How to Change
Acts 9:4. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
Recently, in jail, I spoke with a man who came to bible study with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. As he told his life story, he relayed multiple occasions when he had gone to God for help, only to receive nothing. God, if He was even real, had abandoned him. He was on his own. Still though, he came to the bible study. He wanted God but he needed to know why God had not helped him. Why was he in jail when he had begged for help with his destructive behaviors?
I have been there. I too, have begged God for divine assistance and received none. I know many, like me, who have cried out to God for help with alcohol, sexuality, anxiety, depression and anger, only to feel like they continue to wallow in misery. My question is the same as the inmate’s. Why? Where is God? Does he help me or not?
I wrote yesterday that God often allows the defects of our flesh to remain. We often, in error, think being a Christian makes us perfect, but as long as we are in this flesh, we will feel the gravity of its defects. The obvious question then becomes, So, what does God do for me? I know I am not supposed to follow God out of self-interest, but at some point, following God is supposed to make me a better person, right? I am a mess and I need help. I believe God is the answer to my mess, so am I not to expect some divine assistance?
In Acts, we are told of the murderous Saul’s radical transformation to the apostle Paul. In the story, Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, when he met with a blinding light. A thunderous voice from heaven, none other than Jesus himself, told Saul to stop persecuting him. He told him to follow and Carry my name (v 15). Instead of persecuting Christ as Saul, Paul was now to spread the gospel of Christ.
What was Paul’s response? He obeyed, radically. He repented and was completely transformed. He changed his name, occupation and the direction of his life. Did God do this or did Paul do this? Yes. God called and Paul responded. He did not sit back, continue in the same old life and then wonder why God did not move. He obeyed and was transformed.
This is where I got stuck. I believed in my head, but I did not follow with my feet. I refused to obey and then I wondered why God did not work in me. I did not want God to disrupt the rest of my life. I just wanted a painless excision of one problem. I did not want to follow God. I just wanted his power to work when I wanted it to. Then, I was bitter when He did nothing.
The truth is though, God has done the radical work of giving me a new life in Christ. When I came to God, I was given this new, perfect spirit life. The problem is, I carry it, for now, in this defective flesh. As Paul discovered, the thorns (defects) of the flesh often remain. God allows them to remain so that we may continue to know our weakness and need for him.
The choice now, is mine. I daily have this choice to pursue myself or to pursue the perfect spirit life in me. God has given me the only adequate solution to the pursuit of my flesh. All the purpose and pleasure I vainly pursue in the flesh, may be satisfied in God’s spirit life in me.
So, does God transform me or am I responsible for change? Again, yes. God has done the work and continues to work, but it is only in my obedience in following him that I come to know his perfect spirit life while in this defective flesh.
What does this look like? If I am a drug addict, I need to confess my destruction and go to treatment. I may need to change jobs and friends. If I am an alcoholic, I cannot continue to bartend. If I am a porn addict, I need to cut off my source of pornography and get help. I need to deny self and follow Christ. Like Paul, if I desire a new life, I need to commit to profound change. If I want God to transform me, I need to repent, obey and follow his perfect spirit life in me.