Knowing What to Do But Not Doing It Is a Problem

God’s mercy comes to us without conditions but does not proceed without our cooperation. So too our aid must begin freely, regardless of the recipient’s merits. But our mercy must increasingly demand change, or it is not really love. – Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy

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Discipleship Is a Cooperative Effort

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17).

In the divine wisdom of God, He has put part of the “change responsibility” on you to make the necessary adjustments so you can glorify Him. For transformation to take place, you must be willing to change.

Recently I met with a couple, and we began addressing some deep-seated problems that have been troubling their marriage for many years. After an hour of digging into their marriage with x-ray type questions, we got to some of the core issues.

Their heads were down as they wrestled with the disappointments that had characterized their marriage for so long. After a while, the wife lifted her head and said, “This is nothing new. I have been saying this for years.”

What was interesting about her comment was that I did not tell them one thing in over sixty minutes of examination that they did not already know. But her statement did not surprise me. That comment is the norm in counseling.

It is rare to tell a counselee something about their thinking or behavior that they do not already know. Discipleship is not rocket science. Though “we are fearfully and wonderfully made,” we are not over-complicated (Psalm 139:14).

Mercy Increasingly Demands Change

Once the cat came out of the proverbial bag in my counseling office, it was decision time. Did they want to deal with what they already knew? Though I did not tell this couple anything new, the next step that they should make confronted them. The success of their marriage depended on how they would respond. Were they going to take the personal, practical, and necessary steps to change?

God is a gracious and merciful God. He is long-suffering and kind to His children. His patience and kindness come to us not because we have earned it, but because He is good and He enjoys showing favor on us. But we are not allowed to take that grace for granted.

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me (Psalm 19:13).

Just because God is gracious to you, it would be foolish to presume on it. You have a responsibility before God to change. My friends came to counseling and heard me tell them what they already knew about themselves. Now they needed to decide if they were going to respond to the things they heard.

Tim Keller got it right. “Mercy must increasingly demand change, or it is not love.” Mercy requires a response. It is not freely given just for us to enjoy temporarily. Mercy is extended as kindness from God so we can progressively change into the image of Christ.

There was nothing else for this couple to do. The husband and wife knew the truth. By their admission, it was redundant to them. Now it was time for them to change.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:30-32).

Call to Action

  1. What is one thing that God has identified in your life that you need to cooperate with Him by changing?
  2. List at least two other specific things in your life that you need to work on regarding your sanctification.
  3. Ask a friend to help you apply God’s empowering grace in your life so you can change.
  4. If you know you need to change something but are unsure of the right steps or the proper “diagnosis” of the problem, I want you to ask us. It would be our joy to serve you.
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