Jesus, the Changer (Luke 8:35)

Tim approached me after the worship service because he wanted to introduce me to the pretty girl he was leading around the church. I was always glad to talk to Tim, and today was no exception.

Tim was 20 years old and had been a follower of Jesus for about 18 months. Before that, Tim had been a heroin addict and had done time in juvenile detention centers. His brother had died of a drug overdose and he appeared to be heading down the same street. Then Tim met Jesus, and Tim placed his trust in Jesus, and Tim was changed. Forever changed. Dramatically changed.

“Hey Roy. It’s good to see you. I want you to meet Angelina.” “It’s good to meet you, Angelina. How did you two meet?” Tim answered. “Well, I noticed her about nine months ago and then started getting to know her in groups and stuff. Then I finally asked her out. And now, Roy, the more I got to know her, the more I said, ‘This is such a godly girl. I want to marry her!’” Later I texted Tim and told him how much I enjoyed meeting Angelina. I also told Tim I was amazed at how much Jesus had changed his life. He texted back and said, “Please pray that my love for Christ grows so I can be a good husband in the near future.” Jesus changes people.

Three years ago, Zac was definitely struggling with figuring out life. Out of college, he had been a middle school history teacher at a public school and had been outmatched by the middle schoolers, so he had resigned after one year. His Chick Fil A job was not going to ever pay much, but he had no real plans for the future. He desired to be married, but he had no prospects and did not seem to have much of an idea how to find a prospect. But Zac faithfully followed Jesus and, step-by-step, Jesus had slowly changed Zac’s life. He had joined the Air Force National Guard, had gained a skill in military intelligence, and now had a full-time job with the Guard. On Sunday Zac was beaming from ear to ear because his girlfriend Lauren had accepted his proposal of marriage and was wearing her new diamond ring. Over the last three years, as Zac walked with Jesus, Jesus did what He always does with those who worship Him: He changed Zac and conformed him more into His image. Jesus changes people.

Jesus is the great Changer. He Himself never changes (Hebrews 13:8), yet He changes the lives of all those who follow Him.

In the Bible, those who encountered Jesus and who bowed to Him as King of kings were changed. The demoniac was screaming among the tombs and gashing himself on stones, breaking his chains and being driven naked into the desert. Then he met Jesus, and he was found “sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35).” Then, as Jesus was leaving the region, He sent the former demoniac out as a missionary, proclaiming what great things Jesus had done for him. From madman to missionary.

Saul was an angry Pharisee; self-righteous, proud, and zealous for his Jewish traditions, he persecuted those who followed the way of Christ. Then he met Jesus on the Damascus road, and was struck down in the dust and blinded by the glory of the risen Lord. Three days later, Saul regained his sight, was baptized, and began to proclaim in the Jewish synagogues, “Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).” Later, he changed his name to Paul and spent the rest of his life until his martyrdom preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the length and breadth of the Mediterranean world. From persecutor to preacher.

The New Testament is full of these stories, where broken, sinful people met Jesus and bowed down to Him as Savior and Lord. A Samaritan woman with a checkered past meets Jesus at a well and her life is transformed. A loathsome tax collector named Zacchaeus meets Jesus and immediately reforms his ways. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus in the dust of the streets of Jericho encounters Jesus, and Jesus gives him his sight and an entirely new life as the beggar follows Jesus, the Son of David. In the New Testament, when men and women met and followed Jesus Christ, their lives were changed.

But the Jesus who changed lives during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago is the same Jesus who is changing lives now as He rules and reigns in heaven. When you meet a genuine follower of Jesus, you have met someone who is being changed by Jesus. Many of those who follow Jesus are radically changed, but all who follow Jesus are changed.

Some changes will be highly visible and immediate, and some changes will be less visible and gradual, but if you worship Jesus, He will change your life. He marks all those who are His by changing their lives. There is no exception. If you are His, you can testify to the changes that He has made and is making in your life.

If your life shows no marked change because of meeting Jesus, you have cause for concern. Pilate met Jesus, but his life was not changed. Judas spent three years as one of Jesus’ chosen apostles, but his life was not changed. The chief priests and Pharisees met Jesus, but they were not changed. Paul met Jesus and believed in Jesus, and his life was immediately and radically changed. Does your own encounter with Jesus seem more like Pilate’s or Paul’s? There is an eternal difference between these two encounters.

Note that religion of whatever brand or label does not change people, because no religion of what ever label has any power to change anyone. Jeremiah was speaking of the customs of the people when he said in Jeremiah 10:5:

They are like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.”

All religions are just scarecrows in cucumber fields. They cannot do any good. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, a religion will never change you. If a sinner wants to break the chains of sin and be changed, then the sinner must abandon all religion and all works and commit themselves to Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Those who trust in Jesus will be changed. Those who cling to their religion will remain trapped in their cage of sin.

SDG                 rmb                 4/5/2021

Sin is crouching at the door (Genesis 4:7)

Do you have an issue with sin? I do. My issue with sin is that sin is constantly tempting me to disobey and to rebel against what God has commanded me to do. But I also have specific sin issues that plague me and lure me into specific disobedience, things like a lust issue, a greed issue, a coveting issue. Perhaps the most prevalent of my sin issues is the anger issue.

