Have you tried to really change your life, only to fail miserably? Maybe you have overlooked one vital key that can guarantee success. This article tells you how you can effect genuine, lasting change!
IT WAS just after the party — which one was it? New Year's, Christmas, a birthday or the weekend house party? — that we finally decided we had had enough. No more alcohol. We were going cold turkey. With iron-willed resolve we vowed never to overindulge again. Yep, that was it. The spirit of Carrie Nation and Billy Sunday would prevail from now on — not the spirit of Old Grandad. Same for the cigarettes — out! But it didn't quite come off, did it? Wasn't too long before the old gang got together again, and we were off once more into the wild blue yonder! Just one cocktail and that offered lung buster was too much temptation to resist. And there was the "morning-after-the-night-before" hangover, just like all the times before. Has this been your experience? Maybe not drinking. But it makes little difference whether it is alcohol, illicit sex, cigarettes or overeating. Whether it is a fight with a mate after a particularly annoying day at the office. Or whether it is yelling at the kids through just plain lack of self-control. We all face these problems. We do things we know are harmful to ourselves and others. We want to change, to quit, to get the monkey off our backs. But in all too many cases we know we are fighting a losing battle. And we continue to pay the penalty in unhappiness and frustration, and in making those around us miserable. Does it have to be this way? Were we intended to continue on in a never-ending pattern of failure? The answer is no. We want to change. We should change. And we CAN!
Compensation for Weaknesses
Some of us never admit to the way we are. We blunder on in our indomitable way, never taking a stand-off look at ourselves. When once in a while reality forces itself upon us, we might have an uneasy feeling that we aren't facing the way we really are, but we quickly console ourselves with the "I'm-all-right, you're-ail-right" philosophy. If this is our approach, we will never change. But anyone who has any awareness of himself wants to change bad habits, life-styles, even appearance. Few of us are satisfied with our mental state, financial condition, interpersonal relationships, or physical state. Witness the continued struggle by a large slice of the population to change all of these things. We consult psychiatrists and read books such as The Power of Positive Thinking. We look for new investments, or try to curb our appetite for spending in the hope of changing our financial condition. We read books by Dale Carnegie to improve our personal relationships. We try to restore color to our faces with cosmetics. Or exercise to change the shape of our bodies. Most want to change. We start. Yet so much of this "change" is temporary. It's not permanent change. The question is, WHY? Why don't we make permanent change?
The "Fly in the Ointment"
What's wrong with human beings? Why can't we be the way we really want to be? Einstein put his finger on the root of the problem when he said: "The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men.... It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man...." Science knows no way to effectively change human nature. We know that the cause of all of our problems is the way we are. Human nature is the reason for war, hunger, crime. It is the root cause of all of our troubles. But while we can identify cause and effect, we can't solve the problem. Drugs, genetic engineering, or whatever science may devise to "change" human nature are all limited in their effectiveness because they destroy the uniqueness of a human being. General Douglas MacArthur pinpointed the only real hope for human nature when he said: "The problem basically is theological and involves a spirit of recrudescence and improvement of human character .... It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh." The Bible talks about just such a change in human nature. It describes a time in the future when this change will occur on a giant scale. "A new heart also will I give you," God says, "and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26-27). What will be the result of this change in human hearts? "In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden... " (verses 33-35). This is the world's only real hope for peace. And it is the way that we can change now, on an individual basis. The Bible reveals a way by which we can really change. It offers us the chance to finally eliminate debilitating weaknesses and self-defeating habits. What is the key to such a change in human nature? The Bible terms it repentance. The basic meaning of this theological-sounding term is simply "change"! But there are two kinds of "repentance" described in the Bible, and only real repentance actually brings about permanent change. Most people who seek to change are actually "repenting" in the wrong way. And many who think they have repented even in a religious sense misunderstand. Let's examine the two kinds of repentance. Then we can understand why many of us simply don't make any real, permanent changes.
A Worldly Repentance
Christ said, "Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). Change cannot be arbitrary. Sooner or later, we are all going to have to change. But what does it mean to "repent"? The apostle James likens the Bible to a spiritual mirror which spotlights the failings of human nature (James 1:22-25). When an individual begins to look into the Bible", he becomes capable of a deeper degree of self-analysis. As we peer into this mirror, we begin to realize what we really are and what are the real problems. We come to understand that the heart — the basic core of the human being — "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). Now you might accept the fact that the Bible says we are this way, and you might also mentally agree with it. You • might admit your inability to overcome this wretched nature, perhaps even learning to repeat the words Job used when he came to see himself: "I abhor myself." You may see the need for change, and deeply want to change! It's not so difficult to come to abhor oneself — and to despise and hate weaknesses. After all, most people detest feelings of inferiority. Few like the way they are. But is "detesting" oneself really repentance? Is being "sorry" — even regretting and loathing the way we are — what the Bible means when it talks about repentance? Let's face it. What we usually mean when we say, "I'm sorry," is that we are sorry for the effect our mistakes and inferiorities have on our sense of well-being and happiness! When we give in to weaknesses, we feel guilty. And we like to feel comfortable mentally and physically. We want to live at peace with ourselves and others. Humans like to avoid personal predicaments. They go to almost any lengths to avoid them. And if they can't eradicate their personal despair, some will even take their own lives. Suicide may represent a deep abhorrence of oneself, but suicide is an escape from hopelessness! It is not repentance. Can we begin to see the yawning difference between sorrow — even self-abhorrence — and real change?
