My thanks to Tim Challies for posting this article by Nancy Leigh DeMoss:
Recently I ran into a woman I had not seen for several weeks. I hardly recognized her. Her hair, normally blonde, had turned completely white. The transformation was dramatic. All it took was forty minutes and some bleach.
If only spiritual transformation were that easy. Just read a book, see a counselor, attend a conference, make a fresh commitment, shed a few tears at an altar, memorize a few verses … and, presto, out comes a mature, godly Christian.
To the contrary, the experience of many believers looks like this.
Commit. Fail. Confess.
Re-commit. Fail again. Confess again.
Re-re-commit. Fail again. Give up.
After all the struggle and effort, we tend to want a “quick fix”—a once-for-all victory—so we won’t have to keep wrestling with the same old issues.
In my own walk with God, I have discovered some helpful principles about how spiritual change takes place.
1. Deep, lasting spiritual change rarely happens overnight. It is a process that involves training, testing, and time. There are no shortcuts.
We hear of people being dramatically delivered from drug or alcohol addiction, and we may wonder, “Why doesn’t God do that for me? Why do I have to struggle with this food addiction, with lust, worry, and anger?”
Before the children of Israel could possess the Promised Land, they had to drive out the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. Ultimate victory was assured if they would “trust and obey,” but it would take time. “I will not drive them out in a single year,” God said. “Little by little, I will drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:29-30).
God is committed to winning the hearts and developing the character of His people. That requires a process.
2. Spiritual change requires desire. We must ask ourselves: Do I really want to change, or am I content to remain as I am? How important is it to me to be like Jesus? What price am I willing to pay to be godly?
Godly desires are nurtured by prayer and by meditation on Christ, who is the object of our desire. As I read the Scripture and gaze on the Lord Jesus, I find my heart longing to be like Him—humble, holy, compassionate, surrendered to the will of God, and sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit.
When our desire to be holy is greater than our willingness to stay where we are, we have taken a big step toward spiritual transformation.
3. Spiritual change flows out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. The more we love Him, the greater will be our motivation to obey Him and to make the choices that please Him.
The ultimate issue in life is who or what we worship. The process of true change takes place as we are weaned from our love and worship of self, pleasure, and this world, and our hearts become wholly devoted to Christ.
4. Spiritual change requires discipline. I can remember sitting in tiny, windowless practice rooms for hours on end as a college student, playing the same piece of music over and over again. I knew I would never reach my goal—to make beautiful music—without that rigorous discipline.
Discipline for the purpose of godliness is not the same as self-effort. Rather, it means consciously cooperating with the Holy Spirit—yielding to Him so He can conform us to the image of Christ.
The problem is, we want the outcome without the process. We want victory without the warfare.
It is futile to pray and hope for spiritual change, while sitting glued to a television set or neglecting the means God has provided for our growth in grace. Bible study, meditation, worship, prayer, fasting, accountability, and obedience are disciplines that produce a harvest of righteousness in our lives.
Spiritual change is brought about by the Holy Spirit, as we exercise faith and obedience. There were occasions when God promised to drive out Israel’s enemies for them. But sometimes He said, “You must drive out the enemy.” Sometimes God said, “I will fight for you.” At other times, He said, “You must fight.”
So which is it? Does God do the fighting, while we “rest in Him,” or do we have to fight against the enemies of our souls? According to Scripture, the answer is, Yes. “Work out your salvation … for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
True spiritual change is initiated and enabled by the indwelling Spirit of God; it is all of grace, which we receive as we persevere in humility, obedience, and faith.
5. Spiritual change is possible (and assured) because of the new life we received when we were born again. According to God’s Word, at the point of regeneration, we became “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). For the believer, holy living is not a matter of trying harder, but of walking in the reality of a supernatural change that has already taken place.
Sanctification is the process by which the change God has wrought within us is worked out in our daily experience, as “we are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is a life-long—and sometimes painful—process. But we have the confidence that one day the transformation will be complete and “we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
For more from Nancy, check out www.ReviveOurHearts.com. There, you’ll find her daily radio program/podcast/transcript, books, and much more helpful content. Check in at the blog Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week as my wife and I travel to the True Woman conference in Fort Worth, TX.