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.

THIRST, day 15

Scripture: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Prayer: God, I’m admitting that I need you to handle the big things in my life. My control is limited, help me to accept this by believing your control is unlimited.

Reflection: Let anxiousness be a new avenue for trusting God more. Follow moments of worry with prayer to God.

 


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THIRST, day 14

Scripture: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted today, help me to look to you for your unfailing strength. Thank you for your grace in the times that I stumble.

Reflection: Temptations are inevitable for everyone who is growing spiritually. If we aren’t struggling, we probably aren’t growing. When we do fall, guilt ought to lead to a renewed dependence on grace. What are the biggest temptations you are facing right now?

 


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THIRST, day 13

Scripture: An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. (Proverbs 18:19)

Prayer: Lord, help me to be sensitive so that I don’t offend others. Help me to be grace-filled so I’m not easily offended.

Reflection: Selfishness makes it easy to ignore–or worse yet, devalue–the people who bother us.

 


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THIRST, day 12

Scripture: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

Prayer: God, protect me from temptation and help me to follow the example set by Jesus.

Reflection: We may feel lonely, but we are never truly alone. Jesus understands everything about our lives, he was tempted just as we are. He sympathizes with our weakness.

 

 


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THIRST, day 11

Scripture: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Prayer: God, help me to resist the pressures of this world, to ignore the beat of its drum. Show me the way that you have for me today.

Reflection: Every thought we think impacts our actions. Every act we commit springs from our thoughts. This is why the spiritual life is not simply a matter of changing external actions. While what we do is clearly seen and praised by others, only the secret and quiet changes in the heart truly matter.

 


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THIRST, day 10

Scripture: “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)

Prayer: God, thank you for the free gift of salvation. Forgive me of my sins, help me to seek you will all of my heart.

Reflection: Because Jesus has done everything we need for salvation—full life—there is no place for pride in the Christian life.


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Speak the truth in love

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow…” (Ephesians 4:15)

The self-righteous wield the truth like a weapon of mass destruction, ambivalent to the the devastating consequences. When confronted, the predictable response follows: “WHAT? All I did was tell the truth?” Their fortress of foolishness is unassailable. Mostly.

Speaking the truth without love ignores the greatest truth: we are called to live in love. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, we cannot help someone grow into the likeness of Christ with a hammer.

God’s work in our own lives reveals a gentleness. He progressively reveals more and more of himself and the darkness in our own hearts. Imagine the devastation if on the first day of your new life in Christ God revealed to you all the things that needed to change in your heart.

I teach my children that to love someone is to want the very best things for them. What if our goal was to help others grow to be more like Jesus (this is the very best thing we could want for someone). This would lead to a mouth that tells beneficial truths in a way that they are most likely to be heard.

Rest for the Weary

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Jesus calls us to be yoked with him. This is a continuous call. Especially important for for those of us who are like Martha, and choose to work too much rather than sit with the Master.

There is no doubt: we were created for good works … but not at the expense of rest. The call to Sabbath and be with God is clear, but is also often ignored.

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What makes you most weary and burdened? Where is most of your energy going?
What attitudes and mindsets keep you from coming to Jesus? What are your self imposed barriers?
Lately, what have you been learning from Jesus?
Are you more humble than you were a year ago, or has your overwork led to pride and a self-sufficiency?
What would it take for the following words and phrases to describe your soul? rested, yoked with Jesus, learning from him, burdened lightly