How to Change, part one

19 Dec

I want us to talk about a question that I think should be pretty important to all of us, and that is,“How do I change?” And one reason I want us to think about what the Bible says about how people change is because a lot of people are confused about it.

They think they are Christians.

And yet, honestly, they are pretty much stuck.

They are sinning and they know it and it’s making their life difficult, and they know they aren’t supposed to do it, and it bothers them a little. And they just don’t know what to do about it.

Even though they have been coming to church for a long time.

They really don’t know where they are supposed to start.

So.

They’re feeling guilty.

Maybe.

And they pray. And, they read their Bibles sometimes. And, they go to special meetings and hope someone delivers them, even. That’s how some people think change happens. The pastor delivers you.

But not much really seems to happen.

In the long run.

They make some movement forward, I guess.

For a little while.

But it is not very long before it is backward again, and so, they are looking at themselves, and they are getting more and more frustrated.

And they are asking themselves.

“Why can’t I change? Why can’t I seem to get over this?”

Which is one of the reasons at our church, actually, we are big on biblical counseling. We’ve seen over the years, that people get stuck, and they need to go for help, this is something normal, to ask for help, when you are struggling, and you need to sit down with godly people who will take you back to the Word of God, and help you learn what it says about change.

Because there are some basic biblical principles about change, that you need to know, you need to learn.

You don’t just necessarily know them automatically.

And as I’ve done some of counseling over the years, myself, that there are some specific principles, I’ve found are so important, I always want to share them with people who are feeling stuck. And I thought we could start with one of the most basic and most obvious of all those principles.

At least I think.

Which is, if you are going to change, you have to want to change.

Or maybe better.

There needs to be a real grieving over your own sin.

Because I don’t think there has ever been someone who really understands what the Bible teaches about change who didn’t first look at themselves and feel overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness.

Like.

I can’t do this.

And I am talking of course about humility.

Real humility.

Change requires being humbled over your sin.

Which I think now that I said it, almost sounds too simple to a lot of people.

Honestly.

And they kind of think of it as, something, easy.

Like.

Oh. I’ve got that. I mean. What’s next?

Because.

Humility?

I know I am a sinner. I take my sin seriously. That’s why I am here. You know. Talking to you. I want to change.

And yet.

I have to tell you.

Seriously.

That even though I’ve met a lot of people who would say that, at first. I’ve also found the reality is if you dig a little deeper, the kind of desire I am talking about, the kind of grieving over sin, seeing it for what it is, that kind of humility, is actually very, very rare.

Even among people.

Whose sin is so obviously breaking them.

Instead.

Really.

Spiritual pride is much more common.

Most people it seems have a very hard time believing, deeply believing they are sinners.

And.

They might say I did some things wrong but, they have got a lot of excuses.

Really.

And.

Then others, they seem more humbled, I think, but, as you keep talking, you find, it’s more the consequences of their sin, or the shame of it that’s bothering them.

Not so much sin the itself.

And so you meet a lot of people who think they have seen their sin and they are humbled because they will generically say they are sinners or because it’s obvious they are having problems and they can’t really deny it.

But.

Seeing your sin for what it really is, seeing yourself the way God does, is much more rare than you might think.

Partly, because the nature of sin is to be deceptive.

Sin is an amazing liar.

And the result is that.

Most people suffer from what you might describe as a serious case of spiritual blindness.

Instead.

This is one of the most common things that keeps people from changing or even understanding what the Bible says about how change happens.

It’s spiritual pride.

Or blindness.

And.

I mean.

This is kind of fundamental.

That’s why I am starting here, because you can tell a blind man where to go, of course, you can give him a map, the best map, but it’s going to be hard for him to use it, because he just can’t see.

He’s like ok thanks, and then he heads off.

 In the wrong direction.

Take the nation of Judah.

As one example.

At the beginning of Isaiah.

And I want us to look at Isaiah, actually Isaiah chapter 6, which describes Isaiah’s call.

Isaiah was a prophet and this is the story of his call into the ministry and yet there are these five chapters that are here in the book of Isaiah, before he describes his call, where he’s giving us some insight into the state of the nation.

Really.

And it sometimes seems a little strange, the first time you are reading through, that it’s not until chapter 6, we find Isaiah’s call, because, we might expect it at the beginning.

But the first five chapters are describing the problem.

Basically.

Because.

Here.

Isaiah’s being called to speak to these people who have experienced some serious spiritual privileges.

This is the nation of Judah.

And.

They, of all people, really should have been able to see.

