This last week I got the opportunity to speak at TbarM Camp Travis where I subbed for a couple weeks. It was a sort of two-part talk on Ephesians, beginning with a general principle from the whole book and then taking that principle and applying it specifically to Ephesians 4:8. The second part was an expanded look at my earlier post Jesus “Led Captivity Captive.” along with some practical examples in my own life (ask me if you want to know more!). The first part was a discussion on how we “change” and become more like Christ — which I will try to elaborate more on below.
Whenever I am at camp, I repeatedly hear campers (and staff alike) say that they always get closer to God there, but then they go home and within a few weeks they are back to their same lifestyle. They always emphatically say that this time things will be different, with passion in their eyes. They are going to make sure that things will change, that they will change — for good. But what I constantly find is that, most often, that doesn’t really stick. It’s the same cycle, again and again.
So I asked the question: what is the best way to change — for good? I think how we typically go about it is wrong, which is why the change doesn’t last. Again, I must here give credit to Matt Chandler since his sermons have been influencing much of these thoughts. He talks about how we typically try to change by what he calls “behavior modification.” We see that we aren’t loving, we know we should be loving, so we grunt and put a bunch of effort into being more loving. And it works… for a little while. Then we get tired, and we just can’t keep it up. His solution is that we need a heart change. The issue isn’t our actions, its that our hearts need to be molded to Christ first, then our actions will follow. I think he’s on to something (which, obviously, he gets from the Bible).
I’ve recently grown to love the ancient Christian phrase:
Which roughly translated from Latin is: “The law of worship/prayer, is the law of belief, is the law of life.” Put more simply, it means that what you worship (in their case, God) and what you believe about God, shows up in the way you live. Thoughts have consequences. So what you believe about the God you serve will affect the way you live your life. There is a root and a fruit, so to speak.
Now, here’s the issue. We tend to want to “live well,” and change to be more like Christ. That’s what I constantly hear at camp. The problem is how we go about it. We think that in order to be like Christ we just need to focus on the living part (Lex Vivendi). So we grunt and try really hard to change and end up exhausted and frustrated every time — always vowing that the next time will be different. But it never is.
The problem is this: we forget about the root and jump straight to the fruit. We forget that what we believe affects how we live. They are connected, and cannot be separated. So I would submit that the best way to become like Jesus and have permanent change is to focus on your beliefs — specifically about God. When you really understand who God is and how that affects your life, that fuels a heart change, which fuels change in your lifestyle.
You can see this easily in any of Paul’s letters. Take Ephesians for example: he begins the book with 3 chapters of theology — who God is, and who we are “in Christ” (one of Paul’s favorite phrases). Then only after making sure the Ephesians know God and who they are in Christ, he goes on to practical application in the remaining 3 chapters. Read it, see for yourself. He also does this in Romans, Galatians, Colossians, etc. What fuels change and life application is who God is, and who we are because we are “in Christ.” Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. What we believe about God affects the way we live.
Look at some specific passages and examples:
Why are we to be holy? Because we ought to be holy? Or as Peter quotes, “Be ye holy for I am holy…” (1 Peter. 1:15-16). In other words, we are to be holy because God is holy. He is the reason that we are to be set apart. We are to imitate Him (since we are made in His image: c.f. Genesis). His holiness is fuel for us to become holy, not just our mere effort.
Why are we to forgive others? Look at the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-25. We are to forgive others because we have been forgiven much by God. Who God is affects how we live. And if we really understand how much God has forgiven us (who have offended a just, righteous, and holy God with daily sin), why in the world would we not forgive someone who has offended us a few times? His forgiveness is fuel for us to forgive.
Why do we love God and others? Because it’s what we should do? No! “We love because He first loved us…” (1 John 4:19). When we understand that the God of the universe loves us (“while we were still sinners”) and sent His son to die for us, why in the world wouldn’t we love Him, and those around us? Again, we are to reflect His image into the world by loving others because He loved us. His love is fuel for us to love others.
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi.
And I could go on and give many other examples. What we believe about God, who He is, and who we are “in Christ,” affects the way we live. We can’t skip the step of knowing God, and seeking to see His character — because that will change us into his image. As the moon reflects the sun’s light by simply looking at the sun, so we are to reflect God’s character and glory into this world by simply looking at Him — by knowing Him, by believing what the Bible says about who He is. If the moon tried to shine brightly on it’s own, grunting and putting in all kinds of effort and passion, it would never provide light. Why do we try and do the same in our lives?
I would submit that the way to change is to get to the root. Change the root, and you change the fruit. Don’t skip the first step. Look to Jesus. Seek to know Him. Believe that His character is as it is revealed in Scripture. And let that change the way you live because of who God is!
What do you believe about God?
Do you believe that He is loving?
Do you believe that He is forgiving?
Do you believe that He is holy?
Do you believe that He is a God who “leads captivity captive”?
Then how does that affect your life?