The spiritual dynamics of change are a very important part of the Christian life. We want to be more like Jesus. We want to have pure hearts, holy conduct, and upright characters. How do we change? I want to highlight four things.
First, there is the direct work of the Holy Spirit. He gets to work on our hearts and minds, changing us right down at the foundations of who we are. Your behaviour is always the fruit of who you are inside – the roots speak of the condition of your heart. So, real change has to begin at root level, and the Bible shows us that God changes our hearts and gives us new desires. Sometimes this happens very quickly as an answer to prayer, or through a powerful spiritual experience, or a moment of suffering. Often this is slow work, as your relationship with the Lord deepens and he transforms you ‘from one degree of glory to another’.
Second, there is the element of conscious or unconscious imitation of others. As much as we might think we are self-directed individuals, the truth is that we are all copying each other all of the time. We get our sense of what is ‘normal’ from those we pay attention to, from those around us. Sometimes you think to yourself, ‘I want to be more like that person’, and you actually start to copy them. But often you just find that being around people has an unconscious effect on how you behave. This is why we must choose our company wisely.
Third, there is the deliberate and sustained effort you apply, in cooperation with God’s Spirit, to try and change. You want to put to death a bad habit, or become more generous, or be kinder to your friends, or more diligent and faithful at work. So, you prayerfully and very deliberately seek to make changes.
Fourth, there is the direct help we receive from others, especially close friends and spiritual mentors. Sometimes a single conversation with an honest friend will expose something that was lurking in your heart, and drive you to repentance. Sometimes its a more prolonged set of conversations – such as with a mentor, or accountability partner, or spouse – that shows you time and again how the same desires, habits, and behaviours are not honouring God. As someone lovingly holds a mirror up to your heart, you find that you don’t like what you see, and change begins to happen.
The reason I have highlighted these four forces for change is that they are all personal agents: God, the community, you, and close friends. It seems to me that God has made it impossible for us to grow without all four of these forces at work on us, though of course, God is the main driver in and through them all.
Here’s the takeaway: If the main goal of life is Christlikeness (and I believe it should be), then all of us need to be mindful of whether we have these dynamics at work in our lives. If you see something that’s missing, you need to address that.
Thank God for his amazing grace that comes to us in all kinds of ways, painful as that often feels.