If anybody should have had spiritual sight, it should have been them. I mean, you can read the whole first part of the Old Testament, as proof of that.

And yet.

As we read through the introduction to the book.

The first five chapters.

We see, they are stuck in some serious.

Ugly.

Kinds of sin.

In fact, God calls them.

Isaiah 1:10.

“Sodom and Gomorrah.”

And, it doesn’t get much worse than that. That’s not a compliment.

And.

Isaiah 1:21.

He looks at Jerusalem.

Which is supposed to be this holy city. And he says, “How the faithful city has become a whore. “

These people are wicked.

Isaiah 3:8.

“For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying His glorious presence.” 

That’s why later, Isaiah says.

 “Woe.”

Chapter 5.

Verse 12.

“To those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink…They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.”

And verse 20.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.”

And.

Obviously.

These people are far, far from God.

This is actually, how Isaiah started the whole book. If you go back to chapter one. The book opens up with God making His case against His people.

In Isaiah 1:2ff.

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.”

Which is like God’s talking to the universe.

“Children I have reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

It’s not even the way animals work.

It’s worse.

 Verse 4.

 “Ah. Sinful nation. A people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”

Which is, Going to result in judgment.

And this is a big part of why God’s calling Isaiah, he’s going to prophecy about the coming judgment.

Which is going to be, totally deserved.

Verse 5.

“Why will you be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel?”

 I mean.

 “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up, or softened with oil.”

 Which is ,God saying. You are this huge mess, and what’s even worse, is you don’t even seem to know it. You are like a person bloody and bruised, coming to church, and you are like, is everything ok, and he’s like what you are talking about, I am fine.

You are going on like. Nothing is the matter.

If you look at verse 11.

They are still religious. That’s why God says, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts, I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”

And I am saying.

This is a serious case of spiritual blindness, they are suffering from.

And it even gets worse.

Down in verse 15.

God says, “When you spread your hands, I will hide my eyes from you, even though you make many prayers, I will not listen”

Which you are like,
God that is a little hard, isn’t it?

And He’s like.

 No.

“Your hands are full of blood.”

It’s like.

You are so blinded by your sin.

Imagine.

You are going to God in prayer, hands lifted, without actually noticing, that those very hands you are lifting, are covered in other people’s blood.

It’s ugly.

And it’s, so, so real, this kind of spiritual blindness.

Because.

Here are these people who are so obviously stuck in all these terrible, gross sins and in His mercy, God’s coming to them and warning them, that, if they don’t repent, they are going to suffer for it.

And yet, they are so blind, spiritually.

That, they just don’t see it.

Which is why,

You actually end chapter five.

Kind of hopeless.

Where.

You are looking at these people, Isaiah’s describing, and you are, wondering.

What can fix this?

Is there a cure for this kind of spiritual blindness?

Which is part of what I love about chapter six.

Actually.

If Isaiah 1-5 shows the problem. Isaiah 6-12, is supposed to give a glimpse of the answer.

And Isaiah begins.

With his own personal testimony.

A story of someone, who has been rescued from a state of spiritual blindness.

 

While we are looking at the call of a prophet.

In Isaiah 6.

And that’s normally how we think of it.

This is call of the prophet.

We are also looking at something that is supposed to be an example for us.

Of the cure.

For spiritual blindness.

Which is where, where any talk of change has to begin.

I mean.

Things are always more complicated when you can’t see and things always get more simple when you can.

And it’s clear here.

Isaiah chapter 6.

Verse 5.

That in Isaiah.

We find this huge contrast to the entire nation of Judah.

Actually.

Because.

This is a man who can. He sees his sin.

Which is number one, I think.

As we look at Isaiah.

And ask what do these people who are so spiritually blind need?

And what do we need as well?

What.

We need first is to really see our sin.

I mean.

Listen to him.

“And I said,”

 He writes.

“Woe is me!

For I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips. And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…”

Which, right there, is a man who is clearly seeing himself and obviously doesn’t like what he sees, which is why he says.

“Woe.”

 Now.

I know.

Woe is not a word we use often.

But.

It’s a term of anguish. Even more than that. It’s often used as a word of condemnation.

Actually.

Like, you know how Jesus says, ‘Blessed be the person.’ And then sometimes, he’ll say, the opposite. ‘Woe is the person.’

And.

Woe is the opposite of blessed.

It means cursed. Or damned. Even. Damn me. Not in a flippant way, of course.

That’s not how Isaiah means it. But like, really, seriously, ‘I deserve judgment,’ that’s what he is saying, and he’s not just saying it either.

That’s kind of the point.

