Is Change Possible? – A Closer Look at Regeneration

The idea that sexuality can change is controversial to say the least. There’s a lot of voices out there that we’re all familiar with, ranging all the way from the horror stories of gay conversion therapy to the boneless side A “Christianity”. To make things even more difficult, most christian ministers aren’t well enough equipped to give good, solid, biblical answers on the doctrine of regeneration. They tend to prefer to shy away from the sexuality minefield altogether for fear of being misunderstood and persecuted. So where can we turn? Thankfully, God has not abandoned us on this issue, and has given us all the answers we need in his Holy Bible – even modern issues like sexuality and change.

Let’s examine a passage.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws…. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezekiel 36:25-29)

In this passage we see a promise from God. He promises us cleansing, he promises us regeneration, and he promises us change. On this, there are some major things that need to be pointed out.

Firstly, God does the changing.
He is the one who performs the cleansing. He is the one who changes the heart. He is the one who gives the Spirit. This whole thing, from start to finish, is a divine work of God. There is no human agency whatsoever. All of this is the gift of God and it all comes through the grace of God. Understanding this is essential. You cannot change yourself. There is no program. There is no set of exercises. There is no holy duty that does this; no amount of prayer, bible reading, fasting, church attendance, exorcisms – nothing! Zero! Only God. And God does what he wants.

Secondly, change happens in God’s way.
A great example of this is the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. In this story, Naaman comes to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. When he arrives at Elisha’s house in his chariot, Elisha sends out his servant Gehazi to tell Naaman to dip in the Jordan river seven times to receive healing. Going away angry, Naaman says “ I thought that he (Elisha) would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus better than any of the waters in Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” but then his servant says to him “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”. And so Naaman washes in the Jordan and is cleansed of his leprosy.

Naaman thought he knew how it was all going to go down. He had a picture in his mind of what healing looks like, but his presumption was wildly different than the plan God had in mind. Quite often God brings about change in a different way than we would expect – working through various people and various events to show us new aspects of our sin and new facets of his saving grace. ‘God moves in a mysterious way’ and this includes all changes that he works in us. Sometimes a change will happen due to a significant event, but more often God brings about change through long chains of events spanning weeks, months, years, and even decades.

Furthermore, the order in which God brings about the necessary changes will always be different to the order in which we would like him to operate. A man who has been in a car accident might be screaming in pain because of a broken finger, but may not feel anything regarding the rivers of blood gushing out from his leg. The same is also true of sins. And because we have a God who loves us and cares for us, he will always treat the area of sin in our lives that needs the most attention, first and foremost.

Thirdly, change happens in God’s timing.
We live in an instant gratification culture, and unfortunately, out of this cultural mindset has grown the concept of instant deliverance. I’m sure you’re familiar with this kind of ministry. Some kind of ‘faith healer’ holds a big gathering and invites people to be free from all kinds of things like alcoholism, gambling, pornography and depression. (Funny how they never say under-age attraction) All you have to do is “pray this prayer with me” or “come down the front so someone can lay hands on you”. In our current church crisis, I honestly don’t think there’s anything more blasphemous in the church – this notion that you can throw a rope up into heaven and pull down some blessing – this emotionally manipulative bargaining with God to send down the good stuff just because some people gathered together, played some songs and cried out. This is completely wrong. You will never find this mentioned in scripture. Nevertheless, present misery can drive people to do some outlandish and crazy things – just so they can get some kind of relief. They want the healing now, now, now, and they’ll do anything to get it. But we need to trust in God, that he will bring about his good work in his perfect timing. I really believe that one of the worst things that can happen to a person, is if God gives them everything they want at the exact time when they want it. Quite often when this happens, there’s no growth, there’s no increase in humility, there’s no increase in patience and no increase in faith and they remain weak, sickly, childish, and spiritually stunted. God has far better things in mind for his children – things that will make your jaw drop off completely. The heights to which he can take you are unfathomable. I don’t doubt for a second that some who are reading this will one day become great men of faith and holiness. But you must wait upon the Lord. There are no shortcuts to this.

Fourthly, the change is internal.
All forms of false religion and false worship focus only on the external. Go to a bad church, and they’ll tell you to do such and such or say such and such or think such and such, and try and try and try. They’ll tell you you need to pray more, tell you you need to read the Bible more, tell you you need to come to church and Bible study more. All this is wrong. Yes, you will be driven to do these things as a Christian, but you don’t need to drive yourself to do them – especially if you’re using these activities to simply clean up the external facade. No, this is not true religion. True religion comes from true worship, and we worship God because of what he’s already done in our lives by saving us from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ.

Fifthly, the change is always towards holiness.
It is not a change towards normality. It is not a change towards acceptance. It is not a change towards success. It is not even a change towards a greater degree of happiness. It is a change towards God! It is an increase in the love of his character and a wanting and striving to be holy like he is holy. This is the change that God is all about. This is the only change that God has promised.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4)

Jesus puts it another way:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you may go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

But to what degree can change happen?
I honestly don’t think it’s a good idea to dwell on this question. Everything we have comes freely from God, and whatever he has decided to give us, for that we should be thankful. I believe some of us will experience a complete removal of our desires, whilst others will experience a reduction in the power of these desires. Whatever comes our way, it will be a good blessing from God and we should all bow our heads in gratitude as unworthy recipients.

Lastly, our focus shouldn’t be on change for its own sake, but on the Lord Jesus. He is the prize. He is our joy. He is our end. He is our destination. He is our life. Everything else that comes our way is simply a byproduct. Listen, when you buy a house, the real-estate agent will probably give you a bunch of flowers, and you’re ecstatic – not because of the flowers but because of the house! You do realize that we can never receive a greater gift from God than the sacrifice of his Son. This is it. There’s nothing more. There’s nothing greater. And all that’s left for us to do is gaze upon that cross of Jesus and worship. And everything else in the universe fades into irrelevance, and utter insignificance.

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