This is the second part in the Bible study series: Power to Change. Making any change in our lives is challenging and difficult. How can it be done? It starts in the heart when we allow God to create within us a clean heart. This Bible study will explain the process of “inside out”, living the transformed life.
This is the second in the series of Bible studies and the title of this presentation tonight is “Inside Out”. There will be one more presentation that is made. Steve Myers will do one in two weeks entitled, “The Spirit of Love”, and then we’ll be very close to the Feast of Pentecost.
You know last year I had the opportunity to speak here in Cincinnati on Pentecost and in that sermon I told a story that we later turned into a Beyond Today program. I was talking about change and the need to be able to change and to really begin to live according to God’s way and by and through God’s Holy Spirit. I told the story of a man that I had met at the health club that I used to attend and go to for workouts over in Indianapolis and I called the guy, “Tattoo Guy”. Some of you may remember that story. Tattoo Guy was a rather awesome looking individual with tattoos all over his body; studs in his ear, through his nose. I think he even had one here in his lip. And he had a kind of a fiercesome looking countenance about him as he worked out. He just made a lot of noise and I would see him from time to time. One day we happened to be sharing lockers next to each other in the locker room. So what do you do when you’re in the locker room? You start talking.
The guy started opening up to me and told me a story. He had been a drug addict; in and out of rehab programs; in and out of prison because of his drug problem. But he had kicked his problem and he was in the gym every day working out. He told me that lifting weights, “pumping the iron”, was a way by which he could just get the same type of rush that he did through shooting up something in his arm and the drugs that he used to do. But he was clean. He had stopped.
After I processed what he was telling me, I said, “Well, what made you stop?” Rehab didn’t work. Jail didn’t work. He said, “It was my little girl. She told me one day when she was visiting me in jail; she said, ‘Daddy, I don’t want to visit you in jail anymore.” And that, from his little girl was enough motivation for Tattoo Guy to stop the drugs and to clean up his life. I’ve thought about that and thought about that. It was a story that just never really left me and I used it in that sermon last year. We had a lot of comments about it. We used it in a Beyond Today program.
The point of the story that I think is really important for us as we think about this subject of “Inside Out” and changing and living and making the changes with God’s help that we know we can do and need to do, is that change can occur in our lives. We can make changes that need to be made, adjustments in our behavior, attitudes, personalities even, to some degree, that reflect more the character of God; the teaching of God. But we all know how difficult that is as we have tried to kick a habit; as we have tried to change a certain behavior that has been ingrained in us over the years. But change so often occurs, more often, as behaviorists know, when positive benefits of the change are pointed out to people. A positive benefit. A positive approach more often will affect a lasting change than being forced; being coerced; or changing out of fear or pressure. Now we can change by all those methods but it is the lasting change that we know so elusive in our lives. We can change for a week. We can change for a month. We can kick a habit; cigarette habit, for a period of time and then go back to it. We can stop gossiping for a period of time and then something catches us at the wrong mood or the wrong moment or the wrong time and we slip back into a habit. But the positive impact of change is what is important for us to know. Those things make us change.
I talked at that time about my father who had a life- long cigarette habit. One day my father woke up with a cough that just wouldn’t go away and it scared him and he changed. He put the last cigarette package away; never went back to them. Quit (snaps his fingers) cold turkey; just like that.
Now statistics show that there are nine other people like him who don’t do it that way and can’t make that change on a lasting basis. That one in ten will be motivated out of fear as my dad was that day to quit smoking and they will make it stick. But the majority of people, upwards of 90%, may make a temporary change but not a lasting change. It’s that lasting change, behaviorists understand, that is made more often by appealing to emotion; reaching people at a deeper level than just an outward force; an outward pressure. Facts don’t always do the job. Momentary crisis or even shock or fear, don’t always do the job on a lasting basis for most people.
