The world and modern psychology has many different “options” and pathways for lasting change. Some will say that we are just like animals, and like animals, all we need to do is make behaviour modifications. Others will tell you that you must work on modifying your thoughts and then your behaviours will follow. And then there are others who will tell you to simply do what makes you feel best and that’s the solution.
I know there’s more to all the secular methods of change than what I have just mentioned. However, if you were take all the methods of change that the world offers, you will find that there are three very important considerations that they do not take into account:
Sin. We are all born with a sin nature that prevents us from changing, growing, and truly glorifying God.
Your Soul. You have a soul, you are not like animals who do not have the breath of God in them (i.e. a soul—consult the creation account), but rather you have a soul from which all your thoughts and actions come from. Because of this, it is useless to only modify thoughts and behaviours, instead we need to work on the soul from which they proceed.
God’s Grace. In order to change, we need God to save us and give us a new nature capable of growing in godliness.
The Bible, however, considers all three of these important factors when giving you the perfect model for change. This model can be found in Ephesians 4:20-24 (NASB):
“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
As we go through the steps outlined in this passage, I will also include an example as presented a few verses later to help you better understand what to do for each step.
Lay Aside the Old Self
First, we need to discern what sinful behaviours need to be laid aside. This part is usually the easier step to detect, but not always the easiest to do. This part may require memorizing some Bible verses to remind you of this sin and its consequences. It will also most likely involve the process of uprooting idols. It may also require putting accountability into place. For the person who struggles with porn, this may be installing certain programs on their computer that restrict their access to pornography when online, and asking someone to keep them accountable.
With this step, we must be careful that we aren’t calling something sin that the Bible does not call sin. For example, not picking up your clothing that you leave on the floor is not the sin. The sin in that situation is your inconsiderate and unkind behaviour to the person who has asked you to put your clothes in the laundry basket (whether that be a parent or spouse or such). In other words, be specific when labelling your sins and use biblical language (ex: I’m not co-dependent, I am fearing man; I do not have an anger management problem, I am sinfully angry; I do not have an anxiety disorder, I am disobeying God’s command to not worry; etc.).
If we look at Ephesians 4:28, we are shown how someone who struggles with the sin of stealing is supposed to do this. Paul writes that the person who steals is to no longer steal.
Put On the New Self
Secondly, we are to put on a new behaviours and thoughts in place of the sinful ones. The old self is our sinful nature, so the new self is the new creation God has worked in us immediately when we are saved. When you were saved, God gave you a new heart and took out your heart of stone. Ezekiel 36:25-27 says,
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
God has given you that new heart if you are saved, which means He has given you the ability to walk in His commandments. With His Holy Spirit, you are able to walk put off the sinful ways and put on the righteous way. As someone who has been shown such grace and given a new heart, you should be characterized by that new heart which desires and can do righteousness!
Furthermore, if you are only putting off sinful actions and thoughts without replacing them with righteous ones, then those sinful ones will come right back. You need to replace the sinful with the good.
If we look back again to Ephesians 4:28 to the example of the thief, Paul says that not only he to not steal (the put off), but he is to then to do honest work with his hands (the put on).
Be Renewed In the Spirit of Your Mind
Thirdly, we are renew our heart with new attitudes. This one may be a bit more tricky to identify, but it is still just as essential as the other two. Without being renewed, without changing our attitudes, we are solely Pharisees—doing what is right on the outside, but having a dead, sinful heart on the inside. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for this kind in Matthew 23:27-28 (NASB):
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
This means that our heart attitudes must match our outward conduct. Maybe you’ll be able to force yourself to stop looking at porn, and you’ll be able to put on a pure lifestyle, but the whole time you are still lusting after sexual immorality in your heart, what good is that outward change? Instead, you need to put on righteous desires and godly motives to match your godly conduct.
Taking a look at the thief back in Ephesians 4:28, Paul says that he can be renewed by working with the motive to have something to share with those who are in need.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Heart Change
In all of this, we cannot forget the work of the Holy Spirit. It can be easy to become self-righteous and develop an attitude of self-sufficiency when we are reminded of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must remember that it is only by His power and working that we are even able to make such changes, or even desire to change! Look back at Ezekiel 36:27, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” It is only because the Holy Spirit is present that we are able to change.
What does this look like practically? This means praying for help and asking God to change your heart. It also means admitting that you are unable to change on your own. It also means that being in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit to work it in your heart. If you are reading the Word and trying to memorize it, the Holy Spirit can bring it to your mind and remind you of the truth that you need, whether it be the conviction of sin or a reminder to do what is righteous. We cannot forget the essential ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.