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Dad, why do you counsel someone so long? —Daughter
I counsel for a long time because it takes a while to help someone change. —Dad
It seems to me that it would only take a minute. You say, “Repent;” the person changes and that is all you have to do. What else do you talk about with them? —Daughter
And we smile, though my daughter does have a point, which can cause one to wonder how much relational conflict and dysfunction could we eliminate if we followed her simply stated approach. I’m sure it wouldn’t clean up all our messes, but it would probably make quite a dent in some of the junk we spread amongst our relationships.
Because repentance is not native to us, God is patient as He comes alongside us to teach us how to change. After Adam first sinned, he decided not to repent, choosing to place his problems on someone else (Genesis 3:12).
Ever tried that?
As sons and daughters of Adam, blaming, rationalizing, or justifying problems away are the things that tempt us as we adjust our fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Mercifully, God perseveres with us by not allowing us to stay tangled in our sinful tendencies (Galatians 6:1).
One of the primary means of grace that He uses to help us change is His Word. For example, when Paul was teaching the young pastor Timothy, he highlighted how God uses His Word to change us.
Notice what He said:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for (1) teaching, for (2) reproof, for (3) correction, and for (4) training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Though this passage (2 Timothy 3:16–17) is often used to highlight and elevate God’s inspired-sufficient-plenary-authoritative Word, which is good and right, I want to turn the passage over again and look at it more practically. I’m going to highlight the four elements of change that Paul lays out for you, and if consistently applied to your life, they will radically change you and your relationships.
After God had regenerated you, He began to teach you His Word—a process of recurring illumination, instruction, conviction, and transformation, which is called progressive sanctification (John 17:17). God’s Word is one of the primary means for you to mature into Christlikeness. Through contexts and people, the Word of God penetrates your heart for personal transformation.
If you follow Paul’s prescriptive progression in this passage, you will notice how the use of God’s Word is to stop dangerous thinking by reorienting your mind around sound teaching.
The way the Lord terminates bad teaching—as noted in the Timothy template—is to rebuke you. The word rebuke means to knock you down. The idea in view here is the Lord bringing sound teaching into your life to put you on your backside. Through the Spirit’s illuminating conviction, you begin to see the light (1 John 1:7–10).
How many times has God brought His Word to you to stop you from your course of action? Though sometimes God’s adjustments in your life can be inconvenient and even painful, it is His mercy to care so much about you. He wants to change your life.
Before I proceed, take some time to assess yourself to see how well you are responding to Paul’s first two points regarding the change process. The Word of God is profitable for (1) teaching and (2) rebuking. Here are some helpful questions for you and your friends to discuss regarding your teachableness and receptivity to rebuke.
The Four Steps of Change
Because teaching is the door through which you will grow, it is incumbent upon you to be teachable. You will not be able to change your life if you are not teachable, the first step in the change process. Your teachability is the litmus test that will inform others about your seriousness to grow in Christ.
Being reproved or rebuked is tough stuff. Nobody enjoys it. To be willing to have others speak into your life is one of the high marks of Christian maturity. Rebuke-able people typically have humble and wise perspectives about themselves. They are rebuke-able because the gospel rightly informs them. (See Romans 3:10–12, 23, 5:12; Isaiah 64:6; 1 Timothy 1:15.)
Being informed by the gospel means you were in a helpless and worthless condition before the Lord chose to save you. You were dead in your sins, hell-bound, and outside of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1–10). Alienated from the life that is in God was your spiritual condition (Ephesians 4:18). Outside of God’s favor was the Lord’s view of you before salvation.
There is nothing anyone could say to you that is worse than what the Lord has previously declared about you. Understanding this aspect of the gospel releases you from the fear of what others can say about or do to you.
Couple this gospel truth of what you were to whom you are in Christ, you most assuredly you have nothing to protect or nothing to hide (Romans 8:31–39). If you have been born again (John 3:7; Romans 10:9, 13), you are a child of the King—a person who has gone from the worst possible position that you could be, to the best possible place you will ever enjoy.
If you are not living daily in this gospel truth, temptations will lure you toward insecurity that will motivate you to protect and defend your reputation before others. That kind of pride will truncate the effectiveness in which your friends can speak into your life—a soul-stunting posture before the Lord and others.
While the gospel is the good news, its message implies there is bad news. If there were no bad news, you would not need the good news. The same is true in Paul’s progressive keys to Christian maturity that he laid out for his friend Timothy.
Teaching brings reproof, which is supposed to knock you off your feet. That is the bad news. Thankfully, the Spirit of God would never leave you down and out (Psalm 23:3). He is the Healer who binds our wounds (Psalm 147:3).
A careful and accurate rebuke from the Lord paves the way for His corrective measures that you can implement into your life. The word “corrected” means to be stood up or made erect.
It’s important for you to know the Lord wants to correct you. God is a fixer. He does not rebuke you because He enjoys bringing pain into your life. There is always a redemptive purpose for His corrections. If the Lord does not convince you of this, you will be tentative about receiving His reproof (Hebrews 12:6).
Some will argue how they don’t mind being rebuked by God, but it is the rebuke of sinful people that rubs them the wrong way. Horizontal soul care is a problem for sure. It would be great if people rebuked all the time correctly, but that is not possible among fallen people. Imperfect people reproving imperfect people will have an element of imperfection in it.
Though there is a lot to say about wrongful rebukes, the point of this chapter is whether you are mature enough and hungry enough to find the Lord’s rebuke even through imperfect vessels. Can you learn anything from a poorly given rebuke? You can if your goal is Christian maturity. Maybe later you can help the person who admonished you poorly.
Paul’s four progressive and essential keys to change are:
Each time you make it through steps one, two, and three, you will be ready to participate in ongoing training for right living. This process of progressive sanctification is not a one-and-done deal. These steps are recurring and unending until you see Jesus.
Each day is a new opportunity to learn (teaching), fall (rebuke), get up (correction), and run a new way (training in righteousness). Imagine what it would be like if the Lord loved you enough to identify areas that could change your life regularly. That kind of love invigorates the soul.
Only Christians possess that kind of incremental, ongoing, unending, progressive path to freedom in Christ. Only Christians can change in long-term and sustainable ways. Imagine if the Lord saved you and left you to your former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22) with no way of changing—no chance to mature spiritually.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).
To mature in this kind of progressive process, I recommend that you teach this to your family and friends. Invite them into your life growth plan. Appeal to them to come alongside you so you all can benefit from mutual and reciprocal gospel-shaped care.
Trap #1 – Bad Experience – Many Christians have had bad experiences with other Christians. In such cases, they are tempted to map their bad experience over what God could be doing redemptively in their lives.
Sometimes your experience can be your worst enemy. It can also make you cynical about future grace, always thinking the worst about people’s motives. Don’t do that. Have faith in God (Hebrews 11:6). Let your faith in the current process that God has for you trump the past evil that someone did to you. God’s grace can outmaneuver and defeat your bad experiences regardless of what has happened to you.
Trap #2 – Isolation – Don’t cut yourself off from a community. It is rare for a person to deteriorate in grace if they actively pursue a gospel-shaped community—a context that is loving and intentional in the personal and practical exploration of life change among friends.
Most of the time when I get in trouble is when I am isolating myself from the community. Sitting, soaking, and spectating on Sundays will not help you. You must engage God and others to change your life. Be open. Be honest. Be taught. Expect to be reproved. Look forward to correction. Run a spiritually productive race.
Your call to action is to work through the thirty questions under the four headings in this chapter.
Ready? Start running.
Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).