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Daniel Plan #2: "What It Takes to Really Change"

Romans 12:1-12 October 18, 2015

(adapted from Rick Warren, Saddleback Church; used by permission)

Today, we're looking at what it takes to REALLY CHANGE. One of the universal desires of human beings is this desire to improve, to grow, to get better. We all want to make something of our lives if we're healthy. One of the proofs of that is we spend billions of dollars every year on projects and products and gizmos and gadgets that we think will improve our lives or make our lives better. There's an entire industry built around the idea of, if you'll just buy our product or eat our product, then your life will be better.

But, sadly, the results don't really last. Some of them don't even work at all. Is there anything out there that can get guaranteed permanent change? Is there anything that can ever really transform my life that can actually make the changes in the deepest part of me? Not just superficial changes, but in the deepest part of me? Yes, but you've got to go back to the Owner's Manual. When in doubt read the instructions and check with the Creator. The classic text in Scripture on how to change is Romans chapter 12, the first twelve verses; there we find six principles for lasting change.

The first principle is in verse 1, the Principle of Dedication.

1.The Principle of DEDICATION: Commit my body to God

That's the starting point. I commit my body to God. Why is this best, to start with the physical? Because your body affects your behavior. Your muscles affect your moods and your motivation. Your body can actually influence your moods. Look into body language, posture - your physiology can affect your psychology.

Let's try an experiment. Everybody sit up straight right now. Roll your shoulders just a little bit. Take a deep breath and hold it for a minute. Now let it out slowly. Doesn't that feel better? Looks better, too! That little exercise leaves you far more alert than you were a minute ago. Why? Because your body sent messages to your brain saying, "Sit up and listen."

So God says, "Offer your bodies." Start there: physiology affects psychology. Romans 12:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship."

First it starts off, "Therefore I urge you brothers." A "therefore" means "in light of everything I just said." Paul has just taken 11 chapters to talk about all the cool things God has done for you - justification, redemption, sanctification, filling with the Holy Spirit...Then he comes to chapter 12 and says, Therefore, in light of all these mercies that God has shown you, in light of all God's grace to you, offer your bodies. Because of everything God has done for you - you can go back and read all of Romans 1-11 - because God's done all that for you, he says, offer your bodies.

Notice it doesn't say, offer your heart to Jesus. He doesn't say, offer your spirit to Jesus, or offer your soul to Jesus. He says offer your body. Why? Because as long as you're in this earthly life, everything you do for God, with God, in God, you're going to do in your bod for God.

It says "offer your body" - because the Bible teaches in both Old and New Testaments that the body is a good thing, not a bad thing. The ancient sect the Gnostics taught the body is bad, evil, no good; therefore sex is bad, evil, and no good. They even denied that Jesus had a real body because bodies are bad. But the Bible teaches the opposite of that: the Bible says sex is not bad, it's good - to be enjoyed within the protection and exclusiveness of solemn sacred vows, the marriage covenant. The Bible teaches very clearly that God created my body, Jesus paid for my body, the Holy Spirit lives in my body, and my body's connected to God's family, the church - the body of Christ. One day my body's going to be resurrected. The bottom line is it's a good thing.

Paul says "offer your bodies." Think about the word "offer": when you offer something, is that forced or voluntary? It's voluntary. Nobody can force you to offer your body, or force you to change. You can't change your husband or wife, your parents or kids...The only person you can change is you. The first law of change is this: Change is my choice.

Then he says, "Therefore offer your body as a living sacrifice to God." The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can choose to crawl off the altar! We do this all the time. We offer ourselves to God and then we take ourselves back. So this is not like a once for all offer, like, "In 1973 I gave my life to God…" No, you've got to do it four, five, maybe ten times a day. Every time you're tempted to do something wrong in your body, your mind, your spirit; you offer your body to God anew.

"Offer as a living sacrifice." What can happen is we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice on Sunday and then we crawl off the altar on Monday morning. We come to church and sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" but then on Monday we go AWOL! Offer your body as a living sacrifice.

"It is your spiritual act of worship." There are 3 specific things you can do with your body that are acts of worship.

1) I can cleanse it. That's detox, not putting poison in my body. There may be some stuff that you're putting in your body that you need to stop putting in your body. You need to cleanse your body of those toxins, those poisons, that bad stuff. Cleansing my body becomes an act of worship. 2Corinthians 7:1 "Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." Notice the motivation: I want to be holy before God. We do this as an act of worship, as an act of reverence to God, caring for the temple He made. God made my body; I better take care of it, change the oil, get rid of the gunk.

