Countless millions are experiencing broken lives, broken marriages, broken families and broken dreams. They find life overwhelming and do not know how to make it any different, yet mainstream Christianity does not have the answers. Can God really bring about change in your life?
Did you ever wish—even for a second—that God had not shown you the truth, because you felt like you could never live up to His high standard? Because you felt like you were not going to make it?"
These words were written by a Christian in agony. He had been a drug addict since age 11. He saw the truth of God's great plan and purpose. He believed it! But when he looked at himself, and at his many weaknesses and problems, he felt overwhelmed. Was real change simply an impossible dream?
What about you? Maybe drug or alcohol abuse is not your particular problem. Yet this world is filled with people who have broken lives, broken marriages, broken families and broken dreams. They find life overwhelming and do not know how to make it any different. They are not where they are because they want to be there, but rather because they do not know how to be somewhere else.
Mainstream Christianity does not have the answers. "Just give your heart to the Lord," the preachers say. Many sincere people have walked down the proverbial sawdust trail at revival meetings and evangelistic campaigns, only to find a few days later that the "new" religion has worn off and they are really no different than they were a little earlier, except that one more hope has gone.
There is a multi-billion dollar industry directed at people who want to change what they are and how they feel. There are psychiatrists and psychologists. There are books and diets that guarantee to make a new person out of you, not to mention cosmetics, hair transplants, toupees and even plastic surgery—all supposed to give you self-confidence and change your self-image.
Of course our western world, and America in particular, is a pill-oriented culture. Whether it is children who wriggle and squirm and do not pay attention in class, or adults who feel "stressed" about problems of the job or problems in their families, drugs are proffered as the answer. The fact that abortion is the most common surgical procedure in America, and that Valium is the most commonly prescribed drug, ought to tell us something. The changes many people seek are changes in the effects they are experiencing in life—while ignoring the actual causes of those effects!
In 1935 two men, given up by most who knew them as hopeless alcoholics, met in an Akron, Ohio hotel room. Known to millions as Bill W. and Dr. Bob, they began a fellowship known as Alcoholics Anonymous, and shared with other alcoholics 12 steps that have dramatically improved hundreds of thousands of lives. In the more than 65 years since that first meeting, similar programs have proliferated, as many seek desperately to change their lives and to stop letting alcohol and drug abuse mask life's problems.
An entire "self help" industry has grown, offering books and videos with varying techniques and approaches. Some are directed at those who suffer from phobias or who have been scarred by abuse—many are aimed at people who simply want to be more effective in achieving their goals. Some take a purely secular psychological approach, while others present themselves as "Christian psychologists."
What is the common thread? Simply put, millions recognize the need for change in their lives. They feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied with what they are and with where they are headed. For all of the multi-million dollar industries that are derived from man's frustration with himself, what is the result? Our world is ever more crazy—making, and our people are ever more frustrated.
The Bible records many stories of dramatic change in individuals' lives. But how were they able to make such total about-faces in their lives? Can you make changes of equal magnitude in your own life? Most people overlook two vital keys, and even those who acknowledge them generally misunderstand what they really involve.
Acts 2 records the beginnings of the New Testament Church. The Apostle Peter preached a powerful and inspired sermon to thousands who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the day of Pentecost. For many that heard him, their former smug self-confidence quickly evaporated. They were seized with a deep sense of personal shame and guilt. "What shall we do?" they humbly asked. Deeply believing the truth of Peter's message, they wanted to know what they should do next! "Repent and be baptized," Peter told them. Those were the necessary steps for receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The Holy Spirit was the gift that God offered them to empower and transform their very lives. And He offers the same gift to us today!
Faith and repentance are simple words with profound meaning. Understanding the message contained in these two words holds the key to really changing our lives.
Before repentance must come faith. The kind of faith we are talking about is living and real. It produces a state of mind that wants to make an about face and turn to God. This faith is a confidence in God and His promises and it results in action! "Faith without works is dead," the Apostle James wrote in James 2:17. To really believe and trust God makes it possible for us to absolutely, unconditionally surrender to Him.
Before we can trust God, we must realize our utter powerlessness to save and deliver ourselves. If we are not truly convinced of our own powerlessness, we will cling to illusions of self-sufficiency. If we do, we will continue struggling to solve our own problems our own way. Real change requires far more than willpower and self-discipline. It is not simply a matter of "trying harder." Human willpower may help a person to make certain external changes in behavior, but it does not begin to address the root cause of our problems.
Before turning to God, we must first be convinced of our need to do so. Before the Creator revealed Himself to the ancient Israelites as their deliverer, He first let them languish for years in Egyptian slavery. Unable to extricate themselves, their condition became increasingly hopeless. But in the depths of their despair they called out to God—and He heard them! (Exodus 2:23-24). He will hear you, too!
Faith in ourselves, and in human tactics and efforts, must be replaced with faith in the Divine Creator (Hebrews 11:6). God is both willing and able to deliver us and to transform our lives! He is the Creator who created the universe with its myriad galaxies. He created this earth and all of the life upon it. He designed and made mankind in His own image with the potential of being born into His very family. Can you trust the very One who gives you life and breath?
Hebrews 11:13 makes plain that men and women of faith did certain things! Understanding what they did can help us understand life-changing faith. We are told that they saw the promises "afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (KJV). Likewise, we must see and understand the promises that God makes, become convinced of their value and reality, and then embrace them. To embrace is to hold dear and precious. If we do not value and cherish what God offers, we simply will not hold on and endure through life's ups and downs. Because the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 held dear what God promised, they showed by words and actions that they were not part of this world. They were simply strangers passing through in search of something far greater beyond.
