Hope, Makeovers, and a New Beginning

Hope Makeovers

There are plenty of makeover shows around promising new beginnings. Whether it is a new backyard, a new house, a new hairdo or a whole new body, many of these shows claim that your life will be radically transformed if you have this particular makeover.

Of course a mere cosmetic change cannot change a human heart, where the real makeover is needed. We all need new beginnings, and a change of direction, but most changes on offer just will not do the trick. Only radical open heart surgery (spiritually speaking) can make the real and lasting changes we are all in need of.

Several television offerings I happened upon last night help to illustrate all this. The first had to do with a guy who did not get a chance to change, to find a new beginning. His life was cut short, and his selfish, hedonistic ways meant that he would not even live into his thirties.

I refer to one of a number of rockers who died at age 27: Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. A doco on the early days of the Stones aired last night and I managed to view some of it. Having been a hard core Stones fan in my wild youth, it was interesting to revisit those tempestuous days in the mid- to late-60s.

Drugs and wild living were of course a big part of the rock scene. And Jones was fully into it all, so much so, that he became less and less involved with the Stones and less and less able to contribute, so they had to seriously consider finding someone else to take his place.

The Stones were in a London recording studio when they learned of the drug-related death of Jones on July 3, 1969. Two days later they went ahead with a concert in Hyde Park, with as many as a half million fans in attendance. Mick Taylor was the replacement guitarist. This was sort of a new beginning for the Stones, but it was obviously too late for Jones to start over.

The second thing I saw last night was the tail end of a film in which a couple are given a new lease on life – a whole new beginning. Evidently at least one of them had quite a shady past, as a hit man, but after getting rid of their various enemies, the film ends with them on a train with new passports and new identities – ready to embark upon a whole new life.

When I saw this I thought, “Wow, if only…” One can certainly hope that things were that easy in real life: live a very dodgy and destructive lifestyle, but then have the ability to make an entirely fresh new start, and do it all over again, from scratch. Very few people can experience such a radical makeover.

This in fact is possible, but as I say, the makeover which we all need is ultimately a spiritual one – one in which a heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh; one in which our selfish, sinful nature is radically transformed by an encounter with Jesus Christ. The Bible speaks much to this theme of course.

In Jeremiah 13:23 we read about our predicament: our inability to change ourselves; “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” But later in Jeremiah we find a remarkable promise of real change. Jer. 31 offers an amazing passage which is quoted a number of times in the New Testament:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer 31:31-34)

This new heart is just what we all need. And it comes by grace when we receive Christ in faith and repentance. These words about newness of life are found often in the New Testament. Plenty of important passages could be mentioned here.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” What is needed is new life, and that is exactly what Jesus said we must experience: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

Or as Paul said in Romans 6:4-6: “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.”

When we come to the end of our rope, and cry out to God to deal with the mess we have made of our lives, he promises to step in and give us a new beginning. And it is not just a new beginning, but a whole new life for the rest of our lives.

Thus our initial saving experience in Christ is just the start of a whole new adventure. The rest of our Christian life is to be characterized by slow but steady growth in sanctification, holiness, and conformity to the image of Christ. We are to cooperate with God in this.

We are to put off the old man, the old ways, and our old fleshly thoughts, and put on the new man, new ways, and new spiritual thoughts. It is a complete revolution, transforming us in every aspect of life, from inside out. Sure, it will be a gradual, progressive, and less than perfect journey. But real progress is possible as we allow Christ to do his work of renewal within us.

The characters in the film I mentioned above had a shot at a new life. One can only guess just how new it was. And some, like Brian Jones, really never got the chance to experience a wholly new life. He tragically died while still in his old life, and missed out on the opportunity to be transformed by the grace of God.

The gospel message is really quite simple. We are all condemned sinners who are unable to save ourselves or remake ourselves. Only God can do that, and he has made every provision for this possibility by sending his son to take our place at Calvary.

Whether we avail ourselves of this opportunity for new life, and a fresh start, is up to us. We all need a new beginning. We all are in desperate need for a deep and life changing makeover. Christ offers this to all of us. What we do with this offer will determine not only the course of the rest of our life on earth, but our life in the next world as well.

Choose wisely.

by Bill Muehlenberg


Consequences of Coveting

Exodus 18:17-21

People oftentimes develop a desire for something that is not in God’s plan for them. When they fail to attain what their heart is set on, the desire can build into intense, unrelenting pressure.

Christians who are consumed by covetousness have ceased to depend on God. To reach a goal, some will manipulate circumstances because they’ve lost faith in the Lord’s ability to know what is best and provide it. Such behavior indicates a rejection of God’s sovereignty. Then fear becomes an issue as the person chases harder and harder after the object of his desire.

The consequences of jealousy are painful: A believer’s spiritual sensitivity can be weakened to the point that he no longer hears when God speaks to him. As a Christian distances himself from the Lord, an envious attitude is likely to breed ungratefulness. It’s hard to be thankful for the things one has when the focus is on what’s lacking.

