Successful Transformation: a reflection from Ephesians 4

Change is painful. There is no change without loss. There is no loss without pain. It is not difficult to understand that all change is painful. Intentional change – the changes we choose– has an added layer of difficulty because we don’t like it. For many of us, this explains why it’s been so long since we’ve experienced any meaningful transformation..

We need to learn how to change on purpose because we can’t rely on uncontrollable events and crisis to become the person God created for us to be. Sure, God works through these things to shape us, but we also have the responsibility to pursue personal transformation. The following teaching from Ephesians 4 can help us to this end:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. […] Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. (Ephesians 4:17; 19)

Here are the results of my reflection on this passage:

“You must no long life as the Gentiles do…”
ONE: Decide to be obedient.

Nothing happens without commitment, nothing significant happens without sacrifice. The pursuit of change is an act of obedience that we don’t naturally want to take.. When we decide to change, we are choosing to follow Jesus authentically.

Typically, the term “Gentiles” is a racial description—meaning “not Jewish”—but in this passage Paul is talking about a spiritual condition: a life separate from God.
“…in the futility of their thinking…”
TWO: Give up worthless thinking.

How we act springs from what we think. Every action is rooted in our thought life, so if we want to change our life, we need to change the way we think.

One part of this process includes the identification of specifically what is futile. For example, sometimes we think, “If I’m selfish, I’ll be satisfied.” Nothing could be further than the truth! But we often live with self deceptions like this because we don’t take the time to identify them. The rest of this scripture highlights futile thinking we often allow to take root in our thought life.
“Having lost all sensitivity…”
THREE: Develop greater awareness.

We love to rely on our own intuition. But it’s not enough, especially when we are living in immaturity. The gas gage in a car only works because it’s been tuned. When we have lost our sensitivity, we need to be tuned by God’s Word, prayer, rigorous reflection, and input from mature believers.

This isn’t just true for our entire lives, but also in specific areas. We may be doing really good spiritually in many areas, but we still have a few blind spots and lost sensitivity. Think of a person whom you can’t stand…when it comes to your interactions with (and thoughts about) that person, you need to develop greater sensitivity so you can determine what is right and what is wrong.

“They have given themselves over to sensuality”
FOUR: Reject the trap of feeling good

The unspiritual life lacks freedom because it’s enslaved by feelings. “If it feels good, do it!” This thinking is immature and leads to pain, and it grows over time. When we live in darkness—outside of the light of God’s desire and design for our lives—we become enslaved to feeling good. We are quick to give ourselves over to destructive habits and adopt all kinds of addictions, most of which are emotional rather than chemical. Some examples of futile thinking:

“It feels good to be admired by others, so I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve this.
“It feels good to have power, so I’ll do anything to get more.”

Just because something feels right, this doesn’t mean it’s actually right. This truth becomes self evident the moments after indulge in things we we shouldn’t.

“So as to indulge in every kind of impurity”
FIVE: Refocus on the future.

When we live to feel good, it works for a while, there can be no denying this! However, the impurity builds up over time and our quality of life diminishes. A polluted heart becomes a corrupted heart. The commitment to seek change means lifting our head up and looking a little further down the road.

Telling a “white” lie may avoid a few immediate problems, but it sows a seed for future disaster. Lying becomes easier, eventually people will find out and stop trusting you, and your lack of integrity will lead to a lack of peace. If you refocus on the future, you’ll want things like trust from others and peace within your heart. You will find the courage to tell the truth today (even if it means trouble) when you have an eye on tomorrow.

“…and they are full of greed.”
SIX: Resist temptation

Resisting temptation is the only way to reduce temptation. When we give in to temptation, it’s power grows. Poking a few holes in a dam may reduce the pressure on it’s wall, but our hearts aren’t the same way. When we feed the unhealthy hunger in our heart, we improve our vision for objects of destruction. Unhealthy hungers are never satisfied for very long.

 
The choice for transformation is a choice for obedience. We must recognize fruitless thinking and develop greater sensitivity to the things of God. We can reject the trap of feeling good by recognizing that the satisfaction of sensual feelings is short lived, it only leads to greed for more indulgence. Transformation is a battle against temptation, and resisting temptation is the only way to reduce temptation.

How to Find the Time to Spend Time with God

Advice from The Imitation of Christ:

“SEEK a suitable time for leisure and meditate often on the favors of God. Leave curiosities alone. Read such matters as bring sorrow to the heart rather than occupation to the mind. If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about, from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time that is suitable for holy meditation.” (Thomas à Kempis. The Imitation of Christ.)

Great advice! How might I re-state this with more current language? I’m not a language expert, but an exercise like this can help me better understand what I’m reading.

“Make it a habit to find the time to spend with God, so you can consider the good things he has done. Avoid the rabbit-trails that are fruitless and pointless. Remember that humility in the heart is better than knowledge in the mind. You can find the time for your devotions when you give up empty conversations and idle actions.”

It’s not perfect! But it gives me something to “chew on.”

 

One Way that Time with God Impacts our Relationships

Below is one way that the time we spend with God in his Word and in prayer impacts our relationships with others. No doubt there are many connections! This is not exhasutive!