You know, you can tell people who are lonely; that are depressed, that they are going to live longer if they would quit smoking, change their diet, get out and walk, change their lifestyle and that sometimes is not motivational enough. I’ve tried that with a lot of people through the years that I’ve counselled. It’s not necessarily enough of a motivation. And one day I realized that the problem was when they are really chronically depressed over their life and their state, who wants to live longer when you’re in a chronic, emotional pain? So the smoking, the alcohol, even the drugs are the crutch that do, indeed, help them make it through the night and the day. And day after day and that is their life. It takes sometimes more than just fear, intervention, coercion, to do that. They find that joy is a far more powerful motivational factor for people to change than fear.
Joy. Think about that. A positive emotion; one of the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit. When you’re convinced that you will feel better; that you will have a better quality of life; we’re going to be more inclined to change our behavior for the better. I, a few months ago, made a commitment that I think will impact my life. Let me share it with you, see if it might inspire you a little bit or to motivate you because I think we all find the crutches that we need; the triggers that really do motivate us to make a change in our life. Sometimes it may be another person. Maybe it is fear at times and that may work from time to time. But I’m past 60 years of age and I don’t read the actuarial charts but I know that I’ve got more years behind me than I’ve got in front of me but I’ve got a number of things that I would like to do and there is one goal that I’ve set for myself that helps me, every week, to get into the gym, to get out and walk; to not take that second, or even sometimes first, piece of pie or something that I really do like but don’t need always, and don’t always need the second piece. I made a decision some months back that has helped me to be motivated to do something that I know I should do in that way to taking better care of myself. I decided that I wanted to dance with my granddaughters at their weddings. That’s my goal, alright? That’s a pretty important goal to me. I want to dance with granddaughters at their weddings. And so that motivates me to do what I need to do, more times than not. I’m not perfect in it but it’s something I keep up there and times I don’t want to go out and walk; times I don’t want to go to the gym and swim (which is my favorite form of activity); I think about that and it motivates me because it’s a goal that, looking at my family, my father, my uncles and everyone else – the stats tell me likely it may not happen because we’ve got a few years. But that motivates me. And becoming motivated to change our behavior does require, often, an appeal to a positive emotion just like Tattoo Guy. And I really feel that that’s important. Not a superficial, outward emotion but an inner emotion that is deep; deep enough to where God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us and can help us in those changes. Turn, if you will, over to Psalm 51. Let’s look at what King David said in this very well- known Psalm of repentance and change where he had hit bottom in his personal life because of sin. But it brought him to the point of very, very deep repentance that affected a change in his life as you know the story of David here. But I want to focus just on Verse 10. And this is where he says:
*steadfast spirit but a clean heart. Create that. And he goes on to say, in Verse 12; he says:
V.12 “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
Joy was even in David’s desire to change here a very powerful motivating factor. He did want to be saved. He wanted to be in God’s glory and in His presence and in His kingdom. And he asked God to restore to him the joy of salvation; “the joy of your salvation and uphold me by your generous spirit.” That’s the process by which God is bringing many sons to glory.
Now David asked to have a clean heart created within him. That’s inside. That’s not from the outside. That’s what takes place within the deepest part of our emotions and our intellect and our heart. And it is done with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.
Right now we are in the middle of the period between the Days of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Pentecost. We took the Passover a few weeks ago and the very solemn symbols of Christ’s suffering and His death; the bread and the wine. We took those to picture our forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice of our sins; an annual renewal. We put away the leaven. We kept the seven days of Unleavened Bread, which remind us that it is through the resurrected Jesus Christ in us that we overcome the sins that so easily beset us, as Paul wrote.
Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:1Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
American King James Version× “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,”
We all know how easily we can be overcome by sin at certain times if we let down; if we are weak. And we need the help of God. We need the life of Jesus Christ within us. We rehearsed at that time a number of scriptures, especially on the night of the Passover, from the Book of John, where Christ gave encouragement to His disciples and therefore to us. And we read those every year on the Passover where Christ said, such as in John, Chapter 16:33; he said to us, he said,
John 16:33 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
American King James Version× “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Rejoice in that.
Have confidence in that.
“I have overcome the world.” “You,” He is saying, in essence, “You can overcome your world. You can make changes in your life.”