This verse refers to "everything that contaminates the body and spirit". There's more than just a dietary detox involved here. What contaminates the body goes in through the mouth - you eat it or you drink it. What contaminates the spirit goes in through the eyes and the ears. You contaminate your spirit by what you watch or listen to; you contaminate your body by what you eat or drink. So the Bible says, out of reverence for God, you can cleanse your body of contaminants: that's an act of worship. The second thing I can do as an act of worship:

2) I can care for my body. That's an act of worship. Caring for your body is an act of stewardship because remember, what you think you own is really on loan. You don't really own anything, it's all God's; God just loaned it to you. You didn't own anything before you were born, and you're not going to own anything after you die. It's just yours to occupy and manage while He lets you live here on earth. Ephesians 5:29 "No one hates his own body [at least in his right mind] but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body which is the church [the family of God]." Caring for your body can be an act of worship. How do you care for your body? Keeping it in shape would be a good way to do that! That would be an act of worship to God.

There's a third way to worship God by our physical being:

3)By controlling my body. Cleansing it, caring for it, and controlling it. Controlling my body is an act of worship to God when I do it out of motivation… Some people cleanse their body, care for their body, control their body simply out of pride. That's not an act of worship! But if you're doing this because you want to please God then it becomes an act of worship. 1Thessalonians 4:4 "Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable." In other words I control my body, it doesn't control me. So, you can't let yourself off the hook by giving the excuse, "I couldn't help myself." 1Corinthians 9:27 "I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should." If everybody did that, we'd have a whole lot fewer health problems! In the USA, for example, 75% of all health care expense is due to people not cleansing, controlling, and caring for their bodies.

So, the first principle required in order to really change is, "I commit my body to God." That's dedication.

The second principle is found in verse 2:

2. The Principle of CONCENTRATION: I must refocus my mind

Romans 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, [he's talking about the way the world thinks] but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The reason why he starts here with the mind is because whatever gets your attention gets you. You've got to stop thinking about what you don't want and start thinking about what you do want. You've got to stop focusing on what's bad for you and start focusing on what's good for you; stop focusing on your plan and start focusing on God's plan. Stop focusing on what everybody else wants you to do; instead start focusing on what God wants you to do. You've got to transform by the renewing of your mind, what you're giving your attention to.

It says, "Do not conform." To conform is to copy everybody else, fit into their mould. Too often we let other people - the wrong people - shape our lives. Have you ever done anything stupid, dumb, risky or unhealthy because everybody else did it? Oh, yeah - because it was popular, because it was the cool thing to do. Nobody ever actually smoked a cigarette because they liked the smell of it! They started because they saw somebody else do it and then they copied, they "wanted to be like __", and then, BOOM! they got addicted to it. Do not copy; don't conform.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." The point is, everything you've learned in life you've learned from a pattern, you learned from a model. That's how we learn. Little ducks are patterned by the momma duck. You learn by a model. The problem is, there are no perfect models in the world! Every human being is imperfect. (Sorry, parents, I've got to be honest about this! I apologize if I'm disillusioning your young'uns.) So you had, for instance, some models for conflict resolution growing up that weren't very good; for anger management; for eating; for how you use your mouth; some models and patterns growing up about procrastinating. A lot of the models and a lot of the patterns that you grew up with were defective. You're going to have to learn some new patterns. You're going to have to not conform to those old patterns any more. You're going to have to change the way you think, to learn some new models, new patterns.

So here's a second law of change from God's Word: To change my life, I must change my model. I've got to get a picture of a new way of doing it.I've got to stop conforming to that old habitual pattern and the way I thought I was supposed to do it and I've got to get a new way of doing it. 1Cor.15:33 "Bad company corrupts good character." There's only one perfect model; God sent him to earth - and we killed Him! His name is Jesus. Twenty times Jesus commands, "Follow Me." Why? Because he's the perfect model - follow My example. Paul, six times says, "Follow me as I follow Christ." Imitate me. You're going to have a model. It's impossible to not have models in your life, so you need to choose them carefully.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." That word "transformed" in the Greek is the root from which we get the word "metamorphosis" What is metamorphosis? It's what happens when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. When it comes out of the cocoon, it's not simply a better version of a caterpillar! It's a totally different beast. That's not reformation, or renewal, or gradual improvement: that's radical transformation. Only God can do that. Positive thinking can't do that. Only God can give you a new life. The Bible calls it being born again. It's like getting a whole new life. Being transformed, metamorphosis - from ugly caterpillar to beautiful free butterfly. How? By the renewing of your mind. Ephesians 4:22-24 "Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires;[That's those impulses and compulsions that pull you the wrong direction] and be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." In the renewal of your mind, you've got to put off before you can put on. Let's suppose you go over to a clothing store for a new coat: you find one and take it in to one of those little changing rooms. You don't put the coat on over your old coat; that'd be stupid - because, first, it's going to be hot; second, you're not going to know if it fits. No, you've got to take off the old before you can put on the new. That's true spiritually and emotionally and mentally. You've got to put off before you put on, renewing your mind.