CAIN AND THE SIN OF ANGER

Cain was the very first person ever born. He was the first child that Eve bore to Adam and so he was the firstborn of all mankind. And Cain had an anger issue, and that was a problem. One day, Cain and his brother Abel both brought offerings to the LORD. “The LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So, Cain became VERY ANGRY, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:4-5).” When someone is very angry, explosive things can happen. Cain is in a dangerous place, so the LORD graciously warns him of the danger.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why is your face gloomy? If you do well, will your face not be cheerful? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:6-7

The LORD warns Cain that “sin is crouching at the door.” Notice that Cain’s anger is not a minor flaw. Anger is sin, and all sin is dangerous. Sin is like a poised lion ready to pounce or like a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike. Sin will ruin Cain. Sin has the power to destroy Cain’s life. Sin is bad news.

The LORD warns, “Sin’s desire is for you.” The LORD is stating the danger in graphic terms, as if to say, “Sin desires to tear you apart! It is your enemy!” Cain was supposed to fight against the anger, against the sin, so it would not master him. “But you must master it.” As we know, Cain failed. He failed to master his sin. Instead, his sin destroyed his life. The Bible’s consistent message about Cain is, “Don’t be like Cain!”

US AND THE SIN OF ANGER

For Cain, sin was crouching at his door, waiting to destroy his life. And sin is still crouching at our door, having the power to destroy my life and to destroy your life. In the Garden of Eden, the cost of disobedience was death (Genesis 2:17). And it still is: “For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” “The soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” God still graciously and loudly warns from His Word that sin’s desire is for me, but I must master it. Do not surrender to sin! DO NOT BE LIKE CAIN!

DEALING WITH THE PRESENCE OF SIN

In all this discussion about sin, there is good news to be proclaimed and to be kept constantly in mind. The good news of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has defeated sin by His death on the cross. For those who have trusted Him as Lord and Savior, Jesus has broken the power of sin and He has paid the penalty for sin. So, the believer in Jesus has been set free (John 8:36; Romans 6:7).

But the believer also knows from personal experience that, in this life, we continue to live with the presence of sin. In this life, the disciple of Jesus will never be sinless, but the disciple of Jesus should see that, day by day and year by year, they sin less. This sanctification is not automatic but is rather something that we work out with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The disciple of Jesus has responsibility in growing in their practical holiness. How do we become more effective in this process?

First, we need to grow in our awareness of sin. We need to read the Bible carefully with an eye to what the Lord regards as sin and not what we have decided is sin. I used to think that if I did not have explosive outbursts, then I was not sinning with anger. I did not realize that resentment, sarcasm, silence, and abrupt words were all manifestations of anger and were just as sinful as an outburst. Sin is deceitful, so sin uses many disguises to fool the naïve, but the Holy Spirit unmasks sin, if we listen to Him. The primary way to become more aware of sin is by exposing ourselves to God’s Word. Reading the Bible, listening to good teaching and preaching.

Second, the disciple of Jesus must recognize when “sin is crouching at the door.” Just as the LORD told Cain that sin was near, so the believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit to tell them when sin is crouching nearby. The key is to quickly recognize that sin is crouching before it can strike and cause damage. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and heed His warnings. Is this “discussion” heading toward an anger situation? Can you feel the heat rising? Sin is crouching at the door, and you must master it. Growth in this area asks the question, “How can I more quickly recognize ‘sin crouching at the door’?” Increase your hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Spend more time in the Word and with God’s people. We become like those we spend time with.

Third, we must have a strategy for responding when “sin is crouching at the door.” Develop a strategy that replaces the crouching sin with a righteous response or with an act of obedience. Several strategies for dealing with anger were mentioned in our Community Group:

  • Get away from the situation until the emotions are under control
  • Talk to a spouse or trusted friend about what is making you angry to defuse it
  • Go through the alphabet with reasons to praise God
  • Pick a Scripture to obey in that moment, like 1 Thess. 5:16-18

The goal in all these strategies is to keep the door to sin shut! Sin is crouching, but do not let him in! Keep the door shut! Make the strategic response an automatic reflex that quickly goes into effect whenever you detect sin crouching.

After developing a strategy for dealing with anger, take these same principles and apply them to other sins. You should see your practical holiness grow.

SDG                 rmb                 3/16/2021

Drive out, destroy, and demolish (Number 33:52-55)

“How is it that a man or a woman who has recently come to faith in Jesus Christ is transformed from a person with filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking into a sanctified believer whom Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call a brother or a sister (Hebrews 2:11)?” For when you initially repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you were immediately “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6),” because spiritually you were as justified as you would ever be. That is, when you “passed from death to life (John 5:24)” at the instant of your salvation, you were 100% fully saved. Through faith in Jesus, you had been declared righteous. You had been acquitted. There was, therefore, then and now, no condemnation (Romans 8:1) for you . . . ever, throughout all eternity. You were no longer under God’s wrath and never would be again. Legally and spiritually, everything had changed forever. BUT morally and in terms of practical holiness, you still had your old filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking. In terms of growing in holiness, your direction had changed 180 degrees, from running toward sin to running toward obedience to God, but your moral location was unchanged. From God’s perspective, you were a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); the old had gone, the new had come, but from everyone else’s perspective, you were the same old you. So, again I ask, how is it that a disciple of Jesus grows into a holy person who can “let their light shine before men (Matthew 5:16)?”

