As all aspects of society are quickly changing and moving toward evil and lawlessness. Christians must remember their calling and be constantly changing to the way of life God has called us to. Our change must be toward good, and must be lasting. How do we change? What's the process and how can we work toward changing for good?
[Rick Shabi] You know, they say that in life there's two things that are certain, and you know what the rest of that is, right? Two things that are certain, death and taxes. And that's true. There's another thing that is certain in life, and that is a constant in life, and it's, in a way, ironic. And that other constant is change. Everything changes. Life without change just doesn't happen. We live in a world today that is just almost dizzying in the speed, the things that are changing. You look around, and from one week to the next, things that you used to take for granted are no longer so. You listen to the news and you hear things that just boggle your mind. You know, we have corporations who are now taking and have control of our lives in ways that we never imagined. They can control what we see, control what we hear. They can even control our money.
We read about digital currency and think about the time in Revelation 13 when it says you won't buy or sell unless you accept the mark of the beast. So, we have these things that are going on around us. We look at our government and we see corruption everywhere. And not only in government and high places, but in corporations, the healthcare field, which used to be something that maybe many trusted in. Today, you see all sorts of things going on with it all in the name of profit, all in the name of money. You see immorals, you know, we can't even talk about our morals. They are in complete and total decline, totally out of control, if you will. Somebody told us five years ago transgenderism would be one of the things that we were talking about and the society want us to embrace and call good we would not even believe that that could possibly be in our culture. And yet that's it.
And, you know, we do things even with children and parents no longer have the right or the control over their children. If they have issues that they want to talk about, the government takes care, or takes control of that. We really are living in a time where evil is called good, and good, evil. And as time goes on, we'll see that increasing more and more. It's just a world of change. And the world that we live in is moving more and more toward evil, more and more toward the way that Satan would have things, moving more and more toward lawlessness. We see that all around us. And as God's people, we're part of all this world. We live in it, we work in it, we circulate in it, and these things can hit our minds and we can hear things and hear arguments about what this is and what that is and find ourselves in situations we never envisioned. But as the world moves more and more toward lawlessness, you know, the Bible tells us in Matthew 24:12 that because lawlessness abounds, the love of many will wax cold. The love of many will wax cold.
Now, cold is not anything we ever want to be spiritually. And yet, the love of many wax cold, that means people change, that means you and me change during life too. If we are in tune with the world, if we are paying too much attention to that and trying to identify with that, we change too. And that's not toward good. That's toward cold, that's toward spiritual death, right? So, as the world changes and will continue to change with, you know, unprecedented speed in the days, months, and years ahead, we have to be people that are changing and paying attention to what we're doing as well. We need to be people who are changing, not toward that way, but more and more toward God, more and more discerning what's going on, more and more looking at our attitudes, looking at what we believe, and growing closer and closer to God, understanding His Word more, discerning His Word more, making sure that we are living His Word more, as you'll hear me say, more and more earnestly, carefully and diligently, putting into practice God's way of life.
Because the only way we're going to survive the world coming up is if we are close to God, if we are close to each other, if we have put into practice the things that we've talked about, and the Bible that we know is the truth, and that we are changing, constantly changing closer and closer and closer to God. If you will, turn with me over to Deuteronomy 30. You know, change, as we change, you know, we have to make choices along the way. Change is something that people do, some, you know, organizations make changes. We see that. As I mentioned, all around us, as some corporations, we may have used to use, you know, develop some kind of ideology or adopt this woke ideology that's out there, and all of a sudden, it's like, no, we don't even want to deal with that anymore, we don't even want to support any of that. And we see that in the news in recent weeks.
But in Deuteronomy 30:19, I think one of the foundational statements of the Bible, one of the foundational scriptures, is what Christ, what God inspired Moses to write as He was telling Israel when they were about to cross over to the promised land. And you and I are in the same position. We're about to cross over into the time when Jesus Christ returns and the time of trouble that will proceed that, but the time eventually of Christ returning in the establishment of His kingdom.
Deuteronomy 30:19 It says, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you. I have set before you, life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life that both you and your descendants may live.”
Choose life. Now, there's more to choosing life than just saying the words, “I choose life.” When God says choose life, He means you live the way that leads to life, you adopt the principles and the way of life that leads to life, you reject the way that leads to death, the way of evil, the way of Satan. The way of the world leads to death, no doubt about it. There's no future in that. The way of God leads to life. Could be some troubled waters ahead for us as we stand for the truth and stand in the gap, and stand what we...and state what we believe and what God's truth is, but it's the way to life. Choose life.
