How The Gospel is Changing Me

Luke 9:23 says, “If any man will come after ME, let him deny himself, take up his cross, daily, and follow ME.”  This is a verse that I have memorized, contemplated, and at times even lived by.  It is my sincere desire to follow HIM, but like Paul I must confess that the very things I want to do, I do not do; and the things I do not want to do, I do.  The GOSPEL is my only hope to live my life more in step with what JESUS asked.

The GOSPEL makes it clear that the only way I can come after HIM is as HE draws me to HIMSELF.  It was never me pursuing HIM rather it has always been HIM reaching out to me.  HE came for me, when I was an enemy and wanted nothing to do with HIM and HE continues to call me to relationship day by day with HIM.   As I strive to yield my life to HIM and follow where HE leads, I discover that it is only when I allow HIM to rule my mind and heart that this can take place.  When I listen to my old nature and live in broken religion, I discover that even my best efforts are ineffectual and ultimately lead only to corruption.

I have also discovered that apart from the GOSPEL, it is impossible for me to deny myself.  I am far too self-centered and without HIS direct intervention in my life I would never give up all the creature comforts that I have come to crave.  The HOLY SPIRIT gently prods and encourages me to remember JESUS and all that HE taught as I live each day.   THE SPIRIT brings to mind verses and truth that I can rely on to put aside these sins that so easily ensnare me and focus my energy and efforts on HIM.

The GOSPEL has served to convince me that walking with HIM is a daily experience.  The GOSPEL calls me to confess and repent continually, moment by moment throughout each day, not just on Sundays.  From my experiences, it is so easy to compartmentalize my life and to have my Sunday game as well as my Monday through Saturday game.  As JESUS clearly states in this verse from Luke, my Christian walk is a daily activity not something I do once a week.

JESUS is my only hope.  I can only come to HIM because HE first pursued me, I can only deny myself as HE empowers me to do so.  It is only HIS presence in my life day by day that allows me to follow HIM where HE leads.

“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.” — Ezekiel 36:26 ESV

When I was in elementary school, my parents surprised me with tickets to go see one of my favorite magicians, David Copperfield. I loved magic growing up. The magician’s ability to completely boggle the mind was captivating to me. I remember the last trick David did at his show. He brought a live elephant onto the stage, which as a kid, was awesome! He covered up the elephant with a giant sheet. And almost in an instant, he snapped his fingers and pulled off the sheet, and right where the elephant use to be, appeared a double decker bus full of tourists. I nearly lost my mind in that moment! How in the world could such a transformation occur?

Obviously, as I grew older, I realized that magic isn’t miraculous transformations, as much as it is diverting attention, and smoke and mirrors. That’s why I am so thankful that Gospel transformation is in no way like a magic trick. My “religious” background consisted of very little church and a whole lot of skepticism. From eighth grade until my junior year of high school I would have labeled myself as an atheist. But then something miraculous happened. A group of students who attended my high school started to invite me to things. I was not normally the kid who got invited to things. I avoided them for the longest time, until finally I literally had this thought, “I will go hang out with them and be my completely obnoxious self, and then they will leave me alone!”

I remember walking into a living room full of high school students. I recognized some faces, but didn’t really “know” anyone. And as I sat there feeling extremely awkward, God began to show me what true Gospel authenticity looks like. I had rarely seen the Gospel lived out in a positive way. Usually it came in the form of someone preaching “at” me and telling me to stop what I was doing and go to church. But this group was different. They were…normal, but joyful. And it was there in that living room that God began to chip away the hard pieces of my heart. It was also in that living room that I met the girl I would marry five years later.

The Gospel is powerful. It has the ability to take something and not just change it, or even “fix” it, but completely transform it into something completely different. I can honestly say that I am not the same person as the guy who walked into that living room. A couple of things changed for me in that moment:

  • I was confronted with my brokenness. As an atheist, this is a foreign concept. Sure, I knew I made mistakes, but that doesn’t make me “broken”. But when God grabbed hold of my life, He opened my eyes to see that no good I could ever do would make me pleasing and acceptable to Him. Which brought me to my second revelation…
  • I was introduced to a Savior. People began to speak into my life and teach me about a God who paid it all so that I could live in freedom. I learned that I didn’t have to “make up” for my past sin, but that it had already been covered.

Aren’t you glad the Gospel isn’t a magic trick? God isn’t waiting to pull back the curtain to show us that the sin is still there. He has completely transformed us because of what Jesus has done. It is not an illusion, it is a miracle.

Fear strikes us all in different ways. Fear can make us run and hide. Fear can make us lash out. Fear can enslave us to live in overwhelming anxiety. Fear is not a sin – for fear can be a gift that protects us from hot stoves, from dangerous currents in a river, or from making a bad purchase. While fear is not a sin in and of itself – it can definitely lead us to sin.

