I don’t want to bleed all over the blog and on you, the readers. It is enough to say that my life is in a season of change that is both exhilarating and painful.
My time reading the Bible this morning was fruitful. Only part way through my coffee, physically tired and mentally scattered, I realized that I was in a chapter with one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. Let me share it here whole, and then break it down in some thoughts on life changes:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28 ESV)
That might be one of the best expressions of transformation ever written. Look at where the subject starts out, the ground he or she must cover, and the destination. There are four points of personal transformation along this path. Let me mark them, and then share how I’m going to try and navigate them.
Confession: The Thief
The first part of change is honest self assessment. That means naming what rules us and owning the label, no matter how unflattering; thief, gossip, porn-head, people-pleaser, braggart, verbal abuser, victim, coward, addict, enabler…
This is to drop all rationalizations and set aside all analysis of who and what’s “to blame.” It is to say, “This is what I’ve become.” The Bible has plenty of “don’t be a THIS guy” warnings. We have to look into those.
Confession is a start but not a finish. Some folks readily identify their “stuff” and then indulge in endless talking about it – almost to the point of revelry. Others sink into despair, which ignores the God of love and mercy. Transformation demands moving on from naming the label.
Repentance: No Longer Steal
By definition, a glutton’s change requires that he or she stop overeating. There’s no transformation from that label without repentance – turning – from the expression of it in one’s life.
This is hard work in most cases. It requires a degree of suffering, from discomfort on one extreme to agony on the other. It means times of guilt and frustration when the label seems permanent and we keep acting it out, despite zeal for change. Just when we think we’ve ripped the label off for good, certain people will stick it back on.
Ceasing the behavior that earns our damning label is essential, but does not complete the journey. We can stop here and live in self-righteousness, or we can continue on this trek to transformation.
Sanctification: Doing Honest Work With His Own Hands
To sanctify is to make something holy, putting it in God’s possession. What a beautiful image this verse presents, as the thief devotes the tools of his trade – his own, self-serving hands – to use that accords with God’s will.
Sanctification takes us beyond the point of ceasing the destructive behavior with which we were (rightly) labeled, and moves us on to holy (we’re never perfect, so holier?) living.
This is to let our points of weakness become entrances for the power of God, helping us do what we formerly resisted or showed ourselves incapable of carrying out,
…but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NAB)
This reliance upon God makes possible the last leg of the journey.
Christlikeness: So That He May Have Something to Share With Anyone in Need
We can’t force this ultimate transformation. It is a gift from God. But what a gift; the thief, a person defined by taking from others to gratify the self, is now empowered to live as Christ, setting aside all self regard in order to enrich the lives of others.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB)
It is a real pot a the end of the rainbow kind of gift, and God can transform a person in any way, through any means and at any time of God’s own choosing. There’s no method to make it happen – otherwise it wouldn’t be a gift.
But we are most likely to encounter God and be ready to receive the gift when we embark on transformations consistent with those revealed in Scripture, such as confession, repentance and sanctification.
What I’m doing, and would invite you to try out, is to take that verse about the thief and personalize it:
Let the (a label that you confess) no longer (behavior that earns the label), but rather let him/her (a behavior that honors God and replaces your old way of doing things) so that he/she may (a goal for how your transformed life can be a blessing to others).
Sound far-fetched? Not really, because it is what God’s been doing in Christ for a very long time,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)