Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury --http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .
From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
"If we walk in the light, as he is
in the light, we have fellowship
with one another, and the blood of
Jesus, his son, purifies us from
every sin." -- 1 John 1:9
This book is about change. It will be hard to read it without becoming different. This book is about becoming more than you are. Each chapter deals with specific areas where God might be nudging you to change. They are disciplines of obedient living. Yet before we deal with these individual disciplines of holy living, we should consider a more basic question—How do Christians change? God has a plan for changing Christians like you and me from what we used to be, into what we've become, and finally into everything we could be. Understanding how God's changing power works may help us in dealing with the individual chapters.
Salvation—an outside job
Salvation is both an inside and an outside job. Many of the changes at your conversion for outside changes. For instance, the moment you accepted Christ into your life you were "justified." In justification God decreed that you were no longer liable for your sins—it was "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned. This didn't happen in your heart, it happened outside of you at God's throne in heaven. And you were "pardoned." A pardon doesn't occur in a person; it happens outside of a person. It is a change of status. Pardoning pictures a legal transaction in the courts of heaven. When you came to Christ you were also "adopted" into the family of God... you became God's son or daughter. Here is another legal term, something happening outside you changing your status. When you started this walk with Christ lots of things happened outside of you. Your status was changed, your position was new.
Salvation—an inside job
But God didn't limit his "great plan of salvation" to outside transactions. He works within too. When you received Christ you were "born again" or "regenerated." You became a new person inside; the old life passed away and you were reborn inside... things became new. And when you received Christ you were "made alive in Christ," experiencing your own personal resurrection. Before you were saved, you were, for all spiritual purposes, "dead in trespasses and sins." Then through faith you became "alive unto Christ." None of these things happened outside of you—they were all "inside jobs."
Conversion—A changing event
Becoming a Christian is a life-changing event. In a single moment you were brought to life inside. In an instant God changed areas of your life. In the weeks following your conversion you may remember noticing new desires, different values, and fresh interests. God had changed you inside. Perhaps you immediately dropped some habit. Others may have noticed a change in you. Someone may have said, "You seem different." The experience is almost universal—people change at the crisis of conversion. In a moment God changes you in some areas.
But you weren't changed enough!
But sooner or later every new Christian recognizes that many things didn't change. Your position may have been "perfect in Christ" but your performance was obviously less than perfect. You then became painfully aware of attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions which were out of character with who you really were. This is a serious predicament for the new Christian. The euphoria of conversion is gone. The dramatic inner changes of those first few weeks and months has dimmed. Now you forget how much change has already happened. You begin to look at all the change that hasn't happened. This is a serious juncture and several routes are possible at this crossroads:
(1) Give up.
Some new Christians simply quit the race at this point. Consider this letter:
"I was so excited last summer when I got saved. I thought it had solved all my problems. Was I ever wrong! Now the excitement has worn off and I'm a mess. There are so many areas of my life out of whack, I'm such a lousy Christian, I'm afraid I'll never get straightened out. I lose my temper at work and say some things I know Christians shouldn't say. There is one particular sinful habit I've had for years that I just can't shake—I've tried over and over but I fail every time. My pastor says I should be witnessing, and I did when I first was saved, but now I'm afraid to. What has happened to me? I feel like a worse sinner than before I was saved. I feel like just giving up." Giving up is really no solution at all. The Christian who gives up on changing, either drifts back into his or her old life, or settles into cool-hearted nominal Christianity. Giving up is not the answer.
(2) Refocus on position.
Some advise the new Christian at this point to refocus their thoughts on their position in Christ, taking away their concern for personal sin. "Don't look at your sin... focus on your position as "perfect in Christ." "God can't see your sin—you are in Christ and God sees only the perfection of Christ—so don't waste time looking at your sin." "Your sin simply tells you the kind of person you really are... it shows how sinful humanity is, let your sin be a reminder for you to praise God for the perfect Christ." "Of course, you are still a sinner, but you are a saved one now. Remember 'there is therefore no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus'... keep saying that verse and recognize that your sins are forgiven—past, present and future."
