GBC Email Update - February 2, 2023
Last week, we began a series that we’ll periodically explore together in the 2023 email updates.
We’re going to consider and reflect on the question:
How Does God Change Us?
This series will be helpfully informed by the book Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners by Dane Ortlund.
As we briefly explored last week, the first and foundational piece in how God changes us is that we must grow deeper into Christ to experience real change. We must be deepening into the real Christ. Into the tenderness of Christ. Into who he truly is. Into who he said he is: gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:28-30).
This week I’d like us to press into our question a step further. To reflect on our experience of growth. Of how God changes us. Of how that often feels.
What’s the consistent and confounding message throughout the Bible about how God changes people?
It’s that the way forward will often feel like we’re going backward.
The way down is the way up as we say in our GBC distinctives.
In the book of Isaiah, we’re told God dwells in two places: way up in the glories of heaven (Isaiah 57:15) AND way down low with those who are empty of themselves and dependent on God (Isaiah 66:1-2). With those who are “humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
That’s because experiencing the fullness of God and the real change we long for only comes through emptiness. The emptying of ourselves through a worshipful life of confession and repentance. The rhythm of the Christian life is one of repentance.
“If you feel stuck, defeated by old sin patterns, leverage that despair into the healthy sense of self-futility that is the door through which you must pass if you are to get real spiritual traction. Let your emptiness humble you. Let it take you down . . . .The pattern of the Christian life is not a straight line up to resurrection existence but a curve down into death and thereby up into resurrection existence . . . . As you descend down into death, into knowledge of the futility of what inner change you can achieve by your own efforts, it is there, right there, in that dismay and emptiness, that God lives.”
How does God change us? By an ever-deepening sense of our sinfulness, of our lack, of who we really are outside of Christ! Think about it: when did Paul identify himself as the foremost of sinners (I Timothy 1:15)? It was towards the end of his life. As he grew in grace, as he grew in sanctification, he became more and more keenly aware of the sinfulness of his sin, of his idol-factory heart.
As we see our lack and even feel the despair of the insufficiency of our capacity to generate real growth - what then?
We don’t stay stuck in our despair . . . . rather, we let it melt us into deeper and fresher fellowship with Jesus. Into the reality of being more and more grateful for the all-sufficient grace of God. A life of growth, of real change, is the gospel changing us. Taking us further down to grow us further up. To see our lack and savor his fullness. That I really am a great sinner, and he really is a great Savior!
To experience real growth, God changes us by calling us into the two-step movement of repentance and faith. Repentance turning from Self. Faith turning to Jesus. Because: the Christian life is one of deepening by repenting our way forward.
What’s your experience of this kind of faith? What does faith feel like? It’s been said: “The feel of faith isn’t strength but dependent weakness.” Deepening by repenting our way forward. Deepening by faith that feels like dependent weakness.
Let me leave you with a few sentences from Ortlund that God has been using as medicine for my soul lately. I pray this brings fresh repentance and fresh hope of gospel-healing faith to you as well:
“Both repentance and faith, however, must never be viewed in isolation from Jesus himself. They are connections to Christ. They are not ‘our contribution.’ They simply are the roads by which we get the real healing: Christ himself . . . . As you despair of yourself - agonizing over desolation wrought by your failures, your weaknesses, your inadequacies - let that despair take you way down deep into honesty with yourself. For there you will find a friend, the living Lord Jesus himself, who will startle and surprise you with his gentle goodness as you leave Self behind, in repentance, and bank on him afresh, in faith.”
How does God change us? By deepening. Into the real Christ, the One who is tender. Into our lack and despair. Through repentance and faith. That takes and turns us deeper into the grace of God.
What could your life be like if you were deepening? If the feeling of your faith was dependent weakness rather than strength? What kind of change and growth could you experience?
What would happen if we as a church family were deepening individually and collectively in 2023?
Let’s be praying for this kind of deepening for ourselves and for one another! Prayerfully imagine with me what that could be like and what kind of change that could bring in us and through us.