How Do People Change?

Dear Third family,

As we work our way through the Seven Deadly Sins, there is a good chance that you may be seeing things freshly about yourself that may not be pleasant. And
if you’re like me, as you see the pride, lust, greed, envy, etc within your heart, your first inclination may be to resolve to change. Try harder! Sin less! Be a better person!

Yet there are many things below the surface of our lives that can’t be changed with just trying harder. As a pastor I am privileged to have a window into people’s lives, but often these windows reveal cycles of addiction, destructive habits, and deep pain. Every one of us has things in our lives that seem out of our control, habits that we cannot seem to change, ways of thinking or acting that seem impossible to alter. All of us suffer with what the theologians called “besetting sins.” These things threaten to kill us, or at the very least maim us and make us a shadow of the people God intends us to be.

So how can we change? As we continue through Lent, I’d like to suggest some simple patterns for personal change that we see in Scripture that we can apply to our lives.

Find Vulnerable Community. Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote in his great book Life Together, “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from his fellowship.” Don’t let this happen in your life. Find people with whom you can openly share areas of struggle and brokenness. Pious, perfect people reflect a culture of performance; messy, broken people reflect a culture of grace. We want a culture of grace in our church, and that will inevitably mean being ruthlessly honest with one another about sin, especially those secrets sins that we cannot bear for anyone to see or know. Let there always be at least one person in your life who knows everything. And remember the point of sharing this information with others isn’t mere confession- it is to give another permission to share your burden, to carry it with you, to ask you about it, to fight on your behalf.

See the sin beneath the sin. Behaviors are important, but remember that all of our behaviors issue forth from a deeper problem of the heart. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus said (Matthew 12:34). 

Try to examine not just what you are doing, but why. For example, if you have a constant habit of lying, what is the deeper idol or sin of the heart that is compelling you to distort the truth? Some people lie because they feel the need to get approval and so they exaggerate the truth in order to be seen in a better light. Other people don’t care what other people think ; they may lie just to get out of difficult situations and to remain comfortable. We are called to repent, or turn away from our sin, but it is not enough to just turn from our behaviors. That will never work. We need to see the sin beneath the sins, the fear or the pride or the need for approval or the shame or sloth whatever it is beneath our habits, and seek to apply the good news of Jesus to that deeper need.

Establish New Habits. Jesus said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. He used very graphic and dramatic language to illustrate that sometimes it may take radical changes of habits to kill a destructive pattern in your life. Maybe you can’t stop flirting with a colleague at work because you find such satisfaction in it; it may require requesting a new office or placement in which you literally cut off the opportunity and starve the destructive desire. Charles Duhigg writes in the book The Power of Habit that 40% of your life is directed by unconscious habit. How might you make some of those habits more conscious, and bring them under the direction of Jesus?

Get help when needed. Sometimes there are such deeply set habits in us, or others have caused such harm against us, that professional help is needed. Do not believe the lie that many Christians perpetuate that using therapy or counsel- ing is not relying on God. There are many good counselors among us and they are gifts from God to the church. Talk to one of us about finding a person who can help.

Depend on the Spirit. God promises to bring about his new creation within
us (2 Cor 5:17). Jesus has already risen and given you his resurrection power through the Spirit. Everything you need to be a new person is already in you through Jesus. Therefore there is no stopping his work of renewal in you, no matter how bad you think it may be. Trust him. Trust his work. Cooperate with him. Change comes not through trying harder, but depending more and more on Jesus’ grace and Spirit. Take hope. Life has taken root in you.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

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For more on the Seven Deadly Sins Sermons Series, click the Image above

For more on the Seven Deadly Sins Sermons Series, click the Image above