God Expects Us to Change

God Expects Us to Change

By Jamey Hinds

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:38

The first word of the gospel is “repent.” And what repentance is has everything to do with what God expects from us as His children, and will affect us eternally.

Repentance is not merely the changing of one’s behavior, although this of course is part of the meaning of the word. Essentially, repentance is a change of one’s mind: how we think, therefore, affects how we then live. “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:19–20).

We say things like, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” And what we mean is that the older we get, the more challenging (if not impossible) it is for us to make real changes. But we know that—as men and women who say they believe in God, and that God can save us from an eternal (and deserved) condemnation in hell away from His glorious and wonderful presence—change is absolutely necessary.

God expects us to change; He expects us to think differently, and therefore to act differently: from the world, and from the way we have been in the past.

And it’s not merely changing the bad behaviors: this seems too obvious and too easy (behavior modification alone is merely hypocrisy, see Matt 5:20). It’s changing what we may have considered good things!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:7–14).

When Paul spoke of forgetting those things behind he was referring to his perceived past successes, not his past failures. He understood that clinging to what he perceived to be the best part of himself was to lose Christ.

With pride as our motivator, we might be tempted to look back on our lives to our own perceived successes and dwell on the way things used to be. Solomon advises against this: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Paul learned that the most important thing was his soul’s salvation. Everything else in his life—past successes in particular—was not adequate at all in succeeding in what matters most. Again, in verse 8 we read, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23–24).

The change God seeks in us has to do with our priorities (Matthew 6:33; John 6:27; Philippians 2:13). Practically, this means that our goals in this life under the sun are much more about succeeding as God’s children—setting our minds on things above and not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1–5). And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together …” (Hebrews 10:24–25). If we truly repent, then we will change our minds about what it means to worship (both to God and to our brethren) and we will change our behavior by doing what we know is right (James 4:17).

God expects us to change. But it’s our decision whether we will or not: a choice affecting whether we go to heaven or hell.