To introduce the third principle: If I were to call you up and say, "I'm going to come over to your house this afternoon; tell me how to get to your house" - what would be the first question you would ask me? "Well, where are you now?" Because you don't know how to get to where you need to go until first you know where you are. That's a vital element of change: you don't know where you need to be until first you know where you are. The third principle:

3.The Principle of EVALUATION: I must humbly assess my current state

I must humbly - because it takes humility - assess my current state. The first and the greatest barrier to change in your life is pride. "I don't have any problems! I don't see a pink elephant in the room - what are you talking about?" My ego, my selfish pride, keeps me from admitting I need to change.

Fact is, nobody has it all together. You, nor I, even Pope Francis doesn't have it all together. Everything on this planet is broken because of sin. Have you noticed your body doesn't work perfectly? Your relationships don't work perfectly; nothing works perfectly on this planet because it's broken due to sin. Nobody's perfect, yet we pretend like we've got it all together, we try to impress people, fooling them into thinking that we've got it all together. You know you don't have it all together. God knows you don't have it all together.

Honesty is the best policy and I must humbly assess my current state. I have to admit I have a problem with my finances, with my health, with whatever! Romans 12:3 "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, [that's humility] but rather think of yourself [in other words evaluate yourself] with sober judgment, [in other words be realistic about the situation you're in] in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

First he says "don't think of yourself more highly." In other words be humble - or you'll stumble. The man who gets too big for his britches will inevitably be exposed in the end! Don't think more highly of yourself; don't think, I don't have any problems. My family's perfect! Oh, really? My kids, my health, my job is perfect...Oh really? Stop trying to think more highly of yourself! Just be honest, be authentic, real; be humble.

Paul continues, "Think of your life with sober judgment." Be realistic.NLT "Be honest in your estimate of yourself." So let me ask you honestly: What are you pretending isn't a problem in your life? In your marriage, your finances, your health? Do you have enough courage to confront yourself? Do you have the courage to ask those closest to you to tell you honestly what you need to change? Evaluation...Humbly assess my current state.

Paul says "Do not think of yourself more highly…[Be humble] Evaluate your life with sober judgment, [Be honest] in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." Circle the phrase "measure of faith." Hebrews 11:6 maintains, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Do I have enough faith to believe I can change? You're going to need to increase the measure of your faith. How do you get more faith? Romans 10:17, "Faith comes from hearing the Word of God." Take in Scripture as soul food, it stretches your faith as you read God's promises and see the wonders worked in the lives of God's people who came before you.

Evaluation - humbly assess my current state. I can't know here I need to go unless I know where I am right now.

Verse 4 has the fourth principle for lasting change:

4.The Principle of COOPERATION: I must get group support

You will not make all the changes you need to make or want to make by yourself. You need a group. God wired the universe in such a way that we need each other. We get well in community. I need you; you need me. 58 times in the New Testament the phrase "one another" is used. Love one another, care for one another, encourage one another, support one another, pray for one another, greet one another, share with one another - fifty-eight times! God never meant for you to go through life as a lone ranger. You need a family, a spiritual family - preferably a small group. Romans 12:4 "Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body.We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has different work to do.And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others." Circle "we belong to each other" and "we need each other." You need me, I need you, you need the other people around you, they need you. We belong to each other. Here's the fourth law of change: Change Requires Community.

It is not a solo issue. You change faster, better, longer, you change more completely, permanently through community. The areas that you say, "I can never stop that - I can never break that habit in life", will break if you get in community. What you need in order to really change doesn't come from a self-help book: you need God's power and community. Galatians 3:28 "In Christ there is no difference or division between Jews and Gentiles, free people and slaves, male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus." It's our love in Christ, our love for each other that brings us together which is greater than any kind of ethnic or other kind of difference.

5.The Principle of AFFIRMATION: I must fill my life with love

If I want to have lasting change, I must fill my life with love. Why? Because love can change the unchangeable; love invigorates, revitalizes, renews, refreshes. Love is a powerful force because God IS love - 1Jn 3:8,16. It doesn't say He has love; it says He is love. Love heals what can't be healed otherwise. Love uplifts, strengthens, energizes. Song of Songs 8:6, "Love is stronger than death." Think about that...If love is stronger than death it means that love is stronger that debt, divorce, discouragement, depression, disease, or doubt. Love is stronger than anything else! Fill your life with love, one of the strongest powers in the universe. Romans 12:9 "Don't just pretend you love others.Really love them.Hate what is evil.[Strong language, but sometimes that means you've got to confront it, do an intervention] Stand on the side of the good. [You've got to love enough sometimes to confront.] Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other." When other believers have a small win in health, in finances, in any goal they've set, celebrate with them. Celebrate their small wins. Way to go! You got a little bit out of debt? Fantastic! You had a breakthrough in your marriage? Terrific! The Bible tells us to take delight in honoring each other; show genuine affection.

