Ask Pastor Dave: Why Does Change Take So Long?

Q&AWhy does change take so long?

I hear the emotion behind this question. The Lord knows that I have asked the very same thing with a sense of exasperation and frustration. The answer is a bit involved, however, for “slowness” could derive from a number of different sources.

Change may be slow because of our own lack of discipline. Sanctification, the process of changing to become more like Christ, involves my work and discipline. The Scriptures give us a number of imperatives about our growth in godliness. The apostle James tells us to “be doers of the word” (1:22). The author of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1). We are commanded to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12-13). We are to abstain from immorality (1 Thess. 4:3), to guard our tongues (Psalm 34:13), and countless other commands. Theologian Wayne Grudem keenly observes:

It is not necessary to list multiple additional quotations, because much of the New Testament is taken up with instructing believers in various churches on how they should grow in likeness to Christ. All of the moral exhortations and commands in the New Testament epistles apply here, because they all exhort believers to one aspect or another of greater sanctification in their lives. It is the expectation of all the New Testament authors that our sanctification will increase throughout our Christian lives. (Systematic Theology, 749)

The New Testament is replete with commands to work on our own change. If we, in turn, are simply being lazy, undisciplined, or negligent then we will not see growth. God does not reward with change those who sit around and twiddle their thumbs. He has called us to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12), to work hard and to obey his commands. If we don’t do this we will not see change.

So, in answer to this question we must first check our own lives and hearts. We must ask, “Am I doing what I need to do to see change, growth, and progress in my Christian life?” If not then you may have your answer. But sometimes, change is still slow. Even if we are being obedient it is not a guarantee that we will see the kind of progress that we want to see. We need to look at another source of the “slowness,” then.

It may be that change is slow because God is making it so. The truth of the Bible is that even my sanctification is still dependent, in a large part, on the work of God. I have a role to play, but so does God. It may be that God is intentionally delaying my growth for a season, for my good, and for His glory. Paul prays for the Thessalonians saying, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly” (1 Thess. 5:23). To the Philippians he writes, very interestingly, that it is God who is at “work within you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). God grants us both the work and the will to do his good pleasure. Both the power to do the right thing and the desire to do it come from God himself. In Hebrews 13 it is God who is going to work “in you that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ.” We could go on, but the point is that sanctification is really the work of God. If our progress is slow, and we are being faithful and diligent to do our part, then we must conclude that God, for His own good reasons, is delaying the change.

God might do this for any number of reasons. We know that God’s timing is not our timing. What we might determine as a delay is in fact God’s working to produce a kind of change that He desires. So sometimes He may delay in order to grow our faith. We can observe this in the stories of Abraham and David, who were both given promises and yet spent years waiting for their fulfillment, Abraham for a son and David for a kingship. So God may delay to produce change in order that we might produce steadfastness in our faith (James 1:2-3; Rom. 5:3-5). We see with Paul too that sometimes God might not bring about the change that we desire because He is using the situation to do something good in us. When Paul prays for the removal of the thorn in the flesh God says, no, and states simply “my grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:8-10). In this case the weakness of Paul is a chance for God to display his glory.

It may be that God permits a struggle with temptation, a trial, a difficult life circumstances to continue because he has a different game plan. The change He wants to produce is not the same change we want to see right now, and it furthers His goals to keep us in slow progression now.

Perhaps the final answer to this question is found in the reality that change is a process. Change happens slowly because it involves a great many moving pieces. Change is not simply about the removal of a temptation, the end of a circumstance, or the alteration of a behavior. Change involves the whole person. That means we need to have our heads, hearts, and hands engaged in the process of change. I need more than just a new way of thinking, a new behavior, or a new situation. I need my heart engaged, I need my lifestyle reshaped. That simply takes time, discipline, and the involvement of others. Real Biblical change is not a quick fix. It takes time because growth is a process, and it’s a process that happens over the course of my whole life. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that we are being changed into his likeness “from one degree of glory to another.” It’s by degrees that we change, not all at once.

Patience is key to continuing this process. Change takes time, but we are not alone. We are waiting on the Lord, doing our part, and resting in the ultimate truth that “He who began a good work in you will see it through to the day of completion” (Phil. 1:6). Trust in the Lord as you fight for change and wait its results.

Comments

  1. Linda Herhuth says:

    Loved this article, Dave. Was looking for something else that I remembered you posting on FB and just now read this. I have found ALL of the above to be true. The victory over some sins that I had struggled with all of my life involved major effort on my part, and obedience in areas of my life which I thought were completely unrelated to the sin that I had been praying for release from for so long. For me, though, the victory came when I least expected it – when I surrendered the situation completely to God, acknowledging that I would probably struggle with that particular temptation for the rest of my life, and asking Him to show me grace in the struggle. Then a particular temptation that I had faced and prayed about for my entire adult life was miraculously removed. It was an incredible, spiritual healing. I’m not saying that there are not other temptations with which I struggle. Of course there are. I’m also not saying that this is exactly how God will work for everyone. I realize that God’s work is individual in each individual life, and that He sanctifies us according to His plan, not some formula of ours. With all that said, though, I do think that one more piece in our obtaining victory over sin is total surrender to God’s will and His timing of our sanctification, while we continue to be faithful and work as we feel Him directing. Thanks again for a great article!

Trackbacks

  1. […] sinful behavior precisely because Christians still struggle with sin (see my piece on sanctification here). We noted too that sanctification is a work of God in our lives, it’s not simply something […]

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