5 Steps to Change Your Life

I have yet to meet a Christian who truly wanted to sin. They might say they want to sin, but if you dig a little deeper they would confess that any perceived desire they feel to sin is actually a torment to them. It’s a source of guilt and shame, especially if they give in to those temptations.

What these Christians need to hear is that, while God does call us to live transformed lives, He’s actually made it a lot easier than we maybe realize.

Here are the five steps God leads us through to have the transformed lives we desire:

Step One: Believe the Gospel

It should go without saying that we’ll never have transformed lives until God enters the picture. The good news (no pun intended) is that all Christians have already taken this step or they wouldn’t be Christians. We believe Jesus died for our sins and rose again to give us life everlasting with Him.

Step Two: Get Adopted

This actually happens at the exact same moment as Step One. One is the result of the other, or maybe better put, it’s simply a different way of defining our salvation. Taking Jesus as our Savior by faith also means taking God as our Father. You can’t have one without the other. So, dear Christian, congratulations on already completing the first two steps toward your transformed life!

Step Three: Receive Discipline

Hebrews 12:7 promises us that being a child of God means He will discipline you, which doesn’t often make us think happy thoughts.

However, it’s helpful for us to consider the means and purpose of God’s discipline. Deuteronomy 8:3-5 explains, “And [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD…Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”

God’s method of discipline was not sickness, death, destruction, or disaster; it was the daily practice by which He proved His word is trustworthy, giving manna just as He promised. Though every household was bankrupt of food at night, He met their need the following morning every day for forty years. The purpose of this was to teach them to trust His words, which included obeying His commands, but also included the promise that He would deliver a land filled with hostile giants and a multitude of strong nations into their hands. Without faith in His words, Israel would never enter the Promised Land.

That was why God, as a good father, trained them through discipline to live by His words instead of by their circumstances. God’s discipline in our lives will be equally gentle and accomplish the same purpose, establishing trust and faith that His words are true so that we will believe and live by them.

Step Four: Become Free

Jesus prays in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” He also said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

This is the exact process we are talking about—living in His words so that we know the truth, which then sets us free. It’s interesting that God’s words result in two things: 1) Us being set apart completely unto Him and 2) Us becoming free. Isn’t it wonderful to see the very thing that brings us closer to Him also sets us free from the things that would control us and cause us to sin?

Step Five: Be Transformed

It’s no wonder then that Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Perhaps it’s easier for us to read this verse and apply it backwards—trying to be transformed in our actions first so that we can think differently about ourselves and earn a closer relationship with God—but that’s not what it says. We can try to transform our lives all we want, but there’s only one way it’s going to happen—by renewing our minds.

That means to make our minds new, to think in a new way. But how are we going to do that? By now the answer is clear. We learn to think a new way by listening to the truth of what God says to us. We regularly bathe in His view of us and become increasingly cleansed from who the world, our past, or any other voice says we are or ought to be. The result of this is that we no longer resemble the world around us, but instead live the transformed lives we always desired but could never attain through our own efforts.

Trying harder won’t stop your sin, but thinking in a way that agrees with God’s words will. This isn’t crazy. It’s biblical.

Transformation really isn’t as hard as we thought it was. That was a lie we believed, but God’s words today can wash away that lie so our new life can truly begin.

Trusting Fatherhood

Nothing damaged my trust in God as my father more than this mystery. I simply could not reconcile the idea of Him as a good father with the reality that he sent His Son to suffer and die when He could have come instead. After all, if God the Son can become incarnate for the sake of dying in our place, why couldn’t God the Father? And if He could, then why didn’t He? Was He unwilling? Was He selfish? More to the point, how can I trust Him in my life if He calls me His son, yet treated His Only Begotten in that way?

Intellectually, I knew that God is incapable of that kind of—there’s no other word for it—betrayal. But I lacked the key that would cause it all to make sense. I kept this question on a spiritual back burner of sorts, waiting until God brought clarity to the issue. When He did, it completely changed the way I think about Him.

Here’s some background for the thinking that led to this mystery: I had been taught that God’s purpose for mankind was to bring Himself glory. I was told that in anyone else, this would be disingenuous and self-seeking, but because God is truly worthy, there is no moral dilemma when we say this about Him. His worthiness makes it okay for Him to make all things about Himself.