God has wired the universe such that, when we help other people, God helps us with our own problems. Show love, give yourself away - there is healing in giving back. How do you know when you're recovered? When you're helping somebody else. In the account in the Old Testament, Job lost everything - his health, family, wealth - he lost it all. At the end of the book Job got it all back, double. Why? When Job prayed for himself? No! Job 42:10 "After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord gave him success again and the Lord gave Job twice as much as before." Not when he prayed for himself, but when he prayed for his friends.

Pray for other people and watch God work in your life. Give yourself away; give yourself in love.

There's one last principle, just as important as all the others...

6.The Principle of MOTIVATION: I must nurture my enthusiasm

You've got to figure out how to nurture your enthusiasm, maintain your enthusiasm over the long haul in order to reach your goals. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm." You've got to have passion, enthusiasm, or you're never going to make it to the finish line. Not, "I kind of want to get out of debt" - you're never going to get out of debt. "I really want to get in shape…Pass me some potato chips." It's not going to happen. If you're just kind of ho-hum, half-hearted, no energy, no enthusiasm for this goal, you're never going to do it.

Positive thinking is not enough. Pulling yourself up by your own psychological bootstraps is not enough. There are a lot of things in the world you can't be positive about. Rape is not positive. If your wife gets leukemia, that's not positive. If your son gets in a car accident or commits suicide (as Rick Warren's did), all the positive thinking in the world won't get you through that - you need God to get you through those tough times.

The way you stay enthusiastic for a lifetime is found in the word "enthusiasm." The word "enthusiasm" comes from the Greek words en theos. En is the Greek word for the English word "in"; theos is the Greek word for "God", hence, "theology" is the word for the study of God. So en theos means to be "in God." When you get in God you will be truly ENTHUSiastic - the kind of gut level enthusiasm that fills your heart with such enthusiasm, such buoyancy, such heaven-pumped ballast, that it doesn't matter whether the economy is tanking or it is soaring, whether it's raining or it's shining, whether things are bad or good. Your "enthusiasm" (properly understood, through faith) is not dependent upon your circumstances, because you are tied to the Rock of Ages, the Eternal God. By faith, you are in Christ; you are in God and you are eternally enthusiastic.

Paul tells us how to do this in verses 11-12: "Never be lacking in zeal, [that's enthusiasm] Never, never, never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, in serving the Lord.['keep your spiritual fervour' - that means nurture your enthusiasm; next he tells you 3 ways to do it…HOW?]Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." That's how you keep your spiritual fervour.

You "be joyful in hope": through faith, trusting God who can do the impossible and redeem the lost - even when things are going wrong I can still be joyful in hope because I know God's plan. He wins in the end! God's plan is good; His people win in the end.

You "be patient in affliction": Because I know that even in pain God's going to bring good out of it - Romans 8:28. And I can be patient even in the pain.

And, to maintain enthusiasm, in-Godness - "be faithful in prayer." Why? Because in every problem I'm either going to pray or I'm going to panic; I'm going to worry or worship; get on my knees or fall over and faint. Those are the options, it's one or the other.

When you are joyful in hope, when you are patient in affliction, when you are faithful in prayer then you get true "enthusiasm", spiritual fervour, heavenly power input. Friends, what you need above all else is to get in God right now.

Let's pray. Dear God, I don't want to go another day without You in my life controlling every room and every part of my heart. So I want to take these initial steps for change. I offer You my body. I dedicate myself to You. In light of all You've done for me, I give myself as a living sacrifice to you, as a spiritual act of worship. I don't want to think the old patterns any more. I want you to help renew my mind. I want to be transformed. I don't want to be a crawling caterpillar any more: I want that metamorphosis, I want to be that butterfly - set free, to fly! I don't want to be conformed to all the pressures of what other people want me to be. I want to be what You want me to be. In the coming weeks I want you to change my mind. Help me to think the way You want me to think. Holy Father, I ask You to forgive me for my pride and I humbly admit that I need help and I need to change in a lot of areas. I think more highly of myself than I should. I admit that the measure of my faith needs to grow. Help me to set goals that can be measured and managed. Forgive me for trying to do the changes on my own. Help me to get group support. I want to fill my life with love, to fill my life with YOU. Help me to take delight in honouring other people, to focus on giving my life away so that you can take care of my needs. I want to nurture my enthusiasm by being in you. Help me to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. I give myself to You! In Jesus' mighty name I pray. Amen.