I received an email this week titled, "Advice to be passed onto your daughter." Since I have a daughter, I read carefully, hoping to learn something. The first advice was, "Don’t imagine you can change a man - unless he’s in diapers."
I’ve given counsel like that to wives. I generally say, "You can’t change your husband. You can only change yourself." Well, I’ve not told the whole truth. The whole truth is, "You can change your husband, but only after you have changed yourself."
Many of us change the person we are in response to whom we are with. Some people bring out the transparent and courteous me, while others bring out the defensive and rude me. If you’ve been bringing out the defensive and rude me and you want to change me into a transparent and courteous person, you’ll have to change yourself first. Because most of us change the person we are in response to whom we are with.
This morning, we will look at the most wonderful change anyone can experience, changing from a person who does not trust God into a person who trusts God with his life and future. We’ll see how God brings about that change. We can learn a great deal about how change is best facilitated as we look at how God does it in us.
The text is Ephesians 1:4-14. I introduced the book the first time we studied Ephesians. Let me read today’s passage for us. Paul wrote verses 4-14 in one long sentence. Depending on the translation of your Bible, the punctuation and verse breaks may be different.
Sometime ago, I was a youth worker at another church. The youth group I worked with had enough problems for a group twice its size. I got really upset at the kids one day. I gathered them into a room. I had them close their eyes, bow their heads and pray.
When we got done praying, we could sense a true change of heart in many of the kids. That day became a turning point for many of the kids to get serious with God.
God is in the business of changing people. Sometimes He brings about the change in response to our prayers. Almost always, He is already at work changing us without us knowing. This morning’s passage reveals five ways God changes us from people who did not trust Him into people who trust God with our lives and our future.
How does God do this? Let’s look together and discover the five principles to facilitate change.
The first way God facilitates change in us is that He credits us in advance with His desired outcome. Verse 4.
The Christian faith is wonderfully different from all other religious faiths. All other religious faiths require that we work up to a certain standard before we could be right with God. Paul, however, tells us that if trust God, God credits us in advance with the required holiness and righteousness, even before we live holy and righteous lives. This is a gift from God.
Romans 4:4-5 tells us, "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."
In other words, when God gives us credit in advance for being holy and blameless, He’s giving us a gift. And if we receive the gift of being holy and blameless in God’s sight, we can have confidence in our relationship with God. Not only that, we can have confidence in truly living a holy and blameless life.
We are like the students who are guaranteed all "As" in our report card. We don’t have to be afraid of failing. We can be confident to try our best.
Susan wrote in our 4th wedding anniversary, "Today, as I sat and watched you play with Esther, I feel so proud and blessed to have a wonderful husband like you. I’m the envy of all my friends."
I had to read that a few times, because I couldn’t believe she was talking about me. I know I’m not that kind of husband and father. And she knows it. What was she doing?
Instead of nagging me to be a more involved father, Susan was giving me credit in advance for the desired outcome. I’m becoming a better husband and father because Susan is applying the first principle to facilitate change: Credit the person in advance for the desired outcome.
The second way God facilitates change in us is that He loves us beyond what we deserve. Verses 5-6
God not only credits us with holiness and righteousness, but He goes way beyond that. He adopts those who trust in Jesus Christ into God’s family. And family is the place where you won’t be kicked out, because family is the place of unconditional love.
And this unconditional love of God changes us. 1 John 4:19-20 tells us, "We love because [God] first loved us." Steve Brown is fond of saying, "We can only love when we have been loved, and we can only love to the degree we have been loved." And that’s true.
Many people make the mistake of thinking they can change a mean co-worker into a loving co-worker by being mean to him. They think if the mean coworker knew how it felt to be treated poorly, and he would change. That’s not the way to change a mean co-worker.
If you want to change a mean co-worker into a loving co-worker, you first love her unconditionally. When she experiences unconditional love, she will love because she has been loved. Apply the second principle to facilitate change: Love beyond what the person deserves.
The third way God facilitates change in us is that He sacrificed Himself in order to forgive us. Verses 7-8
True forgiveness sacrifices self in order to forgive. When God forgave us of our wrongs, He sacrificed His right as God and came to die as a man for mankind. He set us free by paying the price for ours sins.
Someone once said, "If I forgive you for punching me in the nose, I sacrificed my nose. I willingly pay the price of a bruised nose."