While the Creator God has revealed Himself to mankind in a variety of ways over time, His ultimate self-revelation was in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Make no mistake about it; Jesus of Nazareth was not simply a prophet or a good man! He was the uniquely begotten Son of God (John 3:16). He was Immanuel, which means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). He was the One who had existed in the beginning with the Father and was the very instrument of creation itself (John 1:1-3). At the appointed time He was made flesh and born of a virgin so that He might be our Savior. He brought the message of the New Covenant from the Father, the good news of the Kingdom of God. This message concerns the establishment of God's Kingdom on this earth and how we human beings might actually come to inherit and possess that Kingdom for eternity. It is a message of how God's laws can be written in our hearts and minds, of how His very nature can be imparted to us and we can be transformed from the inside out. It is a message about redemption, becoming reconciled to God and having the penalty of our sins blotted out. Jesus Christ not only died to pay the death penalty in our stead; He also rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the grave to become our High Priest and intercessor with the Father. He will soon return to this earth as its King and ruler.
To really change your life, the starting point is to accept that you cannot—but God can! If you accept the message that Jesus Christ brought, and believe and act on it from the innermost depths of your being, He will intervene to change the whole direction of your life!
The Bible makes plain that Satan the devil is the "god of this age" and directs the course or pattern of this society and age (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). We cannot fit in with this world and fit in with God at the same time (James 4:4). In order to fit in with and cultivate the acceptance and approval of this world, a person must be in harmony with the values of this age. John summed up the values of this world as appealing to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). This age and its corrupt, decadent value system are going to pass away, but there is a new world coming, based upon eternal values. That new world, God's wonderful world tomorrow, will be permanent. If we really believe that, then we will want to turn to God with all of our hearts and learn how to dwell in harmony with Him forever. Living faith produces action, and genuine repentance is one of the first actions it produces.
Many people equate repentance with being sorry. But real repentance is not simply "being sorry," nor is it the equivalent of the penance practiced by some religions. The concept of penance is that certain good actions can atone for previous bad ones. If real repentance is not equated with remorse, regret or even acts of penance, then what is it?
There are several words rendered "repent" in the Bible. The Hebrew term generally used in the Old Testament is shub, which means "to turn." In its meaning, the word goes "beyond contrition and sorrow to a conscious decision of turning to God" (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 909). In the New Testament there are two Greek words used to describe repentance. One is epistrepho, which means "to convert, to change, to turn to or against" (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 1095). The other is metanoia, which literally means a "change of mind." Real repentance is not simply a feeling or an emotion, nor a mere act of contrition or atonement. It prompts an about face in life!
Before we can repent, we must know what sin actually is, and we must be absolutely convinced that God is right and that we are wrong. The Bible defines sin for us by telling us in 1 John 3:4: "To commit sin is to break God's law: sin, in fact, is lawlessness" (NEB). God's law defines sin. Which law? The great spiritual law (Romans 7:14) summed up in the Ten Commandments! Paul explained in Romans 7:7 that he would have had no way of knowing that lust was a sin except that the law, the Tenth Commandment, said, "You shall not covet."
Repentance involves a mindset of unconditional surrender to God of our life and our will. We must come to God acknowledging our sin with no excuses, and recognizing our utter lack of self-sufficiency to transform ourselves. If we admit our powerlessness to change ourselves on our own, then believe and trust in God's power to do so through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, and humbly ask Him to take over our lives, we are on the way! We must then continue to search our lives and be willing to confess our sins and shortcomings as we discover them.
Of course we will never really turn from something wrong unless we have learned to hate it. We must change the objects of our affections. We must come to hate the evil and to love the good. God's law, and His instructions, give us the means to distinguish good from bad. After all, we are not born knowing right from wrong! God is the One who defines that difference—and His word is the only true source for really knowing which is which (Psalm 119:9-11).
Remember that being sorry and being repentant are two different attitudes. In fact, the Bible shows that there are actually two very different kinds of "being sorry"—worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that worldly sorrow produces death. Worldly sorrow is the kind of regret and remorse that can fill a person with despair and hopelessness. It can even lead one to become suicidal. This kind of regret for past actions and their consequences is not what real repentance is all about.
Godly sorrow does not lead to despair. Rather, it serves as the impetus for surrender and change. Genuine repentance involves turning from the way of sin to the way of righteousness. It involves a heartfelt, unconditional surrender of our life and of our will to the Great God. Once we have come to that point, the Apostle Peter makes plain in Acts 2:38 that we are to be baptized. God promises that after proper baptism, we will receive the wonderful gift of His Holy Spirit. It is that Spirit which renews our mind and heart and enables us to share in God's very nature.
Can you really change your life? With your own power you cannot! But the good news is that God can and will if you truly want Him to. Faith and repentance, followed by baptism and the receiving of God's Holy Spirit, are what open the door to real change in our lives—change not only in how we feel and in what we do, but, most importantly, change in what we are! This is what leads to our being "conformed to the image of His Son, that He [Christ] might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).
For more information on this vital subject, please call or write for our free booklet: Should You Be Baptized? And if you would like to counsel more deeply on the subject of repentance and baptism, please feel free to ask for a visit from one of our ministers. If you call or write to the Regional Office address nearest you (listed on page two of this magazine), we will put you in contact with someone who can help you discover for yourself, that with God's help, you can change your life!