire to root out the unholy from their inner sanctuary. I know men who pride themselves on having a flawless “holiness doctrine” whose faults are obvious to everyone but themselves. In fact they brag that they do not sin, and they boldly accuse anyone who disagrees with their doctrine one hair of being children of the devil–not because they are sinful, but because they don’t flatter them by agreeing with every word they say.
While I agree that the believer must not live in willful sin, there is a damning deception at work in the proud man who sees himself as already perfected simply because he has embraced a theological construct and learned how to defend it. What of his character?–Is that too being changed??? Is it being conformed to the image of the Son of God? Does he weep before the Lord about those things the Lord is sure to show the humble man? Or is he not able to see the beam in his eye, so flattered is he by the thought that he is the great exposer of motes?! Is he learning how to be a better spouse, parent, child, neighbor, steward, witness, example of Christ, etc.? Is there no room to improve, no need to look again into that mirror that exposes, no need to be taught? Is the eye so full of its own insight that it despises the organs that try to keep it seeing properly? There is more to change than giving up wild parties and dirty movies. And there is more to change than learning to expose false teaching. These things are good and should be done while not forgetting to be changed in the other ways also. Or do we want to be clanging cymbals and sounding gongs, so delighted by our own “bold” sounds that we can’t tell we are becoming useless to God?