Two Kinds of Repentance
Did you realize that Judas Iscariot actually "repented" of his terrible crime? We read: "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned..." (Matt. 27:3-4). Judas had been in the presence of the Master Teacher. He had seen countless miracles performed. He had lived with Christ day and night foe the best part of 3 1/2 years. He was given responsibility and offered a tremendous future in the coming Government of God. But he stole, spurned the greatest chance for success a man ever had, and committed a deed of infamy unparalleled in history when he became a traitor to his Creator! When he saw his horrible mistake, he showed deep remorse. He hated himself, as he had every reason to. Yes, Judas repented! But what did Judas do? He sought a way to escape the terrible guilt he felt. His repentance only led him into another sin! Because he couldn't live with himself, he committed suicide.
Repentance Gets Results
What was wrong with the kind of repentance Judas experienced? To answer this pivotal question, notice the result of the right kind of repentance: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but lei it rather be healed" (Heb. 12:11-13 ). Judas didn't change his way of life. The lame was "turned out of the way." Judas killed himself! He didn't learn from his mistake, and his sorrow produced no "peaceable fruit of righteousness." When we really repent, we change! Paul wrote a strong letter of correction to the church in Corinth. They were going in a pattern of life which was far from what God intended, and they came to see how wrong they were. What was the effect of this correction? Here is how they responded: "... What carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Cor. 7:11). These Corinthians understood what it means to repent. It resulted in tremendous carefulness to avoid the same mistake again, indignation that they had been so foolish, and tremendous zeal — almost a feeling of revenge — not to fall into the same pitfall twice! Because they really repented, they changed! But what made the difference? Why was there a totally opposite result when Judas repented? This same passage in II Corinthians 7 reveals the difference. It shows us plainly that there are two kinds of repentance. "Now I rejoice," wrote Paul, "not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner.... For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation [it produces the fruits of righteousness which will qualify a person for salvation) not to be repented of [we don't need to keep on repenting of the same sin because this kind of repentance produces change): but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort..." (verses 9-11).
David Knew the Difference
The world's kind of sorrow, which too many of us often have, is frankly self-centered remorse! There is a giant difference between this kind of sorrow and godly repentance. When David came to see the terrible sins he had committed, he realized he would experience the penalties for the rest of his life. The prophet Nathan told him that what he had done would bring upon Israel perpetual war with all its horror and suffering. David knew that he would become the object of ridicule and would be humiliated before the whole nation. He had brought tremendous suffering upon a great many people as well as himself. Yet in his prayer of repentance, David cried out to God: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.... For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight..." (Ps. 51:1-4). Why, when he had murdered a man, committed adultery, and brought awesome penalties upon the entire nation, did David say that his sin was against God only? Had David diminished God's power in some way, taken away any of His divine authority, or thwarted His plan for mankind? Had he lessened any of the beauty and splendor of God's throne? Had he actually done some material hurt to God? No, David couldn't do any of these things. Had He chosen, the great Creator could have obliterated even the annoying memory of David from His mind! Yet David understood that his sin was against God. How was it against God?
Sin Is Against God
It is possible to even come to the place that we acknowledge we have sinned against God, and still not be repentant. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He set them up as a model nation. For forty years He performed daily miracles to preserve them alive. He revealed His law to them so that they might prosper. He desired to give them every good thing. Did Israel appreciate all of these blessings? Did they worship God in obedience and overwhelming gratitude for what He had done? To the contrary. Moses indicted them: "And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt... to destroy us" (Deut. 1:27). They accused God of hatred and premeditated murder! When they began to pay a penalty for their sin, these Israelites saw their tremendous mistake and admitted their error. "We have sinned against the Lord," they said (Deut. 1:41). This admission of guilt against God might seem like the people learned their lesson. But they hadn't. Notice the rest of the story. God told the people through Moses: "Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest you be smitten before your enemies. So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the hill" (verses 42-43). When some of them were slain, they again "repented." But what was the result of their repentance? "And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you" (verse 45). Contrast this with God's reaction to David's sin: "And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" (II Sam. 12:13). Why did God hear David but not Israel? The answer is that the Israelites had not really repented. They were sorry for the difficulties into which they had gotten themselves. But it was mere selfish remorse, not repentance. What was the crucial difference between the attitude of these Israelites and David?