Covetousness leads to a life of tension and worry. Jethro wisely advised his son-in-law Moses to search for assistants who hated ill-gotten gain. These men were more interested in what God provided for them than in what they could acquire for themselves. If we want to be like them, we must focus on God’s purpose for our life. When we are sensitive to His voice, He will teach us to distinguish between desires falling within His will and those that lie beyond. As believers, we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us resist the lure of wrong desires. Covetousness does not have to be our downfall.

The Names of God

“And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.” (Genesis 7:16)

Many stirring books have been written on the general subject of the names of God. Most of the names make use of one or two of the three primary names. The first is Elohim, meaning “mighty one.” It is a uni-plural name—plural in form but singular in meaning and verb usage, suggesting the uni-plural nature of the triune Godhead, appearing in most English translations as “God.” It most often is used when worldwide events or attributes are discussed, including creation, judgment, sovereignty, transcendence, and salvation. The second is Jehovah, meaning “the self-existent one,” which appears as “LORD” in English translations. It stresses God’s holiness, nearness, concern for man (especially Israel), hatred of sin, love of sinners, and His revelatory nature and communication. The third is Adonai, a more general term meaning master and used of both men and God. It appears as “Lord” in English Bibles.

For example, the name Elohim, the transcendent, uni-plural, Creator God, is appropriately used exclusively in Genesis 1:1-2:4, the account of creation from God’s perspective. Throughout the rest of Genesis 2, the account of creation from man’s perspective, the combination name Jehovah-Elohim is used. Man was at this point without sin, in full accord with his Creator, and experiencing the fullness of His love and communication. The curse, as related in chapter 3, changed things forever, and in chapter 4, Adam and his offspring, painfully aware that their sin has broken God-established relationships, relate better to Jehovah, the Savior. In our text for the day, we see Noah obeying the orders of Elohim, the sovereign judge, to enter the Ark, but Jehovah, the loving Savior, making them secure. JDM

Seeking Approval

Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. —1 Timothy 5:20

I cannot believe in the spirituality of any Christian man who keeps an eye open for the approval of others, whoever they may be. The man after God’s own heart must be dead to the opinion of his friends as well as his enemies. He must be as willing to cross important persons as obscure ones. He must be ready to rebuke his superior as quickly as those who may be beneath him on the ecclesiastical ladder. To reprove one man in order to gain the favor of another is no evidence of moral courage. It is done in the world all the time.

We’ll never be where we should be in our spiritual lives until we are so devoted to Christ that we ask no other approbation than His smile. When we are wholly lost in Him the frantic effort to please men will come to an end. The circle of persons we struggle to please will be narrowed to One. Then we will know true freedom, but not a moment before.

Lord, does anyone ever really get over the desire to seek the approval of others? That is a battle for which we are totally dependent on You for victory. Help me today to be content with only the smile of Your approval. Amen.

Discipleship: Saying Goodbye to World’s Toys

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation:… he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised…. James 1:12

There is one kind of human suffering which can be known only to the believing Christian, and that is voluntary suffering deliberately and knowingly incurred for the sake of Jesus Christ!

Such voluntary suffering displayed among us in these times is a luxury, a treasure of fabulous value, a source of riches beyond the power of the mind to conceive. And it is rare as well as precious, for there are few in this decadent age who will of their own choice go down into this dark mine looking for jewels.

But of their own choice it must be, for there is no other way to get down. God will not force us into this kind of suffering; He will not lay this cross upon us nor embarrass us with riches we do not want.

Some riches are reserved for those who apply to serve in the legion of the expendables, who love not their lives unto the death, who volunteer to suffer for Christ’s sake and who follow up their application with lives that challenge the devil and invite the fury of hell.

Such as these have said goodbye to the world’s toys; they have chosen to suffer affliction with the people of God. They have accepted toil and suffering as their earthly portion.

But where are they? Has this breed of Christian died out of the earth? Have the saints of God joined the mad scramble for security?

Are we now afraid to suffer and unwilling to die?

I hope not—but I wonder. And only God has the answer!

A Believing Remnant

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. ROMANS 11:5

What is God trying to do with His believing people?—the Bible calls us a remnant according to grace, believers taken out of the great, teeming swarm of so-called religious people in today’s world.

I am inclined to join others in wondering if the Lord is postponing His coming because He is trying to get His Bride ready.

For years it has been the popular idea in evangelical Christianity that the whole body of believers in Christ would rise like a flock of frightened birds when the Lord comes. But A.B. Simpson and William MacArthur and others in the past generation said, “Oh no! The Lord will take with Him those who are prepared and ready for His coming!”

I do not presume to give an answer satisfying to everyone in our churches. But I know that many Christians are too smug about this, saying in effect: “I am converted to Christ through grace, so I can live as I please!”

Of some things we cannot be dogmatic; but we know this for sure—God has no halfway house between heaven and hell where He takes us to fumigate us!

Dear Lord, today I pray for my pastor and my local church. Help us as a congregation not to be surprised on the day of Your return!