Can We Change?
by Colleen Donahue
A TRAGIC FLAW
Something has gone terribly wrong with mankind and we all instinctively know it. We feel bewildered that so many evil, sick people are emerging from our societies that prey on innocent men, women and children. Then we wonder at our own behavior at times and feel powerless to stop it. There seems a tragic flaw in man’s personality that we all feel helpless to solve. “The answer is almost the same as for anything that comes from a factory and is in some way damaged. It has to be sent back to the factory and made again.” E.W. O’Neill
DID GOD MAKE US FLAWED?
The short answer is no. When God made the world the Bible says six times, “God saw that it was good.” But after he made man in his own image and likeness he said that it was “very good”. God made man like himself and for himself. Man was unique in all creation in that he was born with a spirit, giving him the capacity to have a relationship with God
WHAT HAPPENED TO MAKE US LIKE WE ARE TODAY?
Of all earth’s creatures, man was the only one who was given free will. God didn’t want robots who HAD to love and obey him. Free will enables real love but it also brings the risk of evil. Adam and Eve, in eating from the one tree God had told them not to eat from, failed the test of free will.
By eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they made a choice to live by their own knowledge instead of with God and for God. And that is what all sin is – just living as if there is no God. Yes, you may believe in God but for the most part go you about your life without ever asking God what he thinks or would want you to do. It’s sin (our own and inherited) that makes us as we are today.
HOW WERE WE ORIGINALLY MEANT TO BE?
We were meant to be a “God-man” race of people. God’s Holy Spirit was to fill and live in our human spirit so that we could fulfill our purpose of ruling the earth and bringing it into order together with our Creator.
Adam and Eve’s choice to live independent of God, by knowing good and evil for themselves, was the first sin. It started in motion a spiral downward that is still going today. God’s Spirit couldn’t live in a body of sin and rebellion and so his Holy Spirit left Adam and Eve’s spirit and man died spiritually that day. For without God’s Holy Spirit indwelling our spirit we can have no communication with God.
WHAT DID WE LOSE?
What is called “the fall of man” is a tragic detour from the original plan God had for us. Because of Satan’s deception, leading Adam and Eve to sin, they lost two things. First they lost their relationship with God and secondly they lost their ruler-ship over the earth. Ruling the earth in partnership with God was man’s purpose for living. Now this purpose and partnership was gone and a great vacuum inside took its place.
Man became subject to corruption eventually leading to physical death. And every child born from Adam and Eve on, came with an inherited sin nature. If you doubt this just remember that no one needs to teach a child to do wrong. They just naturally gravitate to selfish and attention getting impulses.
So that’s the condition for all of us. We are born with a sin nature and therefore we sin (not vise versa). We want to stop being angry -- but we find we can’t. If we do get control of one thing in life something else pops up. Soon we are worn out with the trying. We call out as the Apostle Paul did, “the good that I would I cannot do!” (Romans 7:19a)
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET BACK WHAT WE LOST?
Yes. God wants to restore us to the way he originally made us. He also wants to restore all that we lost when man was first created. He wants us to return to life as he meant for it to be. Why? Because God loves each of us and when he made us he had a plan and purpose for us that only we can fill. And so we can change because God Himself has arranged for us to be able to.
WHAT IS GOD’S PLAN TO RESTORE US?
God’s plan (called redemption) was carried out by God through his only begotten Son Jesus and continues today and into the future by his Holy Spirit. How did this plan come about?
The task of redemption had to be done by someone who was BOTH God and man. Why? God alone could not just pardon us. He is holy and just and his judgment must be against sin of any kind. He loves his children but if he allowed sinful men into Heaven then Heaven would soon become hell.
Man alone could not atone for himself (or anyone else) because men are “all in the same boat”. They are born with a sin nature and therefore they sin. If God won’t allow sin into Heaven and all men are sinners (because they have a sin nature) this leaves us with the question: “Who then can be saved?” This is the exact same question that Christ’s disciples asked him. (See Matthew 19:25a)
“Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (See Matthew 19:25b) This is the answer to our question, “Can we change?”
