Stories - Part 2

The Struggle to Change (Ephesians 2.1-10)

 

Good morning. Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. I pray this morning that you would not only be moved by the preaching of God’s word, but that you would also be completely changed, that you would be transformed. That’s my prayer for today, because God wants to change you, he’s called you to be holy (1 Corinthians 1:2), and so when we come to God, sinners with empty broken lives; God forgives us, he cleans us up, he saves us from the condemnation of the rebellious. As we come to God in faith, trusting in his Son Jesus Christ, he begins the process of changing us, of making us like Jesus, and you may be familiar with the passage in Philippians which says,

 

“...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

 

He will! Today, I want to talk about how God does that, how God changes us, and how we go through this process of transformation.

 

Now some of you may be familiar with what a rescue dog is, but if you aren’t, a rescue dog is one that has been abandoned and left to die. Animal shelters have these dogs, millions of dogs a year that are abandoned.  And you can go see these dogs, you can look at their pictures, hear their stories, and if you’d like you can become their forever family. Not a family like the one that dropped them off and drove away leaving them on the side of the road, but a family that will love them and care for them. Like Andy and Dawn who adopted a beautiful mastiff named “Bitsy”.  As you can see in the pictures, a rescue dog is one that has found a family, that’s happy.  For us as Christians, we love a good rescue story, because we love the Gospel.  We love the good news about our Savior Jesus Christ who came to rescue us.

 

So, I give you that story as an introduction, because that’s the heart of God and since we’re made in the image and likeness of God, a story of rescue echoes in our own hearts. And really that’s the story of the Bible.  It’s the greatest rescue story that’s ever been told, and so today I want to talk about transformation. You see our story is just like those rescue dogs.  We can’t save ourselves, we need somebody else to come in and do what we can’t do, and that is to rescue us and adopt us into our forever family.

 

But the reality is that often what happens is that we get lost.  We may find ourselves in a precarious position, in danger, and there may be a death sentence hanging over us, because we’ve come to believe a lie. You see, we have a spiritual enemy, and our enemy the devil, his name is Satan, wants to keep us imprisoned.  Whether it’s lust or alcohol or drugs or whatever it may be for you, he entices us, tempting us, and so there’s this struggle to change. Because we find ourselves believing his lie that we can find satisfaction or contentment in a cheap substitute, we struggle and we resist change, because we’ve believed the lie which holds us captive. Today I want to talk about the struggle to change, the inner struggle that many of us deal with day by day, and God’s plan to rescue you and bring true lasting transformation into our lives.

 

Listen to what God says in second Corinthians chapter 10, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Now that Greek word for strongholds literally describes a fortified castle; and figuratively it’s an argument where your enemy may have deceived you.  He may be holding you hostage, you may be a prisoner to his lies, and therefore you struggle to change. But God has given you weapons to demolish those strongholds, to break free from those lies that keep you captive, and yet some of you aren’t even aware of it. As a matter of fact, some of you right now are thinking, “I’m not a captive to anyone.” So then, let me explain to you what I mean.

 

In John’s gospel, in chapter 8, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  But they answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants (we are children of God) and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"  And Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:31-34).

 

Let me bring that closer to home for a minute. Maybe you might say, “As much as I try, I can’t keep from losing my temper. I just can’t.” Or “I can’t stop taking these pain pills,” you know, “The injury was a long time ago but I’m still taking them.” Or “I can’t stop worrying about finances and the economy. I can’t control the things that come out of my mouth. I can’t stop looking at porn.” Maybe you’ve tried to quit, you struggle and struggle, you’ve tried and nothing changes. Maybe right now you find yourself in that cycle of failure and guilt that leaves you believing, “This is just the way I am.” Maybe you wrestle with it, you struggle in your mind, and you replay this over and over and over, “God, I don’t want to do this, I want to be free from this,” and then in a moment of weakness you fail. Within a split-second the guilt sets in and you say, “God, please forgive me, I’ll never do it again.”

