Change This First

If you were going to focus on changing just one area of your life, which area do you think would produce the greatest degree of spiritual growth?

How you would answer that question after looking at this?

Coffee cup

Looks like a pretty nice mug doesn’t it?  Most of us would probably be willing to have a sip of our favorite beverage from this mug.  But take a look inside.

Coffee cup - stained inside

Thirsty now?

But what does this mug have to do with your spiritual growth?  Jesus actually talked about this very thing when he spoke to a group of religious leaders.  He said…

Matthew 23:25-26
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

Jesus’ point—it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, it’s what’s on the inside that truly makes a difference.

Those Hypocrites

Many of the scribes and the Pharisees liked to put on a big show that made it appear as though they really loved God.  And if you didn’t know them very well—if you just looked at their outward behavior—you would think that they really did love the Lord.

They said all the right things.  They did all the right things.  They hung out with all the right people.  But as it turned out, their love for God wasn’t as genuine as they would have had others believe.

I’m painting with a broad brush, of course.  There were probably a number of scribes and Pharisees who really did love the Lord.  But on the whole, the religious piety of these religious leaders was largely for show.

And in responding to their behavior, Jesus explained that if you want to see real spiritual change, don’t try to change a bunch of things on the outside that make you look like you love God.  Instead, change what’s on the inside, and outward changes will happen automatically.

Are You One?

Now, before we get too critical of the scribes and Pharisees, I think we need to consider whether we could be guilty of the same sin.  That kind of religious exhibition wasn’t restricted to those who lived during Jesus’ day.  It’s just as much of a danger for our generation.

I’m sure we can all think of ways that people pretend to be more spiritual than they really are.  And perhaps we can even identify these contradictions in ourselves.  When was the last time you went to church with Bible in hand knowing that you hadn’t cracked it open once that week?  Do you pray with your family–over a meal or at bedtime–without spending any personal time with the Lord?  How often do you tell others that you’ll pray for them without any real intention of following through?

It can be so easy to come to church, to put on our Sunday best, to say all the “churchy” things we think other people want to hear without doing the things we need to do to make our faith real.  That’s what we commonly refer to as “talking the talk without walking the walk.”  Jesus had a different term for it.  He called it hypocrisy.

When our public presentation doesn’t match our personal practice, then we’ve become just like the scribes and Pharisees.  We’ve become clean-looking cups that you can’t drink from.

Get Real

If we’re going get serious about our relationship with God, about growing in our faith, then we have to put an end to hypocrisy.  We need to wash the inside of the cup and not just the outside.  And this year is the perfect year to do just that.

This year, as part of our church’s annual theme, we’re striving to live life together (1 Thessalonians 2:7).  Living life together requires a willingness to be honest with one another.  You could think of this year as the year of religious authenticity, as the year of spiritual transparency, as the year of walking in the light.  Whatever you want to call it, if you need to do any work in this area, I urge you to use this year to make your faith real.

Where Do You Start?

Let’s go back to the question we asked at the outset.  If you were to focus on changing just one area of your life, which area do you think would produce the greatest degree of spiritual growth?

And though there might be a number of legitimate responses to that question, I want to suggest that the single most effective aspect of your life to address is your thinking.

Proverbs 23:7
As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.

According to this verse, our thinking affects everything we do.  It impacts how we handle trials, how respond to authority, how we treat other people, and certainly how we view God and His Word.  Because of the pervasive effects of our thinking upon our lives, we need to make sure that our minds are helping us to grow spiritually.

Worth the Effort

This spring, we’re taking our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders through a series called Thinking Like Christ.  Based on John Vandegriff’shelpful book In the Arena of the Mind, we’re encouraging students to recognize the sinful patterns of thinking that exist in their lives and to replace those patterns with the forms of thinking outlined in Philippians 4:8.  The goal of this study is to help kids use their minds in ways that will produce godly habits of living.

But this study isn’t just for the kids.  One of the great things about God’s Word is its applicability to people of all ages.  We all need to work at bringing our thinking into conformity with the mind of Christ.  So, from time to time, I’ll post about the topics were covering with the kids to encourage us “big kids”  in thinking more like Jesus.

And based on the authority of Scripture, if you’ll do the hard work of changing your thinking to become more like Jesus, I believe I can promise you that you’ll see some dramatic spiritual growth.

For Further Consideration

  1. What are some ways people put their spirituality on display?
  2. Why do you think people address outward behavior before handling issues of the inner person?
  3. Do you see any examples of hypocrisy in your life?  Where?
  4. In what ways have you seen your thinking affect your speech and actions?  Any examples?
  5. Check out 1 Corinthians 10:5 and Proverbs 23:7.  Based on these verses, how would you describe the significance God places on addressing this area of our lives?
  6. What sinful habits of thinking do you need to address?
Trey Garner
Trey Garner is the Pastor of Children's Ministries at Faith Church. He has been married to his wife Deb since 2001. They have two children named Noah and Lauren. Originally from Texas, Trey appreciates barnwood, armadillos, and Blue Bell Ice Cream.