“The God Who” Series
March 13-14, 2021
“The God Who Changes Us”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There is only one question that you will need to answer today. That question is, “Can I ever change?” Last Sunday Ian Kirschner was not in church and that is unusual. You see, it takes both Christa and Ian to handle Emery!! But he told me he went to a men’s retreat with a number of other Christian men. At the retreat a few of these men had amazing testimonies about how Jesus changed their life from a variety of addictions and sins. Their words had an impact on Ian.
So, what do you think? Can you change? Can I change? Can Lutherans change? Impossible!! That is an oxymoron, right? Or, sadly, are we just stuck? But this reading from Ephesians says that we had better change. There are words that say that we have no choice in the matter. We have to change. God gives us an ultimatum. In Ephesians 5:5 we hear, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
If we want to enjoy life, have freedom in our soul and be filled with peace God has to do His work. We must change. Earlier in Ephesians Paul says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:1-2) Sometimes we think we can have one foot in the ways of this world and one foot in God’s kingdom – but it doesn’t work that way. Paul puts it this way, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” (I Corinthians 10:21)
Can I ever change? I guess the question that precedes that is – “Do I want to change?” Change is hard, change is difficult. It requires a true look at self. It will demand repentance. When Jesus came I believe His first sermon began, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17) When the question of change comes up in the Old Testament the question is raised, “Can a leopard ever change its spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23) But I like what the Psalmist said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
This past Wednesday evening, following the Lenten worship, Jensen Lawrenz, about 3, and faster than any other kid on the planet, in a full sprint ran into a pew that was harder than his head. A trip to urgent care to keep all his brains in his head concluded the night for Michael, Jenna and Jensen. Tobin, Jensen’s older brother told me something about all this, “Mommy and I are very careful. We’ve never had stiches.” Some people live life a little better or at least a little safer than others.
I’m still looking for a good answer to that question, “Can I ever change?” Yes, I have to. Yes, I need to. But can I? When I struggle with doing and thinking and saying I find some comfort and understanding when Paul gives his testimony about his own Christian living. Do you remember what he said? “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good that I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work within the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18-19, 21-24)
Change? Necessary, but hard. Even when we desire a change more than anything else in the world, we fight our own will and weaknesses. I just looked at the title of my sermon and I just saw that I didn’t title it, “The God Who Can’t Change Us.” But I think I put, “The God Who Changes Us”. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”
The sin that Paul speaks of in the opening verses of our chapter are the sins of the body – sexual sins and the dirty jokes and filthy language that can be used. He writes, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place.” (Ephesians 5:3-4a)
Paul addresses a whole list of sexual sins, as well as others, in I Corinthians, but notice what kind of change comes to God’s people. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11) When Paul asks the question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”, he actually gives an answer – “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
Can I ever change? Yes. Forgiveness changes us. The declaration that we are no longer darkness but have become light all by the cleansing flood of Jesus changes us. You can never look at yourself as just a sinner, you have to see yourself as a forgiven sinner. The Bible says, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Look at that change. He becomes sin and we become righteous. He becomes dirty and we become clean. He suffers damnation and we will experience eternal life and great joys and happiness.
Faith tells you that you are changed on the inside. Never forget John’s word about God’s proclamation being greater than our feelings, “This is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (I John 3:19-20)
But I bet you want to know if you can ever change on the outside? Can your life be different? Can you be better than you are right now? Yes. We have a God who changes us. You know what light does, right? Light exposes. Light convicts. Light converts. Light guides. Paul in this reading instructs, “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” He goes on, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:8-11, 15-17) The fruit of the light is the same as the fruit of the Holy Spirit – “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
This is God’s work. Bringing us to a confident faith in Jesus, changing us from lost to found, dead to alive is God’s work. We call that conversion. We experienced that in the waters of Baptism. And the change of living – sanctification is the ten-dollar word here – doesn’t start with us but it comes through God’s Holy Spirit.
God is good. Always. We have a God who eternally and daily changes us in the blood of Jesus and by the mighty wind of God’s Holy Spirit. Amen!!