Jack Graham - Can a Person Really Change?
Is it possible? Can a person really truly change? There are some who say, "Impossible! You are what you are. Can a leopard change its spots"? The rhetorical answer is apparently not. And we wonder, can we really change? Can a person be changed? I'm not talking about just changing your personality or changing necessarily just modifying your behavior. But a genuine internal change, a change that comes from the inside out. That's what we really want to know. Now we live in a world of change. The change that has taken place in my lifetime. I was born in 1950 and in these last almost 60 years it's been remarkable the change that we've seen, from radio to black and white small televisions to now high definition, wide screens and projector televisions and now even 3D movies are on the way. TiVo, one of the greatest, I think the greatest invention since air conditioning is the digital recorder.
So I never miss a tip off or the first pitch or the kickoff, or whatever! I mean you know you, you can record and now you can watch television on an airplane or your iPhone, and the smart intelligent phones, or the iPads! And yes, I did rush down and get an iPad. Here I am using an iPad and I couldn't even use a typewriter in my previous life! (Yes, there was such a thing as a typewriter. They're antiques now.) And now we're all on these computers. My little five year old grandson is a whiz already on the computer like your little children are. computers can be confusing and we have all of these identification numbers and passwords.
During a company's recent password audit it was found that one of the employees who happened to be blond was using this password: Mickey Minnie Pluto Huey Louie Dewey Donald Goofy Sacramento. And when asked why she had such a long password, the blond said she was told that it had to be at least eight characters long and include at least one capitol! That's not funny! Well, it can be confusing. But on a more serious note who could have envisioned in our own lifetime planes flown by terrorists, taking down major buildings in this country, attacking our nation and plunging us into a global war on terrorism? You personally are living in a time of change.
We look back on our lives and all the change and we wonder what happened? How did things change so quickly? Maybe your life has not ended up where you expected your life. Your dreams have been destroyed and shattered. And maybe your own life is not where you envisioned it to be. And you wonder how could my life have changed like this? All the anticipation, all the dreams, all the hopes, the plans for the future. What happened? And can anything change now? Can correction come in my life? Now there are some who are listening to me right now and you wonder, "Well, why is he talking about this because I mean, my life isn't perfect, but I really don't need to change that much. I'm a basically good person. I pay my bills on time. I'm a responsible employee or employer. I have good quality relationships. And though there have been some mistakes I really have no regrets. I really don't need to change anything".
And there are many who are watching by television or listening right now, you think that you are just fine. "Don't talk to me about conversion. Don't talk to me about change"! There are others who are believers in Christ who wonder if people really need to be changed or could be changed. We see all the devastation of humanity and we see all the injustice and the pain and sometimes in even watching the evening news we see it's getting worse and worse and worse, and we wonder, "Can things really change? Can our country really change? Can the world really change"? And the answer is yes, one life at a time, one witness at a time. Life change can happen and will happen but you must be willing to admit your need. Perhaps your need today is first to see your own need for life-change. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 in verse 17, it's the end of the passage that we're going to deal with in just a moment. But this verse unequivocally states: "if anyone is in Christ, that one is a brand new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, the new has come". It's never too late for a new beginning! You're never too old or too young for your life to change! What is the need for this change?
Again, the culture may say, the world may say, "People don't really need to change. They don't even They can't change"! I was reading a study: a psychologist at some major university reported in the New York Times magazine, they actually did a study on infants and what the emotional and rational and moral behavior of infants might be. We're talking about small infants, under the age of 2 and 18 months, and so on. And amazingly they discovered that little babies are not amoral animals but in fact are born with a spiritual disability or a moral inclination to do what is wrong; that every baby is broken in one sense of the word. In fact, one of the psychologists described these little ones as "unrepentant sociopaths". Well, we don't really need a psychological study to tell us that, do we? For the Word of God tells us clearly in Romans chapter 5 and verse 12: "Therefore just as sin came into the world through one man", that one man was Adam and his wife's name was Eve, "and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because of sin".
Spiritual death, psychological brokenness, ultimately physical separation of the soul and the body takes place because of sin. David would write in Psalm 51:5, and he himself knew something about sin and misbehavior. He said, "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me". Speaking, of course, of the child bent and inclination to sin, passing on the sin nature. Hey, mom is good. I hope you have a great mom as I did. But let me tell you something... Mom ain't that good! Every mother, every father, every person passes on this congenital disease called sin that brings death. That's why you don't have to teach a child to lie; you have to teach a child not to lie. They lie naturally. You don't have to teach a child to steal. A child steals naturally. You have to teach a child not to steal. You don't have to teach a child to be angry. A child is angry from time to time, and so on. And this is because of the spiritual condition of every person.
