Christianity is a religion of conversion. We are expected by god to change ourselves, our nature, our attitudes, our habits, and every action that is contrary to the expectations He has for us.
· “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts” (Galatians 5:24).
· “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self” (Colossians 3:8-10).
· “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2).
· “Our old self was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6).
This is what makes our faith so unique from others in the world. While many religions require little or no change, and ask nothing from their members, God commands His followers to give everything over to Him, and render both body and soul to His service. Even beyond that, most religions that ask some changes in their members’ lives do not require any treatment of habits or lifestyles. “Come as you are” is the prevalent mentality, and that lends itself to people who do not want to make a meaningful or lasting transformation. Contrary to the world’s perception of religious conformity, the Bible makes it clear that change must be actively pursued and permanent:
· “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self” (Ephesians 4:22).
· “Put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).
· “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put aside from you, alone with malice” (Ephesians 4:31).
· “Let him who steals, steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good…” (Ephesians 4:28).
· “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
Does the struggle ever end?
An unfortunate misconception that exists amongst professed Christians is that the need for diligent change ceases after conversion, as if the struggle over sin and temptation is not ever-present. But is this true? Does God just take away the struggle after we have embraced Him? In some ways, the struggle gets more difficult. The more resistance we offer to Satan, the harder he may try to tempt us. Not only that, but our standards are raised once we are converted – the standard, in fact, is perfection! For example, before we knew Christ, we may have already established some moral boundaries based on universally accepted principles. Murder, adultery, and stealing are wrong, according to those standards. But for a Christian, it is more than just the act, but the motive and the will that means something. Murder is wrong, but so is the anger behind it. Adultery is certainly wrong, but so is the lust. In every matter, God judges the heart just as much as the action. In that sense, therefore, the struggle for a Christian is more difficult than the struggle for an unbeliever. We must watch ourselves more carefully, and scrutinize our souls in order to make ourselves the most righteous individuals possible. The Bible clearly teaches that removal all sin from our lives:
· “Put them all aside” (Colossians 3:8).
· “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29).
· “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you” (Ephesians 5:2).
Sin is still sin, even for the Christians. Individuals who have been Christians for years still struggle with anger, jealousy, strife, lust, and so on. Does this mean it is okay to give up? “Well, if he can’t beat sin after all these years, then why try?” First, another person’s failure to conquer his or her own sins is no excuse for me to give up on mine. I will be judged by the deeds that I have done (Romans 14:12, Matthew 12:35-37). And second, It is the struggle that makes us stronger, so we must be careful when we become exasperated and call all of our efforts vain!
What to throw out
When weeding out the sin from our souls, there are certain attitudes that must be discarded completely, while others might just need fine tuning. It is important that we make the distinction so that we know exactly what we are trying to change. Do I want to change who I am, along with everything that makes me unique and all of my passions that have the potential to be strengths? We sometimes dismiss everything that is out of control about ourselves as being sinful, when, in fact, we might only need to redirect energy toward more noble goals. For example, anger is something that is not necessarily bad or good. It is just an emotion, a psychological response to stimuli. What we do with or in response to that anger is what determines whether or not it is righteous. We might be tempted to discard all anger, but the truth is that we need it sometimes. We should have a healthy indignation over sin (Ephesians 4:26, Romans 12:9), but never to the point that we make ourselves more sinful. Lust is another good example. Upon conversion, it might seem like the right idea to just rid ourselves of passion altogether, but this may be damaging to marriage. Lust that is misdirected is sinful, but a healthy passion between you and your spouse is nothing but good (Proverbs 5:18-20).
On the other hand, there are some attitudes and actions that are always sinful, and those need to be discarded with haste. Immorality is always wrong (Ephesians 5:4). To effectively change ourselves for Christ, we must put this away in all of its forms. No more filthy jokes, no more pornography, no more illicit dancing, no more wandering eyes. There is no room in the “changed” soul for immorality. The same is true of malice, bitterness, or slander. There is no such thing as a healthy dose of malice!
The Old Man
“That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Ephesians 4:22). The old life is described as being corrupted, a vivid word meaning the wasting away or the marring of something from bad to worse. Being corrupt, then, is like being rusted, moldy, spotted, or spoiled. And what can describe the sinful life any better than this? Is the dismal existence of a prison inmate anything more than this? Is the workaholic doing anything more than wasting the precious seconds of his life? After all, a piece of fruit has only a finite life before it goes bad. Is it any different for the life of man? In the lives of some people, sin is literally the cause of physical rot or corruption. Homosexuality and promiscuity lead directly to sexually transmitted diseases which kill the body. Drug abuse leads to bodily ruin, to the point of death in many cases.
Several Bible verses describe the sinful man well. Take a look at Psalm 91:3, which says, “For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence.” As graphic as it is, this description of sin is nothing less than accurate. Sin is a deadly pestilence, poisoning the mind and body, leading only to death. Sin is like a plague which ravishes and consumes all that is good and clean and pure, until only death is left standing. Also see Isaiah 5:24. “Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble, and dry grass collapses into the flame, so their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” It seems that the only thing that could have stopped such a terrible fire would have been the Word of God, yet these people chose so strongly to reject what would have granted life!
What it boils down to is that the old man is selfishness. Every sin has its roots in some selfish desire – satiation of appetites, fulfillment of desires, self-absorption, and unrighteous anger. The reason that selfishness is so dangerous is because the Christian is judged as much on motive as result. When we live with a selfish mindset, we are more apt to give in every now and then. Therefore, this mindset must be ruthlessly removed from the Christian (Galatians 5:24). We must remember:
· Selfishness is a daily battle that we must be prepared to fight. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). It is not enough to simply remove the outward signs of sinfulness (language, crudeness, etc.). He must also resolve to think unselfishly also.
· “I remember my excitement when I first heard someone preach that we can’t do anything good by our own power—only God can do good things through us. We only have to ask God to change our faults and to overcome our sins for us. ‘So this is the secret’, I thought to myself. I couldn’t wait to put the idea into practice, simply letting God change my faults. I prayed eagerly for God to do this very thing. I gave it all to God. Then I waited---but nothing happened. So I prayed more. Still nothing changed. At first I thought the problem was just me. I finally talked to other Christians in private about the matter and found that I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Others had obtained no better results than I had. ‘So why do you go around saying that God magically takes away our faults and turns us into obedient persons?’ I asked them. ‘Because that’s the way it’s supposed to work’, was the reply” (Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up, p. 52).
· The sinful desires must be removed, friends, or else the old man will creep back in. That is the key to lasting change in your life! “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
· The good news is that such is possible. More than just refusing to commit murder, adultery, and other sins, I must train myself to not even desire them. I must confront the perverted thoughts that fuel such activities, and fill my soul with good things (Philippians 4:8).
What does not work?
· Change is not accomplished by “hit and miss” Christianity. Go to church, study diligently, pray more than once a day. The best thing we can do to change our lives is immerse ourselves in everything related to God.
· Change does not come as a result of time. If you want to change, then do it.
· It does not happen naturally.
· It does not happen by just being around other Christians.
· There is no shortcut to real change. Consider 2 Peter 1:5-10 and ask if there are any Christian qualities that can be bypassed.
· Clement wrote in 190 AD, “God does not crown those who abstain from wickedness by compulsion, but those who abstain by choice. It is impossible for a person to consistently live righteously except by his own choice. The one who is made ‘righteous’ by the compulsion of another is not truly righteous. It is the freedom of each person that produces true righteousness and reveals true wickedness” (Maximus, Sermon 55).