The Grace of God

That Brings Salvation Has Appeared to All Men (Titus 2:11)

The Necessity of Change, Part 2

Posted by israeliteindeed on June 22, 2016

My last post was about the necessity of change (repentance) in order to be saved. This post will focus on why we need to continue to be open to changing after we are born again.

When we are first born again, we are essentially blank slates, ready to be written on by God. Our past is forgiven, and we have turned from our old ways, and readied ourselves to learn how to do good as little children (Isa. 1:16-17). God’s law is written upon our hearts, and we now commit to cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, so as to perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).

Before I go on, it is necessary for me to qualify what God does NOT mean by “perfecting holiness.

He does not mean that after your conversion, you can still be living in open rebellion against God and yet “blameless in His sight.” That idea is deception. I’ve met fornicators, drunks, etc. who have no intention of giving up their sins, who claim they are saved yet “being sanctified gradually,” as if you can gradually give up these willful sins over the space of decades. “God’s not finished with me yet,” they may say. Well, they haven’t even been born into His family unless they’ve ceased from the obvious sins which they know He hates.

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries. (Heb. 10:26-27)

Or, they may have had an honest conversion followed by a return to their old sins, in which case they are worse off now than before they believed–

For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:21-22)

So, we have established that “perfecting holiness” is not remaining in or returning to old sins. A person who does this is headed for judgment despite his excuses and religious pretenses.

However there is a “perfecting of holiness” that needs to happen in the believer’s life, and this does require constantly being willing to change as God reveals His will. Just as little children do not know everything, but learn gradually as they mature, we need to mature as Christian saints. (Note: little children may not know everything, but they are required to obey those things they do know and are capable of obeying.) Maturing spiritually requires washing our minds with the Word of God and consistently seeking God’s will in every matter of life. It also requires being willing to change our understanding of who God is, what pleases Him, and how we should behave, as we search out His Word and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). It requires being humble and teachable at all times, never assuming that we have arrived and have nothing more to learn.

When I was a newborn believer, I immediately gave up fornication and drunkenness, knowing God was displeased with these sins and required my repentance. I also began to cry out to be delivered from cigarettes, which I overcame by the time I was baptized. I began to study the Bible in order to learn more fully what would please God. I went to church and started putting money in the offering plate, as an act of obedience to what I thought would please Him. At this time, I had no idea the prosperity message was evil, how many false teachers were ruining God’s flock, how much false doctrine I actually believed (having grown up in various churches), that nationalism didn’t please God, that I should dress more modestly (the women in my church were less modest than I was), etc. God fully accepted me in this rough state, because I was a child ready and willing to learn all that He had to teach. He didn’t download everything I needed to learn at once, just like we don’t teach a 3 year old the same things we teach a 17 year old. What God required was ears that hear, and willingness to change old beliefs and patterns of behavior.

Eventually I had figured out alot of true vs. false doctrine, was much more selective in fellowship, dressed more modestly, turned away from things I now recognized as idolatry, made sure my money went to help the poor and evangelize rather than to finance a bigger church building, etc. Even though I was born again and walking with God, I had to repent of many things as I learned they were against God’s will. I was much more mature, but certainly hadn’t arrived.

At this time, I fell in with a certain group of Christians who stressed the need to be holy, but often overlooked carnality among themselves. They were very particular about doctrine, and zealous to evangelize, which is what first attracted me.  But eventually I realized they were no longer willing to examine themselves or find fault with themselves, or…change. They could not hear reproof from anyone. Because of this, they began to give teachings that justified their carnality, instead of repenting.   And I was troubled, seeing that we can be so easily deceived by our past changes and our knowledge.  I began to ask the Father for wisdom concerning this, as I wondered if I was as blind as they seemed to be.

The Lord began to address some issues in my heart that no man could see. He showed me that although this holiness group would accept me based on my dress and my core beliefs, there were things He wanted to change in my heart to make me acceptable to Him. He showed me how these heart issues sometimes spilled over at home with my closest family members, and if I did not change, I could not think I was holy. This was a deep and painful experience that lasted a long time. I had to continually hearken to the Lord’s voice and agree with Him about what He was finding in me. He was also showing me some pitfalls I could avoid if I would be careful to listen to Him rather than following the crowd (not even the holiness crowd should be followed blindly; they too can err.) I had already separated from so many people, I did not want to experience any more separation, yet here it was. I could follow them or follow Him. And I chose to follow Him. These changes were not totally comfortable, but they were necessary. If I had allowed myself to think I’d arrived at the pinnacle of Christianity, I would have deafened myself to the Lord’s instruction.

Have you stagnated in your Christian life because you feel you’ve arrived at all knowledge and cleaned up your flesh? Are you judging yourself by others instead of judging yourself by Christ? Are you patterning yourself after some group you belong to instead of after Christ? Comfortable in their acceptance, and no longer asking Jesus if He is pleased with your direction? Certainly we can learn from others, but we must not let the camaraderie lead us away from Jesus, and it can ever so easily. Not everyone who comes in His Name also comes in His Spirit.

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I John 3:2-3)

It can be very convenient for us to stop at cleansing ourselves of the filthiness of the flesh, while leaving our spirit contaminated, especially if our fellowship group is also neglecting this. Their spirits can easily contaminate ours (Prov. 13:20). Some have become haughty in their condemnation of those with filthy flesh, while their own spirits remain in need of tremendous changes. The Pharisee who thanked God he wasn’t like other men comes to mind; with such an attitude, how can God show us where we still need to change?

Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. (I Tim. 5:24)

All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits. (Prov. 16:2)

We do well to remember that God weighs the spirits of men. While we may have been held up as a Christian example by others, and perhaps even developed a large following; God knows our motives, our thoughts, and any contamination of spirit. (Very often our families at home know some of this also, and they are not impressed with our reputation among other people! If we can’t consistently walk in kindness and mercy toward our family members, we should not deceive ourselves that we are holy.)

David knew God, but didn’t content himself with what he had already accomplished through God. He knew there could be a wicked way in him that he could not yet see–

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psa. 139:23-24)

Dear friends, to walk with God requires ongoing submission to His Word, a teachable spirit, and a readiness to change. Let’s not assume we are more than what we are. Without constant connection to the Vine, our life would dry up and we would be twigs destined for fire just like others. We are the sheep of His pasture, and must follow His leading (sometimes changing direction). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), not arrogance and pride. It will take consistent diligence in adding good things to our character to make our calling and election sure–

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.  Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:5-11)

But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. (Prov. 4:18)

God bless you as you continually gaze upon Jesus and are changed into His image!

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18)

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