Earlier that evening, in John, Chapter 14, it is recorded He showed how that is done.
John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version× “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
V.27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
V.28 “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.”
And so the promise of the Holy Spirit was implicit in Christ’s instruction to the church that night. We would have the help and the power of the Holy Spirit, called, “The Comforter” in another place. The very power of God; the life of God, Jesus Christ within us. And that’s what we understand as we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread. That we have that help; we have that ability through Christ to overcome our sins as we eat that unleavened bread every day during that period. And when we eat it, it reminds us of the life of Christ within us. And it encourages us and it imparts to us a very, very important lesson.
It is the lesson that Paul brings out from over in Galatians, Chapter 2, and Verse 20, where Paul writes:
Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
It is “not I, but Christ liveth in me:” That’s our hope. That is the truth of the scriptures and that is the life that we live now and these Scriptures in Galatians, and back in John, that we typically read on the Passover evening; these are not scriptures only for one night of the year. These are scriptures for every day of the year. Every day. They teach us and they tell us a very important truth about how change can be affected in our life with the help of the Spirit of God; the life of Jesus Christ within us.
So, where do we start? Where do we begin with this? How do we approach it? It is something that I think any serious student of the Bible will think about, once you understand the process of conversion; what God calls us to. We are called not to remain where we are but we are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are to grow in what the scriptures points out to us is that hope and that life and the character of God. It is a daily process. We are reminded of that. We live by that spiritual bread each day in our lives and the word of God. It changes us. It molds us. We sometimes look back on a period of our life – we can see changes. Sometimes we may look back over a period of our life and wonder, “Have I changed at all?”
2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
One of the things I really remember from one of my college instructors the senior year; many of us were allowed to take a homiletics class, which is a fancy word for “preaching”, and to study the art of preaching from the word of God. And I remember the instructor that I had that year, my senior year, telling us – and what I thought was a rather negative approach – he said, “you know most of us really don’t change that much”, he said. “You’ve been in the church for years and years and years, studying the Bible and, Change is hard,” he said. “And you look back, he said, and you don’t always, sometimes see that change.” I was young and I was expectant and a bit naïve and I thought, That doesn’t sound right; doesn’t ring true because I knew the scriptures and I had been baptized about three years at that time and I knew what we were to be doing in overcoming. There was a zeal and a desire to do that. I kind of thought, “Well, maybe he’s just a bit negative.” But then, 40+ years later, in the ministry, in my own personal life, working with many, many people, and especially just looking at my own life, I realized just how difficult it is to change. And I know that at moments you will look back and you’ll think, “I haven’t made much progress in this area of my life.” And then there may be moments when you realize, “Well, indeed I have.”
God gives us what we need – both positive and, in a sense, negative – to at least remind us of a few things that we need to kind of buckle down and dig a little deeper, I think. But, I do know that change is hard and it is something that we have to fight against every day. The nature of our own nature. The nature that Satan’s spirit pumps into this world and this society and that we are in a battle continually to live righteously in this present, evil world. But the scriptures and the encouragement that Christ gives when He says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” continues to remind me, and should all of us that we can overcome our own world just as Christ overcame the world; that there is hope and that we can do that. And I’ve read through the books; the self-help books and 7 days to this; 14 days to that; 21 days to whatever. Some of you are smiling. You’ve read the same books. And somewhere, a few years ago I read it takes 21 days to change a habit. 21 days to effectively change a habit. And there’s some truth to that. It’s just getting to that 21 days that’s really hard. Really, really hard, but we’ve got lots of books out there and there are lots of ideas and approaches and I guess each of us has to settle in and find what works for us. And there are insights that many authors and teachers have. The most effective insights – they come from the scripture. The most lasting ones are going to come from God’s word because God’s word is the ultimate handbook, instruction book, for human nature and this human experience and how God designed it to work and how it impacts our life and how we can navigate through this world in a successful way. The most successful are going to be found right here.
