What would you like to change about yourself? Would you like to be more confident or more relaxed? Perhaps you’d like to be more outgoing, less anxious, or less fearful. Most of us are more than a little interested in changing because we realize there is always room for improvement.
Why Can’t I Change?
In the years Rick Warren (pastor of a California church) has been a pastor, the number one question he’s asked is, “Rick, why can’t I change? I want to change, I really do. But I don’t know how — or I don’t have the power.”
We go to seminars and conferences, looking for the painless cure that is going to zap our lives and change us by instantly giving us self-discipline. Or we go on diets. I once went on a diet for an entire afternoon.
We join health clubs and our enthusiasm runs strong for about two weeks. Then we fall back into the same old rut. We don’t change. We read self-help books, but the problem with self-help books is that they tell us what to do but they can’t give us the power to do it. They say things like: “Get rid of all your bad habits, be positive, don’t be negative.” But how? Where do I get the power to change? How do I get my life out of neutral? How do I break out of the mold that I’m in? Good news. Christianity offers the power we need.
You Can Have Resurrection Power
The word power occurs 57 times in the New Testament. It is a word used to describe the most powerful event that ever happened, an event that separated A.D. from B.C. That event was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And that resurrection power is available to change your life!
The most important thing in life is knowing Christ and experiencing the power of His resurrection. Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). In another letter Paul writes, “I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great His power is to help those who believe Him. It is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in heaven” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
Paul uses the Greek word for power, dunamis, which is the root of our word dynamite. So Paul is saying, “God wants to give you dynamite power in your life, the power that can change your life.” Yes, the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead 2,000 years ago is available to you right now to transform the weaknesses in your life into strengths. The Bible describes resurrection power as the power to cancel your past, the power to conquer your problems, and the power to change your personality.
God’s Power Will Cancel Your Past
First, resurrection power is the power to cancel your past. I’m talking about your failures, your mistakes, your sins, your regrets. And when I say cancel, I’m not talking about denying the past as if it never happened. The word cancel means to eliminate, to neutralize, to offset something.
Have you ever gotten halfway through a project and wished you could start over? You’re painting the living room, and you step back and look at the color that looked perfect on the sample chart. On the wall, however, it doesn’t look so perfect. You wish you could just start over.
A lot of people feel that way about life: “I’ve made so many mistakes. I wish I could just wipe them out and start over.” The failures, the problems, the bad decisions – we’ve all suffered from them.
Some people just can’t seem to let go of their past and, as a result, they let their past limit their present opportunities. They live in a constant state of regret. They continually say, “If only I hadn’t done that” or “If only I had made these changes.” They always second-guess themselves. They are tormented by painful memories, “I blew it, and I’m going to be paying for it the rest of my life.”
God says it’s unnecessary for us to go around with a heavy load of guilt, old hurts, and memories of mistakes. In Colossians 2:14 He says He has forgiven all our sins and canceled every record of the debt we had to pay. He did it by allowing Christ to be nailed to the cross.
Jesus Christ knows the things you’ve done wrong, but He did not come to rub them in. He came to rub them out. He did not come to condemn you, He came to change you. A clean slate is possible! It’s a lot like my son’s Etch A Sketch. If he makes a mess of a design or picture, all he has to do is flip it over to wipe the slate clean. Then he can start all over again. The Bible says that is what God does with the mistakes I’ve made. When I come to Him, He wipes the slate clean.
In Jeremiah 31:34 God says to the Israelites that He “will remember their sins no more.” That’s got to be one of the most amazing statements in the Bible – that the God who made the world “forgets.” Today when we come to Him, admit our sins to Him, and then ask Him to forgive us, He cancels our past. God chooses to forget our wrongs, our mistakes, our failures. That’s good news! Even if you were to die tonight and stand before God in heaven, you could ask Him about some sin you committed yesterday, and He would say, “What sin?”
He has canceled your past and set you free to get on with the present.
Why God Can Cancel Your Past
Now what is the basis of this forgiveness?
When Jesus died, one of His last statements from the cross was, “It is finished” (John 19:30). In the Greek that’s one word, tetelestai, literally meaning “paid in full,” “canceled.” It was the word merchants wrote on bills when they were paid, “paid in full.” It was stamped on a document concerning a prison sentence that had been commuted. Jesus says that’s what He did on the cross. He paid in full for every sin you’ve ever made. Romans 8:1 tells us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus was crucified on the cross so you can stop crucifying yourself. He was hung for your hang-ups. That’s good news!