And when we choose life, when we see the changes that need to be made, whatever it is, spiritually, physically, if we need to make some physical changes for health or relationship, or finance reasons, or whatever it might be, even organizations need to make changes, changes that some, I mentioned, have made have not been so good. Other organizations need to change too with the time to get closer and closer to God if they are doing God's will, seeking His will, and making sure that we are following Christ's Word. Let's turn back to Hebrews 6 as well, another foundational verse, if you will, another verse that we're quite familiar with, but good to remind ourselves from time to time. In Hebrews 6:1, it talks about all those foundational doctrines that you and I know about. Well, let's read it. Let's read it as well.
Hebrews 6:1-3 Says, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let's go on to perfection. Not laying again the foundation to repentance from dead works, faith toward God, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, eternal judgment. And this, we will do, if God permits.”
Let's go on to perfection. None of us are perfect yet. We all have a ways to go. That means there are still some changes that have to be made in our lives, there are still some choices that we need to make in our lives. There are some things that we need to do to become who God wants us to be, to become what God wants us to be, to become one with Him, to become one with each other, to do the things that we've been called to do, closer to God, always changing. You and I have been called to a life of change.
We made a really big change when God opened our mind and we came into the Church when He opened our eyes and we knew the truth. That was a really big change. But there's change that goes on throughout life. Repentance isn't just a one-time thing. Repentance and change continues as long as we're drawing breath because God will continue to show us what we need to do, the sins that need to be removed, the attitudes, the faults, the resistance, whatever it is that we may be experiencing until we can completely yield to Him. One more verse, a few books back in Romans 12. You don't even really need to turn there because I know you know what Romans 12:1 and 2 says, but let me read it anyway just so that we have some foundation here.
Romans 12:1-2 It says, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service, and don't be conformed to this world.”
Always a true statement, more so today than ever before in our lives. Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed. That means change, grow closer and closer to God, away from the world, away from the falsehoods that are out there, away from the trend that it's going in, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove or discern what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
That's what we're here for. That's why God called us. When we were baptized and we accepted that call, we told God, “Change us, make us to who You want us to be.” And we know we need His Holy Spirit in order for that to happen. So, change is a constant in our lives. It's never going to go away. We need to change, just like organizations need to change, just like people need to change, just like it's spiritually, physical, emotional, mental changes that need to happen if we are going to strive for protection in any...or not protection, perfection in any of those areas that we strive to be the way God wants us to in life.
But change is an interesting thing. How do we measure change? How do we think about change? Is there a process of change? Does God show us in the Bible a process that we go through? How can we identify what is going on in our lives? And if we're making process, how can we understand what we may be experiencing as we hear something or told something, read something that might require us to change the way we think, act, react, perceive, whatever it might be? You know, before I was a pastor, I, you know, worked in the medical field with hospitals in the last several years of my life. I had my own company. And what we did was work with hospitals, surgeons, and doctors, and we had contracts that we put into hospitals, and we managed those contracts. And one of the aspects of the many that we had when we would create a program in a hospital was to do the educational aspect of it.
And much of what we were doing required some behavioral change for the person who was being treated, whether it was surgery or some other treatment because there needed to be lifestyle changes in them in order for them not to have the same malady come back on them again. And so, we knew it was part of our responsibility to teach people how to live in that way just so that they would do it. It was up to them, they had to choose to do it. We didn't make 'em do it, but we thought it was our responsibility to teach them that. That was all physical. But at that time, one of the people that worked for me that was very instrumental in some of the education stuff that we did, you know, came across a book, and we read the studies and looked at it, and it was a book that was written by a man by the name of James Prochaska. He was a psychotherapist, a psychologist.
And he had done a study along with a few other people of really, I forget how many people, but a very long study on what is it that people did that was successful, whether it was overcoming addictions, whether it was they had a health experience with heart disease, cancer, what did they do that they were lastingly successful? What about them? What was the process of change? How did they do? What could they learn from that?
And he wrote a book and it's still in print. I think the studies were done back in the 1980s, but I'm going to give you that since I'm going to be quoting from this book a little bit today. The name of the book is “Changing for Good.” And that's the name of this sermon too, the title for this sermon. And changing for good has too meanings, right? We change for good, we don't change to be more like the world. We change for good, but we change for good. When we overcome something, we keep going forward and let God build us and develop us into perfection.
So, the name of the book is “Changing for Good.” It was written by James Prochaska, John Norcross, Carlo DiClemente, 1994. It's still available on Amazon if you are interested in reading it. So, today, I want to talk about six stages that they identified in that book. Because as we worked with the patients on that and taught them the things that we did, and taught others how to teach this to the patients as part of the program that we would put together, programs, I realized it has a really spiritual significance for us.
You know, sometimes we read things in books and it's like, “Wow, that pretty much mirrors the process in the Bible.” It's a good book if you read that because it can put some flesh onto some of the words we read. Other books I read, it's like that has nothing to do or no basis in the Bible at all or the principles there, you throw it out. But some books you read and you think, “That has a spiritual application for me,” has a spiritual application for us as well. So, let me walk through these steps. I'm going to give you the name that they gave them, but I'll give you the spiritual name for it as well that comes from the Bible. Six stages. First step.
