Imagine being asked to push a large boulder up a steep hill. Perhaps it’s small enough that you can actually push it a bit, making a little progress up the hill, only to run out of strength quickly and watch it roll back down the hill. After several tries and much discouragement, you realize it’s impossible for you to do in your own strength.
This is what personal change can feel like at times. Perhaps you know what I mean. Have you ever struggled with a habitual sin, disordered desires, an engrained pattern of distorted thinking, or troubling emotions and been totally discouraged?
How to Change When It’s Hard!
To really change is hard. To stop looking to food, sex, alcohol, or drugs for comfort when we are pressured or hurting, and instead to find refuge in God is hard. To stop using our words to tear others down, and instead use them to graciously build others up is hard. To stop yelling at the kids to get them to shape up, and instead to tenderly engaging their hearts and lovingly giving consequences is hard. To stop avoiding the hard conversations with others, and instead to engage redemptively in conflict is hard. To let go of bitterness and the desire for revenge, and instead freely forgive those who have hurt us is hard. To stop living for ease, comfort, and a pain-free existence, and instead risk difficulty, discomfort, and pain by really loving people is hard. Change is hard. In fact, moving from self-centered immaturity to other-centered, mature love is impossible in our own strength.
This is why Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1 and his praise in Ephesians 3 are so unbelievably encouraging.
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…” (Eph. 1:16, 18-20)
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Eph. 3:21)
The Power at Work Within Us
The same divine power that raised Jesus from the dead is powerfully at work within us to accomplish far more abundantly than all that we can imagine! The same power that is invested in Jesus as Lord over the whole world is available to us to transform us from the inside out. Change is hard, but raising a human from death is much, much harder.
If God has exerted such power to raise Jesus from the dead, this same power can certainly transform us from broken, self-centered sinners to flourishing, Christlike lovers of others to the glory of God. Perhaps the first step is to recognize our need for this power and to see that this power is indeed available through the Spirit.
Abandoning Our Own Efforts
Ephesians 4 is one of the Bible’s key passages on how we change as Christians. But if we start there and forget that Ephesians 1-3 is the necessary foundation for the change that chapter 4 calls us too, our efforts will likely fail. The “put off’s” and “put on’s” of Ephesians 4 are fueled by the reality that Jesus has been raised from the dead by God’s Spirit (1:19-20), he rules as Lord over the whole world (1:20-22), he loves us beyond our comprehension (3:17-19), and the same Spirit who raised him from the dead is powerfully at work within us (1:19, 3:20).
Ephesians 1:19-20 and Ephesians 3:20 are great gifts to the discouraged, to those who feel stuck, and to those who feel hopeless about ever-changing. They remind us that the ability to change rests in the power of Christ that lives within us and gives us the strength we do not have on our own, strength to say no to habitual sin and yes to our Savior. “To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20)