Now the question is: If God forgets a sin the moment you confess it, don’t you think you ought to forget it too? How long do you remember a bill you have paid? I forget my bills as soon as they’ve been paid. I don’t worry about last month’s electric bill. Someone has said that when we give God all our mistakes and failures, He throws them into the deepest part of the sea. Then He puts up a sign that says No Fishing. He doesn’t want us to keep dredging up our sins.
Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind… I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). However, we can short-circuit God’s power in our lives by not believing God has truly forgiven us or by choosing not to forgive ourselves. God’s power is the power to cancel your past.
God’s Power Will Conquer Your Problems
God’s power is also the power to conquer your problems. Everyone has problems. They come with living in a fallen world. If you don’t think you have any problems, check your pulse. The only people who don’t have problems are in cemeteries.
Our real problem is what we do with our problems. Inevitably, we try to solve them with our own power. How do you know when you’re trying to solve all your problems with your own strength? You’re tired all the time! A man who was frustrated with his lack of power to conquer his problems summed it up when he said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” We get this way when we try to solve our problems on our own. God wants us to stop trying and start trusting Him with our problems.
I have met thousands of people who feel like their lives are out of control. They tell me, “My life is out of control; I’m a victim of my circumstances. What can I do? I’m powerless. Just about the time I make ends meet, somebody moves the ends.” If you ask them, “How are you doing?” they respond, “I’m doing okay, under the circumstances.” Well, what are they doing under them? Someone has said circumstances are like a mattress: if you’re on top, you rest easy, but if you get underneath, you suffocate! A lot of people are under their circumstances. Although we cannot always control our circumstances, we can control how we respond to them.
You might be saying, “But, Rick, you don’t know all the problems I’m going through. I’m having a tough time.” If so, let me encourage you to take the focus off your problems and focus on God’s promises.
Look at what Paul asks in Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” He answers his question in verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Do you know what the word conquer means? A conqueror is “one who overcomes by gaining control.” Paul says that we are more than conquerors. The Greek word explains that we are super conquerors and that we can have overwhelming victory. If we put our lives in God’s hands and rely on the power of the Resurrection, nothing can devastate us. Nothing can swallow us up or destroy us. That’s the message of the Resurrection and the heart of the Good News.
No matter how dark the situation may be, God can turn it around. No matter how hopeless life seems, God brings hope. The same power that enabled Jesus Christ to rise from the dead will allow you to rise above your problems.
Acts 4 records the first serious opposition to the apostles’ preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem. When the authorities threatened them, they banded together and prayed. Notice what they prayed for. They didn’t ask God to stop the opposition but rather to give them supernatural boldness in the face of the opposition (4:29). He did (4:31).
Resurrection power enables you to cancel your past and conquer your problems. That’s not all it does.
God’s Power Will Change Your Personality
Resurrection power also helps you change your personality. What would you like to change about yourself, and how do you go about doing it? Let’s put it another way: how would your spouse like you to change? Maybe that would be more revealing. One wife said her husband is “too temperamental” – 90 percent temper and 10 percent mental! In another situation, a husband went in for marriage counseling one day and told his pastor he wanted a divorce. The pastor reminded him that he had promised before God that he would take his wife for better or for worse. The man said, “Yes, but she’s a lot worse than I took her for.”
How would you complete this sentence, “It’s just like me to…”? It’s just like me to be late all the time? It’s just like me to be unable to stay on a diet? It’s just like me to put my foot in my mouth? It’s just like me to blow up, to be depressed, to get angry? I’m sure you’re well aware of the parts of your personality you’d change if you could.
God Uses a Process
God uses a two-step process to change us. The first step is explained in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” When we commit our lives to Christ, that’s the initial turning point. We are not the same anymore. A new life has begun. That’s why the Bible calls it being “born again.” Being born again doesn’t mean we are reincarnated, it simply means we get a chance to start over. It’s not turning over a new leaf but getting a new life, a fresh start. It’s a new beginning with a big difference. We now have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit. A set of “spiritual batteries” are included to provide the power! That makes all the difference in the world.
Being born again, like being born the first time, is only the beginning. It is followed by a lifetime process described in Romans 12:2. J.B. Phillips paraphrased the verse this way, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God is good, acceptable to Him, and perfect.”
