Sunday, March 13, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
What does God want for me?
#2—God wants to change me.

Introduction and offering:

Two weeks ago, someone approached me after the first service and told me that she looked at the handout and sighed. She read it, “What does God want from me?” Then she realized it actually said, “What does God want for me?” She said it was like an epiphany. She realized that she tends to approach God as a demanding boss, that God always wants something from her not for her.

This is what religion does to us. Religion is about what we do for God—what God wants from us. It becomes a burden. Christianity is about what God has done for us in Christ—what God wants for us. It is a joy! This is the good news: God wants something beautiful for you! God wants for you to follow Jesus and experience life to the full. We’ve summarized what God wants for you in these four things:

  • Relationship with God: God wants to know you. He wants for you to have a love relationship with Him.
  • Christ-like character: God wants to change you. He wants for you to become a new person, more like Jesus.
  • Relationships with others: God wants to socialize you. He wants for you to have healthy relationships with others.
  • Service to God and people: God wants to send you. He wants for you to serve effectively, to live a meaningful life.

The whole thing starts with a relationship with God. As I know and love God, the first thing that changes is me—I become a different person, more like Jesus. Then as I change, my relationships with those around me are transformed. I become a better spouse, parent, friend, employer, employee, and neighbor. When you have a relationship with God that transforms you and your relationships with people, you have something worth giving away, so God sends you into the world to serve.

A relationship with God, a new you, transformed relationships with people, and service to God and people. We summarize it with “God, me, we, world.” Or you could say, “Up, in, around, out.”   I kind of like my latest sumary: “know, grow, yo, go.”

Two weeks ago, we kicked this series off saying that God wants a relationship with you, and everything else flows out of this relationship. Today, we’re talking about the new you—God wants to change you. He wants for you to become a new person, more like Jesus. And this flows out of your relationship with Jesus. The more you hang with Jesus, the more you love God, the more you’ll become like Him.

The Big Idea: When you have a love relationship with God, the first thing that changes is you! God wants to make you more like Jesus.

So let’s unpack this idea that God wants to change you, and then we’ll talk about how He does it.

 

  1. God wants to change you.

Right away, someone might object, “But doesn’t God love us right now, just as we are?” Of course He does. And He loves you so much that He won’t let you stay there. He wants us to grow.

ILL: I loved my five kids at every age, just as they were. I loved them as 2 year olds, but I didn’t want to them stay there. I loved them as 10 year olds, but I didn’t want them to stay there. I loved them as 13 year olds, but I didn’t want them to stay there—please! I loved them as they were and I enjoyed every age and stage, but I wanted them to grow up and become productive adults.

So of course God loves you right now, right where you are. Life is a journey; spiritual life is a journey; and God loves us at every stage along the way. He loves you too much let you get stuck where you are. He wants you to grow up, and keep growing. God wants to change you: He wants to make you new.

 

  1. He wants to make you new.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

In Christ, we become new people—the old is gone, the new is here. This happens in Christ, that is, in relationship with Jesus, as we know Him, love Him, follow Him, and live in Him. The relationship is first—the newness follows.

This makes sense. When you connect with God, it should change you! If you grabbed a live electrical wire, would something happen to you? It would knock you on your keister! In the same way, you should expect something to happen to you when you meet Almighty God.

ILL: Think of the Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord. He came away with a permanent limp and new name—he was a different man. Goodbye to Jacob the shyster; hello to Israel, the man who prevails with God.

Or in the New Testament, think of Saul, hellbent on destroying Christians. Saul had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that literally knocked him on his keister and blinded him. He came away a new man, totally transformed. Goodbye to Saul the terrorist; hello to Paul the apostle.

Or my story: I was only 13 but already in trouble with the law, rebellious, a thief and a liar, running from God as fast as I could. Then I met Jesus and everything changed. I became a new person. Goodbye to Joe the troublemaker; hello to Saint Joe!

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

This is the meaning of baptism. Easter is just 2 weeks away, and we’re going to be baptizing at all our Easter services. In the early centuries of the Christian faith, most converts were baptized on Easter. It seemed appropriate because of the meaning of baptism. Paul wrote:

Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The word “baptize” means “to immerse, dip, plunge, saturate.” When we baptize someone, we immerse them in the water; we put them all the way under, and if they’re really bad, we hold them there a little longer! Here’s the symbolism: our old self has died with Christ and is being buried with Him, and now we are being raised with Christ to live a new life! The old you is dead and buried, a brand new you is raised to life—new life in Christ! What better day to say goodbye to the old you and be raised to a new life than on Resurrection Sunday!

