I’ve known many people who talk a lot about change but can’t quite pull the trigger to make it happen—alcoholics who swear they are going to quit drinking right after the next drink, or would-be exercisers promising to start back at the gym next week, next month, or next year, only to never quite get there. I’ve known Christians who agonize over their lack of change while never actually doing the things that bring about change. But an acorn’s intentions aren’t enough. It actually has to fall to the ground.

In contrast to people whose change never comes, I’ve seen many people who were so bound in sinful behaviors that escape looked humanly impossible, and still they were freed to grow and thrive. I’ve seen people who appeared to lack character become surprisingly fruitful in the body of Christ. Their transformation has been startling, and it has happened not because they embarked on a plan for improvement but because they knew how to die to the old and live in the new.

The greatest obstacle to our transformation is our sin. That sounds like a harsh assessment, but that’s what it is. When we’re selfish, envious, lustful, demanding, and hurtful, we’re interfering with our own path to maturity. When we do the right things for the wrong reasons—to impress, to seek attention, to people-please, to gain some ego-building reward—that’s sin too. In every case, our flesh (the old) is in control, and the Holy Spirit (the new) isn’t. So if sin is our biggest obstacle to real, lasting change, it has to be dealt with.

The problem is that we don’t have the resources in our own nature to deal with it. We can’t overcome the flesh in the power of the flesh. It has long been under control of the power of sin. God’s solution to sin was not just to forgive it but to strip it of power by putting it to death. He did that by sending Jesus to the cross.

The next section of Ephesians 4 explains how Jesus’ death and resurrection apply to our death to the old nature and renaissance into the new, which enables us to live in our new identity in Him. Paul’s teaching here parallels another passage, where he makes it clear that continuing to live in sin is not an option for a Christian because we have died to it (Rom. 6:1–4). We have been baptized into Jesus’ death and buried with Him in order to be raised with Him into new life (vv. 3–4). We can’t live the resurrected life until we understand that we have died—and count on that death being true (v. 11). Death is a prerequisite for resurrection. It’s not the end; it’s the beginning.

Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

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