So where do we start? We have to start, as the title of this Bible study shows, we have to start inside, in the heart. That’s where we start because any change that is going to be lasting, of God, through His spirit, will take place in the inner person. And then it will flow out from that, from our person, from our heart, from our emotions, from our intellect. It has to start inside if it’s going to change. We can impose rules; we can impose policies. You can dictate. We can discipline and there is a time and a place for all of that within a, you know, a setting of a church, a corporation, a family structure; rules, regulations, policies, all are very important to the orderly functioning of most organizations and organisms. But the fewer the better because, if we don’t conform inwardly to the spirit and the intent of the law, of a policy, of a regulation, then it will only be imposed upon us for such a time. When something changes it may just go out the window. We have to change from the inside and especially on the big spiritual matters of life.
In Mark, Chapter 7, Jesus spoke to this in the context of a discussion with the Pharisees about their challenge to Him and His disciples that they ate bread with defiled and unwashed hands and not according to the traditions of the Jews and the elders at that time with all the intricacies of their washings and they were chastising Him on that and in Mark 7, Christ brings it down in His answer back to them, to show that it’s not the outward washings that they had so ritualized and the temple and the ceremonies of Judaism of His day and, to a large degree, still retain within Judaism. Those are not what cleanse a person. In Verse 20, He says:
V.20 “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.”
V.21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,”
V.22 “Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:”
V.23 “All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
They come from within the emotions, and within the heart. All of these, He said, come from within and they defile us. They are manifested at times in the extreme through certain actions. And He had even gone to great lengths in the Sermon on the Mount to show that if we lusted in our heart; hated in our heart, we had already broken the spirit of these laws anyway, even if we hadn’t actually murdered or stolen or committed adultery. And so He shows that there is a spiritual dimension. These matters involve the deepest part of our emotions. They are complex. They are sometimes taught through the environment in which a person may grow up. Stealing, lying, covetousness, immorality, many different ways by which they come upon us. The environment in the home, at times, the culture of society, ultimately always there is a choice that is made, that we have as individuals. And so, when we look at this and we try to set up some type of a plan or a place to begin, how do we do it and where do we start? How do we really work out a change? How do we begin to get deep inside and make any significant change in our life that will last?
I’ve thought about this and thought about it in this particular subject here. I’ve spoke about it a few weeks ago in a sermon and I want to repeat what I said then and add one additional point that I’ve been thinking about in preparation for tonight’s Bible study. There are certain things that we have to do and that are very important to us.
1. Acknowledge that we have a problem.
I think the first one that we have to do; the first step is that we have to acknowledge that we have a problem. My friend Tattoo Guy had to come to that point ultimately and realize that his behavior was a problem. And we have to acknowledge that we have a need; a need to change, a need to be forgiven; a need to make a course correction. And I think this is what is spoken to back in 1 John, Chapter 1, where John writes about acknowledging sin.
1 John 1:5 1 John 1:5This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
American King James Version× “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
V.6 “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth:”
V.7 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
V.8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
We can never allow ourselves to be in denial about any part of our life. Big ticket sins; medium ticket sins; little ticket sins, if there are such things. We cannot be in denial that we don’t have a problem. If we do then the truth is not in us. But, in V.9, He says:
V.9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Through the blood of Christ this is done; forgiveness is possible.
V.10 “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
And that’s a very, very dangerous place to be in.
1 John 2:1 1 John 2:1My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
American King James Version× “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:”
V.2 “And he (Himself) is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
We have that means by which forgiveness can be done and it’s available to anyone who calls upon that in faith. And so, we have to acknowledge the need. And that’s really the ongoing lesson from the Days of Unleavened Bread. As we put the leaven out of our homes and our abodes at time and we eat unleavened bread during that period, we are acknowledging not only Christ’s life within us but we’re also acknowledging that we have to do something. We have to acknowledge guilt and a great need for God in our life. That is also one of the big lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread that we have to do something. Christ died for our sins but we have to work against this world and ourselves. And we have to desire to repent and to, with God’s help, overcome and to remove that sin completely from us in our life. That is what we have to do. Therefore, we have to acknowledge that we have a need and come to that and ask God for the help to deal with it in our lives.
