Why You're Not Changing Even Though You're a Christian

Sally is a weary Christian. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t seem to stop sinning against others. She has tried memorizing Bible verses, she’s tried numerous put off/put on exercises, and she’s read many books by the most popular Christian authors, all to no avail. Sally knows she needs to change, and she has a wealth of in-depth theological knowledge, but her life isn’t changing much.

Frustrated and on the brink of despair, she is tempted to wonder can God change me? And she’s beginning to think the answer to her question is a deafening no. Sally hasn’t learned to connect her confessional theology (the things she says she believes) to her functional theology (the way she acts each day).

Confessional vs. Functional

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Every Christian has certain theological ideas that determine their convictions. For instance, I believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no man comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6).

This reality means I am convinced that because I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, I have access to the Father both for salvation and in my daily life. But how does this truth change me today, in the here and now of my everyday life?

Let’s look at an example of how the truth above might play out in your everyday life. Imagine, if you will, a peaceful Saturday morning at home. (I know, it’s not likely, but that’s why this is called an imaginary scenario.)

The kids have been quietly watching their cartoons after sleeping in and helping you clean up after the pancake breakfast you made from scratch (If we’re imagining, we’re going to go all out, right??!), while you and your husband caught up on your Bible study homework.

At 11:30 am, you get an unexpected visitor at your door, and you look outside to check who it is. A quick glance tells you it’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses. You really don’t want to interrupt your blissfully peaceful morning. What do you do?

Someone operating on their confessional theology alone might sneak past the window and pretend they’re not home. After all, the visitors aren’t likely to be convinced to change their minds about anything if you did talk to them, so it would just be a waste of your time and an unnecessary interruption, right?

However, absorbing the John 14:6 truth to the level of functional theology means that this fact now drives your decisions and behavior. If you really believe that the Jesus Christ of the Bible is the only way to reconciliation with God and the only way to heaven, and you know that the people at your door believe a false gospel, you will prayerfully consider opening that door and sharing the truth with them.

At the very least, your functional theology will motivate you to hesitate before you draw the curtains and hide in the darkest room in the house. And at the most, it will spur you to swing the door wide open and walk through the opportunity the Lord has presented.

That’s a basic example of how the two ideas are different. Now let’s talk about what’s most important in this scenario. You might be surprised to know that the difference in behavior isn’t the most significant part of the story. God is interested in so much more than simple external behavior modification. That sort of change never lasts long-term. God wants to change you at the heart level.

Scripture declares that the roots of human problems are in the heart. It is the root system of the heart (Hebrews 4:12; Genesis 6:5) that produces the fruit of a person’s words and deeds. What controls the heart shapes behavior. What rules the heart influences each part of the person’s life. ~ Paul Tripp

Death, denial, and mortification

Have you ever wondered why you find it so difficult to act in a way that pleases the Lord consistently? Did you think that once you became a Christian, life would get easier, or at the very least, better?

The Christian life is one of death and denial. A “dying to self” worldview goes against the consumerism mindset that American Christians tend to expect.

We are a culture of narcissistic people that expect things to go our way the majority of the time. We secretly expect God to bow to us rather than us bowing to Him. God has called us to something different.

Christ called His disciples – us – to some serious self-denial. He said His disciples are to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). Paul told us that he died daily (1 Corinthians 15:31).

Paul also said that he warred with his flesh regularly (Romans 7:14-25). God wants to change our hearts far more than He is interested in modifying our behavior. But to do that, we must consistently mortify the sin in our lives. Dying to himself is what Paul wrestled with in Romans Chapter 7.

Why you’re not changing

So, why aren’t you changing? Let’s look at our friend Sally again. Sally wanted to change, but couldn’t. Sally’s problem was that she was making God a liar. 1 John 1:10 follows a verse that we love to quote because of the hope it gives us.

Verse 9 of 1 John chapter 1 says that God will forgive all your sin if you are faithful to confess it to Him. But too often when this passage is taught, we stop at verse 9. Let’s look a little further into verse 10.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 (NASB)

How are you making God a liar? Looking back at verse 8, it says, “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Then John reminds you in verse 9 that you can confess your sin and God will be faithful to forgive your sin. And once again in verse 10, God reminds us that all of us are sinners by nature.

Most of us wouldn’t dare make the bold claim that we “have not sinned” in those exact words, but friends, we claim we have not sinned regularly. We claim we have not sinned by refusing to address the sin in our lives. We claim we have not sinned by refusing to call sin what the Lord calls it – sin.

Dressed-up Sin

We prefer to use dressed-up terms like a mistake, or indiscretion, or a misstep, or we messed up. Those words sound so much nicer than sin, transgression, or iniquity, don’t they?

Let’s take it a little further. Instead of a woman admitting she committed adultery, she will say she had an affair. Doesn’t that sound much less offensive – even romanticized?

When you refuse to name sin for what it is, you are not dealing with the sin. You are deluding yourself that you have not really sinned. When I decide to lose my self-control and choose to rail at my children, I don’t simply need to remember God has forgiven me; I need to get on my knees before my father and confess that I just sinned against my children and Him by provoking them to wrath.

When I see a man on television that catches my eye and let my eye linger just a little bit too long, I didn’t merely have an indiscretion; I have looked at a man with lust in my heart and need to confess the sin of adultery (Matthew 5:28).

And when I destroy another sister’s reputation by sharing the news that wasn’t mine to share, I didn’t simply make a mistake; I have sinned against her by gossiping and being a busybody (2 Thessalonians 3:11; Ephesians 4:31).

When we choose not to deal with sin, we are making a claim to ourselves, the world, and God Himself that we have not sinned. Scripture says claiming we have no sin calls God a liar. That’s a pretty strong indictment.

Hidden Sin

Confess means “to agree with.” Not until you truly confess your sin before God and agree with Him that it is, in fact, sin, will you actually begin to change from the heart level. It is a kindness from the Lord for Him to reveal sin to you. You can mortify sins brought into the light.

Sin wants to hide. Sin maintains its power over us by staying in the shadows, unrepented. The Light of the World – Jesus Christ – exposes sin and defeats it (John 3:19-20). Mortification of sin is impossible if we aren’t willing to bring it to the light, to expose it.

As long as sin in our minds remains simply a nuisance, or an inconvenience, or an embarrassment, then we will never ever deal with it and we will never make any progress. ~ Alistair Begg

Any author, pastor, or Christian leader that minimizes sin and your responsibility to expose it and mortify it is doing you a disservice. Christian teachers who do not address the ugliness and destructiveness of sin and who do not call you to repentance are not helping you.

Please, do not listen to their teaching.

Instead, surround yourself with a community of believers that will not only call you to repentance but will hold you accountable once you have exposed your sin. We need the body of Christ to help us walk upright.

Consider This

  • What sin has the Lord revealed to you as you have read this? Will you trust the Lord with your sanctification and confess it to Him?
  • What areas have you refused to expose to the Light of Christ? Are there hidden sins in your life?
  • Are you trying to change by mere behavior modification alone? Is it working long-term?