While this route offers some relief to the new Christian burdened by personal sin, it is not the ultimate answer. Anyone who reads the New Testament keeps discovering repeated calls to obedience. God continually calls his children to put off sin. Would God constantly call us to obedience if it were impossible? Would God tease us with a command which we could not obey? The new Christian often feels down deep inside that there is more to this Christian walk than focusing on position. The new Christian's instincts are right—there must be a way to bring our performance up to our position. We needn't spend the rest of our lives dismissing our sin by refocusing our thoughts on our perfect position in Christ. God's plan of salvation is more complete than that. This brings into focus a third route—the biblical solution: Become what you are!
It's a big word and often misunderstood. But it is a necessary word and work. Sanctification is God's work inside us to transform us into Christlikeness. It is everything God does in us to make us like his son Jesus. It begins the moment we are saved... this is called "initial sanctification." At conversion God changes us in certain areas so that, in an instant, we become more like Jesus in this thought, or that desire, this attitude, or that word or deed.
But God's sanctifying work doesn't end at conversion. "Initial sanctification" is just the beginning of a great journey with Christ... walking in the light, becoming more like Jesus week by week, year by year. It is a journey of hearing God speak, making commitments, allowing God to change, adjust, correct, transform, and mold us after his will. This continual work of inner change is called "Progressive Sanctification." It is God's way of making us more like Jesus.
If only new Christians could be told of this way out—a route to spiritual growth. Maybe then they would be less likely to give up on living the Christian life. Or maybe they would do more than dismiss their sinful performance by focusing on their position in Christ. If only more Christians could be told of God's full plan of salvation, He proposes to bring your imperfect performance up to your perfect position! God will bring to completion the good work He began in us at conversion (Ephesians 1:6).
Position and Performance
These are the wonderful ways of God—He not only changes our legal position outside of us, but He intends to change our daily performance by changing us inside. In other words, God's plan of salvation is more than a simple outside change of status—(from "lost sinner" to "saved sinner"). He actually proposes to change our performance as well (from "saved sinner" to "obedient son") He intends to change us on the inside—eliminating selected thoughts, words and deeds, and adding new thoughts and attitudes, language patterns, and personal habits of action. This is God's plan to change your position and your performance.
If you have already received Christ, then there is nothing more you can do to change your position. You are already "risen with Christ," adopted, forgiven, pardoned, and justified. There is absolutely nothing you can do (or that God could do, for that matter) to improve your position with God. You are "sealed" and have received the Holy Spirit as God's down payment, guaranteeing what you will receive in the future. Your legal position is already "perfect in Christ." Your position can not be improved.
But performance is another matter altogether. Wouldn't you readily admit the need of growth in your day to day walk in obedience... your performance? Though nothing can be done to improve your outside standing with God, is there not much to be done to improve your inside obedience to him? God does inside jobs. He wants the freedom to work inside you to transform your values, attitudes, language, habits, thoughts making them conform to those of Jesus Christ.
How does He do this? What is God's process of sanctification? How does He go about changing your thoughts, words, deeds, and attitudes? That is the subject of this chapter.
Big Event Changes
Conversion is a big event. In this momentous spiritual event, God performs major changes in us—we become "new creatures" in Christ as the old passes away. In a week or a month we notice dozens of changes God has concentrated into this, the major spiritual event of our lives. Conversion is a big event change in our life.
Being filled with the Spirit is a second crisis event. One moment you were not yet filled, and the next moment you become filled with the Spirit. The disciples were radically changed when they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2). A fearful failing Peter became the bold preacher unafraid to lose his life for Christ. John, a "son of thunder" who was ready to destroy a whole Samaritan village with fire became the "apostle of love" (Luke 9:54). Fearful disciples who had cowered behind locked doors became bold soldiers of the cross who filled Jerusalem with their teaching.
When the Holy Spirit fills a man or a woman changes happen... instantly. This is a second "Big Event change." These two experiences—conversion and the Filling of the Spirit—are widely recognized as crisis change events in a Christian's life. In fact, some would attempt to squeeze all change into these two events. But there are many other changes which God performs in his sanctifying work—making us more like Christ—which do not occur during these two major events. These are the changes which happen progressively.