First step is called pre-contemplation. It's before you're thinking about what you need to change, pre-contemplation. Let's call it the state of ignorance, the state of ignorance. We don't know even what we need to change. We don't even have an idea that something needs to change to become more like God wants us to. Now, as I say the word ignorance, I hope your mind went to Acts 17:30 because that's where I'm going to go right now. In Acts 17:30, God talks about this time of ignorance. Before you and I were in the Church, before God opened our minds, whether we're first-generation Christians, second-generation Christians, third-generation Christians, or fourth-generation Christians, there is a time where we were ignorant of what it is that we needed to do.
First-generation Christians knew we need to give up this way of life. We no longer go to Church on Sunday, we no longer go to Church, or we learn... Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. We learned what we don't know, right, about God's way of life. But God talks about this here.
Acts 17:30 He says, “Truly, these times of ignorance, God overlooked.”
I like the way the old King James puts it. It says, “Truly, these times of ignorance, God winked at.” It doesn't mean that it wasn't sin. It is sin, we just weren't aware of it. But there comes a time in life where we are aware of what we're doing, and that is not right.
Acts 17:30 “Truly, these times of ignorance, God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, to change.”
Now you know, now you're faced with something, now there's some choices that need to be made. Now do you choose the old way that leads to death, or do you choose the new way that leads to life? There's a time in our lives that that choice has to be made regardless of how many people before us were in the Church. Everyone comes to that time and makes the choice when you realize what is truth and what God is calling you to. Now, if we go forward, I'm going to go back to Acts 8. I'm going to use a few examples in the Bible here of people that we're well familiar with and the process they went through as God called them.
In Acts 8, in Acts 8, we find Saul of Tarsus. So, you know what Paul or Saul was like in his pre-contemplation phase, in his time of ignorance. He didn't know the truth. He thought he was doing the truth. He thought he was doing the right thing by being zealous about going in and capturing people who were following Jesus Christ and bringing them to whoever he was for whatever would be. Let's read about him in his pre-contemplation time of ignorance phase.
Acts 8:1-3 “Now, Saul was consenting to Stephen's death. And at that time, a great persecution arose against the Church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”
Not a nice guy. Ignorant in what he was doing, didn't realize that was against God. He was in a time of ignorance and he was in a time of pre-contemplation, which we go over to chapter 9:1, we see him continuing in this way.
Acts 9:1-2 “Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus so that if he found any who were of the way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Saul was on a mission. Give me the permission, give me the authority to go to Damascus, find these Jesus Christ followers. Let me bring them back to you. Let's imprison them, or even worse, because if they're not believing what we're believing, what terrible people they are. He was zealous, he was wrong. He was wrong, but he didn't know he was wrong. In this time of pre-contemplation, when something begins to dawn on you and God begins to have a light shine, it can be marked by a feeling of resistance, right? I don't know that I want to hear that. I don't know that I wanted to read that Christmas isn't the holiday. That's a wonderful time, some people think. I don't know that I want to believe Christmas is bad and we should not keep it, and it isn't God or in God when we do.
I don't know why they want to believe that my Church is wrong when they tell me that the seventh-day Sabbath has been done away with, and the first day is where we honor. You know it, but there's this resistance. I don't want to change yet. I don't want to change. And I can come up with excuses and whatever that I need to do. But change must happen. Change must happen. There must be choices that get made along the way, but we're still blind. But there comes a point in time and stage one goes into stage two. Stage two is contemplation. The time that we...something has happened and now we have to think, now we have a choice that has to be made. I'll call it the light begins to dawn on us. Something isn't right. We are doing something apart from what God would want us to do. That time came for Paul on the way to Damascus. If we read in verse 3.
Acts 9:3 It says, “As he journeyed, he came near Damascus and suddenly, a light shone around him from heaven. And he fell to the ground and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, well, ‘who are you, Lord?’ And He answered, ‘I'm Jesus whom you're persecuting. It's hard for you to kick against the goads.’”
Oh, the light shone on him in ways that it didn't shine on any of us. He was struck blind. “What you're doing, Saul, is not right. What you're doing, Saul, is wrong. Why are you kicking against me?” Jesus Christ said. He had to stop and think. All of a sudden, he was faced with a choice. He was blissfully ignorant before then, but now, he had to think, “What is the choice I will make? What's going on here,” he might say. You know, we can read through the Bible, and there's other men who have had this very same thing happen to them. We can think about Moses. Moses, you know, was there in Pharaoh's court, living in Pharaoh's house for 40 years. He kind of knew who he was, but he was living blissfully in ignorance for those years until one day he was out and he saw an Egyptian slave master beating a Hebrew slave.
