Can I Trust that God Will Change Me for the Better? (Study of Romans, Part 4: Romans 6:1–8:17)

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 4th part of this study, we consider, can we trust that God will change us for the better? This is the 4th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 .

Key Thought: We grow in joy, peace, and hope by seeing and trusting that God is changing us into something glorious.

If God accepts us and forgives us no matter what, then why worry about what we do? That’s the question with which Paul begins his discussion of transformation in Romans 6:1. The answer? God not only accepts us, but He is transforming us and changing us into something glorious, into loving, patient, kind people of faith. A big part of our growth in joy, peace, and hope is learning to see, believe, and trust that God is changing us.

Four Metaphors for Transformation
Paul says that God not only is changing us, but He has definitively transformed us who believe in Christ into something new. He uses four metaphors to describe this transformation.

First, He compares the change to dying and rising again. Romans 6:4 says, “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.” At our baptism, we made a definitive commitment to break with the world and sin and to live unto God. In addition, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is working in us to lead us to a new way of life and out of the way of the sinful life. That is a sort of death and resurrection.

Second, He compares the change to serving different masters. “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17–18). We are now serving righteousness instead of sin. That is a definitive transformation.

Third, he compares the change to being released from a legal obligation as in the death of a spouse. He says that when a spouse is alive, a person is bound to that spouse, but when that spouse dies, then that person is no longer bound to the spouse. “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:5). We are released from the obligation to live for sin and now are bound to that which will bring us life.

Fourth, he compares the change to a law or principle that is at work in us. He calls the old law the law or principle of sin and death. When this law was at work in us, we might have thought that God’s commands were good, but we couldn’t do them (see Rom. 7). Now, there is a new law or principle at work in us. He says that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). The Spirit of God is at work within us to bring about what is good and right. There is a new principle at work in us, one that drives us to God instead of away from Him.

What we need to believe is that a definitive transformation has taken place. We need to trust what God has already done. We need to see again and again that we have been transformed. We have died to sin and are alive unto God. Learning to see and think this way is what it means to grow in the virtue of faith.

God Is Transforming Us, and We Cooperate in the Transformation
This does not mean that there is no more change to take place. The remnants of sin remain, and God is still working within us. There is a process of transformation. This inward transformation still has to work itself out.

Paul explains this in a variety of ways. There is suffering that has to test and grow our character (Rom. 5:3–5). There is an offering of every part of our body to the service of God (Rom. 6:13). In a later section of the letter, Paul will call it presenting ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). The body is subject to death, but the Spirit is giving life (Rom. 8:10). You must put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13). These are ways that Paul talks about this process.

Notice that this is all work that is done by the power of God. However, that does not mean that we are passive in this transformation. Not at all. We are active. We should use every fiber of our being to join in what God is already doing within us. We offer our bodies. We put to death the deeds of the flesh. We work to change our thinking. We are to think of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. This is what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (see Rom. 12:2). In all of these ways, we play an active role. Being changed into the glorious image of God is the highest blessing. Because of that we should do all we can to lean into this transformation, and God invites us and commands us to do so.

God Will Transform Us
We also have to ask, what is God transforming us into? It is something glorious. He is making us like His Son, Jesus. That’s our destiny (Rom. 8:29–30). He is transforming us into light. That’s why when we look at the future, we can have hope. Hope is a firm expectation that our future will be good. That’s what we’ll look at in the next section.

We need to grow in our faith so that we see more and more clearly that God not only has forgiven us and accepts us but is transforming us into something glorious. The more we can believe that, the greater will be our joy, peace, and hope. Note, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This is the virtue of faith. It enables us to see and believe all that God is and all that He is doing for us.

A few months ago, I was thinking about what it would be like to no longer serve as a pastor. It would involve a lot of changes. What would be my place in life? How would I relate to people? What would my life be like? I did not know, and I felt uneasy and unsure about it. But then I found peace. I realized that whatever else happened to me, God was changing me into something glorious, and that was enough. Seeing and believing that fact could give me joy, peace, and hope no matter what happened. That’s the message God has for us in Romans 6:1–8:17.