If you haven’t been baptized yet, you can attend a short baptism class that’s available after every service next Sunday. Then get signed up for Easter baptisms and be raised to live a new life!

Also, I want to encourage you to be praying for the people you want to invite. When we pray, God works!

ILL: An organization called the Lighthouse of Prayer Movement decided to perform a test on the effectiveness of praying for strangers. The organizers randomly selected two sets of 80 names from a certain city’s phone book, and listed them on two separate pages. A group of Christians began to pray, faithfully, every day, for the first group of 80. But no one prayed for the names on the second list. The prayers continued daily for six weeks.

At the end of the six weeks, they called all 160 names they had selected from the phone book, and invited them to church. In the second group of 80, the ones who had not been prayed for, not a single person responded to the invitation. Within the first group, however, sixty-two out of the eighty people on the list said that they would come to church. And they did!

Morris, Robert (2016-01-05). Why Keep Praying?: When You Don’t See Results, Pg. 43 (Kindle Locations 382-388). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Start praying today for those you want to invite. You have friends and family who may be one invitation away from a new life!

Jesus wants to give you a new life! We often say it this way: you can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are. You change! You become a new person. If you haven’t changed, you probably don’t know Jesus yet! We’ll give you an opportunity to do that in a few moments—to say yes to Jesus and start following him and begin a new life.

ILL: Rich and Renee Stearns, in their devotional He Walks With Us, tell the story of stopping in a village in Malawi. Immediately their car was surrounded with children, including a group of boys that had been playing soccer. One of the boys was carrying their “soccer ball”: a bundle of old plastic bags tied up with string. “Can we trade?” asked Renee. “If I give you a brand new soccer ball, will you give me yours?” The boy pondered this, then realized that this meant giving up his ball. He ran back to his buddies to discuss this offer, and only after they’d all weighed in did he come back and make the trade.

It seems like a no-brainer: trade a homemade soccer ball for a real one! But he was familiar with that ball; he was comfortable with it; it was his and it was hard to give up.

People feel that way about their lives. Change is hard. The old is familiar, the new is…well, it’s new, it’s different, it’s scary. Maybe the idea of change intimidates you. Let me assure you that it’s good: you’re trading in your old ball of bags for a real ball—your old life for a new one that’s full of promise, love, peace and joy.

He wants to make you new—and not just any new, but like Jesus.

  1. He wants to make you like Jesus.

What does God want for you? God’s stated goal for you is to make you more like His Son, Jesus.

Romans 8:28–29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

God has a destiny for you: to conform you to image of His Son. He wants to make you like Jesus. Don’t be put off by the word “predestined.” It simply means to pick a destination ahead of time. You do it all the time. You did it today: you got in your car and came here. I’m pretty sure most of you did that on purpose! Maybe a couple of you just got in your car with no idea of where you were going, started driving around and ended up here totally by accident. But most of you predestined it. You chose your destination ahead of time.

Want to know where your life is headed? If you love God and are called according to His purpose, He is making you more like Jesus. God chose this destiny for you: to be like Jesus. Day by day, little by little, we are being transformed into His image.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

We are being transformed every day into the image of Jesus, from glory to glory. Eugene Peterson in The Message, translates it:

And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

This is God’s destiny for you: your life becoming brighter and more beautiful as you become like Jesus. John writes:

1 John 3:1–2 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

We shall be like him! One day we shall see Jesus as He is, and we shall be like Him. This is our destiny! To be like Jesus. Between now and the day you see Jesus, God is at work in your life changing you, slowly, steadily, making you more like Jesus. Everything that God does in our lives is to draw us closer to Himself and to make us more like Jesus.

What does being like Jesus look like? Do I wear a robe and sandals and grow an awesome beard? I wish! No—it’s about character; it’s about virtue. Let me read two Scriptures:

Galatians 5:22–23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

The Holy Spirit produces this fruit, these virtues or character qualities in you. They are the character of Jesus, and they are beautiful. Would you like to be more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more forbearing, more kind, more gooder, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled? Who wouldn’t? This is the good and beautiful life—a life of virtue—to be like Jesus.