2. We have to ask for God’s help.
Now, the second step is that we have to ask. We have to ask for God’s help. That might seem elementary to us but how many of us take that step and go to God and ask Him for the help that we do need for whatever it might be that is challenging us? We do have a relationship with God that is a Father and son relationship. Christ is our elder brother but God wants to help us and He wants to be asked. Just like any parent wants to be asked by a child for mercy, forgiveness, help, assistance. “Daddy, help me tie my shoe. Help me to learn to ride a bike. Daddy, take me fishing. Mommy, can you teach me how to bake cookies?” And, what parent doesn’t just light up when that happens in the home situation? What parent will not move heaven and earth to do that so that you can see the joy of accomplishment and will work to fulfill that? God’s like that with us. We ask Him for help. We ask Him for understanding. Just to help to understand why what we did hurt someone as it did and why they may be upset with us. Or even why we need to change or how we can change. Or maybe it’s even to ask God for discernment, to make a change in our life; to see what needs to be corrected. If we’re struggling with a particular problem that we know is a deep problem in our life; or we see a big hole, especially with, perhaps, relationships. Inability to make friends; inability to maintain relationships; something just always seems to break down with your relationship with other people and you can’t figure out why this hole is in your life. There may be some things that do need to be corrected that you just don’t see. And your best friend can’t help you. Maybe even a trained counsellor is just not able to penetrate what it might be; the fog of your life. It’s when we come to that point; we hit that wall that we really do come to face with the need that maybe only God can do that with us. And it’s through prayer and study and fasting; through the spiritual disciplines that are available to us that build a relationship with God that will help us do so. In Matthew, Chapter 7, Jesus spoke to this in His Sermon on the Mount and its very, very simple. And again we could read right over it and think, “Well that’s a nice platitude. That’s just nice. Special,” and not fully understand what it is telling us about a relationship with God.
Matthew 7:7 Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
American King James Version×, Christ says this: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:”
V.8“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
V.9 “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?”
V.10 “Or if he ask a fish,” or maybe to go fishing, “will he give him a serpent?”
Obviously no man is going to do that to his son. No mother is going to do that to her daughter.
V.11“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
V.12“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
Ask. Go to God and ask for that help to see what you can’t see yourself. For that help that you need to take that last step that you just can’t seem to make and you can’t summon the will, perhaps, the courage, or the wisdom to do it. Ask God for that help. That’s where we start. That’s where it begins to get inside us and sometimes I think, even as human beings, we will resist doing that because that, by asking, it’s also, you know; we’re acknowledging that we have a problem. And we don’t ask because we haven’t taken this first step to truly admit which, as we know with certain addictions, is the very, very first step that people have to take; that acknowledgement that they have a problem. People who go through Alcoholics Anonymous are well known as part of their 12 step program to be able to admit, “I am an alcoholic”, and it becomes a part of their identity as they continue to live soberly. Through their years they say, “I am an alcoholic”, and that’s an acknowledgement. Now, for most of our lives, that may not be a problem and other matters are. We don’t have to go around just kind of tying that to our identity but we do have to acknowledge because if we don’t do that, we’re not going to ask.
3. Be specific.
Now, there’s a third step. We do need to be specific. We do need to beat our prayers fine and be specific at times for what it is that we are asking for; what we are acknowledging a need and a help for. In James, Chapter 1, Verse 5, is an example of something that, again, very simple, but very profound in the Book of James, which is a very practical epistle and letter. He writes this; he says:
James 1:5 James 1:5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.
American King James Version× “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
How many times have we read that and maybe asked once or twice and then we moved onto something else. Maybe we move onto something else because that becomes front and center as a need for us, perhaps. But we, perhaps, don’t ask enough; deeply enough for the full acknowledgement that indeed we, in the case of wisdom, we don’t have the wisdom that we need to parent; to navigate the marriage covenant that we make with a person; to navigate human relationships; to understand certain things about this world, this life that we need. We need wisdom. We have not acknowledged and we have not asked. He says here’s where there’s a very specific need and quality that is brought out. We can fit in whatever else we might want to put in there. James, here, puts in wisdom. We might put in grace in a sense of a gracious approach to people that we might know that we need; to knock off some of the rough edges of our behavior. Grace is not only a theological term but it is a way of life as well that makes us graceful people; gracious individuals where we are kind. It may be just basic kindness. Maybe it’s empathy. We’re not able to truly empathize with someone’s suffering. Ask. That’s what James is saying. If you lack empathy, just like wisdom, ask. And this is a promise that God says He will give to us.