In the next chapter we’ll examine more specifically how God helps us change and the tools He uses. Then we’ll take a close look at how He changes us by producing in us the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Each chapter will be devoted to one of these character qualities. When the Holy Spirit controls your life, He will produce in you nine positive characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Let me ask you, how many of the people you work with or live with exhibit these qualities? How many of the people you work with or live with would say these qualities describe you? The sad fact is that rather than loving others, we are often unloving. Rather than living joyously, we feel defeated, depressed, and discouraged. Rather than experiencing peace, we feel uptight and pressured. Rather than being patient, we’re frustrated and irritated. Instead of showing kindness, it’s every man for himself. Instead of modeling goodness, we often feel there’s nothing good about ourselves. Instead of being faithful, we neglect our commitments. We are more likely to respond to others in anger or resentment than in gentleness. And instead of practicing self-control, we watch our lives falling apart.
These are the contrasts between the person who lets the power of God work in his life and the person who relies on his own power. We must remember, however, that the fruit of the Spirit isn’t something we work up. It’s something that God produces in us when we fully trust Him with our lives.
Don’t Put It Off
Only one thing will keep you from changing and becoming the person you and God want you to be. It’s not the devil. It’s not other people. It’s not circumstances. It’s procrastination.
I meet so many people who are getting ready to live, but never live. “I’m aiming to change,” they tell me. And I want to reply, “That’s good, but when are you going to pull the trigger?”
Procrastination is fatal. One of these days I’m going to go to the dentist. One of these days I’m going to have that surgery I need. One of these days I’m going to spend more time with the family … get serious about being a Christian … become active in church … go after that dream, One of these days I’m going to get in shape. One of these days! More often than not, that day never comes.
Why Spend One More Night with the Frogs?
One of my favorite movies is The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston standing out there separating the Red Sea so the Israelites can walk through, My family gets a kick out of my behavior every time I see The Ten Commandments because for the next couple of weeks I go around walking and talking like Yul Brynner, who portrayed Pharaoh in the movie. When my kids ask me something, I reply, “So let it be written; so let it be done!”
One of the humorous facts about the events surrounding the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt concerns the ten plagues God sent on the Egyptians. Each plague made fun of a different Egyptian god. For instance, the Egyptians worshiped lice, so God sent them a lot of lice to worship. Then there was the plague of frogs. The Bible says there were frogs everywhere. It must have been messy! I’m sure Mrs. Pharaoh put pressure on Pharaoh to give in and get rid of the frogs.
Finally, Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “All right, Moses, I give up.” So Moses asked, “When do you want me to get rid of the frogs?” Now Pharaoh’s answer was classic. He said, “Tomorrow,” He must have been crazy! Why would anyone wait any longer to have the frogs removed?
There is a famous sermon based on this text called “One More Night with the Frogs.” How would you like to spend one more night with the frogs? Why in the world would anyone put off a change that was going to be positive? We would have expected Pharaoh to say, “Get rid of the frogs right now!” But no, he said, “Tomorrow.”
You and I do this all the time. We procrastinate by putting off changes that we know will be good for us. Why? Maybe we’re complacent. Maybe we’re too lazy to change, Maybe we’re afraid because we don’t know what the changes will involve. Maybe we’re too proud, or we’re just stubborn, Whatever the reason, we procrastinate.
The NASA space engineers tell us that most of the fuel used in a rocket launch is burned up in the first few seconds of lift-off. It takes tremendous energy and thrust to get the rocket off the launch pad. Once it’s moving and headed for orbit, it requires much less fuel and is easier to control and direct. It has overcome inertia.
It’s one thing for me to tell you that Jesus Christ can cancel your past, help you conquer the problems you are facing right now, and change your personality. But it’s quite another matter for you to overcome inertia and actually let Him begin to do it now! Although you may agree with everything I say, you may still wait and let Jesus help you “one of these days.”
Jesus Christ has the power to make changes in your life now. He will give you the power to get started and the power to keep going. He will give you the power to break the chains of procrastination.
If you have been unable to let go of your past, Jesus Christ offers complete forgiveness. He can put your life back together again. You may feel like Humpty Dumpty, so fragmented that nothing can put you back together. But it’s never too late to start over! You’re never a failure until you give up.
Maybe you’re overwhelmed by your problems. The Resurrection reminds us that no situation is hopeless. Relax. Trust God. You don’t have to be controlled by your circumstances. No problem is too big for God. He’s still in the resurrection business. What are you waiting for? Right now you can say, “Jesus Christ, take my life. Take the good, the bad, and the ugly. Take every part of me.” Open your heart to His love right now and let His transforming resurrection power become a reality in your life.