How Christians Change
Christians are supposed to change. God yearns to keep working on and in us, moving us toward perfection (2 Corinthians 13:9). Though God works in mysterious ways, adapting his methods for each individual, there are some general patterns to his work at progressively sanctifying his children. Most Christians will recognize that God's changing process often occurs in these five stages:
1. Dawning Awareness Stage
God always moves first. We are never the initiators, always we are the responders. He took the first step in our salvation... sending His Son "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8). God is always reaching, calling, searching. So it is with our sanctification. God begins the changing process by first making us aware of a need. We begin to sense an area of our life is "out of sync" with God's will for us. He does this through his Holy Spirit, God's invisible presence in us. God's Spirit "speaks" to us through our thoughts. He guides, corrects, convicts, and enlightens our mind to understand Bible truths. And He makes us aware of an area needing change. This awareness often comes slowly... like the dawn. First there are tiny hints of gray, then gradually the light increases -- from charcoal black, to dark gray, to light gray, to pale gray then finally the sun bursts over the horizon filling the land with its beams of bright light.
So the Holy Spirit often makes us aware of areas needing change. We read an article, hear a testimony, or a certain Bible passage jumps out at us. This is new! Is this really God's way and will? Is this true? Is this for me? Is it possible? These are the questions that indicate God is making us aware of a new area where He intends to change us.
Often God is making us aware of many areas at once. As we associate with other Christians, read good Christian literature, and get into God's Word, we become gradually aware of areas where our life falls short of God's perfect standard. We could list habits we need to stop, others we ought to start. We see places where we are less than we ought to be. This is the "Dawning Awareness" stage. It is the first step God takes in His process of changing us.
2. Growing Conviction Stage
Out of these areas we are aware need changing, God now begins to focus on one. He zeroes in on a particular attitude, or a certain habit, or one language pattern and keeps coming back to it. This is different than mere awareness—we now are becoming convinced that we must change. The Holy Spirit gradually puts greater pressure on us... both logically and emotionally as He convinces us of our need for change. This is the "Growing Conviction" stage. The Holy Spirit is getting us ready for God's changing power in our lives.
One danger at this point is the Christian's feeling condemned. Sometimes a sensitive Christian has difficulty tuning in to the Holy Spirit's inner "still small voice." As they experience "dawning awareness" of dozens of areas needing changing, they mistakenly assume that God is convicting them of all of these at once. Recognizing that change in so many areas at once seems unlikely, they become easy prey for Satan's condemnation. The Accuser loves few things better than to turn a Christian inward into defeat and despair by accusing him or her of being a miserable Christian. He is skillful at "Quoting" the Bible to browbeat and intimidate sensitive saints.
God seldom convicts a Christian in many areas at once. The Holy Spirit's operations are done with a spiritual scalpel, not a butcher knife. How can you tell the difference between Satan's voice and the Holy Spirit's? Satan condemns, the Holy Spirit convicts. Satan's condemnation makes you feel like giving up, like you'll never make it, resulting in spiritual depression, discouragement, and a feeling of hopelessness. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit's conviction is accompanied by expectation and hope. The Holy Spirit convinces men and women of sin, but never does so with a whip... it is with the positive hope of change. If Satan is discouragine you with the multiple areas where you are imperfect, turn your ear inward to the Holy Spirit's voice. He is probably aiming at one change target, trying to grant you the hope for change. The Spirit usually works with a narrowly aimed rifle shot of conviction, not a shotgun of condemnation.
There is a second danger at the "Growing conviction" stage: trying to change yourself. It is at this stage when many Christians make repeated attempts to turn over a new leaf... trying to change in their own power. These attempts are common, but are destined to failure. You do not have the spiritual power to transform yourself into Christlikeness. This power is God's and God's alone. Any attempt to make yourself holy will produce only failure or a false righteousness leading to pride. It took me far too long to discover this important truth about change. After numerous attempts at becoming holy in my own power, always accompanied with resounding failures, I discovered this truth and wrote in the front of my Bible "When I try, I fail... When I trust... He succeeds." Trying to be holy will fail every time! Trusting Christ to make me holy will never fail!
This conviction is growing. Gradually the Spirit convinces us we must put off this, or put on that. Bible verses leap out at us, testimonies of other Christians who have been victorious in that area raise our hopes, magazine articles meet our eyes. We never realized there was so much said about this particular area! We are experiencing "growing conviction." God has gotten us ready for the third stage of change.
3. Crisis Decision Stage
So far in the growth process God took the lead. He provided the dawning awareness of our needs, and He produced our growing conviction. Now God turns to us.... it is our move.
