How God Changes Hearts and Why We Should Desire to Change

Teaching Notes

(Not meant to be grammatically correct)

Introduction

  • Look over the syllabus.
    • Talk about the structure of each topic
    • Some will be more interactive and others will be lecture format
  • Give my usual disclaimer of holding questions and comments to the end of class.
  • As fun as it would be to jump right into specific issues, if we are going to look at ways to help others with specific problems, we must first understand why people do what we do, and how God changes us.

How do people change?

  • Consider putting an equation on the board.
  • I wish there was an easy formula to answer this question, but God in his infinite wisdom and desire for our good has chosen to design sanctification (the process of change into Christ-likeness) in a way that is different for every person and circumstance.
  • The process of change is deeply personal for every person.
  • Just look at the way Jesus ministers to those he encountered.
    • He employeed many different methods and strategies to reach the one he worked with.
    • He was always direct and gave them exactly what he knew would challenge them to a change in belief and behavior.
    • Jesus was a master at what David Powlison calls “unbalancing theology.”
    • His toolbox was vast and rather than overwhelming those he taught with an onslaught of truth, he knew how to drill down with a single, direct truth that was exactly what they needed to hear.
  • As a counselor I understand that the application of a truth that resonates deeply with me in a specific way, may be completely irrelevant for you.
    • This doesn’t mean the truth is irrelevant, but the various applications may not resound with all people in the same way.
    • Otherwise change would be very formulaic. I give you this verse, it has said impact, and you change. But that’s not how it works is it?
    • Take the cross for example: people say “Just focus on the cross of Jesus” and you’ll be fine.
      • This is a perfect example of being formulaic and general in our presentation of truth.
      • The cross reveals the character of God
      • We find mercy, comfort, and joy
      • There’s strength in the reality that the powers of darkness were defeated.
      • There’s a comfort in knowing that Jesus also entered into suffering.
      • We can look at aspects of the Lord’s supper
      • And the list goes on and on…everyone will relate differently.
  • Unfortunately, we’re not omniscient and we can’t know exactly what will challenge the person to whom we’re talking.
    • This makes our job difficult. Counseling another person isn’t easy.
    • We have to dig in, get to know the person, and perhaps try multiple strategies and applications before something clicks.
  • But even as personal as the change process is, there are some fundamental similarities that are common across all change.
    • We know from Scripture that our actions come from the heart. And that tells us a lot.
      • Jesus teaches in Matthew 15.18-19, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
      • The prophet Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Who can understand it?”
      • And if the story ended there, we’d be in bad shape.
      • Speaking of the same new covenant that Jeremiah would later write about, God says in the book of Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
      • Now this is a prophetic future promise to Israel but it’s also a model of regeneration for all believers.
      • And so we know that the believer’s heart is also capable of doing good and obeying.
      • Jesus says in Luke 6.4, “The good person out of the treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of heart his mouth speaks.”
      • Everything we do, good or bad, proceeds from our heart. And our heart acts based on what it believes to be true about our circumstances—whether that be on a grand scale like what we believe about our job, to a single finite moment when we are tempted to respond to conflict in prideful manner.
    • And so if change is going to take place, it must take place at the heart level.
      • Swapping one behavior for another behavior isn’t enough.
      • That will produce shallow surface level change that is likely temporal.
      • We must get away from thinking there’s a formula for heart change.
      • Speaking the truth in love is speaking direct specific applications of Scripture with the hopes of changing or adding to that person’s fundamental belief structure—their heart.

Looking at the Sources of Change: What tools does God use to bring about change?

