As a painfully shy loner, Sarah did not have many friends in high school. When she visited home after being away at college, she was determined to prove that she had changed. She had new college vibes, a new identity, and an updated, edgy wardrobe.
Some people think personal change is as easy as flouting a new look or downloading the latest time-management app. But changing your identity is not simply a question of deciding to be someone else.
Do you wish you could change your temper? Your body or habits? Many people feel stuck in an endless loop of small victories followed by soul-crushing defeats. Maybe last week you were killing it, and then this week… you ate 13 donuts in one sitting–epically crashing and burning.
Change is hard.
In the face of this, many people give up. Quitting can even seem noble or spiritual: “I am what I am,” we say, “at least I’m genuine.”
But God wants us to grow and mature. To use a fifty-cent theological word, God wants us to be sanctified, meaning to become more Christlike.
How can you affect lasting personal change, avoiding trite, gimmicky trends on the one hand, and burnout on the other? Listed below are four helpful targets to aim at:
- OWN IT
Take responsibility for your life and actions. We all have a sinful nature (Romans 3:23). In fact, sinfulness may be the very thing keeping you from overcoming toxic habits, addictions, or unhealthy conflict-management styles.
If you try to kick these habits through self-help books, it will never work. Sin is a spiritual problem. Only God can fix it. Only God can provide the power to overcome it.
There are two primary ways we often fail to OWN IT:
- Accusing others. This kind of person never thinks anything is their fault. Everything and everyone is to blame—oppression, racism, the government, your parents… the truth is? You are to blame for much of your problems, just as I am to blame for much of mine.
- Excusing ourselves. The second person has an endless litany of self-defense. I couldn’t help it, I meant well, things have been hard lately, my cat just died.
You will never grow or change until you own it and confess your sins.
- BELIEVE IT
Do you really believe that God can change you? Belief is a simple concept on the surface, yet we often profoundly misunderstand it.
Spiritual belief is not like willpower; it’s not something you force or drum up. Willpower faith actually belongs to the realm of pop psychology. Self-help books will tell you what is wrong and how to fix it, but they lack one crucial thing: they cannot give you the power to change.
Only God can change you, AND only God can provide you with the faith to believe you will change. You cannot give it to yourself.
But this gets tricky. Yes, only God provides faith and change. Yet, where does that leave our part? Does it mean we sit back and wait for our faith to arrive with the Amazon packages on the front porch?—Look! There’s my faith!
There is a work aspect to our faith. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
- CLARIFY IT
If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. It’s important to conceptualize the specific ways you want to grow.
Sometimes we make the wrong goals or at least unhelpful goals. What inspires you to want personal change in your life? A perfect, Instagram-filtered Pinterest board life? If you only care about a chiseled body, a five-car garage, and a fast car, you will fail at your goals (even if you succeed).
These things are not necessarily bad in themselves, but if you try to fill the God-sized hole in your heart with anything else, you will never get what you are really wanting.
As Christians, our primary goal should be Christlikeness. Does that seem like an over-spiritualized oversimplification? Consider the next target.
- DO IT
This is where boots meet the ground, and things get practical. Even if your goals seem daunting, don’t wait until “things settle down” to get started on them. Why? You guessed it—things never settle down.
Many people are shocked to discover that momentum and motivation kick in once they simply start, and forward motion is much easier than expected.
How can you Become More Christlike?
Jesus did not need sanctification, He was already perfect. Yet, He still grew. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus grew in “wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.”
Those categories broadly provide goals worth aiming for. Write down each category, list how you can specifically grow in each of those areas, and watch God work in your life!
The above is an abbreviated version of the message that Pastor Luke originally preached on January 8, 2023. We invite you to join us for Sunday Service at Dream City Church each week to hear Pastor Luke and other speakers in person. You can also stream our services online here. If you enjoyed this article don’t forget to share it with someone who might need to hear this powerful message!