I know. It doesn’t sound right to you and it never did to me either. Maybe it technically makes sense, but it doesn’t sound right. But that’s what I was taught, and by some very brilliant minds in Bible college. Here’s the problem with that theory and where it began to unravel for me:

God is love (1 John 4:16), and love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5). If God is love then His very being is defined by unselfishness. He cannot seek His own benefit or He betrays the nature of His very existence!

Moreover, Ezekiel 28:12-17 says, “‘Thus says the Lord GOD… “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God…Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor”‘” (Ezekiel 28:11-17). God is addressing Lucifer in this passage, lamenting over him, actually. What stood out to me here is the very last thing He says: “You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.” In other words, when Lucifer’s wisdom sought the benefit of others, it was pure, but when he turned his wisdom to seek his own benefit, it became corrupted. It may sound reasonable at first to say, “God can do things that look selfish to our finite human minds and it’s okay because He’s worthy,” but then I find that this kind of self-seeking is Satan’s very nature. I cannot possibly say that God can act like Satan and it’s okay because He’s worthy and Satan’s not.

This much helped reassure my confidence that God is not selfish or malevolent, but it didn’t help me understand why a good father, the best Father, would send His Son to die instead of going Himself. That answer came from Philippians 2:5-11, which says:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

These verses wrap the whole thing together, showing the perfect nature of God in the humility, sacrifice, and love of Jesus Christ. Yet because of His humility, God the Father exalted Him so that Jesus is exalted above everyone else. Jesus didn’t exalt Himself. His Father exalted Him, and there—right there—is where God gave me my answer.

God the Father knew that whoever went to save the Earth would also receive the greatest name and become the most exalted over everyone else. God the Father knew He could do that horrible task, and that He could receive the exaltation that would come with it. But that would have been self-seeking, so that’s not what He did. Instead, He set aside His rights to be the most highly exalted for the sake of letting His Son surpass Him. He asked His Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us, not to spare Himself the pain, but so that His Son would be more highly exalted than He was.

That is the nature of a father, which is why this is the way God the Father is glorified. Look at the last line of the passage; God the Father is glorified when all creation is worshiping the Son. God the Father was nowhere to be seen through all those verses until the very end! He is far from center stage, yet while the spotlight is on the Son, the Father is glorified.

I finally had the answer to the mystery. This answer proved to me, once and for all, I also had a Father I could trust.

Living in Love

How would you like to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, at all times that you are loved? How would you like to really believe that? What would it be like if you could constantly live in the confidence that you are loved?

What if, even more than that, you could continually be filled with love? What if it was possible for every interaction that you ever have to be motivated and empowered by love?

If you’re like me, you want this. In fact, I believe that this is the core of every human longing and desire. We want to love and to be loved. No, we need to love and to be loved. Unfortunately, most of us don’t really believe we are loved, even when we know it’s true.

John, the disciple known as the one Jesus loved, helps us with this, saying, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us…We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:15-19)

Starting from the beginning, we have a clear promise: If you confess Jesus as the Son of God, God abides in you. Now, my family abides in our home, but my three-year-old son is still learning this. We will be out and about for whatever reason and he’ll ask, “Where are we going?” Eventually the answer is, “We’re going home.”

“I don’t want to go home,” he says.

“We have to go home,” we say; “It’s where we live.” That’s the point. We abide where we live. We never truly leave that place. We always come back to where we abide. If you have confessed Jesus, God abides in you; you are His home. What’s more, He is your home. You live inside of Him.

The implications of this are powerful because of what John says next. “So we have come to know and believe the love God has for us” (4:16).  See that he said know and believe. See also that he said, “So.” In other words, this is how we come to both know and believe God’s love for us—God lives in us and we live in God, not because we did anything to earn it or win His favor, but simply because we made a confession. That single confession has permanently changed our address. We now live in God.

John further helps us understand this amazing transformation, saying, “God is love. And whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (4:16). Listen, God is love, and you abide in Him by confessing Jesus as the Son of God. So when you begin to abide in God, the reality of that statement is that you are beginning to abide in love and love begins to abide in you.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Okay, now let’s meditate on it more: You live inside of love. You are surrounded by it. You can’t leave it and it can’t leave you. Everyone who looks at you has to look through love to see you. Everyone you see, you see them through love. Every word you hear or speak has to pass through love before it is received. Every thought you think is birthed in the presence of love. And all this reality came simply because you confessed Jesus.