You know Peter was challenged by Christ about his faith and his belief and Peter, you know, said, “Lord, I believe, help You my unbelief.” He asked specifically for belief. “Help me to believe that You are there.” It could be that you hear, that You are there; that You do care. That You do know. That You do understand. But “help my unbelief,” is what Peter said to Jesus. And that might be, at times, something that we get very specific about and we may have to come to admit that we don’t have the faith; we don’t have the basic belief in an everyday sense, in God, that we do need. So when we do that and we come to these understandings about our own lives and we go to God in prayer and in the study of His word, this is what, then, will begin to change inside us. The glaring holes that we know are there that we need help with. We need change in our life and in time it will happen as God’s spirit is within us and begins to work and to move. But ask with a firm and a convicting faith and confidence. And ask again. And ask again. And keep asking and keep talking to God about it just as sometimes a child needs to keep talking to a physical father or mother about something till they listen. Not that God has the same distractions that we do as human beings but we don’t know all the manners in which God is working with us at various times and, perhaps testing us to see if we have the endurance, the staying power to really go after a relationship with Him by being persistent in prayer over a particular matter.
Now there’s a fourth step that we need to understand up here. I think I’ll put this over here (on the dry erase board) since I’ve blocked this over here, we’ll put. There is a fourth step that I’ve added since I talked about these a few weeks ago in a sermon but I’ll hold off telling you about it here for a few minutes.
It’s a very critical step and perhaps, certainly as important as any of these others and maybe in our own mind or thinking we might determine that this fourth step should go up here (points to number 1). But it will be a catalyst for these other three. But it comes down to starting on the inside because that is where God says we have to start in dealing with our life.
Last week I was getting a haircut down the hill at the local place where I get my hair cut. And I was waiting for one of the stylists to be ready and the person in front of me got done and stood up and came to the cash register. And I was sitting there in the chair waiting there in the front of the store. And there was a young man in his 20’s, probably. I’m going to say he wasn’t any more than 25. He had on one of these blue t-shirts with the red and yellow Superman emblem right in the center. We’ve all seen the Superman t-shirts. I just kind of noticed that immediately and didn’t pay much attention. And then then the stylist said to him, “I really like your tattoos.” I looked closer and he had tattoos all up his left arm and he rolled his sleeve up and said, “I’ve got tattoos all the way up here to my shoulder.” He said, “I’ve tattooed all my favorite superheroes onto my arm.” I just got a little bit of a glimpse of it and I don’t know which ones; it was some of the Marvel superheroes; some of the DC Comic superheroes. He was wearing a Superman t-shirt and he started talking about his superheroes and how much he identified with them. He wanted to have the tattoos on his arm and then he got into the description of one of the latest superhero movies that’s out and how good it was in certain points and how bad it was in others. He understood all the “ins” and “outs” of it. I’m just fascinated because I am learning more about superhero movies that I knew before. And I’m just kind of stunned; you know that he’d made that decision.
I watched him walk out of the store and walked across the parking lot and got into a car that was driven by an older woman. He got in on the passenger’s seat and he drove away. And I thought to myself, “I wonder if Captain America would have his mother drive him to get a haircut?” Now I understand that there may be have been other extenuating circumstances as to why that was but I got to thinking about it because I call this guy, “Tattoo Boy”. Not “Tattoo Guy”, this is “Tattoo Boy” and, like so many, I went to the ucg.org website and I started reading all we have on answers and certain little, short FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) about tattoos. And there’s one of them that’s got a whole, long list of comments and responses from readers that have developed over the years. It was a fascinating read but I was looking back at Tattoo Boy he, like so many people who choose to do that, they put on their skin things they identify with; things they want to remember. There are so many different reasons why people make that choice. It’s not my intent to go into all of that topic here tonight but it triggered something I’ve been thinking about a long time in regard to that. And in this young man’s case, his identity was with superheroes and so he put them on his arm.
