The Gospel and Change

This past Sunday’s sermon from Romans 6:1-15 (“Grace to Change”) emphasized the fact that we have all the grace we need to change because of our union with Christ. Our union with the death of Christ has produced a permanent change to us: we are free from the power and domination of sin. Our union with the life of Christ provides the power for progressive change within us: we are connected to the True Vine who gives us the spiritual life to grow (John 15). I want to follow up with two more thoughts.

First, the gospel provides the motivation to change. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ controls us… that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV).” The word “control” can mean to urge or compel. Thus Christ’s love for us, demonstrated at the cross, is a powerful motivator to change sinful habits and live for Him. Consider these words from Horatius Bonar, a 19th century Scottish pastor:

The free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this… Free and warm reception into the divine favor is the strongest of all motives in leading a man to seek conformity to Him who has thus freely forgiven him all trespasses.

Jerry Bridges adds:

We are to be motivated by Christ’s love for us. And where do we  learn of His love? Where do we hear Him say, “I love you”? It is in the gospel. The gospel believed every day is the only enduring motivation to pursue progressive sanctification. (Bridges, The Gospel For Real Life, p. 164)

So why change? Because God freely loves you, has accepted you into His family, and is conforming you to be like His Son. This is what the gospel of the crucified Christ teaches us.

Secondly, the gospel provides the potential to change. Paul wrote these words also: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 ESV).” Christ now lives within us through the Spirit. He rules our hearts. He is the source of change. Note how Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp comment on this verse:

Here is the gospel of our potential. It was necessary for us to die with Christ so that he could live forever in our hearts. The old sinful me has died. But it has not been replaced with a better me. The replacement is Christ! My heart is new, because Christ lives there. My heart is alive, because Christ lives there to give it life. My heart can respond to life in new ways because it is no longer dominated by sin, but liberated by the gracious rule of Christ. That is why I have the potential for amazing change and growth in my heart and life. (Lane and Tripp, How People Change, p. 151)

They then add these words of application:

Our potential is Christ! When we really believe this and live it out, we start to realize our true potential as children of God. We start to see new and surprising fruit mature in our lives. The Christian mom, who speaks with patience when she once would have spoken in anger, is experiencing the reality of Christ living in her. The husband, who comes home tired from work but still serves his wife, is living in the power of the indwelling Christ. The friend, who chooses to overlook minor offenses and stay in a relationship she would have once forsaken, is choosing to live on the basis of “Christ within me” faith. What Paul lays out here is intensely practical. It has the potential to radically alter the way we live and respond every day. (pp. 151-152)

Christ loves us and lives within us. That is the motivation and potential to change. Encouraged by Christ’s love and empowered by Christ’s life, you can make changes in your life. Keep preaching the gospel to yourself daily and live in the freedom and power of God’s grace.

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