Finally, “By this is love perfected with us” (4:17)

Love: Perfected. With. Us.

Did you ever think that you could be included in such a small phrase with perfected love? Yet it’s that simple. Drink deeply the reality that you live in God and God lives in you, which is the same thing as saying that you live in love and love lives in you. It doesn’t matter how little this feels real, because it’s the guaranteed reality of your life as soon as you confess Jesus as the Son of God.

Then, and only then, do we love. “We love because He first loved us” (4:19). We do not love because it’s right, or because of obligation, or because it’s moral, or nice, or because rules and laws told us so. We love because we are loved. Period. The only genuine love we can give is overflow love.

You are in love and love is in you. May you enjoy life today and every day in this reality until you both know and believe it, until then love is perfected with you. It’s completely possible, and it starts by just believing it.

The Whole Truth

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

If you have spent much time in church, you know this verse. This is because we assume that people need to be convinced that they are sinners in need of a Savior, and that when they see that need, it’s simply a logical choice for them to turn to Jesus. This choice becomes even clearer when we tell them that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The options are now clear. You can a) ignore the reality of sin and its consequences by rejecting Jesus, or b) acknowledge your sinfulness and receive the only hope you have—salvation in Jesus.

This is the gospel of salvation and I believe every word of it. It is 100 percent truth. It’s just not the whole truth, and because it isn’t the whole truth, a lot of genuine believers who have responded to this message have continued living under the belief that they are still sinners falling short of God’s glory. This is because, while they finished the second verse to see that the free gift of God is eternal life, they didn’t finish the first verse to see that there was more good news to the Good News in which they believed for salvation.

The rest of the sentence begun in Romans 3:23 continues on to say, “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (24-25). This means that most of us were only told half the story when we first heard the gospel. We were told that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but the other side of the coin says that all have also been justified, redeemed, and reconciled through Jesus’ blood. That simply needs to be received by faith, or in other words, you have to believe that what I just said is the truth.

Now maybe you’re sitting at your computer thinking, “I’m not sure I heard the difference there.” The difference is that, in the past, we’ve focused on the issue of sin. After all, the problem is that people have sin in their lives, right? Because the wages of sin is death, and that’s a big problem.

You’re right, sin is a big problem, and it does lead to death. But the whole truth is that sin isn’t the problem anymore because all have been justified. Have been. That was a past tense statement there. Everyone has already been justified by God’s grace as a gift. Period. How? Well, through the redemption that’s in Christ Jesus, by the propitiation (or reconciliation) that is found under Jesus’ blood.

Let me sum it up in less theological language: Everyone in the whole world throughout all time has now already been made right before God. Their sinful record has been wiped clean by the blood of Jesus, reconciling the relationship that used to be severed. Nothing now stands between them and God except their unbelief. As soon as they simply believe these words to be true, they are instantly restored to perfect, unblemished, unhindered relationship with God and nothing can ever interfere with that relationship except more unbelief.

And that, right there, is why this is so important. Because a lot of us still believe the issue is sin, not unbelief. So when we sin, we think that we’ve somehow turned from God and we have to repent and work our way back to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve never been able to earn or qualify for a relationship with God. We were justified as a gift, remember? And that gift was never taken back; we just stopped believing that God is good enough to really restore us unconditionally so that all we have to do is believe it.

Which brings me to our second point: What is it that we fall short of? It’s God’s glory, right? Well, in Exodus 33:18-19, God declares that His glory is His goodness—the reality that He is gracious and merciful to whomever His chooses without any consideration for whether they deserve it or not.

So here’s the whole truth of the gospel: Everyone has sinned, and that means we’ve fallen short of how good God is. But because of His goodness, He has chosen to wipe the record clean for all of us, for everyone. And all it takes to be brought back into perfect relationship with Him is to believe the goodness He has shown us through the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.

That’s it, just simply believe. Sin has never been an issue. Never. And it never will be, either, because Jesus made sure of that. That’s how good He is.

Is something standing between you and God? Is someone you love so lost that they’re beyond hope? Is this world so full of sin that God’s judgment is about to be poured out? We’ve answered all these questions today, and the answer is a resounding no. We just have to actually believe that this is true, and in so believing, start living in the reality of the goodness of God.