  • Loving people requires forgiving them (and grace)
  • Forgiving others requires receiving forvigeness (and grace)
  • Receiving forvigeness requires confession (and grace)
  • Confession requires conviction (and grace)
  • Conviction requires knowledge of the truth (and grace)
  • Knowledge of the truth requires time in prayer and God’s Word (and grace)

Lp << Fo << Rf << Cf << Cv << KoT << P + GW

Each link in the chain includes grace, because everything we do in the spiritual life is dependent on God’s power. We can’t pray on our own, we need the Holy Spirit. We would not have understanding unless God revealed himself. We may choose to confess our sins, but we can only do so in response to the extravagant grace poured out on the cross.

The point of this reflection isn’t to oversimplify the impact of time with God in our lives! Instead, if we find that our relationships are less than what they should be, perhaps this reflection yields a few things we might try.

 

Are the good things in our life gifts or payments?

Gifts aren’t earned, they are freely given. They aren’t payment for services rendered. the good things in our life, are they gifts or payments?

“Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Deuteronomy 9:6

Scripture is abundantly clear: the good land for Israel was a gift, it was not earned on account of their righteousness.

The choices we make result in real consequences, for scripture says,

“A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10)

And Jesus says, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:20)

Of all the good things in our life, are some gifts and some are payments? A life of self control will yield peace, is this peace a gift from God or a “payment” for making the right decisions?

Perhaps each good thing in our life ought to be evaluated individually. Some of them are gifts and some are not.

However, working hard to label every good thing (as either a gift or a payment) leads to a great danger: this is an impossible task. And, when answers are incomplete, we are quick to fill the voids with assumptions. Better to choose humility.

However, there is a clear point: we shouldn’t assume a posture of entitlement as we worship God. When it comes to salvation, the ultimate fulfillment of the promised land, we cannot earn it, not even the slightest amount.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

For reflection:

  • Where is the personal significance in thinking about the difference between gifts and payments?
  • Where is entitlement showing up in our lives?
  • What are the good things we are doing, when God says, “well done, my good and faithful servant,” to which of our actions will he be referring to?

Confidence or presumption

Scripture says:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

And scripture also says:

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” (Luke 7:6)

Great faith walks the line between confidence and presumption.

Confidence is grounded in Jesus, in his sacrificial love that has graciously granted us access to God’s presence. Presumption is grounded in our actions and good deeds. It believes that God owes us something. However, assuming that God owes us anything is too much presumption.

Confidence enters God’s presence seeking mercy and grace. Presumption calls God to us in order that he might give us what we want.

God’s blessings are a gift, evidence of God’s infinite mercy and grace that he freely offers us through his Son Jesus.

God’s love is so great, so complete, so perfect, that we can’t gain any more…or lose it. God is love, and he acts independently from our actions.

We are not good enough on our own, but this reality does not undermine our confidence. Quite the opposite! Our imperfection can move us to rely more on his perfection.

We are called to be obedience, but our faithfulness should not lead to entitlement. God is not a holy vending machine controlled by prayers, personal devotions, and other good works.

Our disappointments with God can reveal our presumptions. When we become aware of them we are presented with an opportunity. At this crossroad we can uproot these selfish weeds or we can feed them and watch them grow into the unhealthy fruit of presumption.

So, what are you waiting for?

Anticipation is powerful. It sharpens our focus, helping us to ignore the irrelevant and look for what’s important. Expectation get’s us ready for what’s next. Waiting is often a necessary prelude for change.

Everyone lives with some degree of anticipation. Every morning we get out of bed with some kind of anticipation, we are expecting something to happen. We may want to do the minimum possible just to get by or we may want to climb Mount Everest Barefoot–but we all want something.

Excellent Waiting is a dual headed discipline:. We must learn to wait. And. We must learn to wait for the right things. It is not easy to ignore the alluring cry of instant gratification and we often want something that eventually ends up being self-destructive.

“Then [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” (Luke 4:20-21)

IMAGINE THE ANTICIPATION, THE AIR WAS THICK WITH IT!

In this narrative we discover something worth waiting for: hearing God speak. God is speaking to us: through his Word, through the Spirit, and through others . . . but sometimes we need to wait.

Some of us are waiting for approval from someone we admire or want to impress. We look forward to entertainment, diversion from the reality. We might be looking forward to success or power or getting the next Thing.

Let’s commit to waiting for Jesus, forcing all other anticipations to become less important.

Don’t be afraid; just believe

Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mk 5:36)

What did Jairus fear? Th Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what he feared, but we know who Jairus was, so it is not difficult to imagine his fears. Jairus was a desperate father because his Daughter was very sick. Jairus was also a leader of the synagogue, an important detail since this passage mentions this fact three times.

Perhaps he feared

  • that Jesus didn’t have enough power, or
  • that his daughter was lost to him forever, or
  • that he looked foolish for trusting Jesus

Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mk 5:36)

These words are doubtful when we are gripped with fear.
They can soothe!

These words are difficult when we a living in disobedience.
They can sting!

These words are sweet when we have endured the storm.
They can sustain!

sorrow of heart

“Sorrow opens the door to many a blessing which [over-indulgence] usually destroys.” Thomas à Kempis. The Imitation of Christ (ch. 21)

What are the doors opened by “sorrow?”

  • dependence on God
  • humility
  • gratitude and contentment
  • perseverance
  • integrity
  • receiving comfort from God
  • showing comfort and compassion to others
  • wisdom (there are some things we can only learn when we are lacking)

Sorrow isn’t a good thing. It’s not God’s design that the world would be a broken and painful place. But sorrow can lead us back to God because that which is broken ought to be fixed. We can trust that God is Working to reconcile the world to himself.