Now, I am not changing subjects when I turn our attention to Numbers 33: 52-55 and ask, “How can the land of Canaan, that has been polluted by pagan idolatry and pagan immorality, be made suitable for the people of the Holy One, the LORD of Israel?” In this passage, the LORD gives His people Israel direct commands for what they are to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land worthy of the LORD. We will examine these instructions carefully, because what the LORD tells Israel to do literally to “sanctify” the land of Canaan will serve as a model for what we need to do figuratively to sanctify our lives and to grow in practical holiness.

In Numbers 33:52-55, then, the LORD gives the people of Israel a series of commands and then issues a warning.

  • “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land (52a).” The inhabitants of Canaan will be a constant source of temptation to return to idolatry and to pagan immorality. You must drive out this poison that is leaking into the land or you will fall to these temptations.
  • You shall “destroy all their figured stones (52b).” Figured stones were carvings that reminded them of their pagan gods. The pagans viewed them as cute and harmless, but the LORD viewed them as abominations. Because these figured stones reminded the Canaanites of their cherished gods, the stones must be destroyed.
  • You shall “destroy all their metal images (52c).” Metal images served the same purpose as the figured stones (above) in that these images kept the false gods in their minds and reminded them when it was time to worship. These images and stones kept the people enslaved to these idols. They must be smashed.
  • You shall “demolish all their high places (52d).” The high places were scattered all over the land to provide convenient places for pagan worship. They were like shrines or stone altars. The pagan could get in a short worship session without interrupting the flow of their day. These were to be demolished so that no one could use them again.

Notice that these first four commands called for violent, intentional action. “Forcefully, violently drive out the pagans until there are none left” was the idea. Get rid of them completely. Drive them out like a nest of vipers or like a hive of hornets. Eradicate them! Show no pity or compromise. Destroy their objects of worship and their reminders of their false gods. Smash them! Pulverize them! Leave no trace! Demolish their places of worship. Scrape them clean like you were wiping a dish. There is to be no remnant of these high places because remnants allow for revival and return. Demolish them so that they cannot be found.

  • “You shall take possession of the land (53a).” Now that the pagan residents have been driven out (52a), the void must be filled with the holy people. (Matthew 12:43-45 as a warning passage.) Now the LORD’s people are to move in and fill the land and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). They are to make this land a place where loud and public worship of the LORD fills the land from Dan to Beersheba.

Now we have seen the prescription for what the people of Israel were to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land suitable for the holy people of the LORD. The transformation required violent, intentional action that would continue until the land had been purged of its former ungodliness.

            This picture of transformation of the physical land gives us a blueprint for how we can transform our spiritual selves and grow in sanctification. First, we see that sanctification requires intentional, “violent” action.

  • The disciple of Jesus must figuratively drive out the former inhabitants of the land. The habits of the “old man” must be driven out, or they will be a constant source of temptation to drag you back into sin. Drive out the default behaviors and the cherished old sins. Drive them out of your mind and replace them with renewed, godly thoughts (Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2).
  • To grow in holiness and to walk worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1), the disciple of Jesus must gather and then destroy all reminders of the idols of the past. Books must be thrown out. Old sinful songs must be erased and deleted. Photographs must go and phone numbers must be deleted. Websites are disconnected. Indulgences and distractions and wastes of time and entertainments that do not edify must be destroyed. This “search and destroy” mission must be ruthless. You desire to have nothing left that will drag you backwards into old sin.
  • Your sanctification will require that you “demolish the former high places.” This means that you go no longer to the places where you formerly went to celebrate your sin. These are your old “places of worship,” either mentally in your mind or physically with your feet.
  • Finally, after you have begun to drive out the former inhabitants, and have begun to destroy the reminders of your former idols, and have started to demolish all the old “shrines” and “altars” where you used to practice your former sins, then you need to move in and “take possession of the land.” What does this look like for the disciple that wants to grow in sanctification? I think this means that you move into your faith with vigor. You embrace the means of grace. You become intimately familiar with your Bible by spending hours reading the words of the living God. You sit under godly teachers and humbly receive the word implanted (James 1:21). You move into a local church and you learn what it means to love other believers who are very different from you. You take possession of serving and of giving and of encouraging and of doing things you don’t necessarily want to do for the benefit of others because that’s a disciple of Jesus does. You take possession of your faith and seek to bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. If you are patient and persistent in these activities of driving out the old inhabitants and destroying the reminders and demolishing the memories of your former sinful ways, and if you will take possession of your faith with vigor and enthusiasm and go deep with the Lord, then you will see the fruit of a transformed life.

SDG                 rmb                 9/2/2020