Of the word woe.

It’s like a person in pain, shouting out. It’s an emotional term.It’s what grief says when it is scared.

“Woe is me.”

Isaiah is seeing sin and we know that because he’s agreeing with God about it, and what it deserves.

It deserves God’s judgment.  There’s no excuses. There’s no defending himself. There’s just grief and a feeling of desperation.

That’s why he says.

“For I am lost.”

Woe is me.

For I am lost.

And lost means ruined.

Or, another way it’s translated sometimes is perished. Or even undone.Apparently, it comes from the word silence. Describing, the kind of silence after someone dies.

That heavy silence.

You know.

Or after, there’s been some sort of disaster. It’s what someone says when they are hopeless.

When, they are looking around, and they realize, there’s just nothing I can do. I am going to be judged and I deserve it.

I’ve been silenced.

The man walking away after the judge has pronounced his guilt, and he’s like, you are right. There’s nothing more I can say for myself.

Because, as Isaiah puts it.

“I am a man of unclean lips.”

Which sounds funny to us, I think. Unclean lips. Like of all the things he might have brought up.

Really.

He’s looking at the way he speaks.

Lips.

Represents communication here.

And obviously, and, this is not something we usually, think of as that serious. The way we talk with others. But Isaiah, is looking at the way he speaks, and saying, basically, if you just listen to the way I’ve talked.

You’ll know, Woe is me. I deserve God’s judgment. It’s been unclean. Impure. Wicked.

And it’s not just my own speech either. That’s not the only thing bothering him. He goes on.

“I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

And, maybe, this is Isaiah saying. ‘It’s not just that I have sinned, personally, that’s not the only thing getting me. It’s also that, I’ve listened as others have sinned, through the way they spoke. And I haven’t done anything about it. I‘ve just accepted it. I‘ve just dwelt right there in the middle of them.

And it’s all coming crashing down on him in a way maybe that he’s never felt before, and listen, you know, I am wondering if you’ve ever felt that. As I am working with people who say they want to change, I am looking if they’ve ever felt this kind of desperation.

Where they’ve seen their sin.

They call it what it is.

They are done with excuses.

They agree with God about it.

And looking at themselves by themselves, if that’s all there was, they’re saying with Isaiah, woe is me.

I am talking about this moment.

Where.

It’s like you see things crystal clear.  And you suddenly realize. Your problems are so much bigger than you thought they were.

I know.

That sounds funny.

But that’s what I am always trying to do for people, it seems, I want to help them see their problems are so much bigger than they thought they were.

And, it’s a hard job, you know.

Because, they are coming, and they are saying, I’ve got this problem, and you are like, well, that’s true, but you know, before we can even deal with that, you are going to have to come to the place where you see, your problem is actually a whole lot worse than you think it is.

Like with Isaiah.

It’s interesting.

How he says I am a man of unclean lips, and I am wondering if he brings up his lips, because of course he was a prophet, and from what we know of Isaiah, he was a pretty godly man, actually, and you would think, at least.

This would be one area in his life that should have been clean.

This is what prophets were known for, they way they spoke, it’s supposed to be his greatest strength, really, and yet, as he looks at himself, here, he’s sees, even that, even that good thing, that he’s supposed to be doing for God, is actually stained straight through with sin.

And you know.

I get concerned because there are a lot of people out there.

Who can’t even take the first step in understanding what the Bible teaches about change and holiness and spiritual growth.

Because, they’ve never experienced that.They’ve never seen themselves with the kind of clarity, we are seeing in the prophet Isaiah.

Instead.

I find.

Most people. Look at themselves. And they are like, aah, it’s not that bad. I see, sure, there are some problems there. I am not going to deny I’ve got problems. And there are some things that I don’t like, I mean, who doesn’t have things they don’t like, but, but, but, there’s a lot of stuff that’s good as well.

And mostly I am basically fine.

And so, their attitude, is you know, with a little help.

I can do this.

I can fix this.

Which tells me.

It always tells me.

Wow.

We’ve got a long way to go.

This is going to be a process before you actually change in a way that honors God, because it’s clear.

You can’t see.

You are blinded.

And you don’t even know how big your problem is.

I am not trying to be hard. But this is the first step. We are talking about first steps.

This is the first post in this series.

As we talk about pursuing practical holiness and change, I realize, there are a lot of people, who aren’t going to have any idea of what I am talking about, because they are blind.

And.

That’s the first thing that needs to be dealt with, obviously, if they are going to understand what the Bible teaches about change, they need to see their sin, the way Isaiah does.

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