Now that didn’t give him the strength of Thor. It didn’t give him the agility of Captain America. It didn’t give him the mechanical abilities of Ironman or whatever others, and certainly, just be wearing a Superman t-shirt, didn’t make him Superman. These were all outward manifestations of something that he identified with inside for whatever reason. I’m not necessarily – I don’t need to go comment further on that – but it does teach us something on this matter of inside out. Christ says it’s what comes from within that needs to be changed and so much is around us and outside of us that can, in a positive way influence us, only if it’s done in the right way. God’s spirit puts within us the love of God; the power of a sound mind; the ability to overcome – the life of Christ within us – to make changes in our life. And that works on our heart; that works in our emotions and that works on the inside and comes out which is the true way for human beings no matter who we are. That is the way character is built. That is the way to glory, to the glory of the Son of God and the end result.
We live in a world today; there is so much self-expression. You know people look to express themselves in so many different ways and tattoos is only one. Dress is another way by which a person will express themselves; a hair style will be the way that we do that. Jewelry. A house. A car. The way we talk. The way we walk will be a form of expression and so many ways we express ourself and our personality and who we are; what think from the inside. It’s a dominant part of our culture which is part of what we’re talking about here that once we come to conversion we have to understand we have got to begin to change and put off and to make changes, and it always has been.
Spiritual growth is about a change of heart; a heart that becomes less an expression of the self and more of an expression of God. Where Christ is truly in us which Paul wrote in Colossians 1, Verse 27:
Colossians 1:27 Colossians 1:27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
American King James Version× “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:”
As Christ said so many of our problems come from the inside of us not from outside. Not from others, other people. Most of our problems come from inside and that is where change has to start, from within. And we have to find the source of our fear; the source of our anger; the source of whatever malice and envy that we may express. We’ve got to find the source of that and we’ve got to deal with it because that comes from within. We will not be able to move forward on the outside in our expressions and our life until we move forward on the inside and deal with what is in there. That’s where true change begins. We are the expression of what is inside of us in so, so many parts of our life. That’s why Peter writes, in 1 Peter 3:4 1 Peter 3:4But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
American King James Version×, as he does here, and we’re very close to it. Let’s turn to 1 Peter 3. It’s in the context of talking to wives in Verse 1, 1 Peter, Chapter 3, where it says:
1 Peter 3:1 1 Peter 3:1Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
American King James Version× “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;”
V.3 “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;” But in Verse 4, he says, “let it be the hidden person of the heart with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is very precious in the sight of God.”
V.4 “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
Now this applies to men as well. It applies to all of us as human beings. Let our adornment, and what people observe, be the hidden person of the heart; the incorruptible beauty of a gentle, quiet spirit, which is precious before God. Or any of the other matters that we might know that we need – of empathy, or kindness, or grace, or love, or gentleness. Let that be within that then comes out and is known. This is done by the circumcision of the heart that Paul wrote about in Romans 2:29 Romans 2:29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
American King James Version×. And the most profound verse of all in Hebrews 8:10 Hebrews 8:10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version×, that describes the covenant relationship that we have and enter with God upon baptism. Call it the New Covenant, which it is, but it is the covenant that God says He will make with us in Hebrews 8:10 Hebrews 8:10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version×, he says:
Hebrews 8:10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:”
God is in the process through this relationship called the covenant with Him now, the New Covenant. He’s in the process of writing His laws on our heart, not on our arm. Not on our chest. Not on any other part of our body. What we identify with; what we are; what we want to remember; what we want to be like should come from what is being written on our heart through God’s spirit reflecting His word, His law, His way of life. Nothing that we put on our skin; nothing that is imposed on us from the outside will replace that truth and that fact of what God is doing with us, writing His law upon our heart. That’s the cutting of the flesh that is important for a person truly seeking a relationship with God and to obey and follow God. That’s the cutting of the flesh that is important to us because that is the circumcision of the heart and that’s what counts. That’s what we should identify with. And that’s where the argument really does begin.