Somewhere in the process of growing conviction we become convinced that we must change. At this point we recognize that to delay change any longer would be outright disobedience. Up until now God was patient with our slowness to realize our need, and even our sluggishness in sensing His conviction. But now we are convinced that THIS AREA MUST CHANGE. It is not our idea, but God's. We sense Him saying "It's your move now... are you with my program to change you, or not?" Not that all this happens in a single moment in time. It may be a "stage" as the title suggests. God is not so autocratic that His invitations to grow come with sixty-second deadlines.
The "Crisis Decision stage" may occur over several days or even weeks. But when I am fully convinced that God is saying "I'm ready to change you" yet I drag my feet, refusing to be changed, I place myself in spiritual jeopardy. Once I am convinced that this is God speaking... and He is waiting for my reply, I'd better get with it, and cooperate with His program to change me. At some point resistance becomes rebellion. We can not presume where that point will be... but there is a line of rebellion a foot-dragging Christian can cross.
So what is my move? God calls me to make a decision to change begin relying on God's power. God is asking me to walk away from the action, habit, thought pattern, language by a crisis decision to change. But that decision is not a self-improvement action... the decision is one of trust, not trying. At this moment I abandon the sin He has been convicting me to put off, or I initiate the behavior or attitude he has called me to put on. My will is submitted, I have settled the question. By faith I accept God's changing power. I've settled the question I will be changed, through Christ's power. Now it's God's move again.
4. "Changing Grace" Stage
God is in the business of changing people. His "grace is sufficient" to meet all our changing needs. His power is mighty... like that which raised Jesus Christ from the dead... this is the power that works in us (Ephesians 1:19-20). When Christians become convinced that God wants to change them, and they make a willful decision to trust His changing power, God acts. Most Christians could tell of several areas where they settled the issue at one point—perhaps at a retreat, in a church service, or at their bedside—and they were changed in an instant. The sinful thought, word or habit disappeared into thin air and they were never troubled by it again. This instantaneous transformation does occur. In a moment God sometimes completely transforms a particular area of your life.
But not always. Sometimes God's "changing grace" works gradually. Instead of a dramatic immediate transformation God begins a gradual changing process. When you "settled the question" things started to change, but you waited weeks, maybe months to experience complete wholeness in this area. Some changes of direction occur like tiny P.T. boats turning sharply in a moment, quickly heading in a new direction. Other changes happen like lumbering aircraft carriers... gradually bringing about the ship in a wide circle.
Why? Why doesn't God always change us instantaneously? Who knows? These are the ways of the Mighty One. Like physical healing, God sometimes grants complete wholeness in an instant... these we call miracles. But at other times God heals us over time... days and months, until finally we are back to full physical health. Likewise He heals spiritually... sometimes in a moment... we like it this way. But at other times He begins the changing process in response to our crisis decision. Either way, it is God who performs the changing.
One more little twist in the process ought to be mentioned. Sometimes there is a lag between stage three and four. For example, you have fully made your crisis decision and await God's changing grace... but it doesn't come. Upon reexamining your motives, you discover that they are pure, and that He has indeed convicted you of this change. You feel you have fully decided to change, you "received it by faith" and you trust in His power alone to change you. Yet you remain unchanged. What then? What should you do when it seems God is "stonewalling" you?
The answer is to wait. Wait on the Lord until He moves. Tarry. Don't run off in discouragement, tarry until He grants changing grace. Seek! Seek until you find the change you need. Hunger. Hunger and thirst for complete holiness in this area until you are satisfied. Get the idea? If you encounter a delayed response from God, hang in there... keep on seeking, and you will receive. Why does God do this? Why does He seem to withhold His changing grace at time. Who knows? These are the ways of the Mighty One. Your job is not to understand Him, it is to obey Him.
But seek Him with all your heart. Be careful not to use the delay as an excuse to nurse thoughts, language, or actions which are improper for God's holy people. Don't take Satan's bait of suggesting that because God has delayed His cleansing or empowering that the presence of sin or the lack of power in your life is somehow God's fault. "I asked God to take it away but He didn't" is no excuse for more sin! Seeking is an intense, fervent activity. It is not a hangout for lazy Christians wanting to excuse sin for one more week or month. Seek Him pointedly, passionately, with fervent spirit... then you will find the transforming power for which you hunger. Keep seeking, the change will come!
5. Disciplined Obedience
When the change occurs—whether instantaneously or gradual—the change is not complete. God does not make spiritual robots out of us. And He does not ban Satan from further temptations in that area. What He does is free us from the bondage of a specific thought or language pattern, habit, or activity. We are now free to choose God's way.
