by Dcn. Skip Hill
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24
When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior at the age of 15, for some reason I believed that life was going to be just fine from then on. Wow, was I in for a surprise. God had just convicted me of living an inconsistent life, and I was very aware that I did not always ‘practice what I preached’; that I had a habit of saying one thing and doing another. As a new Christian, I expected that all had changed when I sincerely confessed my sins, surrendered to Christ, and committed myself to serve God with my life.
I expected that by my decision I would somehow change overnight, and that God would miraculously “renew me in the spirit of my mind, and clothe me with my new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” as Paul had written. However, my former ways were not that quick to change. Now, when I acted like I had (before my conversion), I felt horribly guilty (I didn’t feel that way before!), I found that, even as a new born Christian, I still exaggerated when I spoke with others (thinking I could somehow impress them). I found that I still laughed at off color jokes, and still became angry at the drop of a hat. It seemed that this ‘new creation’ that I had been created into just wasn’t working for me. The only difference was that I now felt horrible when I acted like I used to before I was ‘changed’.
After about 2 weeks as a “new creation,” I felt horrible. I was concerned that I had lost my salvation; that I somehow just couldn’t make it “work!” So, before long, I found myself heading down the church aisle again, feeling like a failure, and intending to really “surrender” to Jesus “this time.” I confessed my sin at the altar, told God I was sorry that I was a sinner, and cried with deep sorrow and conviction. The pastor tried to assure me that God heard me the first time I “surrendered” to Him, and that I had to realize that, though I had at that time become a “new creation” it would take time and “maturity” to put away my former self, and fully begin to see changes in my behavior.
I was not convinced! I was sure that I must be a worse sinner than everyone else, and I was sure that I would have to just continue to continue to get saved as often as needed, until somehow, it took. I began to study my Bible, hang out with Christian friends and I was in church every chance I could. However, it was as if my former life was attached to me with Velcro; it just would not let go. I began to realize that I was a hypocrite who acted one way with my Christian friends, and a totally different way around other people.
I became very confused. I became a “people pleaser,” and always tried to get along with everyone. Inconsistency became my own personal secret (as if no one else noticed). My efforts to make everyone happy did not work out well, because, by doing so, I could not make myself happy.
Over time I found that as I read my Bible, prayed and associated with my Christian friends, I could see that I was changing…inside! I was more and more aware of inconsistent behavior, and my desire to live a Godly life grew with each passing week, even though it was slow, and was accompanied by many ups and downs.
What changed? Something inside me had changed! The things that had formerly motivated me gradually began to hold less influence over me. My desire to win others to Jesus seemed to become stronger, in spite of my struggles, and my desire to please God rather than people became stronger each day.
I still struggle (after all these years) with inconsistency. I have learned that what Paul referred to in Ephesians was that, when I made my decision to follow Christ, Jesus began a process within me and began to change and strengthen me little by little. I realized that I could not change myself overnight; all I could do was make the decision that I needed to want to change enough to ask God to begin the process within me.
I am now a very different creature that I was at 15! I am much stronger in my faith, have gained the ability (from the inside out) to experience changes in my actions and thinking, which were generated not by my willpower alone, but, through the work of God’s Holy Spirit who came to live within me on that day when I said Yes to His call.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encouraged the believers to live God’s way, by God’s power. He knew that, in order to live as God wants, it required sacrifice. Lent is a time which calls us to stop, examine our lives, and to seek God’s power to live as a new creation.
When I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ, I became very aware of the fact that I had not been very successful in my efforts to live consistently as a ‘good’ person. As a new believer, I also continued to have a hard time living the Christian life, and found that I continued to be concerned about the opinions of the people around me. I found God to be much more patient with me than I was with myself! As we ask God to bring about a deeper experience of Him this Lent, let us remember that the changes in us are His responsibility. We simply need to cooperate by continuing to admit to Him when we do fall short; Yes we need to “try” to be more like Him, but, we need to realize that only God can create us into new creatures!
May God bring His truth into our lives in ever increasing ways as we seek Him and His power to live as He desires us to live.
Dcn. Skip ministers at Trinity Anglican Church