What stimulates people to change?
On the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago (Acts 2), why did 3000 people answer a call, repent, be baptised, receive the Holy Spirit and follow Jesus the rest of their lives? Was it a sovereign move by almighty God? Obviously – but the 3000 still had free will, they allowed the Spirit to move on them. What made them admit they need salvation? What made them eager to receive? What prompted them to say “Yes, Lord”?
Was it the signs and wonders, 120 local people with tiny flames over their heads praising God in familiar languages? Miraculous but not necessarily attractive; you couldn’t help watching but wouldn’t necessarily want to join in. Was it the powerful history lesson preached by Peter on the identity of Jesus? I don’t think so. Impressive historiography rarely inspires repentance.
I believe they were prompted to immediate action by glimpsing miraculous transformations in people not unlike themselves. I believe they identified with Simon Peter who was clearly a changed man. And others, ordinary folk, were being transformed by God’s Spirit right before their eyes. Wow! Talk about makeovers! Ordinary renovations are band-aids by comparison, mostly just cover-ups. This was the real thing, a complete change from the inside out. And the improvement was obvious to onlookers – from inner ugliness to beauty, from dark depression to bright joy, from slavish addiction to freedom, from deadly sin to life abundant.
So the 3000 watched the miracle of salvation in someone like themselves and immediately wanted it for themselves. On the day of Pentecost, 3000 could hardly wait to join the in-crowd.
God sets the stage, softens hearts and pours out his Holy Spirit but you actually begin to change when your friend suddenly exhibits an attitude of gratitude in the middle of a room of doom and gloom, when your drug dealer repents and starts supplying God’s Word instead of cocaine, when your partner gets baptised and comes up with clean hands, a pure heart and a renewed mind, when your kid brother stops swearing and quotes scripture. That’s when you reckon “me too” and step up the aisle for sinner’s prayer. For lack of a better word, I call it the “Ex Factor” meaning the differential between new creation and former self, the transformation from addict to ex-addict, from dead in sin to living for Jesus, the repositioning from miry clay to firm rock.
Who has it?
The ex-factor is often strongest early on, before self-assurance sets in. Ex-sinners have more impact than same-old saints. Think of the myriads that have come home to Christ because of the example of the ex-reprobate prodigal son in Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:11-32) while the unchanged always-good brother (zero ex-factor) influences no one. A solid citizen is helpless to influence an addict because an addict who can’t see change won’t change. I can state it as a rule: there’s no use trying to get someone else to change unless you have obviously changed yourself. Words beget words. Behaviour begets behaviour. Status begets status. Change begets change. If you talk about change to an addict but have not changed yourself, the addict will also talk about change but will not change. If you have clearly changed, no matter what you say, the addict will begin to change.
The ultimate Ex-Factor, of course, is the change from death to life: “The same power that raised Christ from the dead…” Jesus Christ is the ultimate change-agent, Ex-Factor personified. Believe in Him and He will break your chains. If, then, you want to help others recover from deadly sins, you must demonstrate how Jesus has raised you from the dead.
The problem with professional counselling is not counselling. It’s professionalism. The Scribes and Pharisees had degrees. By worldly standards Jesus was an amateur. His power came only from his relationship with His heavenly Father. He who had been in heaven was now on earth. He died and rose again. The formerly-dead personify extreme Ex-Factor.
They change when I change
For years I tried to prove I was a good parent without much success. Then in 1980, I stopped defending myself and began to tell my children how God was changing my life. At this point my children began to tell me I’d been a good parent.
A day or so after I got baptised in October 1980, I went to my usual alcohol-recovery session. Young Roddy came up to me afterward and said, “Charles, you seem different. Something has happened to you!”
I said, “Yes, Roddy, on Sunday I got baptised with full immersion and received the Holy Spirit.”
Roddy said, “That’s what I want.”
I said (!) “No, Roddy, you haven’t been sober long enough. You should be sober for at least three years before getting baptised.”
But Roddy was determined. He became a born-again Christian soon after. His testimony today is that nothing I said could dissuade him! Could I have made a worse mistake? Was I an effective evangelist? God is amazing. Charles is changing. The Ex-Factor is at work.
These days, when called to counsel others, I establish a completely non-professional relationship. I am no longer a psychologist; I am a recovering-psychologist and an ex-addict. I usually tell my story before I listen to your problem. With the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the help I get from those I’m trying to help, I have remained “free indeed” for over thirty-five years. Should I pay you a fee? Let’s call it even. As we give to each other, so shall we receive.