Not long ago, a phrase popped into my mind that really grabbed me – “first life, then change.” This is the process God works in us first to make us alive in Christ, and then to transform us into the image of His Son.

I grew up reciting the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday. “…the third day He arose again from the dead”; I affirmed this statement with reverential gusto. But outside the confines of the sanctuary it had little meaning to me. I had never reasoned that God actually had power over death, my spiritual death. Quite frankly, I didn’t even know that I was dead in sin.

The summer before my seventh grade year, the death of Jesus overwhelmed me. It was the last night of church youth camp. The pastor graphically portrayed the crucifixion. My heart ached and tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized Christ died for me. Right then and there, I knew I needed Jesus. I prayed and thanked Him for dying for me.

I asked Him to come into my life to help me become the best person I could be. The irony is that my life got worse. Temptations and peer pressures got the best of me. I wanted to be God’s guy. I tried valiantly, but life kept spiraling out of control. The things I wanted to do, I couldn’t. The things I didn’t want to do, I did. I wondered, “Why isn’t God helping me be a better person?

Jesus wasn’t interested in making me a little better. He was not marketing the latest self-improvement program. That is what I was looking for, but self-improvement is not what I needed. I didn’t know that Jesus’ work is this: to take someone dead in sin and make him eternally alive.

The news that a close friend had taken a drug overdose stirred a sense of desperation in me. I was on the same path. Something had to change. What was I missing?

I started attending a Bible study in Atlanta. The message of Colossians 2 answered my heart’s cry. The Scripture was so clear that I wondered why I had never seen it before. Here was the verse that connected: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13).

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, God directed toward me. I was raised spiritually to walk in the newness of life. Until that moment, Paul’s words to the Colossians were meaningless to me. I had made mistakes, committed sins, but still I was basically okay — a good kid, just off track. My hope was that Jesus could help me get back on track and make me the person I wanted to be. The problem was that the “me” I wanted to improve was actually dead in sin.

Admitting my spiritual death lifted a huge burden. I no longer had to try to fix something that was unfixable. However, this admission was frightening. Death is final, the end. It is inescapable. No amount of human effort or ingenuity can reverse this sinister state. Mankind has tried, but to no avail. Dead is dead, and that is what I was spiritually. Control of my destiny was out of my hands. Life had to come from another source.

The Bible declares that God has power over death. That first Easter was a glorious, earth-shaking demonstration. This truth authored a belief inside of me that God could raise me to life. And He did. Resurrection is Jesus’ story, and through faith in the resurrected One it became my story.

Change wasn’t what I needed. I needed life. And so does everyone else. The Apostle Paul gave personal testimony to this reality. Prior to his Damascus Road experience, he lived to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law, trying with all of his strength to align his flesh with the ways of God. His hope was that obedience to the law would ultimately earn him eternal life. But he “found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:10).

There are thousands of people who are tired of the struggle to improve, or the fight to make life better. They’ve asked God a thousand times or more for help, but nothing changes. They are looking for release when what they really need is life.

God’s priorities for us are first life, then change.

 

For more information on this subject, a suggested resource is First Life, Then Change (CDFL).