From Sorry to Change (Part 2)
In Part 1 of last week’s blog post, I explored a few of the identifying factors that provide evidence that someone is truly on the road to change, rather than just simply sorry. If you’ve lived on this planet for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve been frustrated and hurt by another human being. As much we want to hear an apology, what’s really desired is change. We don’t want the offense to happen again! Maybe more painful than the initial transgression, is when an apology is followed by repeats of the transgression that prompted the “sorry” in the first place.
More than likely, you’ve also experienced that same phenomenon with the shoe on the other foot. Maybe you’ve been the one struggling to achieve lasting change. Whether you’re stuck in a pattern of addiction, where you continue to hurt yourself and your loved ones or some other behavior that you’ve undoubtedly felt “sorry” over, true change may seem to elude you in spite of the negative consequences.
Jesus continually called for people to repent. The definition of repentance was explored last week, but suffice it to say, it’s not a feeling, it’s an action. To put Jesus’s command in laymen’s terms, He continually called for people to CHANGE. He also didn’t leave us without a roadmap for how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. Last week, we began to look at His famous, Sermon on the Mount, where he presented what is now referred to as the Beatitudes. We covered the first four and now we will take a look at the rest.
"God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7
Again, it's important to keep in mind that these "steps" are more like presentations. These are the signs of a truly changed person. The best definition of mercy is the withholding of a negative consequence that someone actually deserves. If, for example, a judge takes pity on a criminal and allows for a lesser sentence for the crime committed, we may call that judge merciful. The criminal is essentially not getting what they have earned for themselves through their criminal behavior.
When one recognizes the great mercy that God shows us, it becomes difficult not to show mercy to others. Our slates are wiped clean of every impurity because Jesus paid our fine with His life's blood. He willingly took on the punishment that we rightly deserve, so our case could be legally dismissed in God's great courtroom. When we come to understand that we've been forgiven much, we are able to forgive much in others as well. Also, bear in mind, that there is no sin against us that is worse than our sins against God. Consider this example, if you don't believe that statement. Imagine the sin of lying and the consequences in these different scenarios:
If you lie to your child----------------------->He/she may be upset and
disappointed with you
If you lie to your spouse------------------->He/she is upset and disappointed with you and you may be resigned to sleeping on the couch a night or two
If you lie to your boss------------------------->He/she may fire you
If you lie to the government------------->You may be facing a prison sentence
Do you see how the transgression really didn't change, a lie is a lie. However, the one in which the sin was committed against changes in the level of authority that they have over you. The greater the authority, the greater the punishment. There is no greater authority but the One who created us and gave us breath and life, yet He is full of mercy and is faithful and just to forgive us all of our transgressions (1 John 1:9). An article on the Beatitudes by David Anderson from bible.org notes that "someone who has been shown mercy, is generous, doesn’t keep a record or a mental balance sheet. They don’t do mental accounting and weigh the balance." Ultimately, if someone's "I'm sorry" is followed by an exacting of others transgressions, it's not repentance.
"God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God." Matthew 5:8
A pure heart is the result of God's working in an individual. It is impossible for us to "clean ourselves up" and work hard at having a pure heart. Also, don't fool yourself and think that it just comes naturally. I hear many people say that they believe they have a pure heart, yet they keep one foot in the world and spend more time seeking worldly treasures rather than seeking God. Another example is the profanity that comes from their mouths, whether it be foul language, course joking, or gossip; Luke 6:45b tells us that "what you say flows from what is in your heart." The first step in having a pure heart is recognizing and grieving over the fact that you don't. None of us do, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Changes in an individual's speech and tastes in entertainment (e.g., music, television, and movies) will become noticeable. They will begin to rearrange their lives in a way that promotes purity and runs from anything that would promote debauchery. The truth is, that before God's intervening, as well as the number one reason folks stay away from God, is because we love sin. Sin is pleasurable or we wouldn't do it. However, evidence of a pure heart is shown by beginning to hate the things that God hates, sin being the primary thing. Our affections begin to tip in the direction of loving the things of God and hating the things of the world. This doesn't happen instantaneously, but gradually, as God graciously peels back the layers of sin in our lives, much like an onion, with all the tears included along the way! The world thinks of the word "holy" and thinks "boring and sad," yet the more holy one is, the more freedom and happiness they experience.
"God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God." Matthew 5:9
I really like this translation because of the word "work" that is used here in conjunction with peace. Being a peacemaker is one who has to step out of their comfort zone in order to work to bring about peace to a conflictual situation. How often do we hold onto our anger in prideful stubbornness when in a conflict with a loved one? We cling to being "right" and justify our anger, often over very small matters. Further evidence of transformation in an individual's life is their eagerness to seek peace, regardless of whether they consider themselves to be in the right or the wrong.
"God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs." Matthew 5:10
This final Beatitude is one that is a natural result of the "steps" being plainly present in the life of a changed person. 2 Timothy 3:12 states that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Don't believe that this is true? What about peer pressure? Although many would like to believe that peer pressure only happens throughout pre-teen and teenage years, the fact is that it is present throughout our lives. No one understands this better than a true believer. When we choose to decline an invitation to hang out at a bar, or go see an R-rated movie, or head home early on a Saturday night to make it to Sunday morning's early service, we aren't applauded, but rather laughed at, mocked, and ridiculed. Peter tells us that
"Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you." (1 Peter 4:4)
I can certainly attest to this truth. When I became a Christian and had surrendered the authority of my life over to the Lord, my former friends noticed. Some actually told me that they "missed the old" me. Fairly quickly, the phone calls, texts, and invites faded from many former friends. As God began to work in me and change me, I began to realize how narrow the path really is.
"For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" Matthew 7:13b
As scripture tells us, Like salmon swimming upstream, the person changed by the light of God's truth is continually bombarded by the world to conform to its ways. Non-conformity to the world's way is typically met with resistance. However, relatively speaking, peer pressure is insignificant when compared to the stark reality that Christians continue to be the most persecuted group in the world (see associated articles 1, 2).
When we pass from simply being sorry into actually changing, there will be many ways that this will manifest in our lives. Most of these ways can be clearly seen by anyone willing to look. Although we typically don't desire persecution, we can be comforted when we are persecuted for Christ's sake, as it signals that we are indeed on the right path.
I pray this series of blog posts have been a blessing to you. I'd love to hear your comments/feedback below!