How Am I to Change?
Matthew 16:24 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
I have tried to change a thousand times and have failed. I have promised myself over and over that I would never do this again but here I am. I have prayed repeatedly for God to change me yet He remains silent. What am I to do?
I think most of us can relate to Paul in saying, I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15). We all have some destructive behavior that we wish we could stop.
Is it God’s responsibility to change me? Do I just sit back and wait for him to work, wallowing in my misery until He decides to fix me? Or, am I left alone to figure it out myself?
Jesus, in this passage, describes the two necessary steps to transformation. It is no coincidence that the process by which I am transformed is the same process by which I become his follower. This is how God works in me. If I want to be leave self, this is how I do it. These two steps, though profoundly simple in concept, are radically difficult in practice.
First, Jesus says that transformation is not passive. He says that if I want authentic change, I must deny myself and take up my cross daily. The cross at that time was not a symbol of Christianity. It was a symbol of death. Jesus was saying that if I truly want to change, I need to do whatever it takes to forsake (kill) my destructive behavior.
If I am an alcoholic working as a bartender, I need to quit my job and go to treatment. If my friends engage in a destructive behavior, I need to abandon them. If I cannot stop looking at pornography on my phone, my phone needs to go. If I am filled with rage and cannot stop destroying my relationships, I need counseling. The point is, I must be willing to commit to radical change if I want radical change. My life did not change at all until I got to the point where I was willing to do absolutely anything to be different. Half-efforts are of no use here. If I remain unwilling to commit to profound transformation, I will not change.
I am not left alone in this process. The second step describes where God meets me. Jesus says I am to do whatever it takes to pursue him. Just as the first step requires radical effort, this too is anything but passive. I am to pursue Jesus with all the passion that I pursued the old life. All the time I spent in anger, using, bitterness, resentment and pride, I am to pour into reading, praying, listening, meditating and learning to be with God. This is something I can learn to do all day, everyday.
When I leave behind self and pursue God, He meets me and does his work in me. He transforms and grows his spectacular spirit life in me. He delivers me daily from me as long as I do my part to abandon the old and follow him. I will never do it perfectly. I still have defects that I have not given up and if I stop pursuing God and return to the pursuit of self, I will return to my destruction.
If I want to change, I must do whatever it takes to leave behind self and follow God. He always does his part.