In the last article, I reminded you that true life change is way too rare in the Christian life. I've run into too many people who’ve been Christians for a long time but are struggling with the same sins they have for years. I also mentioned that change, real change, can only come from one place – Jesus.
This fall we’re going to focus on how Jesus changes us. For eight weeks starting in September, Saddleback and other churches around the country will focus their efforts (including weekend services and small group studies) on helping people cooperate with Jesus’ life-changing process.
The foundations for change we’ve put in place at Saddleback are part of the DNA of our church, and they are some of the reasons why we’ve seen so many people come to Christ, join our church, grow up spiritually, be trained for ministry, and be sent out on mission to the ends of the earth.
In the last issue, I shared the first three foundational truths about life change. In this issue, I’ll give you six more.
4. Change requires truth. Jesus said in Romans 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I wish he’d said the rest of it. “When you know the truth, the truth will set you free, but first it makes you miserable.” The reason most of us – and most of the people in our churches – aren’t free is that we don’t want to face the truth about our sin. We don’t want to face the truth about others, our relationships, our parents, or our past. The Bible says our hearts are “desperately wicked.”
That deceit has to be countered with the truth of God. Why does truth set us free? The way we think affects the way we feel. And the way we feel affects the way we act. If you want to change the way you act, you don’t want to start with your behavior. You start with your thoughts. The battle for sin always begins in the mind. You can’t stop the thoughts that come into your mind, but you need to know how to divert them.
Your mind is like an autopilot. You can go against the autopilot, but it’s hard work! Your autopilot is however you finish this sentence: “It’s just like me to…” It’s just like me to be lazy, or it’s just like me to be late, or it’s just like me to get angry with my spouse.
Change happens when we’re honest about what that autopilot is and we counter it with the Word of God. The truth is, behind every self-defeating behavior in your life is a lie that you believe to be true.
5. Lasting change happens in community. Lasting change in the people of your church won’t happen without true community. God wired us to only get well in community or koinonia in the Greek New Testament. Koinonia simply means being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ.
You’ve got to open up and share your hurts, habits, and hang-ups if you expect to get over them. James 5:16 (NIV) tells us, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing. If you want to see true life change in your church, you need to develop community or fellowship in your church.
6. Lasting change is a step-by-step process. The kind of change that we really long for won’t happen overnight. We wish it would, but change doesn’t work like that. Change happens incrementally. I love what the the Message paraphrase says in 1 Corinthians 3:18, “Our lives are gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” When God enters our lives, we become gradually more like Jesus.
This fall, through Life’s Healing Choices, we’ll introduce you to the step-by-step process for life change that Jesus gave us in the Beatitudes. It isn’t instant spiritual maturity. There’s no such thing. It’s a process that leads to life change.
7. Lasting change requires multiple reinforcement. You’ve got to get truth in a lot of different ways to make the way for lasting change. I mentioned in the last article that I had trouble understanding why people could listen to 20 or 30 years of my dad’s sermons and not grow. But some people just don’t grow by listening. Pastors, it takes more than a sermon to help people grow spiritually.
James tells us not to merely listen to the Word of God but to obey it (1:22). He goes on to say that the one who “looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”
It’s the person who remembers the Word of God and does it who is blessed. You’ve got to teach people the Word in multiple ways to make that happen. God loves variety. He wired some people to learn through what they hear. Others learn from they see or read. Others need to do something in order to learn it. That’s what’s so great about campaigns like the one we’ll be doing this fall. Those who participate will hear about it on the weekends. They’ll talk about it in their small groups. They’ll read about it in a book. It’s a comprehensive plan. That’s crucial to seeing lasting change in the lives of people in your church.
8. Lasting change requires new habits. You are the sum total of your habits. You’ve got both good and bad ones. But what you do habitually is what you are. You don’t have to think about taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or shaving. You just do it. Those are habits. You’re not an honest person unless you are habitually honest. You’re not faithful to your spouse if you’re only faithful 28 days of the month. You’ve got to be 100 percent faithful.
For 2,000 years Christians have been developing good habits. We often call them spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, quiet time, Bible study, solitude, fasting, service, journaling, etc. These are building blocks of spiritual growth. Life’s Healing Choices will be like a boot camp for spiritual growth because you’ll be helping your congregation develop lifelong spiritual disciplines that will lay the foundation for lasting change.
9. Real change changes others. When I used to do counseling, I’d have a lot of people come to me and say they wanted to change their spouse, but they didn’t want to change themselves. It doesn’t work that way. You can only change someone else by changing yourself. When you change, you force the other person to change because they can’t respond to you the same old way. When God changes you, he’ll use you to change others.
How do you know someone’s life has been changed by God, that they’re spiritually mature? You know the same way that you know if someone is physically mature – reproduction. Spiritually mature people reproduce. And as the people in your congregation experience real life change, they’ll help others find the same hope.
These nine foundations are crucial foundations for life change. They are also important parts to this fall’s campaign, Life's Healing Choices. I hope your church will be a part of it. Our nation needs real, biblical recovery from hurts, habits, and hang-ups.
I can't wait to see what God will do through in our church and your church through this campaign.
Will you be a part of it?
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved