Do You Need A Change?
By S.J. Black
Yesterday I had to take my children into town for a doctor’s appointment and we were listening to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song titled “The Change”.
The lyrics of this song have always spoken to me and challenged me. In the lyrics of the song, Steven talks about having a Christian key chain, bumper sticker, clothes and so on. But then the song asks the question even though that stuff is all well and good what about the change?
After we get saved, over time Jesus will begin to change our heart if we are really seeking Him as our Lord and we are not victims of a ‘false conversion.’ This will cause a change that starts on the inside and then works its way out to manifest itself in our actions. Change the heart then the mind and actions will follow I guess you could say. Honestly, if we get “saved” then twenty years later we are no different than before, I think we should seriously question if we know Jesus or only know “about” Jesus. I enjoy a good Bible story as much as the next person, but simply knowing a few of the stories from years ago in Sunday school will hardly get you into Heaven.
I have been pondering a lot lately what attitude the Lord would want us to have about various things. It is an interesting study really to see what Scripture has to say about how we should live.
The first thing that came to my mind about what attitude Jesus would want us to have is an attitude of simply believing in faith. Jesus said in Luke 18:17 “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” How many people do you know that try to make the Gospel more complicated than it needs to be? We come up with all sorts of scholarly theories about various things and we can easily move from seeking God with a sincere heart to an academic ‘religious’ effort.
My children informed my wife and I when we were coming home from church a while back that if you have a "clean heart" you don't do things like hitting your brother or saying bad words. If you do those things it means you have a "dirty heart". So of course we had to ask, "what do you do to get a clean heart” Their reply...."you ask Jesus to give you a clean heart and come live with you.” Is there really anything more complicated to the Gospel than that? Our twin boys were only four and a half years old on this day we were driving home from church.
So many times we try to make it more complicated but that is just religion and probably more accurately our pride. The truth is the message of the Gospel is no more complicated. Out of the heart flow the words of your mouth. Actions or words don't save us or condemn, they are simply an indication of the condition of your heart. We all have our bad days and our failures but doesn’t it really come down to the condition of our hearts? The condition of our hearts is what saves us so why do we try to make it something more? My suggestion is that my four and a half year olds in their simple way understand the Gospel better than many who due to pride try to make salvation more than simply inviting Jesus into our hearts. Worse yet is that my four and a half year olds understand that if you have truly made Jesus your Lord and He has given you a “clean heart” that it will change the way you live.
Some today would do well to realize this concept that a true change in heart results in a change in our actions. Our actions shouldn’t change because some man made religious program tells us do this or don’t do that. That is a work of the flesh and destined to fail. We should change our ways because we love the Lord and He has changed our hearts to give us a desire to please Him more than anything else. Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. There is no way we can chase after some “religious” program of works that attempts to reform the flesh and have this kind of change of heart. Jesus is the only one who can or will change our hearts when we surrender to Him and seek to follow Him daily.
Religion is a funny thing actually. Man at times cannot seem to grasp that all we need to do is believe in faith and seek the Lord. Religion always leads one to works of the flesh and religious pride. There is no form of pride more dangerous than the religious and self-righteous kind. Many groups today would be much better off if they would simply develop a love for the truth and drop any traditions or beliefs that contradict what Scripture teaches. If they would believe God’s word for what it says in a simple way like a child and stop adding to or taking away from the text most of the errors would be quickly resolved. When you ignore the plain meaning of a passage and start having to jump through hoops to use allegory to support a theological view, this is when you quickly get into trouble.
The attitude the Lord would want us to have is one of being humble and not trying to please man with our religious displays. The Lord would have us to realize we are still wretched and miserable in the eyes of the Father in Heaven if it were not for Jesus’ atoning blood covering over our sins.
Jesus made a comparison of these two attitudes in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18:9-14:
“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The bottom line to the parable is that getting puffed up and self-righteous can be a dangerous way to go. As equally dangerous however is doing “religious stuff” simply to impress others with how much of a holy roller we deem ourselves to be. Jesus taught this same lesson another time when teaching about doing good deeds and how to pray:
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (Matthew 6:1-5)
We are not saved by our good deeds but if we are truly abiding in and walking with Jesus then good deeds will be a natural consequence of having that type of relationship with Him. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) This is why Jesus said the way to know a good tree is because it produces good fruit. God does not call bench warmers and if we are truly seeking and abiding in Him then good fruit will be the result. However, we are still sinners so we can hardly get prideful and puffed up simply because the Lord chooses to work through us. The Lord working through us at times is often even in spite of us. It is the “good” works we do because of striving in the flesh instead of being led by the Spirit that causes pride. You have to wonder about some who are “driven” by a “purpose” don’t you? They are certainly striving in the flesh after a purpose.
Today I see too many ministries and individuals that are all too willing to sound their own trumpet when they do a good deed. They are only trying to receive the praise of men and that can at the very least cost someone their reward in Heaven. I am aware of many ministries and churches that love to sound a trumpet when they do a good deed. With most of these organizations a little research will reveal the key people live in huge homes, drive fancy cars and things of that nature. They will receive no reward in Heaven even if their deeds are good. That is a very dangerous place to be in misrepresenting Jesus to make a few bucks. One important thing that should be noted here, omitting certain parts of Scripture is misrepresenting Jesus just as much as teaching Scripture in a false manner. There are groups that entirely ignore portions of Scripture because it contradicts their opinions and dogma. Others omit portions of Scripture from their teaching because they don’t want to “offend” anyone. Many today are simply involved in tickling ears in the interest of mammon worship, greed and seeking the praise and approval of men if we were to be honest about the matter.
