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

Addiction and Grace

“To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” So says Gerald May in his book Addiction and Grace.

That’s not what May would have said in his college days. In college, he moved away from religion and, in his words, “made a god out of science” (5).

This love of science led him to study psychology and eventually to become a psychiatrist. His first job was director of a drug rehab center.

May threw himself into the work with tremendous zeal. The results . . . were disappointing. He was surprised at how often he failed, and he fell into depression.

In the midst of his depression, he met a faith healer at a conference. They had a conversation, and she told him that she believed he was meant to be a healer, too. But then she said, “I wouldn’t take my dog to you, because you think you are the one that has to do the healing” (6).

His response? “These are not the words one might expect to be helpful for a depressed person. But they struck me deep and well” (ibid.).

As he thought, he became open to new directions for helping addicts. He went to several addicts who had turned their lives around. He asked them what had helped them to do so. “All of them described some sort of spiritual experience” wrote May (ibid.).

After a long time of reflection, May was led to apply this sort of thinking to himself. It led to a very simple prayer: “Dear Jesus, help me.” This prayer began to grow within him in the months that followed and eventually he found healing through God’s grace.

He concluded that it’s not a question of whether you are an addict. The question is to what are you addicted and to what extent? He saw his depression as rooted in an addiction to success.

And how could he find healing? He found healing in the grace of God.

And the grace of God can heal us, too.

10 Quotes Reflecting on Christian Counseling

A few years back, in the process of working on my Doctor of Ministry, I read numerous books on Christian counseling. These were books on the theory of counseling and its application to specific issues. How do we engage and talk to people in such a way that helps people move forward to what God has called them to be? These are deep waters. Here are a few of my favorite quotes that I still reflect on with links to the books from which they came as I think about how to help myself and others move onward and upward, processing the past well, living well in the present, and having hope for the future.

1. “Tragedy always moves our story forward in a way that shalom could never accomplish” (Dan Allender, To Be Told, 44). My comment: think of the great stories of the heroes of the world and the faith. They experience great challenges, but they rise to meet them. This is one way to re-think the challenges and hurts we have faced in our own lives.

2. “It takes a lifetime to discover exactly how our past shapes our future so we can live wholeheartedly and passionately in the present, but we can begin. We can seize the present with greater insight and vision” (Dan Allender, The Healing Path, 185). My comment: I did a lot of reflecting on my past when I studied these books. Five years later, the insights continue to come and help me engage better in the present. Note: you can see some of the directions I explored with this here.

3. “[I]n this life we must recognize that we will inevitably experience disappointments, pain, and a lack of complete relational satisfaction. When we stop fighting this reality and become willing to accept it, we can be free to move into the world with a real sense of purpose and direction” (Harry Schaumburg, False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction, 99). My comment: this seems almost obvious when you say it, but how easily do we begin to think that we will avoid pain and disappointment? Happiness in this life will not be found by eliminating pain and disappointments but by finding a way to live with them. Continue reading “10 Quotes Reflecting on Christian Counseling”

Enjoying a Relationship with God Forever – A Summary of the Christian Faith

What is Christianity all about? Why are people so interested in it? Why do people give their lives for it? Why do more than a billion people follow it? Here is my brief summary of the main points of the Christian faith and its significance.

When we talk about the Christian faith, we begin and end with God Himself. Most people of the world believe there is a God, and that is the standpoint from which we begin.

When we think about God, we know that He is far greater than us. He made the earth and the heavens in all their splendor and variety. He made the complexity of our cells and the vast expanse of the universe. He’s far greater than we could imagine.

He is also good. We see this in the beauty of the universe, in the amazing provision this world offers us, and the way we can enjoy so many good things in this world. God has made this world so we can know Him and experience good things.

God is also holy. This means that He is pure in every way. He wants us to be pure. We all have a sense of right and wrong that we did not invent and that we cannot just dismiss. This is our conscience. We all have a sense that right and wrong is not just a preference or something convenient for us. Instead, it comes from our Creator, requires us to do right, and points us to the holiness of God.

When we think about humans, one thing we know about them is that they are created for God and to connect with God. They can know who God is. Within us all is a sense that we can pray. We also have a sense of God’s commands and that we are to live before Him. We are created to connect with God. Continue reading “Enjoying a Relationship with God Forever – A Summary of the Christian Faith”