Remember that story? And something happened in him. He knew that that wasn't right. He identified with that Hebrew. And so, what he did was kill that Egyptian taskmaster. His life changed. Everything changed when he did that. Light dawned on him. Things were happening to him that he needed to see, that he needed to understand. And once that light shone on him, he was never the same again, never the same man. When the light shone on Paul, he was never the same man again. His life completely changed. David too. David grew up in the Church, if you will. David was a king, anointed by God to be a king. And when he was king, one day, he was drifting. Remember the story? I think it's in 1 Kings 11. He was drifting. Kind of he didn't go out to war like the rest of the kings did, and what he normally was, he was kind of living a complacent life, and whatever, and went on to do the things that he did. And all of a sudden, there's Bathsheba on the roof, led to adultery, led to murder.
And Bathsheba...or David did nothing. He was in denial, denial that anything needed to change until he heard that story. When he heard the story, he was faced with...the light dawned, “I have sinned. I am not who I thought I was. I am not doing what God's will is.” And David was never the same after that. He became a man after God's own heart. The same thing happened to you and me, the same thing. Somewhere in our lives, the light shone on us. God opened our minds. We began to see things that we didn't understand before. For first-generation Christians, it made all the difference in the life. And there may have been this resistance and denial, “I can't be wrong. I couldn't have been taught this all my life and that what they've told me is wrong. Just couldn't have happened,” we might say. But then we began to realize it is. But we would never be the same because now we knew there was something out there that we didn't know before.
Second-generation Christians have the same thing. I was raised for the most of my life in the Church, but I know exactly, I know exactly when the light shone on me and there was a choice to be made. I wasn't a bad person. You know, people would say, “You're a good person.” I wasn't committing adultery, doing drugs, or any of those things, but a light shone and I knew that what I was doing was not what God wanted me to do. There was a life that had to be led and a life that had to change closer to God, and make a choice to follow Him rather than just in name only and just say this or say that. I could tell you exactly the time it happened. From that time, I was never the same person again. A light shines and we are never the same person again.
When this happens, we begin to see life in a completely different way. Hope. Hope begins to emerge. A purpose begins to emerge. We begin to have a zeal for what it is that we're learning. We want to learn more, and that grows, and grows, and grows. We look at our lives in a different way and think, "Is this right? Is that right?" We don't even want to do the same things that we did before. No longer are the Friday night basketball games something that we want to do. No longer is the Saturday afternoon football games something that we want to look at or watch. We put them away. No longer is the bars that we go to the thing that we find entertainment in.
You know, back in 1 Peter 4, he talks about how that change happens during that time when the things that we used to find so interesting are no longer that way as we go through this contemplation phase and we begin to realize there's more to life than what we were doing, that there's a purpose that God has for us, and a purpose to life, a mission that He's given us, a purpose and a future that He has for us that transcends anything the world has to offer. In verse Peter 4:3, you know, he says this.
1 Peter 4:3 He says, “We have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of gentiles when we walked in lewdness, lust, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”
That's a past. I used to find those things interesting, but I don't find them at all appealing anymore. In regard to these, excuse me, they think it's strange that you don't run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.
We'll come back to this verse in a minute because there's a point in time where you change, you change in the way you behave, and your friends notice what's going on, people that you used to hang out with notice a change, notice a difference. You're not the same person anymore when you are choosing God, when you continue to work with Him.We need to change. And we need to change even throughout the course of our lives when God opens our minds to the fact that we are not doing things the way He wants. Our job, as we heard in the sermonette, is to follow Christ. He is the lead. He is the head. God puts His Holy Spirit in us. It will lead us to truth. It will lead us to understanding. It will lead us to how we need to live our lives and what we need to do.
If we turn back to Matthew, Matthew...excuse me, Matthew 3, you know, when John the Baptist was preaching a gospel of repentance before Christ began His ministry, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” And many people listened to that, kind of the light shone on him. We need to repent, right? And they came to him in droves to be baptized.Let's look at it in Matthew 3:5.
Matthew 3:5-6 “Then Jerusalem, all Judea and all the region around the Jordan went out to John the Baptist, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.”
“We see what we've been doing wrong. We acknowledge what we've been doing wrong. We acknowledge we haven't been doing things the way that God wants us to do.” And John could see that. And they were willing to take that baptism to repent, to designate, or to symbolize that they were willing to repent and change. They recognized what had to happen. But there were some who were coming to be baptized that John called out. He called him out in verse 7.
Matthew 3:7 “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”
He could tell. You haven't changed anything. You might know the truth, you might say the words, you might say what I want to hear. I can tell by your life nothing has changed. What you have heard hasn't made a difference. There are the fruits of repentance. That happens, begins to happen during this contemplation phase. We stop doing certain things as we grow more and more, as our mind changes and God works with us to understand more of what His way of life is. And those things change, and people see, people see the difference as that happens with us. We're making choices as we understand. We're making choices to be closer to God, follow Him more closely, do away with the things that are not of God, and putting those out of our lives, and here a little, there a little as God directs us.
