Most of us are disappointed with how things have turned out in life. We are disappointed that we aren’t smarter, faster, taller, or more gifted. We wish we were more patient, loving, and kind toward others. We long to become better human beings. But to get there, we’ve got to change. The Bible teaches, and our experience verifies, that we are born with a sin nature, and out of that nature flow all kinds of sinful actions and attitudes. When we talk about sin, what we are really talking about is our failure to love God and others in the way that we should. Jesus tells us in Matthew Chapter 22 that all of the commands in the Bible can be subsumed under these two commandments: 1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
When held against this lofty standard, all of us fall short. When you think about it, much of the pain we experience in this world is a result of our collective failure to love one another as we should. Inevitably, our selfish, shortsighted choices result in broken relationships and broken people. Our failure to love others always has negative consequences. This is just another example of the Biblical truth “we reap what we sow.” And when we finally wake up and discover that the problem is in here, in our hearts, not out there somewhere, what do we typically do? We screw up our determination and try to bring about personal change by trying harder to be more loving, more caring, more compassionate, and more disciplined.
The kind of heart change we need cannot be achieved by self-effort, however. We cannot bring about the long-lasting, substantive character change that we desperately need by sheer willpower. Although we may have outward success for a while, eventually our true inner condition will come spilling out again, especially when we are under pressure (Matthew 12:34-35). The question is, then, “How do you change the human heart?” Only God can change our hearts. You see, Jesus came not only to forgive us, but to change us with a radical, inward transformation (Ezekiel 36:26). A transformed heart, which is what we need, is a gift from God to be graciously received. The bad news is that as long as you live, you are going to struggle with sin and selfishness. The good news is that with God’s help, genuine, substantive, heart-level change really is possible. This is God’s desire for you. He wants you to become like his Son, the Lord Jesus, who was himself the most loving, gracious, moral person who has ever lived. In fact, that is the goal of Christian discipleship: to become like Jesus (Galatians 4:19, Ephesians 4:11-13).
Jesus did not come just to forgive you; he also came to change you. According to the Bible, salvation has three aspects: justification, sanctification, and glorification. We usually focus on the first aspect: justification. If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer, you are justified before God. But following justification, many Christians are unsure how to grow in sanctification. They have no idea how to become more like Christ. The key to heart-change (sanctification) lies in imitating Jesus’ lifestyle. If we want to become like Christ in our character, we must pattern our lives after his. Here are some quick facts about spiritual maturity that will help you as you strive to grow in Christ:  It is not automatic (Hebrews 5:12-13),  It is a process (2 Peter 3:18),  It requires discipline (1 Timothy 4:7). The Biblical word for a Christ-imitator is a disciple. Jesus wants all of us to follow him in discipleship. And you will become a disciple by developing a disciple’s habits. What is a habit? It is a continual, often unconscious inclination to do a certain activity, acquired through frequent repetition, an established disposition of the character. It is the consistent practice of these disciple’s habits, along with reliance upon the Holy Spirit, that lead to real life transformation.
Application / Challenge
- If you have not done so, receive God’s forgiveness in Christ.
- Then, make sure that you give Christ first place in your life each day.
- Each day this week, slowly and prayerfully review 1 Timothy 4:7-10 ten times per day:
Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness,
for bodily discipline is only of little profit,
but godliness is profitable for all things,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come…
We labor and strive for this
because we have fixed our hope on the living God.