Outline to Construct Your Own Teaching on Romans 6:1–8:17

  1. How does Paul describe the old person or the “flesh” in these passages?
  2. What are the ways that Paul describes the definitive transformation that has taken place in those who have believed in Jesus?
  3. What passages tell us that this transformation is ongoing?
  4. How does Paul describe our activity in this transformation process?
  5. How does Paul work here to increase their faith that God is changing them?

Questions for Application

  1. Do you believe that God has changed and is changing you? How could you make that more a part of your thinking and life?
  2. How is this teaching an encouragement to you that would enable you to develop joy, peace, and hope?
  3. What do you need to do to be more active in joining what God is already doing in transforming you?


Photo by Ricardas Brogys on Unsplash

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #2: Ask, what can I not do today that I could do if I worked at it for five years?

Over the years, I have found myself struggling and not able to move forward. After reflection and prayer, I have come to certain principles that helped me keep going in the midst of leading a congregation, raising seven kids, earning three degrees, trying to be involved in the community, and trying to make my mark on the world. Here are some of the principles that I have found to keep me sane and productive in an insane world.

Principle # 1: Ask, what can you not do today that you could do if you worked at it for five years?

“I wish I would have learned to play the piano when I was young.” That’s a statement I’ve heard from many people over the years.

My question is, why don’t you learn now? Probably for the same reason you didn’t when you were a kid. It’s a lot of work, and there’s other things that you’d rather do that give you more pleasure right now.

This is certainly not to say that it can’t happen. I have seen innumerable people grow, learn, and change in big ways.

I also believe in the grace of God. Change is not simply up to us. God is not just letting the world go to hell in a hand-basket. The God of the Exodus and the Resurrection still intervenes to liberate people from darkness and bring them into glorious light.

Sometimes change happens in a flash of insight. Sometimes people just walk away from destructive pathologies and never return. But usually, change is hard and time-consuming, though worth it.

Our body, brains, and relationships work hard for equilibrium. Busting out of that equilibrium will result in a thousand forces working to pull you back.

Change of our character is like learning to play an instrument. It is hard, and it takes time. But if you can work at it, it is a really good thing that can provide you with tremendous meaning and enjoyment.

How People Change
So, what can get you up and sailing out of the doldrums? I think there are really only two things apart from a miracle. Continue reading “Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #2: Ask, what can I not do today that I could do if I worked at it for five years?”

Why Don’t People Get It? You’ve Got to Teach Them

How do you react when people in your family, organization, or church don’t do what they are supposed to be doing? How do you react when they just don’t seem to get it?

It’s easy for a leader to get frustrated when people don’t do what they are supposed to do. It’s easy to look out in dismay at those around us and say, “Man, these people just don’t get it. They’re going the wrong way.”

Whenever a leader feels that frustration, a good idea is to ask herself, have I made clear where I want people to do and how they are supposed to do it? Have I really taught people what to do? Continue reading “Why Don’t People Get It? You’ve Got to Teach Them”

The Time Is Short

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

The Time Is Short

No matter how much we know that it is true, it is hard for us to grasp that life will not stay the same. Our minds and hearts get used to a particular situation, and it is easy to think that it will go on and on.

We all had certain expectations about this year. For many students, this was their senior year. They were expecting to finish out their school year, spend time with their friends, have graduation parties, and so on. Now, that all seems unlikely.

Recently, I talked to someone who moved here to take a job in our tourism industry. They are now laid off and no longer have the health insurance that this job provided for them. This year turned out very differently than they expected.

Looking forward to this summer, we made plans. I planned to go to our denomination’s General Assembly. That is now canceled. Will we have summer camps? It is hard to say. This summer may be much different than any of us planned.

When bad things start piling up, it’s easy to go in the other direction. We start to think that the bad things will just keep coming. But that isn’t true, either. The sun will shine again, even if it rains for weeks on end.

That’s what this passage reminds us to consider. Life has its up and downs, and these are constantly changing.