Psalm 58:3 "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray from birth, speaking lies". And then listen to Romans 3:10-12, "As it is written none is righteous, no not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one". Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". Now this isn't what the world is telling us. The world, and perhaps if you studied psychology or behaviorism in in school, you know the world is telling us that people are basically good or at the very worst are morally neutral. But that's not what the Bible says. If we're going to go straight up in the culture we have to be willing to say what the Bible says and that is that "We've all sinned and come short of the glory of God". That every person is in need of a radical reformation of their character! Why? Because we have cracks in our character; at the very foundation of our lives something is wrong!
Jesus addressed this. He said it comes from the heart, the heart being the core of our being, the seat of our understanding in our moral rationale. He said in Matthew 15:19: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts and murder and adultery and sexual immorality and theft and false witness and slander", and so on. We've all broken the commandments of God, the Ten Commandments, either in substance or in spirit. We have broken the commandments and yet, James tells us that even if we've offended at just one point of the law, we've broken the entire law. I've often illustrated like this: If you were hanging over a cliff, held by a chain of ten links, how many of those links would need to be broken before you would fall to your death? Just one. And if we have broken any of the commandments or all of the commandments, we have all sinned and we come short of the glory of God. This is the lost condition, the unsaved condition of every person on earth. And this is why we must believe what the Bible says and be willing to share our faith.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 5, I read earlier from 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 17, but earlier in verse 11 this passage says: "Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others", because we know God is a holy God, that God judges sin, that everyone is going to stand before God, including believers, at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The previous verse, look at verse 10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive what is due for he has done in the body, whether good or evil".
When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ... the words Judgment Seat there is Bamah. In the ancient world there was a Bamah seat, a judgment seat in the middle of the town. We were in Ephesus not long ago, the great biblical city, and there in the middle of the city is a Bamah where they would bring the various cases of the civil government and so on. And the disputes would be settled there at the Bamah. They would also bring athletes after the great competitions and reward and recognize the great athletes and stand them there at the Bamah. This is the word the Holy Spirit uses to describe our appearance before Christ. Not to be judged for our sin, that took place at the cross when Jesus died for us, and we accepted His substitutionary death for us on the cross. We will not be judged as believers because of our sin. That's already been taken care of, past, present and future, every sin forgiven. But we will be judged or evaluated based on our stewardship of life, based upon our service for Christ.
God's gift to you is eternal life; your gift back to Him is your life in service to Him! What are you doing with your life? Unfortunately some people who are believers never share their faith; they never give to the work of Christ, they're never involved in the ministries of Christ. They're not strong, healthy, vibrant parents and moms and kids; they're not living for Christ. And when they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ there will be an accountability! Now hear me! You don't get a free pass on life just to go live the way you want. Even if you say you're a believer! We're all accountable! We will all give an account before God! "What are you doing with your life"? And unfortunately some Christians will stand there naked before the throne of God with nothing but the charred embers of a wasted life to place in His nail-pierced hands.
And I believe this is particularly true concerning our witness for Christ. Many believers, if not most believers, have never even attempted to share their faith! But because of the fear of the Lord, because we reverence the Lord, because we know that God will severely judge those who are without Him, because we are compelled by the love of Christ. Look down in verse 14: "For the love of Christ controls us or compels us because we have concluded that one has died for all, therefore, all have died". That means because we know Jesus, we know what Jesus has done for us, we know His love. Because He first loved us we love Him! This is not speaking of our love for Christ but it's speaking of His love for us! That we are compelled by this love; because of His mercy and forgiveness in us we want the world to know! That becomes the compassion and the compelling, driving force in our lives when we follow Jesus.
He said Matthew 4:19, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men". And if you're not fishing it's because you're not following! Are you persuading people? Are you giving a reason for the hope that is within you? Are you sharing your faith and your testimony in Christ? Are you saying, "I believe". Or is that just in church? Is that just among friends? Are you telling the world, your friends, your family members about Jesus and what Christ has done in your life? "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men". Because we are compelled, because we know the potential of a life change, because we know people can change! Why? Because we have changed! God has changed our lives and we don't want to go to heaven alone! We want to take as many people with us as possible, starting with our own family and extending to the whole world that we can touch for Christ.