You know, in the book, “Changing for Good,” it says that this phase can take six months, or more, longer. For some people, it's much quicker. They make the choice immediately. “I put it all behind me. I recognize that I'm wrong. This is where I'm going, and this is what I do, and this is what I choose forever.” Other people, you know, you probably know people who heard of the truth back, you know, however long ago, '80s, '90s, and then they, years later, realize, “That was the truth. I need to be there.”
Maybe it's a year later, maybe it's two years later, but it works on their mind. They're thinking about it. They can't let go of it. They know that there's something else besides this life, this world that's important, that is a purpose in our lives. And so, eventually, if they're being led by God and if they don't continue in denial, continue in resistance, continue to do...to resist God, reject God, they eventually change. Same thing for you and me who have been in the Church for a long time, that as we see things in our lives, see things in the things we do, God will grow us.
You know, we've talked about the seven Churches and everything, but you look at Churches like Laodicea. And you see Laodicea and they're complacent, right? They're living in the world and it's like everything's okay, we've got plenty of everything. They have no fire in them. And God says, “Buy of me fire, or buy of me gold refined in the fire. Get hot, get changing. You're just kind of here. You're not growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You're not doing what I called you to do. You have a name.”
He says to Sardis, "You have a name that you're alive. You're saying the right words. You got a name. You're alive, but you're dead.” Boy, none of us want God ever to say that to us because we have to be on fire. We have to let God continue to move us in the direction to perfection that He wants us to be in all areas of our life, right? Because He's called us to live His way of life implicitly. For Saul, the time came very quickly, if you will. If we go to Acts 9 here, and we look at verse 8, you know, Paul's on the way to Damascus. I'm going to Damascus in a time of ignorance. Boom. The light shines, he is dropped to his knees.
Acts 9:8 It says, “Saul arose from the ground. And when his eyes were opened, he saw no one.” God had his attention. “When his eyes were opened, he saw no one, but they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
And during that time, God was working with a man named Ananias, “Ananias, go to this Saul of Tarsus. I want you to go to him and I want you to anoint him, and I want his eyes to be opened.” Ananias, same thing, “I don't want to go see Saul. He'll put me in prison. He's a danger, right?” No one wants to run into Saul if you're a Christian. But God said, “Go anyway. Do it. Go to him and do that.” And he does.
If we go down to verse 18, Saul is about to move from stage two, stage two, contemplation, or the light dawns to stage three, which is preparation, preparation stage. So, down in verse 18...no, verse 17, Ananias does exactly what God says. Regardless of the danger that he felt that he might have been putting himself in.
Acts 9:17 “Ananias went his way. He entered the house and laying his hands on him, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your eyes will be opened. You will know the truth and God will give you His Holy Spirit.’”
What you were doing before, Paul, will learn, who is not of God's Holy Spirit, from here on out, you will be led by His Holy Spirit.
Acts 9:18 “Immediately there, fell from his eyes, something like scales. And he received his sight at once and he arose and was baptized.”
Didn't take six months for him, but he had quite an unusual but a life, an absolute life-altering experience. The scales were off of his eyes. He saw the truth. He knew what was right and what was wrong. He got it and he was baptized, and God gave him the Holy Spirit. His life would never be the same again, never be the same again. It would never go back to being the same Saul. And God said, “He's my apostle. I'm going to send him out to the gentiles.” And he's going to suffer many things. His life is not going to be easy. But he will do it because that's what God called him to do. So, Saul did that. And then he finds himself in this preparation phase. As he's there, it says, in verse 19.
Acts 9:19 “He spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.”
His friends would be like, “Really? You're talking with these people? You came out to arrest these people, now you're with them?” That was kind of like a dizzying change in Saul, right? Now you're spending some days with them?
Acts 9:20 “He preached that Christ, in the synagogues, that He is the son of God.”
Well, he was in a preparation phase. He had, as we read in Galatians, you know, 14 years that God was going to prepare him for the work that he was going to do. And Paul would be along for every step of the way. He would let God lead him. He would change. He would recognize things about himself and he would change so that God could use him in the way that he had called him to be used here. And so, you and I go through the same thing. Well, we are...when God calls us and when we understand and when it's like, “Okay, I get it. I get it. What I have been talked or the way I've lived my life before is not the way it needs to be. I need to do things God's way.” And we have to think about it.
But then there's this preparation phase, and I'm going to call it preparing our hearts, preparing our hearts. Because there is this period of time that we have to contemplate. You know, Luke 14:28 says, it's counting the cost. What is it that I'm being called to? What am I going to do with the rest of my life? What is it that God has in store for me so that I can commit to it the way that He wants?