I’m beginning to learn that my (our) greatest weapon against fear – is the gospel. This is because the gospel brings the light of God’s truth and presence to bear on the darkness that accompanies fear. Let me give you one example of how the gospel (Jesus and His finished work) is affecting how I live with fear.

When I am experiencing fear – I usually have one of two responses. The first is to hide or avoid thinking about the situation that is causing the fear. Like a child, I curl up in a ball, pull the covers over my head, and hope the scary monster goes away. For me this means I bury myself in the TV or a book for hours or days. My second response to fear is my “go to” move – I work. What do I mean? How do I try to cope with this fear?

Fear makes me feel weak. It makes me feel like a child (not a great feeling for any adult). It makes me want to hide (and as I said above, sometimes I do). Feeling weak – is humiliating and so my natural response is to do something that will make me not feel weak. Work is that response for me. When I plow into work in the midst of fear – I begin to feel strong. I begin to sense that I’m not weak – I can be strong. Great! Problem solved! Well, not really.

While the anxiety and fear may go away for a few days or weeks, the same fear eventually returns with greater teeth and a louder roar.  “Saving myself” from my fear – is a false salvation from a “broken religion”. But, there is hope in a true and pure courage I have been learning to experience through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When I am experiencing fear and I hide or run, at some point my “self salvation” fails and Jesus whispers – “come to me all who are heavy burdened.” I have never heard his voice audibly but I hear it in the midst of my fear through the word, through my wife, and through many of you who turn me toward the gospel. How does the gospel bring real courage?

1st – It reminds me the courage I find in my work is false. Self-salvation is a false and worthless gospel.

2nd – It tells me weakness is not childish – but it is where I most powerfully and beautifully taste and experience the power of Christ in me.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9

3rd –  When I see I cannot save myself – that is I cannot give myself courage, comfort, or wisdom to make the anxiety go away – I see how hopeless my efforts are. Even more – when God shows me that in trying to save myself that I am replacing Jesus as my Savior – I see how great a sinner I am and how great a SAVIOR I really need. Yes, I need a Savior who can give me courage – but even more, I need a Savior who can truly deal with my great SIN.

4th –  Jesus, came and lived a completely pleasing life to God and died in my place – pleasing God for my sin. This is a GREAT SAVIOR. When I turn to Him in my fear, I am reminded – that God is fully “pleased” with me. He is not pleased because I am weak and certainly not because I try and replace Him when I am scared. I am pleasing … because the perfect pleasing life of Jesus lives in me. So because I am pleasing – I run to Him IN my fear.

5th –  Here is the best thing I get when I run to Jesus in my fear – His presence! He never left me – but somehow in my fear – I forget? I don’t know – but what I do know is I’m often not aware he is there. When I run to Him IN my fear and hear – “pleasing” – I always experience His presence that brings courage, comfort, and wisdom.

Fear still comes … and often I still try and save myself from this fear. But I’m learning to hear His whisper sooner – run to him quicker – and rest in His work – not mine – that gives me real courage, real comfort and real wisdom in my fear.

As I look back on how the Gospel initially impacted my life, I am humbled that GOD never gave up on self-righteous and self-centered sinner.

I grew up in a Christian home where church was a part of our weekly home life.  Mom and Dad took us to church every week twice on Sundays, Wednesday evenings, and at least one more church related activity each week.  There were twice yearly revival services, Royal Ambassadors meetings, regional associational meetings; we were in church whenever the door was open.  I asked JESUS into my heart at 9 years old and walked closely with HIM throughout grade school.  We moved to Colorado as I was entering Junior High and lost a strong support group.  I remained actively involved on Sundays, but began following a broken religion model.  I reasoned with myself that if I went to church on Sundays I could live as I chose throughout the rest of the week.  After all, this was much more than what my friends were doing and I assumed that by attending I would be pleasing to GOD.

Fast forward through high school and college.  Linda and I were married and I began my career teaching at a small university in northern Wisconsin.  We continued to attend a small Baptist church but it was never a priority, only something to check off our to do list.  After a year or so, I was approached by the pastor and asked to teach the College Sunday School Class.  I of course declined.  They were persistent and eventually I reluctantly agreed to teach the class.  We started in a study of the heroes of the Old Testament that was easy, non-threatening, and added to the score I was attaining in my broken religion rule keeping.  However, I noticed that the lives of several of these students were much better than my own.

When we finished our study of the Old Testament heroes, we switched to a study on the book of James.  As we worked through this book, GOD began to speak to me very clearly.  James 3:1 was a particular verse that HE used to speak to where I was living.  It says,  “Let not many of you long to be teachers because as such you will incur a stricter judgment.”  GOD began to open my eyes to the Broken Religion that I was following.  HE clearly pointed out that I could not compartmentalize my life.  I could not set up a scoring system in which I added up my efforts and subtracted my mistakes.  Instead as Luke 9:23 states, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow ME.”