We all need a life change that we cannot create in and of ourselves. You can try all the therapy in the world, and there is therapy that is good if it's done from a Christian perspective and a biblical perspective you can try behavior modification. You can try self-help programs; read all the self-help books in the world and you may change a few things externally and correct a few things in your life, and that's good, but it's not good enough! Because what needs to be changed is the human heart. It's been said, the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. The Bible says, Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it"? And so what every person needs to do, repenting of our sin, transferring our trust from ourselves and saving ourselves, and trusting in Christ and Christ alone, and confessing Him and professing Him as Savior and Lord, saying I believe! And if you will do that, Christ will change your life.
Now that's the message we have for the world. This is what God has called every one of us to share. And at the end of this passage, down in verse 20: "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ. God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God". God is appealing through me today. And God not only wants to appeal through pulpits and preachers but God wants to make HHis appeal through believers just like you! In fact, you as a believer, a man, a woman in the pew, you a student, you have entrées into peoples' lives and influence into peoples' lives that I would never have! You have a ministry of reconciliation. You have a mission in this world to share Jesus Christ because your friends, your family members need to be saved. It's not nature, it's not nurture, it is new birth in Jesus Christ that makes us brand new from the inside out. And you know, it really never is too late for a new beginning.
This past week Deb and I were at a dinner honoring our friend and church member Pat Summerall. Pat and Sherry are wonderful believers in Christ and yet it wasn't always that way in Pat's life. Pat has written a book called Summerall, On and Off the Air. Now for all the sports fans who are listening to me, you don't have to say much beyond Summerall to know who he is. He's that golden throat, that melodious voice calling the eighteenth green at the Masters, putting us to sleep on Sunday afternoons in those golf tournaments. I told Pat when I met him for the first time a number of years ago, "I fell asleep to your voice more times than you can imagine". He said, "Well, pastor, I fall asleep to your voice as well"! But, of course, Madden and Summerall and Brookshire and Summerall before that, I mean, "Murder she wrote".
How many times have we heard him say that? it is just amazing to know and to be a friend of this man. He's a great man. But they were giving some tributes to Pat and, you know, some of it was a good-hearted roast a part of the way. And some of the stuff that they were saying about Pat I didn't recognize. But Pat will tell you before Christ in his life, he met Christ in his mid-sixties, about 16 years ago when he went to the Betty Ford Clinic because his family intervened because he had a major alcohol problem which resulted in a hedonistic lifestyle and party behavior. Even his own daughter, as Pat writes in his book, ultimately said, "Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a Summerall".
And when he heard that he knew he had to get some help. He went to the Betty Ford Clinic and there at the Betty Ford Clinic he received the information needed to overcome his addiction but something greater than the behavior change took place in Pat's life while he was there. He said he was kind of tired of reading the materials there at the clinic and he picked up a Bible. He had never really read the Bible but he began to read the Bible and God began to speak to him through His Word. And ultimately Pat Summerall was born again. He was baptized. He tells the story of being baptized with a bunch of little children. Here he was a sixty-something year old man with all these little children. But he said it was such an experience; he knew he'd been born again, that his life would be changed. He said something like: "I'm not the person I used to be. My life took absolutely different person". And some of these people, they were telling these stories of drinking bouts and alcohol issues in Pat's life and you know, the contests, who could drink the most. And when we were driving home my wife Deb said to me, "You know the Pat that they were describing in those years of his life I don't even recognize. It seems impossible". Why? Because Pat is so dramatically, radically changed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
And in his own words, "In all of those years as a football player and broadcaster I had vainly thought I was in control of everything in my life. But I wasn't. God was and is. All I had to do to build a relationship with Him was to invite Him in. Finally I had. There is a Savior; there is a God, I realize, and if He would have me I'd love Him for the rest of my life! My life-long sense of hope, that confident anticipation of good that had sustained me through the years, finally had a perfect compliment, a newfound and enduring faith. It had been the missing ingredient in my world all those years. A void that I had filled with alcohol and fast living. Now I revel in the redeeming grace that God has bestowed upon me. And for the first time I realized how closely linked the virtues of hope and faith truly are".
Never too late for a new beginning. If God can change Pat Summerall, He can change me, He can change you. He can change the smallest child who is born in iniquity and shaped in sin. He can change the most sinful patterned adult! 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away, everything is now brand new"!