How do we respond to the realization that we are not living out our faith as we desire to? How do we foster authentic growth in our intimacy with God when we’re not sure what the next step is? What is the process of changing what we believe? The answer lies in deepening our understanding that God doesn’t “fix” or “repair” us – He transforms us! The transformation of our very self and nature is what enables us to live out our faith and grow in intimacy with our Father.
What then do we do when we doubt our transformation because we don’t feel transformed? Romans 7:15-25 has been enormously comforting to me at various points throughout my life, because it is written by the Apostle Paul in the present tense; he’s not referring to himself prior to knowing Jesus. Yet this isn’t his statement of despair or resignation to simply continue on as he is, in his imperfection. I find it very thought-provoking to realize that this passage was written by the same man as 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” We are new beings when we are in Christ, and we are simultaneously living in the middle of a spiritual battle between our old nature and our new nature, each vying for our allegiance.
So, while my human or fleshly nature lost its power and rule over me when I put my faith in Christ, a healthy understanding that it didn’t altogether vanish either, and that it will continue to resist the transformation that Jesus desires in me, even as I earnestly and actively desire that exact transformation through the Spirit living in me, has been something that, surprisingly, brings me peace, and is also the very thing that keeps me tangibly and consciously aware of my need to maintain a posture of total dependence on God. Experience tells us that being a new creation and no longer being ruled or mastered by sin doesn’t mean that we somehow become perpetually sinless. If only that were true! The fleshly nature, while defeated, remains at work to destroy us – and so we continue to bring ourselves regularly before God to be cleansed AND to be strengthened and empowered.
Where then does the strength come from for this battle? I was sharing with one of my “iron sharpening iron” brothers in the faith just this past week that I’m in a place in my life right now where I don’t quite trust myself in clearly discerning between God’s power at work in me and my power at work in me. Too many times in the past, I’ve acted in a more stereotypically “powerful” or “authoritative” approach to situations, believing that it is God prompting me to call out a certain individual, or to “bring the Kingdom” into a certain situation – only to discover that it’s actually me acting in my own power, based on my own understanding, working for my own glory rather than His. So right now, God is calling me to be increasingly quiet before Him. I’m learning at a deeper level what His Voice sounds like, and how to discern it from my own. Isaiah 30:15 and 18b caught me off guard this past week: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength… Blessed are all who wait for Him!’” In many ways, our strength lies in our surrender!
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that aims to improve mental health through increased understanding of how our thoughts and feelings can be distorted, and how those distortions affect our behaviour. It is used to encourage patients to challenge their distorted thoughts and feelings and to then change destructive patterns of behaviour that were influenced by those distorted thoughts and feelings. It rests on the concept that perceptions, in the form of thoughts and feelings, influence behaviour. In other words, our behaviour, thoughts, and feelings are interconnected with each other, and they all interact holistically and inseparably within ourselves.
- This model also relies on the principle that we have varying levels of control over these 3 components of our being. We have the least control over our feelings – they are somewhat primal and instinctive, and much of the time, they are simply out of our conscious control. We have moderate control over our thoughts. With discipline, consistency, and revelation from the Holy Spirit, we can actually learn to guide and govern our thoughts. We have the most control over our behaviour or actions.
- So when I internalize the natural reality that the way I behave or live out my faith will affect directly, not indirectly, the way that I think and feel, that carries great impact on the way I live my life.This by NO means advocating a works-based faith or a “fake it til you make it” faith. Our heart attitude and motivation in our actions are the defining indicators of why we’re doing what we’re doing, and we must ask God for great discernment in them. Are we acting out of love for Him? Whose glory are we seeking through our actions?
- One of the great defining characteristics of our current time and generation is the ruthless desire and quest for authenticity. Within the church, the positive results of this include cutting through generations of legalism, empty religion, and false teaching. However, there is also a potentially dangerous flipside of this characteristic, just as there always is with Satan. In everything good, Satan will seek to find a way to corrupt or destroy it. The danger of this need “to be authentic” is that we can become stuck in an attitude of, “Well, I’m sorry, but this is just how I feel, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” or “This is how I feel, and I have to be true to how I feel.” In other words, our feelings have become the judge of what is authentic and what is not, what is true and what is not. But referring back to the principle of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, our feelings are what we have essentially no control over!
- I am not saying that feelings are unimportant – far from it! I am saying that there is a way through our perceived despair if we feel at a loss of how to move forward in any area of our lives, when our feelings declare that there is no way forward. It is in those moments that we must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us from beyond ourselves – the truth of God’s love for us, the truth found in Scripture, and the truth of godly counsel from people we trust and respect. Being an emotional person myself, I find that when my feelings fight against what I sense God asking of me, or where I sense God leading me, or a truth that He is revealing to me that contradicts how I’m feeling, it is then that surrender is often the hardest! That is when I doubt my transformation by Christ! But my transformation in Christ is real, even when my feelings don’t align with that reality.
What a wonderful truth: our faith and our transformation is practical and philosophical and emotional – and entirely dependent on our love for God and our surrender to an endlessly loving, patient, and good Father!