Then Jesus said something that was astonishing to the people then as it is now. Jesus said of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” That one statement alone has had men up in arms for centuries claiming it’s not true and that there are many ways to God, all of which are equally valid. Many would say we don’t need Jesus to change and ask this question:
WHY IS JESUS OUR ONLY WAY BACK TO GOD AND HIS ORIGINAL INTENTION FOR US?
When a virgin named Mary conceived a child by God’s own Holy Spirit this allowed Jesus to be born without a sin nature. He was filled with God’s Holy Spirit right from birth (the way Adam and Eve had originally been born). In Jesus, God had come to earth in the form of a man, but a man who was also God. This qualified Jesus to be the mediator between both God and man.
As a man, the sinless Jesus was able to deal with our past. He took the punishment of God (in our place) for all the sins we have committed. God laid on Jesus the guilt for our past sins and therefore we can be forgiven and have our “slate wiped clean”.
But because we are born with a sin nature we just naturally keep on sinning even though our past has been forgiven. If our sin nature isn’t dealt with then we just keep repeating a cycle: sin – forgiveness – sin – forgiveness. Therefore to deal with this problem, God the Father put us all into God the Son at the cross so that when Jesus died, we died (See Romans 6:6). This death rendered our old sin nature inoperative and it also prepares us for receiving the new nature of God within us. This is a cosmic miracle that has been done for everyone. It was done once and it was done for all. Therefore, with a forgiven past and our old sin nature rendered inoperative, we now have the possibility to change.
TIME TO CHANGE
The FREE gift of God to us is the death of his son in our place so we don’t have to face the punishment for our sins. His gift to us is also the fact that Jesus has taken our old sin nature into Himself on the cross to destroy it there. It’s this gift from God (really two gifts) that offers us a reprieve – or temporary relief -- from the death penalty. This reprieve gives us the time we need to do a few things in preparation for our change. What are those things?
1. Jesus’ first words to us when he started his ministry was that we needed to repent. This word means that we change our way of thinking. When we change our thinking it results in us turning around to walk away from sin and self, towards God.
2. Then we need to ask God for Christ’s Spirit to come into our own spirit as the Lord of it. This is not automatic. We must ask.
3. Finally, if we have truly repented and asked Jesus for His Spirit, then we must receive his Holy Spirit into our lives so that we can walk as “new creatures in Christ”. It is only when the Holy Spirit indwells our spirit that we have the power to live as Christ lived. It’s the Holy Spirit indwelling our spirit that allows us to change from the inside out.
FULL REDEMPTION MEANS REAL CHANGE
We become truly restored to the way we were originally created when the Holy Spirit fills our own spirit. This is what makes man whole again. The vacuum inside of us is filled and we are once again able to operate from the “inside out” – powered by the very Spirit of God within us.
Christians often rejoice that their past is forgiven and future secure. But what about life TODAY that is often unbearable? When the Holy Spirit is indwelling inside of us again (just like Adam and Eve originally had) we have the power and ability to walk without having to sin. We can once again rule over our part of the earth in partnership with God. Therefore the Holy Spirit indwelling our spirit is the key to change and living victoriously TODAY.
RELATIONSHIP NOT RELIGION
Man looks to religion to change himself but God wants relationship. He wants to fill our lives with himself and change us from the inside out. God wants to restore our relationship with Him and to get us back our kingdom (or dominion over the earth which has been usurped by Satan). Ultimately all the work of redemption is so that the Kingdom of God can once again rule the earth through God’s Holy Spirit indwelling mankind.
It’s the Holy Spirit in us that enables us to understand what we see in Jesus and hear in his teaching. And then it’s the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to carry them out in our lives. Any man or woman filled with the Holy Spirit has the Kingdom of God (or rule of God) dwelling within them. We become the God-man race that God originally meant us to be and this enables us to fulfill our calling and purpose on earth.
HOW DO I REGAIN THIS RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND BECOME PART OF HIS KINGDOM?