 

Have you ever made that promise to God? And then you do well for a day or two, maybe a month, and then a weak moment comes. The cycle repeats, there’s the failure and the guilt, “God if you would only forgive me I’ll never do it again.” And the cycle goes on and on, day after day, month after month, and so there’s the struggle to change. For many of you, you’ve come to believe, “This is just the way I am. I’ve tried to quit, I’ve prayed, but I can’t, and therefore even God can’t change me.”

 

Well, today I want to share with you a passage of Scripture that has something profoundly different to say. Listen to what Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 2.

 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

 

In these amazing 10 verses, the apostle describes two views of salvation and then the biblical view of our identity in Christ. Beginning in verse one is the first view, beginning with the fact that you need to be rescued, that your story is just like a rescue dog.  You’re in a terrible place, because you can’t save yourself, and so you need to be saved by somebody on the outside. And then the other view in verse nine he calls “works” in contrast to the Christian view which he calls “grace”. Now most, if not all religions apart from Christianity teach that you can save yourself by doing certain things and not doing other things, that you can truly be your own savior. And even beyond those forms of spirituality, in many people’s minds simply being a good person saves you. I’m sure at funerals, you’ve noticed that many people seem to think that by dying you’ll be saved, because they tell you, “They’re in a better place”. As if just dying was enough to be saved. That whole category is of works, it’s do this, or don’t do that, so that you’ll be saved from whatever fate is before you.

 

However, the other view, the biblical view is Christianity, described in the other 9 verses. That we’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved by Jesus’ works. It was Jesus who came to rescue us, he came to save us, and so we’re saved by his works. He’s the one that lived without sin, so it’s his life it saves us and not our own. He’s the one that died on the cross, in our place, for our sin, so it’s his death that saved us and not our own. And Jesus is the one that rose from the grave, conquering our enemies of sin and death, so it’s his victory and not ours that’s the means of our rescue, our experience of salvation.

 

Therefore, our story as Christians is one of a great rescue. If we do anything, we boast in the grace of God, because verse 10 tells us that “We are God’s workmanship”! I love that verse that word gets me excited, because God has created us over again in Christ Jesus. That Greek word for workmanship literally means a product of a designated purpose, workmanship, or a masterpiece! We are re-created so that we can do the good things that God planned for us long ago. Paul tells us that, “Not only can God change you, but he has a plan that he put in place long ago for you, his masterpiece.”

 

When we find ourselves in that place where we struggle with that same thing over and over and over. When we find ourselves thinking, “This is just the way I am, I’ve tried to change, and I’m incapable of overcoming this.” You need to remember that God made you, he is the Potter and you are the clay, he’s called you his masterpiece, he made plans long ago, he’s wired you to accomplish good works. You see, truth is, when you’re struggling with “This is just the way I am. I’ll never change. I’ll never conquer this.” You need to remember that if you’re a follower of Christ, if you’re in Christ, you don’t need to wait for God to do something that he’s already done.

 

That’s what the Bible tells us. This is so liberating in second Corinthians chapter 5. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you’re in Christ, he’s already changed you. God has already done what many of us are begging for him to do. And as exciting as that is, honestly that still brings a little bit of conflict into our minds, doesn’t it?

 

Because you know that you raised your hand, you’ve given your life to Christ, you’ve asked God to forgive you of your sin, you’ve been baptized, and yet the struggle that you’ve been struggling with is still your struggle. You might wonder what’s wrong with you? And I believe that it comes down to two things. One is that we’ve bought into the lie, that “This is just the way I am. He can’t change me.” We’re waiting for something that’s already happened. God has changed us. And then number two, we’re using the wrong weapons. If you remember at the beginning of this message that there were these weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds, strongholds that keep us captive to Satan’s lies. For the rest of this message I want to share with you three weapons to demolish strongholds. First, we’re going to capture every wrong thought and make it obedient to Christ.

 

1. We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

 

In the very next verse in second Corinthians chapter 10, Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). I love that, because we’re not talking about what we’re not going to do, but what we’re going to do, what we’re going to take captive. And that’s everything that comes into your mind, everything that you see on television, on the Internet, at work, at school, it’s everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, everything that’s opposed to what God has already told us. We take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ.