So how is a good a clean heart created? Well, Paul said, in one of his defenses in Acts 24:16 Acts 24:16And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
American King James Version×, I won’t turn there, but he said before one of the Roman rulers; he said that “I have had a conscience without offense toward God and man.”
Acts 24:16 Acts 24:16And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
American King James Version× “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.”
Covering that in the Acts class this week with the students. He said, “I’ve lived a life. I have a conscience without offense toward God and man.” Now that’s remarkable, to have a clean conscience because of the life we live; what we think; how we act; what comes out of us. That’s what’s critical. That’s what’s important.
You know things that Christ identified, that come out of our heart, that defile a man, will come in various shades and degrees into our life at various times. And at the times we recognize that envy might be there; a bit of jealousy, or malice, if we are yielded to God and we are really seeking to use God’s spirit, those things just need to be swatted away like we’d swat a mosquito on a summer night and stop it right there in our mind. Stop. Just stop going down that road and turn away from it and begin to have, coming out of our heart, good deeds and good words; a noble and good heart as Luke records in Luke 8, Verse 15. We hear the word with a noble and a good heart and it produces good fruit.
Luke 8:15 Luke 8:15But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
American King James Version× “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
Well no matter how change comes, whether it’s shock and awe; traumatic event; fear; or through a positive experience, motivated by love or joy, like my “Tattoo Guy”, whose little daughter said, “Daddy, I don’t want to visit you in prison anymore.” My desire to dance with my granddaughters at their weddings to motivate me to keep making certain changes and behavioral shifts so that I do all this that I can to be there. Those are the things that we have and that’s where we come to Step 4. Because, whether it’s a rehab program; whether it’s the 12 step program, or whether we go “cold turkey” like my dad did the day that he decided to throw away the cigarettes. Whatever it is that gets us to make a change, we have to do one thing. We have to Choose.
4. We have to Choose.
You have to choose to go to rehab. You have to choose that tenth step, the eleventh step, and the twelfth step. We have to choose to listen to the cough, the rasping in our voice. We have to choose, at that moment, and that time, an action. We have to make the decision to choose. We have to make the decision that leads us to acknowledge and to ask and to be specific and to do something. We have to choose and that gets us back to what God really does tells us and is hard-wired into us, back in Deuteronomy, Chapter 30. Because this is at the, perhaps, if you will, pardon my expression, choice, choosing is at the heart of the idea of inside out. Because it is what God gives to us. It’s what God hard-wired into the human condition all the way back to Adam and Eve when He said, “Choose between these two trees.” God gives to us, every step of the way, in every aspect of life, He gives us choice. Free moral agency as it is often called. Freedom of choice. Christian liberty. Choose.
Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
American King James Version× “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
American King James Version× “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”
That’s at the heart of a changed life that begins on the inside and ultimately is manifested in the fruits of our lives, our works, our decisions, our words. Choose life. That’s what God says to do.
We can choose to break a habit. We can choose to break a life or a generational cycle that we were born into that may have even been passed on to us as, perhaps more than just the environment. There may be something to the genetic aspects of how we make certain decisions but God gives every one of us the ability to make a choice; to deal with it and to break the generational cycle that is there and that’s where we are. When we make that, all the other steps fall into place and God’s help is there to gently guide us and help us with His power to make those changes. That’s the free will that God gives us to make a positive step and it creates a positive end. We can make the choice. We can choose to make a change in our life. We can make a choice to choose to make a change on the inside and it will make all the difference in our life.
God gives us that help and that ability and that’s what the power of the Holy Spirit and that comfort, that encouragement, that strength is meant to accomplish in our own lives. Let’s think about that. Let’s ask God. Let’s acknowledge ourselves. Let’s ask God. Let’s be specific but, ultimately, let’s choose. Let’s choose life. Let’s choose to make a change from the inside out.