Let's go back and look at a few scriptures on preparing our heart because it's something that we all did, excuse me, something we all did. And it's something we all do, even as we go through life and we realize there's attitudes, things that need to change, that have to change in order to do God's will.
First one, let's go back to the Book of Job, in Job 11. People know the overall story of Job. There's an awfully lot of truth and nuggets in Job if we took it apart chapter by chapter and saw what God had written in here. But in Job 11, of course, Job is going through the trial that he had, that was God's will. And God, through that trial, showed Job something that needed to change in his life so he could become who God wanted to be. In Job 11, one of his friends is responding to Job, and in verse 19, he makes these comments.
Job 11:13-19 He says, “If you would prepare your heart, if you would prepare your heart, stretch out your hands toward Him, if iniquity were in your hand and you put it far away and you wouldn't let wickedness dwell in your tents, then you could lift up your face without spot. Yes, you could be steadfast and not fear because you would forget your misery and remember it as waters that have passed away, and your life would be brighter than noonday. Though you were dark, you would be like morning and you would be secure because there is hope. Yes, you would dig around you and take your rest in safety. You would lie down and no one would make you afraid. Yes, many would court your favor.”
If you would prepare your heart, if you would stretch out your hands toward Him. If you would recognize, if what you're doing, if you would make the changes, if you would contemplate and you would prepare your heart to live your life in a new way than you have in the past, that the resistance would be gone, the denial would be gone, and you could do the things that God wanted you to do if you would just prepare your heart for that." Because when we make a change in our lives, we have to prepare our minds for what's going on. We have to have ourselves get to the point where we realize this is for the rest of our life, not going back to the old way. This is the rest of our lives that we're doing these things. Back a few books in 1 Samuel, 1 Samuel 7. And I won't go through the story. This is where the Ark of the Covenant is coming, Samuel's talking to him.
1 Samuel 7:3 “Samuel speaks to all the house of Israel saying, ‘If you return to the eternal, if, if you return to the eternal with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Astaroths from among you and prepare your hearts for Him and serve Him only, and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.’”
Now, no great stretch for us to take those words, and God says the exact same thing to us. If we return to Him, that requires change, right? If we've been doing something and not in concert with God, if we return to Him, prepare our hearts, He will deliver us. He will do what He says He will do when we do His will. And finally, in Psalm 10, Psalm 10:17. It's a Psalm of David, I believe, Psalm 10:17.
Psalm 10:17 He writes, “Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble.”
Now, God hears our words, but you know what God hears more? He hears our hearts, right? He hears what's in our hearts. Do our words match what's in our hearts? I can fool you, you can fool me, we can fool each other with words. But what's in our hearts? God sees what's in our hearts.
“Lord, you've heard the desire of the humble. You will prepare their heart. You will cause your ear to hear.” God will prepare our hearts. He will lead us. He will help us to grasp what we need to do for the rest of our lives, how we need to live to be ready to divorce the old way, and to adopt His way, and understand that the old way is not of God at all. It will not be in the kingdom. This will not be the way of life that is lived in the kingdom. That will be forever gone when Christ returns. What He leads us to and what we do are the way of life that will last forever. And that's what He wants us to be putting into our lives right now.
During this stage, people begin to make the final adjustments, okay? I need to change things in my life. In some cases, people need to change the environment in which they live, change their set of friends. You know, after I was baptized where I was working, there was nothing wrong, it was one of the leading hospitals in Indianapolis. But it was a religious hospital and who I was reporting to, and I just felt very uneasy. It led to a change of job that put me on a career that I, you know, thank God I had the opportunity to learn many things in. Sometimes there's change that has to be made in order to live the way God wants. And He will bring us on that path as we go through life, if we let Him direct our lives.
Now, Mr. Prochaska, Dr. Prochaska says that when people cut short this preparation phase, it can have an effect on them, a negative effect. If they cut it short and they haven't, in their mind, "This is the rest of my life, the incidents of recidivism," if it's addictions that they're going to do, if it's going back and living an old lifestyle that produced the illness or whatever they had, or a way of life that produced the financial problems that they had, if they go back to that old way of life, the same thing is going to recur. But if they make the choice to that preparation time, that's one of the keys to lasting success and change.
That's why the minister who counseled you for baptism said, “Let's count the cost.” That's why the Church doesn't say, when someone comes to us, “I want to be baptized,” the first way when we meet them, that we roll out the baptismal pool and baptize them. There is a counting of the cost. This is a lifetime and eternal commitment, and people need to come to that in their minds and understand the road that God has called us to and accept that. So, that's stage three. And then stage four is the action, the action phase. I'm going to call that putting on the new man. We just came forth from the days of unleavened bread. And we've talked about putting out the old and putting on the new. Let's go to the Book of Colossians, Colossians 3. And we will pick it up in verse...yeah, let's just begin in verse 1 and get the context here.
