I have a friend who is extraordinarily gifted and appeared to be doing all the right things, but he struggled with temptation, failure, guilt, and self-condemnation for years, even as a pastor and missionary. He beat himself up constantly for not living up to his calling. But all of his prayers and Bible study, all of his efforts at self-discipline, and all of his inner rebukes never brought about the change he longed for. Sometimes he would experience victory over sin for long periods of time, and to most people, he looked like a pretty godly person. But one lapse would lead to more inward guilt and condemnation, which magnified his sense of failure, and the cycle would start all over again. He was living from his old identity, even as a new creation.
Part of my friend’s problem was his deep desire to live for God’s approval—to become a son in whom the Father was well pleased. Eventually it dawned on him that the message of the gospel is that we are already accepted as God’s children by faith and he had nothing more to prove. He also realized that his extreme focus on his own sin and his identity as a sinner was unbiblical. Scripture is clear that our sin has been paid for by Christ, our debts have been canceled, and our offenses are removed from us as far as the east is from the west, and to keep focusing on them puts us at odds with God’s Word. Only when he came to see himself as a new creation—and really began to believe his identity as a completely forgiven, beloved son of God, united with Jesus—did change begin to happen. His transformation began with a new perspective in the depths of his heart.
God promises us more than superficial, cosmetic changes. The Bible is not a book of advice on how to become a little different, be a little better, and grow a little more. It doesn’t encourage us just to have greater willpower, stronger disciplines, and deeper motives. It gives us an entirely new source of life, casts a new vision, and calls us into new experiences. It really does speak to us as new creations.
That’s one of the reasons so many people are frustrated with their lack of change. Biblical promises are so enormous, and when people seem to fall so short of them, they are left in that gap wondering what went wrong. But the promises about transformation and our new identity are clear. When you are in Christ, you can expect certain things to happen on the inside that will eventually work their way outward into every area of your life. It’s a process, and it takes time. It isn’t automatic, and it isn’t easy. But the living, resurrected Jesus really is inside you, and when you learn to participate with Him, things will indeed change.
When that happens, you’ll know it’s the grace of God operating in you and not just something you manufactured on your own. You may not recognize it in the moment—you probably won’t hear choirs of angels or peals of thunder with every dramatic shift in your life—but when you look back over time, you’ll be amazed at the difference.
You may also be surprised at the kind of difference God brings about in you. The holy transformation promised in Scripture is not about becoming more religious, exerting more willpower, reading the Bible and praying for longer periods of time, or just changing your habits. Those kinds of changes are wonderful, and they may be byproducts of your transformation, but the new creation is not primarily about developing a strong will and behavioral disciplines. More likely, you will find a new compassion and patience growing inside you, a desire to help people at their point of need, or a growing ambition to serve God in creative or influential ways. You won’t be immune to discouragement or frustration, but you’ll draw new strength from a deeper source. The Holy Spirit will shape your thoughts, feelings, and actions because He has taken up residence within you and you are learning to let Him lead. The new you is supernatural, not your best version of the old you.
Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
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