GOD was saying “Larry, I have to be first, I have to have dominion over all of your life.  You have done nothing and I have done everything.  Come rest in ME.  Don’t think that you can keep score, don’t think that you can live one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week.  Trust in ME.”

How often has change happened quickly in your life? Circumstances can produce quick change – marriage, birth of a child, a death, a sickness. But what about when it comes to you as a person? When have you seen a change in your character or personal life happen quickly? I would venture say that for most of us the times we have seen a quick change in our character is fairly seldom.

In Galatians Paul uses botanical language to talk about growth, But the fruit of the Spirit is…’ (Gal. 5:22). This is a simple reminder that gospel change takes time. Why do you think this is? I can think of a couple reasons:

Slow growth doesn’t hurt ‘as much’

I remember when I was a teenager growing from 5’1” to 6’3”. It happened quickly and it was not pretty. I remember hurting at night when my bones were growing and wishing the pain would just go away. God doesn’t simply just change us over night, and because of that He is sparing us intense pain. Now, I get it, some of us would rather the pain just happen so we could be done with it. But I think God shows us grace by changing us slowly, overtime.

Slow growth points to internal change, not external conforming

God’s design for our change is not for us all to look the same. Slow botanical growth allows for the Holy Spirit to produce in us the character and person that God designed us to be. There is an aspect of development in that growth. Any kind of quick change usually is external and not lasting, while internal change takes time but is more permanent.

In which area(s) are you experiencing gospel change today? Take a moment to thank God that He is taking His time with you, as a masterpiece, through the power of the Holy Spirit transforming you from the inside out.

 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  – Romans 5:1

Growing up in a Christian home with a Pastor as a Father, I was acquainted with Christianity, the Scriptures, and what I thought was the Gospel. I lived my life nominally believing that Christ’s work had any real impact on my life—until my fall semester of my junior year of high school. I was taking an independent English study course and wound up finishing a majority of my work halfway through the semester. In search of something to get me occupied, I brought my Bible to school.

Now, throughout all of my years, I had never read the Bible on my own; it was preached to me, it was read to me, it was sung to me, but never had I read it. I began to read the four Gospels over the course of the week and gradually worked my way through the New Testament as the semester progressed. What I gained from that endeavor was not merely new information but revelation about the work of Christ on my behalf. For the first time, I was able, through the Spirit, to taste and see the goodness of the Gospel.

The book of Romans brought a lot of comfort to my soul as I sought to navigate my new life in Christ. Returning again to Romans 5, I found my heart refreshed in the truth of the Gospel, that through faith in Christ, I have actually been justified in his sight. Every time I opened that sacred book, I was led again to the cross of Calvary, whereby my Savior was pierced for me and resurrected for me. I was led to proclaim with the hymnist:

“Nothing can for sin atone:

nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Naught of good that I have done:

nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, would you join me in gazing at the finished work of Christ, to see God’s love and care for you in the Gospel? Would you passionately and fervently run after the Scriptures to see what your Savior has done for you? Would you with all exuberance and joy, sing aloud with Charles Wesley:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free;

I rose, went forth and followed Thee. 

 

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2 ESV)

I am a huge TV show nerd. I love all sorts of shows, from Frasier to the West Wing to Stranger Things. When I was in college we gathered in the lobby of our dorm room to watch one of the greatest shows ever, LOST. About twenty guys would be crowded around arguably one of the smallest TVs ever made as we became mesmerized, and at times confused, with the character development and intricate connections between the characters of this storyline.

I recently began re-watching this series and have again become captivated by these characters. To summarize for those of you who have never watched this show, a plane crashes on a mysterious island. Over the next few months the survivors of this crash begin to discover that there is more to the island than meets the eye.

What intrigues me the most is that the majority of the main characters on the island are somehow connected. Before the plane crash, their lives were linked and they didn’t even realize it. However, the problem was that they quickly discovered that even when you’re stranded on an island with a group of seeming strangers, your past is never far behind you.

I think there is something to say about that and about the way we live in the Gospel:

  • Before Christ, our pasts have a tendency to bring back feelings of worthlessness and brokenness.
  • Our pasts can also tempt us to believe that life was “easier” or “better” before Christ.

In other words, there is a constant battle to fight the temptation to believe that the Gospel really hasn’t transformed me. Essentially Paul says to the church in Rome, “It is not possible to be conformed to or transformed by God AND be conformed to or transformed by the world at the same time.” I cannot tell you the times, almost daily, where thoughts of sin in my past have come back to the front of my mind and made me think one of two things: 1) I have no value, or 2) life was a lot more “fun” back then.