 

To do that we need to learn to differentiate between fact and truth. You see, you may say to yourself, “I can’t” because the fact is that you’ve struggled to change, but the truth is that God can give you the discipline and the power to overcome. He can!

 

You may think, “My marriage is over. There is no hope.” But the fact is, you haven’t been the husband that God created you to be. You’re not leading spiritually. You’re not sacrificially serving. Those are the facts, but the truth is that God can make you into the husband that he created you to be.

 

You may have blown it, you may feel like God could never forgive you, and the fact is that you’ve messed up, you sinned, you’ve blown it just like the rest of us and the Bible says that the penalty of sin is death.  But the truth is, that while we were still sinning, Christ died for us, so that as we put our faith in him, as we give him our lives, we can know the fullness of life that he’s prepared for us. Some of you are going to receive that truth for yourself for the first time today. And then the second thing we’re going to do is that we’re going to speak the truth because…

 

2. The tongue has the power of life and death. 

 

We’re going to speak the truth, because our words have far more power than many of us realize, and the way that we say things are very important. Proverbs chapter 18 tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). I know that’s strong language, but the things that come out of our mouths have the power of life and death. And seriously, I believe that all too often we speak our way to our own defeat. Many times we fail before we even begin. You know, we’ll say things like, “I can’t, I’ll never, I’m not, I always, whatever… and in saying those things that are opposed to the truth of what God said about you, you’re giving power to the lie. And as you give power to the lie, it leads to a lifestyle of bondage, you become captive to the lie, and so it’s critical that we capture those wrong thoughts and use our tongue to speak the truth.

 

Beginning today, you can choose to consider those things that the Bible says are true about you. Now, they may not feel like the truth, if you look at your life you may not see it, the truth may not have manifested itself yet, but it’s still God’s truth. Every day you need to read them out loud, not just read them and think about them, but you need to speak them.

 

This morning, you may need to remind yourself, “I am an overcomer by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of my testimony.” You may need to tell yourself, “Greater is he who lives in me than he who lives in the world.” You may need to leave here today speaking things like, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ. I am his friend. I’m God’s adopted child.” And when life gets really hard you may need to say things like, “God loves me and he forgives me. I’m his workmanship, his masterpiece.” It requires great faith in a difficult time to say words like that. But it’s through speaking the truth that empowers the truth and over time that truth spoken out of your mouth creates a lifestyle, the physical evidence of something that you believe and now you’re living it. There’s great power in the things that come out of our mouths. Number three we won’t give up!

 

3. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy.

 

I want you to receive this word, to hear this, and to digest it. Paul writes in Colossians chapter 1, “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). To this end I labor, struggling… I believe that most of us who struggle with the same thing over and over and over, know exactly what we must do to be free, yet our tolerance of pain just isn’t quite there and we quit.  Our ability to persevere through temptation isn’t quite there and we give up. As we struggle to change, day after day after day in the normal challenges of our lives, we need to struggle with all his energy, with all God’s energy, laboring in agreement with God.

 

When Paul says “struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). That word struggling in the original Greek language is where we get the root word for agonize. It’s not easy. It’s like Jesus agonized as he prayed in the garden the night of his arrest. It’ll require determination and steadfast faith, but as you struggle you’re competing for a prize, you’re wrestling with an adversary, you’re in it to win. We’re not just struggling for the sake of an argument, we’re struggling so that we can have victory. It’s going to take faith, it’s going to take a strong will, it’s going to take tolerance for pain, and it’s going to take perseverance to press through the temptation. Getting free from that which held you captive so long will take determination and if you fail you just have to pick yourself back up and keep going, keep speaking the truth, and keep capturing those wrong thoughts because in the end you’ll win. You’ll be free if you let the truth of who God is and who he says you are penetrate your mind and come out of your mouth over and over and over. The truth of God will set you free. And “If the Son sets you free, you’ll be free indeed” (John 8:36). You’ll be transformed!

 

Pastor John Talcott

Christ's Community Church

303 West Lincoln Avenue

Emmitsburg, MD 21727

February 19, 2017

www.cccemmitsburg.org

 

 

Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.

Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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