I’m reading a book right now with my mentor groups by that title, The Good and Beautiful Life. The author’s thesis is that becoming like Jesus is the way to live a good and beautiful life. So many people think of Christian faith as negative, boring, stifling, and restrictive. Nothing could be further from the truth! It’s the way to love, joy, peace—a good and beautiful life. Becoming like Jesus makes you a better person and so makes your life better.

So God wants to change you—He wants for you to become more like Jesus. He wants a good and beautiful life for you.   How does He do it?

 

  1. How does God do it?

I want to finish by giving you four components of change.

Notice I asked, “How does God do it?” not “how do you do it.” God changes us. This is His work. We cooperate—and our cooperation is essential. But it is God who changes us. Christianity is not a self-help tool. It is God’s work, not ours.   But we cooperate and here are four ways God makes us more like Jesus.  

 

  1. By the Holy Spirit.

When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit moves into your life; He lives in you and goes to work changing us from the inside out. He is the power for Christian living. This is why we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

This is a command and it’s in the present continuous tense: keep on being filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is not optional; it’s not a gift for a few holy people. It’s commanded for all of us, and it’s essential to be filled with the Spirit because He is the power for the Christian life.

ILL: How many of you keep your car filled with gas? What happens when you run out? Pushing your car is no fun—imagine if you had to do this all the time! It would be really hard to get anywhere.

Trying to live the Christian life without being filled with the Spirit is like trying to drive your car without gas—you end up pushing till you’re exhausted. You need to be filled with the Spirit!

So ask, and be surrendered. God will fill whatever you give to Him. If you give part of your life, He’ll fill that. If you give all of your life, He’ll fill that. I ask every day to be filled with the Spirit. I leak! And I’m always finding new ways to surrender.

It’s the Holy Spirit who changes us.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Where does the change, the transformation come from? The Spirit!

Galatians 5:22–23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Who produces these fruit in us? The Spirit.

Friends, the Christian life isn’t difficult—it’s impossible. You can’t do it on your own. You need the Holy Spirit. Let Him fill you. Ask. Surrender. God will fill whatever you give Him—give Him everything!

So the Holy Spirit changes us. And we cooperate. That’s next: God makes us more like Jesus…

  1. By training.

The second component of change is spiritual training or exercise.

1 Timothy 4:7–8 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

The Greek word translated “train” is gumnazo; we get “gymnasium” or “gym” from it. Paul is using a very common athletic metaphor. Jerry Sittser told me that athletic metaphors are used 25 times in the New Testament, and the early church fathers often wrote about being spiritual athletes or champions for Jesus. The 1 Corinthians 9 passage on your outline is another example.

Train yourself to be godly. Exercise yourself. Get to the gym—spiritually! How many of you go to the gym? How many of you work out at home? Physical training is good. I wish everyone exercised—it’s so good for you. Paul says that here: physical training is valuable—but it’s limited value. Its value is for this life only. All that running and pumping weights—it’s good for now, but it does nothing for you after you die. But spiritual training is valuable “for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Spiritual exercise has a double benefit: this life and the next.

What is the purpose of spiritual training? “Train yourself to be godly.” We train to become closer to God, and become more like Jesus. What will you take with you into the next life? You’ll take your relationship with God and the person you have become. These are the very things that change as you train yourself to be godly.

So how do you train? What are the spiritual exercises that bring us closer to God and make us more like Jesus? Just like there are dozens of kinds of physical exercise, there are many spiritual exercises as well. This is what Sister Mary and I are teaching up at Whitworth this Saturday: a class on the spiritual disciplines or exercises. Here are some of the classics:

  • Reading the Bible.
  • Daily time with God: PBJ.

There are many more. I wish I had time to talk about all these. I’ve done whole series spiritual exercises, which we’ll feature on our website and the app this week, and we’ll include a list of recommended books too.

But here’s a great starting place: PBJ—that daily time with God that I talked about all the time. Of all the spiritual exercises I’ve done, nothing has had more impact than my daily time with God. If you were going to start exercising and doing one thing, I’d say walk—it’s the most universal and essential exercise. If you want to start spiritual exercising, I’d say have a daily time with God where you pray, read the Bible and journal.