When the price is paid, the wrong-doer simply needs to accept the forgiveness. Then he will be free from the burden of his past wrong. He may or he may not choose to change, grow or to rebuild a healthy relationship with me, but I am not the one to keep him from that possibility.
Colossians 3:13 tells us, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
In order to forgive as Jesus Christ, our Lord, forgave us, we need to consider the following. When our in-law, our spouse or our classmate hurts us, we need to first decide to forgive. Second, we need to define what is to be sacrificed in order to forgive. If my in-law manipulated money away from me, money is what I need to sacrifice. If my classmate gossiped about me, then my hurt pride is what I need to sacrifice.
Third, look at what God sacrificed in order to forgive me. If we truly understand how great a sacrifice God made, the fourth step is easy. Let go of the money or hurt pride or whatever else, and consider it payment to set the person free.
God paid a great price to set us free. We can pay whatever price to set someone else free. Apply the third principle to facilitate change: Sacrifice self in order to forgive the person.
The fourth way God facilitates change in us is that He communicates His intentions with us. Verses 9-13a
God communicated His intentions with us from the beginning. His intention is that we trust Him with our lives and with our future. God’s creation proves that God is trustworthy. He created a world to sustain life and supply our daily needs.
But when God saw that mankind didn’t understand His intention by looking at creation, God sent prophets, human messengers. And when mankind didn’t believe the prophets, God came in the form of man, Jesus Christ, to communicate unmistakably His intentions to be with us and for us.
Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son [Jesus Christ], whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe."
Many of us trust God today because God did not quit communicating His intentions with us. If we are to change others for the better, we cannot give up and withdraw.
We also cannot nag. A person who nags is like a carpenter who has only a hammer in his tool chest. He uses his hammer to put in a nail, a screw, even a light bulb.
We need to be a student of others to find the best tool to use in communicating our intentions. Don’t be discouraged by a lack of immediate response. Many people require years of different forms of communication before they will respond. Apply the fourth principle to facilitate change: Communication your intentions with the person.
The fifth way God facilitates change in us is that He offers us future security now. Verses 13b-14
God knows we are people with little faith who struggle to trust Him. So when God calls us to trust Him with our lives and with our future, He gives us His Holy Spirit now as a guarantee that He will take care of us for all of eternity.
Two weeks ago, I had dinner with some friends. One of them is quite close to trusting God with her life and future. She made the following comment: "As I go through life, no one can always be there with me. Only God can be with me until the end of life."
As Paul was about to die, he said this about his trust in God, "Yet, I am not ashamed, because I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day (2 Timothy 1:12)." We can trust God because He offers us future security now.
Pastor Bruce Wong who did the premarital counseling for Susan and I asked this question in one of the sessions: "God forbid that one of you should have an affair after your marriage, but if that should happen, would you file for divorce?" Both Susan and I vowed that day that we would not file for divorce. We gave each other the guarantee that we will be there till the end.
Our marriage is not perfect. We hurt each other sometimes. We are selfish, prideful and insecure about many things. But one thing we are not insecure about is whether one of us will leave if the other one of us is unfaithful. This guarantee gives both of us the security to move beyond our mistakes and sins, and to move toward the person God wants us to become. Apply the fifth principle to facilitate change: Offer the person future security now.
By now, you should be able to see how we need to change ourselves before we can change another person for the better. Instead of criticizing, we need to credit the person. Instead of repaying evil with evil, we need to repay evil with love and forgiveness. Instead of giving up our efforts, we need to communicate continually and creatively and offer future security now.
The secret to changing others is letting God change us first. Susan has been able to change me a great deal over the last four years, because she has allowed God to change her first.
Some of you have seen the musical, "My Fair Lady." The story tells of Henry Higgins, who bets a friend that he can change a lowly flower girl, Eliza Dolittle, into a princess, a lady of brilliance and poise.
Mr. Higgins’ attempts include lectures and corrections to teach Eliza to speak properly, to dress properly and to have proper manners. After many attempts failed, Eliza says to another character in the play, "The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated. I will always be a flower girl to Mr. Higgins, because he always treats me that way."
Before you came this morning, you thought God was a Heavenly Mr. Higgins. But now you know.
He credits you with His desired outcome. He loves you beyond what you deserve. He sacrificed Himself to forgive you. He communicates His intentions with you. He offers future security now. You can trust God with your life and with your future.