Perhaps you've heard someone tell of how God delivered them from the bondage of a certain sin. They closed their testimony off with something like "...and I never one since then have even had a desire to do it again..." Perhaps you were discouraged. You wondered why God didn't do that complete a job on you. Be careful. Who can figure the ways of the Mighty One? For some He works in an instant, for others gradually. Some He completely delivers from the desire to ever do it (or say or think it) again and temptation in this area loses its grip on them. These seem to need little "Disciplined Obedience" in this particular area. That stronghold of Satan seems to disappear.
For most others it is not so. For this second group the magnetic backward pull remains and there now begins a step by step walk of "disciplined obedience." This stage is cooperative... it is neither God's move nor yours anymore. Both of you move. You walk together as you discipline yourself to resist this old temptation. As you keep in step with God's light... neither turning left nor right off the road of obedience, the blood of His Son, Jesus keeps on cleansing you from all sin.
This is the walk of "disciplined obedience." You were convinced God wanted to change you and you made the crisis decision to trust His power to do it. He responded with changing grace and now you have new power to resist this old temptation. So you walk together, in harmony and experience the fellowship and joy of walking obediently in an area where your once thought you'd never find victory. Praise the Mighty One for His great plan of salvation—a scheme that not only changes our position before His throne... but goes beyond that to change our day to day performance as well. What a great idea! What next This whole change process brings a deep seated joy and fellowship with God. But what next? After a period of solidifying and assimilating your new growth, what does God do? He doubles back and points out another area of "Dawning awareness" beginning to build a new area of conviction in your heart! And so goes the process, on and on. Constantly changing you into an image of His perfect Son Jesus Christ.
And what about you, my friend?
Do you see where all this is headed? Do you see what God proposed to do? He intends to make you like Jesus Christ. If you'll let Him. This book outlines various disciplines of holy living. Some chapters will make you aware of areas God will later begin working on you about. For now, these chapters will contribute one more ray of light as you approach the full dawning of God's leading in this area. But for now, you will not feel compelled to act on what you have read. But likely somewhere else in this book lies a chapter just for you. Perhaps it deals with an area God has already been convicting you about. Reading the chapter will bring God's conviction to completeness... you'll be convinced that you must change. It will be time for a crisis decision. I encourage you to open your heart to the Lord. He doesn't want to batter you with His truths. Rather, He wishes to lead you gently on to holiness and completeness if you will listen to His promptings and respond with commitment and trust. Try Him. You can trust Him.
1. Ephesians 2:1-2.
In what ways was your life without Christ like being "dead."
2. Romans 5:8.
How did God demonstrate His great love for me even before I accepted Him?
3. 2 Corinthians 5:17.
In what ways is the new Christian changed? In what ways is he or she often not changed?
4. Ephesians 2:6.
Describe our position as a believer resulting from our salvation. What does this mean to you?
5. Ephesians 1:13-14
What way do we know that we really will receive all God has promised us?
6. 2 Corinthians 13:19.
What was Paul's prayer for the Corinthian believers?
7. Philippians 1:6.
What was the confidence Paul had for the Christians in the Phillippian church?
8. Hebrews 10:14.
How does this verse connect with the ideas of "position" and "performance?"
9. 1 John 3:1-3.
What is our primary relationship to God? What is the "hope" that we can have?
What should that hope prompt us to do?
10. 1 Peter 1:22.
The chapter said that any attempts at self-purification were doomed to failure.
How does this Scripture explain how a Christian purifies himself?
11. Philippians 3:16.
In what way does Paul use the idea of "position" and "performance" in this Scripture?
12. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.
In this prayer for these Christians, what is Paul praying for?
How extensive does he expect this sanctification to be?
Who does it?
13. Personal Reflection.
In what areas has the Lord been giving me dawning awareness, where I've come to sense that He will eventually do something in these areas?
In what area or two might the Lord be giving me "growing conviction?" I'm not sure yet, but I think He might be zeroing in on these one or two areas:
Is there an area where you believe God has already said "It's your move" and you need to make a "crisis decision" of obedience?
Can you think of a time when you really did all you could, and trusted God, yet you had to wait for His "changing grace?"
14. Final reflection. Is there something you could or should do in response to the truth you discovered in this chapter?
An action to take?
A promise to make?
From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
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