Mammon worship or the love of money is deadly dangerous to a believer because it can become an idol very quickly. We find where Jesus speaks with the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-30. The rich young ruler seems to be a basically moral and religious person who has kept the commandments such as do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not bear false witness and so on since his youth. But still in verse 22 Jesus gives the rich young ruler an additional commandment, “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
This verse is often abused today. It does not mean that having money is per say an evil thing and that you have to give everything you own away in order to seek God. Some see everything they touch turn to gold because God has given them the “gift of helps” and they are more than happy to give it all away if the Lord should tell them to do so in trusting the Lord to provide. People with a gift of helps realize that it is all God’s anyway and they are merely being trusted to do with their money as the Lord would led them. I have also noticed that while they may have a decent amount of money, folks of this nature tend to not live in an extravagant lifestyle in an effort to impress others. The reason Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had was because his money had become his idol or his god. What is interesting to me is that many today that would use this verse in an abusive way are also very happy to take a large donation from you.
All of this really goes back to what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The bottom line is we may have money or we may not. It doesn’t matter since it all belongs to God anyway. Our attitude is to be one of seeking treasure in Heaven by abiding in the Lord’s words. Not getting caught up in the things of this world whether it is money or anything else we might be tempted to put before seeking God with our whole heart.
Jesus stated plainly that we should be totally sold out to the Lord and living for Him with everything we have:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
I do not see in these verses from Matthew any indication from Jesus that we should be playing church on Sunday. If God needed something to warm the pews He would provide the money for a church to purchase heated seats. We should be seeking the Lord and His kingdom with everything we have, all our heart, all our soul and our entire mind.
The idea of loving your neighbor as yourself is another interesting command. There are many out there today that have real problems with forgiving various people in their lives. However, this is a dangerous place to be. Failure to forgive someone can lead to a root of bitterness developing in our hearts. When one reaches the point of having a root of bitterness, I would suggest to you that it would be virtually impossible for the Lord to use that person in service to Him. I believe this is why Jesus said:
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
If one is interested in finding out the attitudes Jesus wants us to have, all of Matthew chapter 5 and chapter 6 should be read. These chapters are often referred to as “Jesus’ sermon on the mount” but in these passages you will find a great deal about the attitude Jesus would want us to have in addition to finding instructions about how to pray among other things.
Just reading through some of the section summaries that were added by the translators in Matthew chapter five and six you will find the text covers topics such as:
“Murder begins in the heart” – Matthew 5:21-26
“Adultery in the heart” – Matthew 5:27-30
“Go the second mile” – Matthew 5:38-42
“Love your enemies” – Matthew 5:43-48
“Do good to please God” – Matthew 6:1-4
“Fasting to be seen only by God” – Matthew 6:16-18
“You cannot serve God and Riches” – Matthew 6:24
There really are few places that would be better to read to understand what changes should result from making Jesus our Lord and having Him change our hearts. In reading these chapters Jesus places an emphasis not so much on actions but the cause of our various deeds. All the various bad deeds addressed in these chapters are addressed at where they start, in the heart.
Another good place to read and learn about the changes that having Jesus in our heart should bring about in our daily walk is to look at Galatians 5. It is in this chapter that Paul speaks about the “fruit of the Spirit”.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23)
Please note these behaviors listed in the verses above are not things that we are “required” to do in order to be saved. To put it another way, this is not a list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. These are things that we should do as a natural course if we truly know Jesus and have truly had the Holy Spirit take up residence in our hearts. These are things that will be an indication to us if we are abiding in our flesh (i.e. natural carnal selves) or if we are abiding in the Holy Spirit.
Notice here also that Paul says those who “practice” works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven. Does this mean a slip up on our part here and there? No we can all become carnal if caught in the wrong moment. Dictionary.com defines “practice” as “To do or perform habitually or customarily; make a habit of.”
In other words, where do you camp out most of the time? In the flesh or abiding in the Spirit? If your answer is in the flesh, I think you need to really examine your relationship with the Lord to find out if you are merely religious or have you made Jesus the true Lord of your life?
A change of heart is not something we can bring about as a work of the flesh or by our own efforts. What we must do to change our hearts is obviously come to know Jesus as our personal Savior. But after coming to know Jesus the next thing we must do is yield to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives to allow Him to mold us into the character of Christ. Will we ever be perfect this side of Heaven? No, but we should start to see some improvement as time goes by. All we can do is take up our cross daily spending time in the study of God’s word and asking Jesus in prayer to draw us closer to Him so that He can mold us into what He would have us to be. There is no room for religion here or the self-help programs of man. There is only room for a relationship of abiding in Christ and seeking after Him daily.
All of this brings us back to our original question for you to answer in your own life, “what about the change?” I can’t answer that question for you because I cannot know your heart. Only God knows your heart and He will reveal it to you if you simply ask Him. The good news is that He will also change your heart if you simply ask in faith and believe in Him.