Then experiment. Try different spiritual exercises. Some will fit you better than others, but all of them will benefit you.

When we practice spiritual disciplines, we connect with God—and when you connect with God, you change.

  1. By renewing your mind.

The third component of change involves your mind. How you think, what you value, the stories you tell yourself—these make you who you are. And many of us have been telling ourselves the wrong stories. We need to a change of mind—we need to see our story as part of God’s Big Story.

Lots of people tell themselves that God is against them, or at best, God wants something from them. It’s time for a change of mind: God wants something for you. John 10:10 Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full.”

Lots of people tell themselves that they are worthless and they have nothing to offer. It’s time for a change of mind: God created you for a purpose.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

What is the false narrative you’ve been telling yourself? We need a change of mind. When our minds are renewed, we are transformed.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Let God renew your mind, change the way you think, change your values, change your stories.

The best way to renew your mind is to fill it with Scripture. When you read the Bible, you see how God thinks, what God values, and how your story is really part of God’s big story. The more you read, the more you know God. The more you read, the more you change. You will be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I have read the Bible dozens of times—some parts, hundreds of times. Yet every time I read it, I see something new, or I’m reminded of things I need to know or do. Each day, little by little, God is renewing my mind and changing me. This is why I read it every day, and will keep reading it until the day I vacate the planet. My mind needs to be renewed! Page by page, verse by verse, He’s renewing my mind and changing me!

 

  1. In community.

The fourth component of change is community. Christianity is a team sport. We can’t play it alone. We need other people. God uses other people to encourage us, correct us, train us, and challenge us.

Hebrews 10:24–25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Let us spur one another on.

How many of you have discovered that you’re more likely to go to the gym, or go running, or stick to an exercise routine if you have a partner or are part of group. This is why there are so many gyms! We need others to spur us on, to challenge and encourage us. Left to myself, I’ll be a fat couch potato!

It’s true spiritually too. I’m better because of being with you. I need others to be all that God wants me to be.

ILL: Several years ago, someone said something in a staff meeting that ticked me off and I reacted. I didn’t yell, but it was obvious to everyone that I was angry. The room went silent. My anger dropped a wet blanket over the whole meeting.

Afterwards, my lifelong friend and associate, Pastor Rick, pulled me aside and said, “Joe, you can’t do that. When you get angry, you stop whatever God is up to in the meeting. You must keep your anger under control in our meetings.” He was kind, but clear and firm. I got the message.

It was a turning point for me, a transforming conversation. And it happened because I had a Christian friend who loved me enough to spur me on, to challenge me.

Do you have relationships like that? Are you in a Life Group? Do you have Christian friends who spur you on? Do you want to become more like Jesus? You can’t do it alone—we do it together.

 

Take a step toward God this week! James 4:8 “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Take a step toward God and you’ll start changing!

  • Ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit.
  • Train for godliness: practice a spiritual exercise. If you’re not already doing it, start with a daily time with God.
  • Renew your mind. Read the Bible and let God rewire your thinking.
  • Be in community. If you’re not in a Life Group, get in one. Christianity is a team sport.

So pick something and take a step toward God.

 

Sermon Questions

  1. What do you believe God wants for you? Is it something you embrace or do you often find yourself dragging your feet?
  2. Are you put off by the word “predestined” when it comes to what God has for you? Since you love God and are called according to His purpose, do you think that you are currently fulfilling that purpose, or taking steps to be obedient? Please elaborate.
  3. What does being like Jesus look like? Do we need wear a robe and sandals and grow an awesome beard? Describe what you think life would look like if you tried to be a little more like Jesus.
  4. How are you doing in the four components God uses to turn our hearts towards Jesus:
  • Being filled with the Holy Spirit
  • Training yourself to be Godly using prayer, PBJ, solitude, fellowship, worship, serving, fasting, Sabbath, meditation, study & confession
  • Renewing your mind by filling it with scripture
  • Being in community with Christians who you spur you on

 

 

Application

Take a step toward God this week and you’ll start changing! Pick one of the components from question 4 and focus on that for now. If you work on one thing at a time, you can develop some new habits that will strengthen your spiritual life. Watch how God shows up when you make time for Him!