Must Understand God
Israel imputed wrong motives to God: they saw Him as a harsh, cruel vindictive, restrictive Being who did things out of avarice and selfish desire. They never understood the great and magnificent God who inspired Isaiah to write: "O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isa. 48:18). The concept of God as a loving Father who wanted every good thing for them just wasn't in their thinking. But David knew God for what He really is. Because of this, he pleaded with God: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee" (Ps. 51:12-13). He deeply appreciated all God had given him. His great desire was to reestablish contact with His Father so that he could continue to serve his Creator. He knew that his sin had been an expression of disrespect and ingratitude toward God. "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord," Nathan asked him, "to do evil in his sight?" And God told him: "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me" (II Sam. 12:9-10). David was broken up over his sin because he realized he had disappointed the One who had given him everything. He had utterly failed a Being who had shown nothing but love and concern toward him! David experienced repentance toward God. He was sorry with a heartfelt godly sorrow. His wasn't a selfish sorrow because of what he was now suffering, what he had been deprived of, or what might happen to him!
Job Understood God
When everything Job owned was suddenly swept from him, and when he was sorely afflicted, he thought God was being unfair to him. He challenged God to reveal Himself so that he could plead his cause. A while later, God did just that. And by the time He was through, Job's eyes had really been opened. He said: "I know that thou canst do every thing and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not: things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.... I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:2-6). Job had talked about a lot of things that he hadn't really comprehended. He knew the true God. He understood God's plan. He had knowledge of the resurrection and a coming change from mortality to immortality (Job 14:14-15). He wrote about the second coming of Jesus Christ and of his own resurrection (Job 19:25-26), But when he came to a real understanding of this great Being — when he grasped the awesome power, magnificence, perfection and mercy of God — he finally got things into proper perspective. He couldn't help but abhor himself by comparison' Here was no surface, shallow, self-seeking, self-pitying type of repentance. Here was the kind of repentance God desires! Like David. Job saw how worthless he was beside God. and how much he had failed to come anywhere near what God wanted of him. He saw himself as a total failure!
What Repentance Is
Has our sin so overwhelmed us that we have cried out to God because we have been so callous and disrespectful toward Him? Have we ever grasped that when we break God's law, we despise our very Maker? Do we realize that to disregard God's instruction — His laws, given for our good — shows utter contempt for this great Being who gives us everything good? How many of us are quite content to continue to bear the result of our physical sins, destroying bit by bit the very body which He gave us to enjoy life. We don't even have the type of worldly repentance that brings about physical change, let alone a deep spiritual change. We overeat — knowingly. We're willing to pay the penalty in colds and other types of sicknesses. We never consider that our bodies are the temple through which God is doing His Work. and that we represent God to the world (I Cor. 3:16-17). When we sin, we show the ultimate scorn for the transcendent purpose of the life we have been given. We show monumental disrespect toward the Being who gave His own Son so that He could share eternity with us. With our sloppy attitude toward God's commandments, we demonstrate unbelievable callousness toward Christ's stupendous sacrifice! God's great desire is to share. He is a giving God. His greatest joy would be to share with us His power. His magnificent glory, His eternity. He wants to give us equality with Him! That is the greatest good God can ever do! When we sin, we deny our Father this tremendous thrill of giving. We thumb our nose at Him. We despise that Creator-Ruler of the entire universe. Do you begin to see what godly repentance is? Do you now comprehend the right motive for self-abhorrence? Godly repentance is repentance because we have denied God the privilege of giving us every good gift.
A Fresh Start!
Perhaps the point could be illustrated by a true story. A man commissioned by Ambassador College for architectural work was invited to Pasadena. He and his wife were shown unusual courtesy and consideration. far beyond what is normal in the world. He didn't expect it. and he felt he didn't deserve it. The attention given to him was unlike anything he had ever experienced. This man felt that he would just hate to disappoint those who had given him such undeserved kindness. He wanted to do the very best for them. If he did not want to disappoint humans who had shown him such consideration, how much more should we hate to disappoint God in the life He has given us? Probably you have been disappointing God. You have tried to repent — tried to change. But you haven't made much progress. But you don't have to go through the same process of sinning and repenting time after time. You can ask God to reveal Himself to you and to give you godly repentance "not to be repented of" (II Cor. 7:9-10). Just as soon as you go to God in deep sorrow for how you have scorned His love and Christ's sacrifice. you can be forgiven. And you can begin on a pathway toward perfection. At last you will make real progress in God's way of life. You won't change overnight. But you will change. God will add to your ability to really repent, so that you stop sinning. When Christ returns. there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some will still be "trying" to repent. but not actually changing. Don't you be among them. Repent in a godly way, and you will be able to say with the same feeling as David: "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him" (Ps. 103:10-11).
What Is A REAL Christian? Most people — even "professing Christians" — know little or nothing about what it means to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. Yet the Bible is quite clear on this subject. If you want to know more, read these two free booklets, What Is a Real Christian? and What is Faith?