Colossians 3:1-7 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.” Now, that requires a mindset change, right? No longer are we enamored with the world, as it says in verse 2, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” In our pre-contemplation phase, we had our minds all on the earth. What are all these things that surround us? “For you died,” Paul says. “You died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you will appear with Him in glory. Therefore, put to death…” Get rid of them, the action phase, put it out of your lives. No longer... “Put to death your members which are on the earth, fornication, uncleanness, passion and evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things, the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.”
We were all part of that culture. No longer, once we choose God and we make that choice. Verse 10 or last part of verse 9 there.
Colossians 3:9-11 “Put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” Part of a new body, part of a new family. “for there is neither Greek nor Jews, circumcised nor uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”
That's the body, that's the family that God has called us into. So, the action phase, we're baptized in to the Church of God. We make the decision, “I no longer want the old man.” The new man is put on. God sees us as children, His children who are willing to be changed by Him, who are receptive to His input, receptive to His Spirit that urges us or leads us in ways. Not constrained by what we used to do, or this is the only way we've ever done it, because God continues to grow us in ways that we can't even imagine.
During this action phase, people make statements, either make statements, or by their actions in life, show statements. First-generation Christians, my parents came to the Church when I was 10. I know the statements my parents made. My dad's family who was devout Catholics, it was like, “We are no longer keeping Christmas. We are no longer part of that Church. We are no longer going to Church on Saturday. We are not participating in any of that.” It created quite a ripple in that family. But he told them, “This is what's going to happen. We're no longer eating ham for this. We're not eating these meats anymore, these foods anymore too. This is the way we're living.” He made a statement.
People who have health trials sometimes need to say, “I'm not eating that anymore. I can't do that anymore. That's a lifestyle change I can no longer have.” Things that we do. And sometimes you just do them. And as we read in 1 Peter 4:3-4, like, “Wait, you're not doing the things that you used to do? What's wrong with you? Why aren't you still going out to the bars with us? Why aren't you still doing the things that you used to do?” And then they get mad and people start speaking evil of you. “You've changed. We don't even like that.” And so, we've all been through it. We've all been through it. That's what happens. And that's a strong point of what we go through when we are changing and becoming who God wants us to be.
You know, if we go back to Acts 9 again, and look at the progression of Paul, we read that now he wanted to begin hanging around, if I can put it that way, with the disciples at Damascus. And that was a change for him. He wasn't going there for that purpose. And in verse 21 of Acts 9, as his friends and cohorts and the people who were looking forward to him being there, these followers of Jesus Christ, followers of the way could be arrested, they were amazed, “What? Who is this Saul of Tarsus?”
Acts 9:21-22 “Then all who heard were amazed and said, ‘Isn't this he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem and has come here for that purpose so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’” But Saul kept growing and growing more and more toward God, less and less him, more and more toward God. “Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus proving that Jesus is the Christ.”
And what did they want to do to him? They wanted to kill him, “You're not like us. You're not like us. You don't do things the way we do anymore. So, let's just kill him.” Of course, God saved him, you know? He was saved. Eventually, he went to Jerusalem. But even when he went to Jerusalem the first time, only Peter would talk to him and Barnabas. The rest of the apostles like, “We're not so sure. We're not so sure about Paul yet.”
So, as we begin in this action phase, something...a new identity emerges. No longer whoever we were before that people might have said, “Oh, he's this person,” or, “He's that person,” or, “This is what he's like.” Now, someone new. As I mentioned, God sees us children of God. We see ourselves members of the family of God. Where we prefer to be is with people of like mind. That's where we identify, that's where we want to be. That's family and not so much the blood family that we have that may not see things we do because we realize the Spirit binds us together as one. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about this new identity that we have. Certainly, his identity changed as he was called, and as he committed to follow God and let Him lead him through the many trials that he experienced in his life. And in 2 Corinthians 5, he writes some telling words that, of course, as every word in the Bible, applied to them then, applies to us today.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation.” That's you, that's me, everyone listening to this, whenever they listen to it, I hope. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.”
And there's an identity now that we have.
2 Corinthians 5:20 “Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were pleading through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God, ambassadors for Christ.”
When people look at us and see how we are in the workplace, in school, in the neighborhoods, in the dealings that we have, in commerce, wherever it would be, they should see something different in us than the world around them. Who are you? Why do you not react the same way others do? Why aren't you out picketing or choosing one political side over the other? Why does that not bother you? Why are you not out doing all these protests with everyone? It's because we trust in God, because we are ambassadors for Christ and we know God is in control, and we trust Him and we follow Him implicitly.
We trust Him with our lives. We trust Him with our future. We trust Him with eternity because He promised, and we know that He is good for our promises, if, if we will yield to Him. Ambassadors for Christ, living the way of life now, that if we continue with God, that we will be teaching in the kingdom to the people who live over at that time, His children. So, we make these changes and we have all these things that go on in our lives. But one of the, I guess, groundbreaking things that this book had that was eye-opening is he says that action is never the final phase of changing for good. Now, most of us here have been baptized. Many of the world's Churches would tell you once you're baptized, you're saved. We know that's not the case because we can become...we can go right back into the world if we're not watching what we're doing and staying close to God.