We enter through a process that Jesus referred to as being “born again”. The new birth is the means by which we change families. We were “born in Adam” who chose the way of sin and independence from God, leaving us all with an inherited sin nature. The only way out of this dysfunctional family is through death. But is suicide our answer? No. In a cosmic miracle, God reached down the centuries and put us ALL into His Son Jesus on the Cross. Hebrews 9:26b says, “He (Jesus) has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin (i.e. the old sin nature) by the sacrifice of himself.
God put us “in Christ” (past) and when we receive the Holy Spirit to dwell within us (present) we have changed families and are now part of the Kingdom of God. No longer are we “in Adam”. We are “new creations in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The new birth is the rebirth of our human spirit which is our “real self”. Our real self is the Holy Spirit alive within our human spirit.
“Remember that there is a tragic and radical flaw in our personalities. There’s a crookedness that we all feel, and we feel it should be straight. There’s a disintegration that we are all aware of, and we feel there should be integration instead. We need to be sent back to the factory and made again. That’s why we need to be born again.” E.W. O’Neill When God put our old natures into Jesus, it was as if we had been sent back to the factory to be “born again” – not refurbished but brand new!
The new birth is the means by which we pass from death to life. Because our sins are forgiven, our guilt laid on Jesus and our spirit cleansed by his blood we now have a spirit that is clean and ready for the Holy Spirit to indwell once again. Once we invite the Holy Spirit to indwell our spirit then we are once again alive to God and our relationship is restored.
DOES THE NEW BIRTH HAPPEN OVER A PERIOD OF TIME?
The new birth is instantaneous. It’s a gift from God the moment that we believe. Ephesians 2:4-9 puts it all together for us. We were “dead in our sins and trespasses” ( that’s spiritual death). “But God, who is rich in mercy made us alive…(that’s new birth) – (even though we were dead because of our sins.”) And finally verses 8 and 9 tell us how it all comes about. It’s because of God’s grace to us and NOT our own effort. A new birth of our spirit is God’s gift to us that we receive by faith. Therefore the possibility of change comes in an instant but it is worked out over time.
IF WE CAN’T DO ANYTHING TO “GET” THE NEW BIRTH HOW WILL IT COME ABOUT?
Becoming a “new creation in Christ” is brought about in the following manner:
- Recognize that you were born with an inherited sin nature and therefore you sin. As a sinner, you have no relationship with God and no hope of a life beyond this one.
- Accept the fact that Jesus died on the cross for you. He did this to:
a. cleanse you from past sins
b. destroy the old sin nature that keeps you sinning
c. take upon himself the punishment that you deserved.
3. Repent (or change your way of thinking). The Holy Spirit will bring something to mind and you can start there. Turn from any sin that you know of and head towards God.
4. Receive the Holy Spirit into your spirit for He is the same Spirit filling Jesus and the one who will make you a new creation in Christ.
5. Confess with your mouth that the Lord Jesus has done a thorough work and deserves to be called your Lord and Savior. (Romans 10:9-10) He has pressed the “reset button” and we begin again in a new family and in a new kingdom. We are born again!
WILL I COMPLETELY CHANGE ONCE I HAVE BECOME A NEW CREATION IN CHRIST?
While the new birth is instantaneous, the process called sanctification (growing in grace and being set apart for God’s use) is ongoing. The indwelling Holy Spirit will be teaching and guiding you. As you learn to listen to his voice (inside of you) and obey him, change upon change will follow. No, you won’t do everything right and even sin is still possible. But, you’ll find that former ways of life are now repulsive to you and your relationship with God means everything.
CAN WE CHANGE?
Absolutely. It’s why Jesus came – to restore us to the way that God originally intended us to be. The new birth is just the doorway into real life. Once through the door the adventure starts. God has a purpose for each of us that only we can fulfill (Ephesians 2:10). Being born again allows us to get on with our place in the will of God. The beauty of our life with God is that we never arrive! There is always more to see about ourselves, more to do, more to enjoy and more to enter into. Change starts with the new birth and continues on till the day we see Jesus face to face in Heaven. It’s then that we arrive!