The truth is that our behavior can be influenced away from God when we forget that the gospel has transformed us. When this happens we allow our past or present broken situation to shape us.

The people stranded on the island were hoping to start over and begin new lives where they would be able to flee the things they had done. But instead they found that it was much easier to conform to the same worldly persons and behaviors they were before the plane crash. Similarly we have been given the opportunity to begin new lives. We are offered lives set free from our sin and shame, lives where we are transformed by the healing power of the gospel.

Today be reminded of the transformation and renewal that the cross has brought you. Rest in the truth that you are no longer conformed to this world, but you have been brought into a new life in Christ.

“Christ lives in me.” According to Galatians 2:20, this is a reality for all those who have faithed Jesus in order to be right before God. Oh that this reality was my reality every day – every hour!

In 1979, yes 1979, a movie was released entitled “Alien” that contained a scene I will never forget. While around a lunch table on an alien planet, several explorers where eating when an alien literally exploded out of a man’s chest. I was in 10th grade and I remember my reaction like it was yesterday: I exploded off my seat and screamed like I had never screamed before. Needless to say – this scene was intended to shock and scare because it happened right in the middle of a calm moment in an otherwise tense film. If you will – let me draw some strange but true parallels from this film and our reality of “Christ lives in me”.

  • Just like the man in the movie – we have someone living in us – housed in our body and soul. But what lives in us is not an alien or someone – it is GOD! The One who flung the stars into space, who put breath into your lungs, and life into your soul – lives in you!
  • Just like the man in the movie – most of us don’t realize the life changing implications of Christ in us or the Holy Spirit actually dwelling in us.

God lives in you. He has made your soul his home. Literally, by faith in the work of the cross that has made you holy before God – holy God has come to live in us. We are His temple. He has come to dwell in us so we can know the joy and love of God through the presence of God Himself. This is why we were created – to know the joy and love of God’s presence with us. But, he also dwells in us because He is transforming – restoring us into the very perfect and holy image of God we were designed to reflect in and through our soul. Our soul was fractured by sin – broken if you will. In Christ – we are being restored every day by the indwelling Spirit of God.

Here is one practical truth from Galatians 2:20 and the statement – “Christ lives in me”.

If we reminded ourselves of the reality of Christ in us – everyday – we would more often enjoy God’s presence and submit to His restoring work in us.

I remember the shock and fear on the people’s faces in that scene as the alien burst from that man’s body. I often wonder how shocked people are around me – when God comes out of me – in love, in mercy, in truth, in hope, in the words of the gospel, and more. Oh, how I want the reality of Christ in me to not be a shock or surprise to me or others. Pray with me this week: Oh Lord, help us believe and live today with the reality that YOU GOD – live in us. May this move us to enjoy you today and submit to the beautiful and powerful restoration project You are about in us.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” –  Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

[13] For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. [14] For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14

Why is it so hard to ask for help? Have you ever put together a swing set where the first thing on the instructions says “at least 2 people needed to assemble this item”? Why are we so stubborn and prideful when it comes to asking for help? Is it that we don’t want to inconvenience someone else?  Maybe. Is it that you just find it easier to work by yourself? You know if you want it done right, do it yourself!

I remember watching my dad put together a swing set when I was a kid. At this time I was old enough to distinguish that swing sets came in two varieties: the first was the “Impossible to put together and you will most likely lose a limb” kind; and the second, “You will definitely end up in the ER today” kind. I think my dad bled more that day than most people do in a lifetime from the sharp metal posts and four billion screws. My dad refused to ask for help, and I am pretty sure he had already burned the bridge to asking mom to help him. I learned all the curse words I know that day!

Life is like that swing set. Not recommended to do it alone! Jesus told us that in this life we will have trouble – but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. Life together in the Gospel is not to be done alone. Even when the world leaves us, Jesus will never forsake us. I love what Paul says in Galatians 5, we are freed to serve one another and love each other as we love ourselves!

This is how the gospel has been changing me over the years and still today. Yes, getting something accomplished by myself might be possible, but I miss out on doing life with others around me. I have had the opportunity to serve the Sharing shed at different times and my favorite part about that now is asking for and having people help me with it. The conversations, the laughter, the lives touched as we do life together are so encouraging. It’s not just everyday things though…life gets difficult, at times impossible. We need each other. I realized this more than ever when I lost my dad six months ago. Through that terrible time I have experienced much joy as I have sought help from people around me. More importantly, I have accepted so much help and support from people living out the call to be together in the Gospel, for the Gospel, to the Glory of God!

Psalm 133:1

            [1] Behold, how good and pleasant it is

                        when brothers dwell in unity! (ESV)

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