More Than Human

There have been a lot of headlines in recent years having to do with doping. In case that’s a new word to you, it refers to the act of an athlete taking performance enhancing drugs—adding a little something to their system that gives them an unfair advantage over the rest of the playing field.

In the world of athletics, this can result in suspensions, fines, and even lifetime bans from the sport. But in the world of Christianity, this should be an everyday, non-stop experience.

You see, as Christians, we have a little something extra that the rest of the world does not have. This little something is called God, i.e. the Holy Spirit. And lest you understand me to be saying less than I am, the Holy Spirit is not simply a performance enhancing substance; rather, He is a whole-being recreating substance. We are not merely human anymore.

Yes, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:7, we are only jars of clay, but that’s not what defines our substance anymore. We are now defined by the treasure that lives inside of us that gives us life and transforms our mortal bodies into living, breathing embodiments of Christ Jesus. This was the whole point, “…to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The fact that we appear to be merely human only serves to glorify God that much more when His supernatural power explodes out of us. Just like a treasure chest, the value, identity, and purpose of the outside is completely determined by what lies within.

It is only our lack of honor for ourselves and each other that restrains us into acting merely human. If we really started honoring one another as vessels indwelt by the Living God, then we would empower each other to do things far beyond what we can currently imagine.

In Nazareth, Jesus was received without honor. In other words, they saw a person who could build with wood, but not a person who could do miracles. Because they couldn’t see miracles within Jesus, Jesus couldn’t do miracles within them. It might be easy for us to relegate that miraculous status to Jesus alone, except that Jesus immediately drew a parallel between His situation and Elijah and Elisha, who were both sent to gentiles because Israel wouldn’t receive them (Luke 4:16-30).

I believe that miracles are waiting inside each and every believer until someone sees them there, and that once they are finally discovered, they will be released. So many books and training materials are published to help believers live supernatural lives, but all of these are focused on training individuals to honor themselves as vessels of a supernatural God who will do miraculous things through them. That’s great, and even necessary, but it will only get us to Nazareth unless we can develop a culture of honor within which we expect miracles to come out of everyone.

It’s time for us to begin looking at ourselves and our Christian family differently. It’s time to treat each other as more than human.

What is a father?

What is a father?

Is a father merely someone who has biological or adopted children? Is he someone who provides for children under his roof or pays their way through college? Or is a father someone who teaches us how to skip stones, tie fishing knots, and ride a bike?

The truth is that all of these may describe things a father does, but they do not define what a father is. Fatherhood is defined by two essential elements – Nature and Inheritance.

I will describe inheritance first, so that I can immediately clear up any misunderstanding about what I mean. What I do not mean is that fathers are only good for their money. There is much more to fatherhood than simply amassing a small treasure to bequeath to our children so that they can have an easier life.

What I do mean is that a true father wants his children to go farther than he can, and consequently lives in such a way as to make that happen. This requires fathers to gain something of value to leave as an inheritance – not necessarily finances, though that is a possibility – just something of value to pass on to their children. My father labored to gain an incredible knowledge of the scriptures, and my inheritance from that is a depth of faith in God and knowledge of the Word that continually surpassed my peers as a child. It means that today I am teaching God’s Word instead of merely trying to grasp basic concepts.

The things of value that we gain for our children can be from any area of life – including finances – but the heart of a father is expressed in the intentional growth and passing on of these things so that our children can surpass us. Our ceiling must be their floor.

Inheritance does little good, however, if a father does not pass on his nature. This requires him to invest in his children so that they have his heart and are going the same direction he is. If our children do not go the same direction we are going, then how can they go farther than us? This means that we must train our children regarding what is important to us and work with them to develop the character and responsibility to remain strong on our path.

In the past we have thought ourselves to be successful fathers and parents if our children can graduate college, hold down a good job, have a nice family, pay their mortgage, and save up enough to retire by age 65. We need to realize now that successful fatherhood goes beyond teaching the actions of building a life to teaching the heart we should have in life. It is the difference between only teaching my children how to shoot a gun and also teaching them when and why to shoot it.

The definition of fatherhood is not limited to fatherly actions, finding its ultimate fulfillment in the heart behind those actions. It is not simply to produce offspring, but to impart a nature and release a destiny by endowing provision, protection, and identity.

This is who a father is. This is a father’s heart.