The Apostle Paul uses two phrases to explain this. The first is, “the time is short.” We can think of this phrase in a couple of different ways. On the one hand, this is the time between Christ’s first and second coming. Though it may seem long at times, it is short relative to the life of the world. Jesus came once, and Jesus will come again. We should be ready.

The time is also short in relationship to our time in this world. Each one of us had our entrance, and each one of us has our exit. It’s not very long, 70 years, or 80, if we have the strength. Either way, it’s like the flowers of the field that bloom one day and die the next.

We can also think of it in terms of the various seasons of life. My oldest daughter is now 17. Next year, she’ll be graduating from high school. I’m acutely aware of how short a time we have with our children in our household.

What does Paul mean? Maybe he means all of these things. Either way, the time is short, and this is always worth keeping in mind.

The other phrase that he uses is “the world in its present form is passing away.” There is a recognition that the world is changing. Summer gives way to fall, and fall gives way to winter.

Nowhere in the Bible is this more powerfully stated than the book of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build . . .” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–3).

There are different seasons in this life. One thing gives way to another. Life changes. Solomon went on to say in Ecclesiastes, “Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future” (7:13–14). The world in its present form is passing away.

Holding Loosely to What Doesn’t Last

This is great wisdom. The time is short. The present form of the world is passing away. If we would keep this in perspective, we would be much better equipped to deal with the changing seasons of the world. It would be better for us to look at every relationship, situation, activity, and possession and say, this is temporary.

In particular, God wants us to apply this wisdom to five things.

1. “From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not . . .” At first glance, this actually sounds wrong. We must remember, though, that wisdom often teaches us things by stating one perspective without intending it to be applied in every possible way. This obviously does not mean that we should literally ignore our wives or pretend like they are not our wives. God tells us to love them like Christ loved the church and that it is one of the gravest sins not to take care of those in our family (1 Tim. 5:8).

So, what does it mean? It means that we should view all relationships in this life as temporary. They are not our ultimate fulfillment, and relationships change. We cannot make even our best relationships the foundation for our well-being.

2. “Those who mourn, as if they did not . . .” Again, this could seem rather strange. If you have grief, be like someone who doesn’t. Snap out of it! This is not what it means. The Bible recognizes that there are times of grief. However, we should not let those things we grieve over take hold of our hearts at the deepest level. We should not mourn as those who have no hope. This is evident from the next application.

3. “Those who are happy, as if they were not . . .” We should not try to find our ultimate joy in the situations we experience in this world. We should not think “we have arrived” in this life. If things are going well, don’t get too wrapped up in it. These things change. The good times don’t last forever. They are not the place where our souls can ultimately rest.

4. “Those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep . . .” We often think that if we could only have this or that, we would be happy. Possessions do not last.

This was powerfully impressed upon me as I stayed in a condo in the month of January during my sabbatical. I made that condo my own to a degree. It got familiar. However, I knew the end of the month was coming. It would soon be mine no longer. Truly, all of our possessions are things we use for a time or rent for a time and then pass them on to others.

5. “Those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.” This is similar to the last one, but we can apply it more broadly. If we are involved with the world, we should never let it take over all that we are. We should always hold our heart back to a degree. We shouldn’t make our businesses, our studies, our hobbies, our food, or anything else our foundation.

How do we know when any of these things have taken place? We can know when these things keep us from loving God and others well, when they keep us from important duties, or when they keep us from moving forward in our lives. Whenever these things happen, it’s worth considering whether these things have taken over our hearts too much.

Holding Tightly to What Does Last

That doesn’t mean that everything changes. There are some things that do not change no matter what happens, and this provides us with a foundation to live our lives. We need to hold loosely to the things that are temporary but hold tightly to the things that are not.

1. God is for us. “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’ (1 Cor. 1:30-31). Because of what Jesus has done, we have a relationship with God where our sins are forgiven, and He is for us. That doesn’t change, no matter how tough things may get.

2. God is with us. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). People come in and out of our lives, but God will always be there for us and within us.

3. Our future is bright. There is a time coming when the time will no longer be short and the form of the world will not be passing away. “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'” (1 Cor. 15:55-56). What a great hope we have!


