How do we really change? Whether it is a New Year’s resolution or some other commitment, how do we make it something that does not just vanish right after it is made, another casualty to our attempts at self-improvement? We need the power of God and we need discipline, not just one but both. Our attempts to change based on our own will power are feeble and generally fail. But God generally does not change us automatically, but puts us through a process where we have to respond step by step to His working in us.
Now God is at work in all those who are genuine Christians (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10), but we are called to respond to that work (Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7; Ephesians 5:18). We do this by trusting in God’s power and not our own (Zechariah 4:6; Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6). There are also things that feed His working in us: study of the Word (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 5:11-14; 1 Peter 2:1,2), prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6,7), and the fellowship of other believers (Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:15,16; Proverbs 27:17). Now these things can come back again to discipline, but sometimes we need to start with the disciplines that feed the soul before we go on to exercise discipline in other areas. But it makes a difference what our attitude is here. If we see these things merely as religious duties, they can easily become tedious and of little help to us. But if we recognize we need these things to build ourselves up to obey God, it gives us a different perspective.
Our response needs to be motivated by our love for God (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14) based on what He has done for us (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16-18; 1 Peter 2:24,25). Also, it is important to understand from the outset who we belong to and to respond based on that (1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 12:1,2; Matthew 16:24,25). C. S. Lewis says there are three types of people in the world. There are those who ignore God and do what they want to. There are those who try to do what is right, but treat God like the tax collector and try to give Him as little as possible so they will have something left for themselves. Then there are those who give everything to God and allow Him to do what He wants with them. Given this, before we proceed we need to ask whether the changes we want to make are changes God wants us to make. God is not our servant who we use to accomplish our purposes. Then we need to persevere in the process of following after what God wants to do in our lives (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). Even when we stumble and fail, we need to trust God to pick us up again and put us back on the path. For only then will we truly change.