How Do We Change?
Principle 13: Sanctification is the process of God transforming us in and through our obedience.
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit . . . Ephesians 5:18
There was a time when my plan for sobriety and transformation was to just sit back and let God do it all. I prayed for good things while indulging in bad and I begged for the fruit of the spirit while enjoying the candy of the devil. I refused to change anything until God magically transformed my appetite. When he didn’t take away the hunger, I conveniently blamed him for my destructive behavior. It’s not my fault! God made me this way. If he wanted me to be sober, he could snap his fingers and make me hate these pills!
There is a significant amount of disagreement within Christianity regarding how God changes us. Some, like me, are just guilty of misunderstanding, while others purposefully preach a misguided theology in which man has no responsibility in his transformation. Believing that we can do nothing to effect God’s work in our lives, this teaching insists that he simply transforms us . . . or he doesn’t. If we’re still wallowing in addiction then, it’s simply because God hasn’t yet chosen to deliver us. Masquerading as honoring God’s sovereignty, this theology is just wishful thinking, designed to blame God for a persistent addiction to pornography, drugs, or food.
To be sure, there are passages that seem to suggest that God does all the work. Paul himself wrote that our old self has been crucified (Romans 6:6). Later though, he lamented his own persistent, destructive flesh nature (Romans 7:15) and in today’s passage, he insisted not only that we must abandon drunkenness, but that we also bear some responsibility in being filled with the spirit.
Paul didn’t say we should sit back, continue to drink, and wait for God to take away our appetite for alcohol. That’s not faith. Faith is being obedient, even when we don’t feel like it. Faith is daily doing whatever it takes to leave behind the old life to pursue the new one. It is in our obedience that God fills us with his spirit, transforming us.
So, does God change us, or do we bear some responsibility to change? Yes, to both. The process of sanctification or transformation is something God does in us, but which usually requires our obedience. If we do nothing but wish and pray for recovery, we’ll not find it. If, however, we ask God what we must do – and then we do it – we will find the life, joy, and peace that can only be found in him.
Author’s Note: I’m currently writing through the principles that have helped me understand my condition as a Christian who still has very real struggles with my destructive appetites. I’ll include the full list here for reference.
- God created us to live in communion with Him, but man’s sin fractured that communion.
- We all struggle with flaws in our corrupt flesh nature, though it has different manifestations in all of us.
- When we come faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again into a new, perfect spirit life and restored to communion with God, but we still carry this gift in a flawed flesh life.
- Though God may graciously deliver us from some thorns of the flesh, some battles are lifelong, requiring the ongoing work of denying self and following Christ.
- We may always feel the gravity of the flesh, but we are not to live enslaved to it. We are meant to know and experience freedom daily in Christ.
- The Christian life (discipleship) is a continual process of abandoning (crucifying) the flesh nature and following Christ.
- Though we will fail, there is always grace and forgiveness for those who believe in Christ.
- Though we are forgiven, we are not to use grace as an excuse to continue in our destruction.
- God’s eternal forgiveness does not absolve us from practical, earthly consequences.
- As we all struggle, we must be continually honest, not constructing a facade of perfection, as this is detrimental to our recovery and the recovery of others.
- We should regularly meet together with the purpose of encouraging each other to abandon the old life for the pursuit of God.
- Though we try to find purpose, joy and fulfillment in following ourselves, we can find the answer to our deepest needs only in God, as he provides the only adequate replacement for our self-destructive pursuits.
- Sanctification is the process of God transforming us in and through our obedience.
- God allows the daily battles and honest struggles of recovery to deepen our awareness of our constant need for God.
- Our eternal identity as Christians is in our new life in Christ. Acknowledging our persistent flesh life and its battles does not deny our position in Christ bur rightly identifies the forgiveness and power that alone can be found in Christ as we daily experience life through Him.
- God saves us from ourselves. We must tell others what He has done for us.