With recent events, We have been given a powerful reminder of a basic fact of life: the time is short and the present form of the world is passing away.

This does not mean we have to be rootless. A foundation is available. God invites you into a relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ where you can be forgiven of everything wrong you have done and given a new hope and new life. That’s what God offers as an unchangeable foundation. It means He’ll be for you, He’ll be with you, and He’ll give you a bright future.

If you have that relationship, then you don’t need to think of yourself without resources. Cling tightly to Christ! Hold everything else loosely! It will be a foundation for you in all the changes of this temporary world. It will give you the strength for today, and it will fill you with hope as you look to the future. It will give us stability in the midst of an unstable world.

Can We Change for the Better?

Can people who are fearful become courageous? Can those who are impatient become patient? Can the joyless become joyful?

To that, I answer an emphatic “yes!!!”

Here’s why I think this is true. First, I studied family systems over the past couple of years. I read many stories of people who were able to function differently in the challenging emotional environment of their family. It was hard, but they did it.

Second, I studied the Greek and Roman philosophers. Through the study of philosophy, many people were able to change for the better. They could learn to live by principle rather than by whim or reacting to emotional pressure.

Third, people train their emotions and will in many areas of life. People can learn to keep their body moving forward in the face of great danger. The philosopher Seneca described this well: “[T]he body can be trained to such a degree of endurance that it will stand the blows and kicks of several opponents at once and to such a degree that a man can last out the day and resist the scorching sun in the midst of the burning dust, drenched all the while with his own blood . . .” (Letters, LXXX).

He then goes on to ask: “[I]f this can be done, how much more easily might the mind be toughened so that it could receive the blows of Fortune and not be conquered, so that it might struggle to its feet again after it has been laid low, after it has been trampled under foot?” (Ibid., emphasis mine). In other words, can we not change our mindset to be able to keep moving forward in the face of great difficulties and disappointments?

As a Christian, why do I not argue for change from Christ transforming people? I certainly believe in the power of God in the lives of individuals. I have observed it in my own life and the life of countless others. I find, however, that many people underestimate what God can do because they don’t see that change is possible in ordinary life. In other words, if people can change so much without Christ, how much with Him?

So, “Great,” you might say, “some people changed. But how can I do it? How can I change?”

The first thing to recognize is that it is hard work. This is true in the realm of nature and the realm of grace. Sometimes, there is supernatural intervention that radically transforms people, but more often than not, it takes hard work. God uses hard work to transform people (Phil. 2:12-13, 2 Peter 1:5).

But what kind of hard work? John Ortberg in one of his talks at a conference called Living in Christ’s Presence asked the people attending that conference, “How many of you could run a marathon right now?” There were a couple. Then, he asked, “How many of you could run a marathon if you tried harder?” Of course, no new people raised their hands. Often, we think that change is a matter of trying harder. It is not. It is about the right training over a long period of time.

This is more than a loose analogy. The Apostle Paul used the word used for training in the gymnasium in his day and said, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7-8).

What does this training look like? In sum, developing virtue involves a changed mindset implemented in action over time that becomes a habit or character trait.

How would this work? let’s take patience as an example. Ask some questions of yourself: what are the circumstances in which you act impatiently? Does impatience help you? What are the results? What are you afraid of that causes you to be impatient? Developing a better mindset includes confronting a wrong mindset.

The positive side is to impress on your mind the better ways of thinking. To discover that you can ask questions like, what helps me be more patient? What thought or mindset has helped me be more patient in the past? What would be the positive benefit of patience? And so on.

Then, you need to practice. Put yourself in situations where you will need to be patient. Try to slow down and be OK with with it. Most of us have opportunities for this every single day: driving. We can work on being patient while we drive.

Over time, such work will begin to take effect. That doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect or problem-free. It just means you’ll get better.

That’s virtue training, training for excellence of character.

I believe that we don’t have to settle for where we have been in the past. I believe change is possible. God has given us everything we need for a godly life. We just need to step out in faith and start moving. His power, promises, and presence will be with us every step of the way.