And so, the next stage is maintenance, maintenance, meaning you have to keep doing what you're doing to get to that point. This is the way of life you committed to. This is what you prepared your heart for. This is what you know you need to do. You have to, and I'm going to call it what the Bible calls it, you have to endure to the end. Matthew 24:14 says, “Those who endure to the end will be saved.” Those who go through all that process of change, continuing in it through life, but they continue until the time that Christ returns or until the time that our physical life ends. Endure to the end. If we look at ancient Israel... Well, I'm going to turn to Hebrews 8. Let's look at Hebrews 8.
You know, Israel, God called out, He gave them His way of life. They said that they would follow Him. They didn't. And we know why. They didn't have His Holy Spirit. God gave us His Holy Spirit today. In verse 8 of Hebrews 8, I like the way God writes this rather than me paraphrasing it.
Hebrews 8:8-9 “Because finding fault with Israel, ancient Israel, God says, ‘Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt because they didn't continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them,’ says the Lord.”
They didn't continue. They didn't finish. They didn't endure to the end. On the other hand, the apostle Paul did. 2 Timothy 4:7, at the end of his life, he said, “I have finished the race. There is now laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” He endured to the end the same thing that God had done...has called us to. As in Hebrew 6:1, “Go on to perfection.” Maintenance has to be there. And for many people, this is a tough stage. This is a tough stage. They think they've got it made. Disease has been cured. Spiritual healing has occurred. We may think, well, just because we know it all, we can kind of relax a little bit and put our hands down. And God says, “No. Strengthen those knees. Lift up those hands. Turn to me. Keep marching forward.”
As He said to the Church in Ephesus, “Remember from where you fall and remember what it was like when you first found me,” when I first found you, I should say, “and I called you. Repent, change, and do the first works.” Many people fail during this time. We shouldn't. Never give up and always remember, endure to the end. And then stage six is called termination, termination. And in the book, I'm just going to read what he writes.
He says, “In this stage, there is 0% of temptation to engage in problem behaviors and there is 100% confidence that one will not return to old behaviors.” I've added, “Or depart from the truth.” He says, “This is almost never attained in health issues.”
And I think he's right. We all know instances of what this has happened. But for us, termination has to be a stage. We have to continue to perfection. We have to become who Christ has called us to be. We know what the goal is. It tells us there in Ephesians 4, “To the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ.” That's what the goal is. None of us are there. We all have things that we have to continue working toward to be like Him, to do things like Him, to follow Him more closely and more diligently at everything that we do. We have to let Him, we have to yield. We have to break down all those other barriers that are there where we think we know it all or we think we have all the answers. We don't. God does.
So, termination is not an option for you and me. It must be there if we're going to be in the kingdom of God. We must endure to the end and we must come to that point when God resurrects us that we no longer...there will be zero chance because He's seen the character that has developed in our lives. Over and over and over and again, we chose Him. We chose to reject self, deny self and do the things that He said. When He shows us an attitude, fault, sin, weakness, whatever it is, we said, “Fine. That's gone. I will work and I will work to put into my life what You want me to do. He sees the pattern and He will raise us to perfection and we will become what Jesus Christ wants us to become.”
Let me conclude in 1 John 3, 1 John 3. And I hope as we've talked about these stages of change as we find ourselves and things that we need to do, kind of analyzing ourself a little bit through the process that God chose in the Bible and the things that we doing. What are we doing? Do we need to prepare ourselves? Do we need to break down the resistance? Do we need to make the action and make the decisions? Do we need to continue in the way that God wants us to be?
1 John 3:1 says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God.” What a fantastic calling God has given us, that we should be called children of God. “Therefore, the world doesn't know us because it didn't know Him.”
They don't get it. Not because they're bad people. It's because God hasn't...it's not their time to be called yet. We are different. We are called out of the world. And when Christ says, “Come out of the world,” those words should have some striking meaning for us in this day and age. When we see where the world is going, come out of it. Don't partake in her sins. Don't partake of her attitudes. Don't be lulled to sleep or lulled into something.
1 John 3:2 “Beloved,” here's our identity, “now we are children of God. And it hasn't yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.”
And we have been working toward that as God changes us and grows us, and molds us into who He wants us to be, ever and ever throughout our lives to become like Him. And everyone who has this hope, I hope that's everyone in this room, I hope that's everyone who ever listens to this message. Everyone who has this hope, what is they do? Purifies himself, changes, lets God move them closer and closer to the state that He wants us to be. That's me, that's you. We all do this together as God leads us and grows us, and leads us to change, to change for good.