  • While the specific way God changes people will be different for every person and circumstance, there are four broad categories God uses to work on human hearts.
  • #1: God Himself Changes Us
    • Philippians 2.12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
    • In a sense, every heart level change is brought about God through His Holy Spirit, and we’ll see a lot of overlap between these four categories.
    • God brings us from death to life.
    • He takes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh.
    • He enables our heart to produce good so we can walk in good works.
    • Paul writes in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
    • So God changes us, and one of the primary ways he changes us is through His Word.
  • #2: Truth Changes Us
    • Scripture reveals God to us, and it reveals his message. And when we say message, we really mean many messages! Thousands of messages!
      • Again we want to get away from formulaic thinking like there is one line we can feed someone and that brings about change.
      • God’s Word contains thousands of applications based on thousands of truths about God and man.
    • Scripture covers every facet of human life.
    • Romans 15.13-14 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”
    • Paul also writes in 2 Timothy 3.16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
    • We measure ourselves and our experiences by the word of God. And we also help others with the Word of God.
      • It’s the only opinion that matters.
      • It exposes who we are and slowly replaces our prideful and selfish beliefs with the truth of humility and love.
    • Hebrews 4.12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
    • Truth changes us.
    • There’s a third way God changes us and this is where we come in, by his grace.
  • #3: Wisdom from other believers changes us
    • There’s proverb that says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
    • Romans 10.14 says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
      • God uses the spoken word of men and women to bring abut the salvation of his chosen.
      • And if God allows us to play a role in the regeneration process, you better believe he allows us a part in the sanctification of others as well.
      • This can come in all types of forms:
        • From the pulpit
        • In a core seminar
        • In the counseling room
        • Over coffee or lunch
      • The venue doesn’t matter so much as does the way in which the message is delivered.
        • James writes, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (How different would relationships be if our communication always looked like this?)
        • Further, Ephesians 4.1-2 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
        • And finally, Galatians 6.1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
    • Beloved, if you find a person who is able to speak gentle truth into your life, keep them around you as much as possible—they are a treasure.
      • I have a good friend in this church who often speaks truth into my life, and he does so with such a gentleness and humility that I’m always eager to hear what he has to say.
      • Some of the biggest leaps in my sanctification over the last 2 years have been as a result of my interactions with this man.
      • Keep people like this close!
    • And in the same way, we have to be that person to others.
      • We can have all the answers in the world but if we don’t know how to present them in a way that is humble and loving, we will not be heard.
    • People speaking biblical truth in love to others changes hearts.
  • #4: Suffering / Affliction / Discipline Changes Us
    • This is a topic we will delve much further into over the coming weeks.
    • Some people like to divide suffering and discipline.
      • The purpose and outcome are the same so I put them together.
      • And while sometimes we can attribute consequences to a particular moral failure, more times than not the cause of our affliction is rather ambiguous.
      • We should spend less time trying to figure out the cause and spend more time understanding the effect.
      • Either way, we can say this…sometimes life is difficult and God intends to use those difficulties to make us more like him.
    • This is the most subtle and most direct way God changes us all at the same time.
    • If you aren’t paying close attention to God’s working in your circumstances, you’ll miss it.
    • But if you see it, and understand it, suffering, affliction, and discipline have an enormous capacity to bring about change in our lives—especially in the areas of pride.
    • Jesus learned obedience through suffering. Hebrews says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
    • Suffering also teaches us obedience, endurance, and humility.
      • Peter writes, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
      • 2 Corinthians 4.17 says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
      • James 1.12 says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
      • Paul writes in Romans 5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”
      • And just a few chapters later Paul says that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
      • And finally in Hebrews 12 the author writes, “ Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Now that we understand the sources of change, we have to look briefly at the aim of change.

  • In other words, we have to answer the questions, what are we changing into? What does change look like? How do we measure change?
  • In simple terms, the process of change makes us into more obedient followers of Jesus Christ.
  • Well, what does an obedient follower of Jesus Christ look like?
  • Jesus made it very simple for us.
  • In Matthew 22.36 and following a lawyer asked him, “36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
  • If sanctification is about becoming more obedient, then sanctification is about learning to love God and people more.
  • Powlison says this passage depicts the two directions of sanctification:
    • Learning to love God more is our vertical sanctification.
    • Learning to love people more is our horizontal sanctification.
  • When we are working with broken people this is always our goal.
    • To teach them to love God more, as well as people.
    • Everything flows through those two priorities.
    • AS they learn these things their relationships will improve.
    • This doesn’t mean we don’t speak very direct and specific truth into their lives. We absolutely do that. We must them the truths relevant to their struggle. And that’s why we’re in this class—to learn what those specific truths are.
      • We don’t want to be stuck with “just focus on the cross.”
    • It’s going to look different for every person and every circumstance and it’s our responsibility to learn how to speak gently the truth in love.
    • But let’s answer one last question as we wind down…

Why should anyone obey? What’s the motivation? Why change?

  • If God’s grace has covered all of our sin, and indeed it has, what is our motivation for obedience?
  • Why not live however we want to and let grace cover it?
  • We know God’s grace isn’t an excuse for disobedience…
    • Paul tells us at the beginning of Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
    • So if we aren’t to continue sinning into the face of God’s grace, then why stop?
  • It’s not to gain a higher standing with God.
  • It’s not because we’ll lose our salvation if we don’t obey.
  • It’s not because God will pour out his wrath on us—that was exhausted on Jesus Christ.
    • Romans 3.25 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
    • That word, propitiation, means wrath satisfied, or no wrath.
  • SO WHAT IS IT?
    • Our first clue is found in Hebrews 12.2 which says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
      • It was for the joy that laid before him that Jesus obeyed.
      • There is joy in obedience, even if it means a shameful death on a cross.
    • Likewise, Psalm 37.2 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
      • There is a command and a promise here.
      • If delighting yourself in the Lord becomes your all-consuming passion, he will conform your heart to his own and that brings what? Joy…
      • You will be able to enjoy him (and life) fully.
    • Obedience breeds joy. Obedience is joy.
    • I’m not talking about happiness…
    • You want to have joy in your suffering? You want to have joy in your marriage? You want to have joy in your relationships with God and people?
    • It’s very simple…obey…

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