I want to keep growing and changing for the rest of my life. I hope you do, too. Because in our more honest moments, we see the cracks in our character. We see the habits that hold us back from being our best. Bottom line, most of us recognize areas where we wish we could change.
And where there’s a wish, there’s someone trying to sell you something. The self-improvement industry in the United States alone is worth an estimated $11 billion. You see the ads in your social media feed, the podcasts and audio books and motivational speakers, experts, subscriptions, etc., all with a price tag firmly attached.
If you’re a parent whose kids are driving you nuts, you can pick up the book, “Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child’s Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days.”
If it’s your teen that’s getting on your nerves, there’s “Have a New Teenager by Friday.”
If your husband is stressing you out, you can pick up the book “Have a New Husband by Friday.” Couldn’t help but notice the author was smart enough not to write the companion volume on “How to Have a New Wife by Friday.”
And if you can’t change anyone else, there is the book titled, “Have a New You by Friday.”
The reality that most of us feel the need to change and grow takes on special meaning for those who call ourselves Christians. We follow Jesus together—Jesus who constantly invited people to follow him, and he also constantly called his followers to keep changing and growing. Keep dropping the dead weight of habits and beliefs that hold you back from the full life Jesus came to give. To say that another way, we want to become not just better people, but increasingly Christlike people.
What would you change?
That’s what we’re going to go after today, hope that changes us for good. So right at the outset, I want you to do something for yourself. Either say out loud or write down something about yourself that you want to change. In your character or behavior, what’s one thing you want to change?
For me, it’s my mouth. This same thing that builds others up through teaching, sometimes just keeps talking when I should shut up and listen.
How about you? What’s one behavior or character trait in you that you’d like to change?
Got it? Here’s the question, then:
Is that kind of change possible?
Is it realistic to believe that in that character trait or behavior, you can make significant progress over time? Let’s get into that.
Our guide today is John, who wrote the gospel of John, three New Testament letters, and the book of Revelation. Why would we look to John for help with personally changing in character and behavior? Because John deeply changed the longer he followed Jesus.
You’ve probably met people who got worse as they got older, who got hardened in their demeanor, who became less like Jesus over time. Not John.
John and his brother are introduced to us by the highly unflattering nickname Jesus stuck on them: “sons of thunder.” It wasn’t a compliment!
Jesus gave John and James the nickname sons of thunder because they badly needed to change.
One time when members of an ethnic group Jews despised rejected Jesus, it was John and his brother who recommended they call down fire from heaven to burn them all to hell. Sons of thunder indeed: zero compassion for those who disagreed with them. Jesus gave John and his brother a verbal whack upside the head and on they went (Luke 9:54).
It gets worse. Right after Jesus explains that he’s going to be killed but then rise from the dead—John and his brother ask a favor. They actually dare to tell Jesus, quote, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35).
Jesus doesn’t fall for it. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Their answer? Basically, when you become king, at your coronation, designate us 2nd and 3rd in command on thrones either side of you. Just do it. That’s all we’re asking.
Sons of thunder indeed. In their character and in their behavior, these two are way off course.
Here’s the really curious thing, though: by the end of the gospels, John is referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Not once, not twice, but five times he speaks of himself not as a ‘son of thunder,’ but as “the one whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23-35; 19:26-27; 20:1-10; 21:7, 20). Something about John substantially changed.
This guy who started out callous and clueless goes down in history as—ready for this?—the apostle of love. There’s nothing wishy-washy about John. He’s clear as can be on the crazy-glue tight bond that must be held between truth and compassion.
In today’s Scripture from John’s first letter, he reveals how he changed, and how we can find hope that changes us for good.
Open your Bible or Bible app to 1 John chapter 2 and verse 28. There John writes:
“And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns,
you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.” 1 John 2:28
The hardest thing about change is finding the motivation to change. So that’s what John zeroes in on. The first of two great motivations to change is remembering that Jesus will return. Holding that before you, remembering that Jesus will come again can motivate you to keep changing, keep pursuing greater Christlikeness.
There are a thousand false understandings of what being a Christian should look like.
So what we ought to pay attention to is how Jesus interacted with those who followed him.
- What we see is that, for example, Jesus never said you can be an ornery cuss and call yourself a Christian. That needs to change—as it did for son of thunder John.
- Jesus never let his followers use religion to get what they wanted politically. That needed to change then, and it needs to change today.
- Jesus never so much as hinted that Christians should fight for power and position. He taught and modeled the opposite. That needs to change.
Jesus constantly challenged his followers to change, and to keep changing. Don’t get stuck in your ways. Don’t settle for the easy path. Following Jesus was never meant to be easy. He said quite the opposite. Easy? Nope. Worth it? Absolutely.
What changed John from being a mean-spirited, self-righteous son of thunder to becoming the apostle of love…was spending time with Jesus. Hanging around the real deal, not the wannabe substitutes.
John got up in the morning and had breakfast with Jesus. They talked about whatever. Throughout the day, he got to take in Jesus’ wisdom and correction and challenge and encouragement and rebuke and questions. But we don’t get that chance, do we?
That is exactly why John wrote this letter. By the time John sits down to pen this letter, he’s an old man. He’s writing to people who had never seen Jesus. This is some 50 years after Jesus walked the streets. Their parents and grandparents had passed down the stories of dramatic encounters with Jesus, but it wasn’t their personal experience.
So John reminds them and us that Jesus who appeared before will appear again.
In his original Greek, John uses a technical term, the word parousia, that was used to describe a king coming to visit your town or city. Back then, you could live your entire life without ever having seen your king. But if your king was going to visit, it was called a parousia. That was the title they gave it. It would be announced ahead of time. You had time to prepare.
That’s the image John draws on. He takes something that everyone already understood and uses it to motivate us to change.
If you could host any famous person in your home this coming Friday for dinner, who would it be? If your favorite singer or business leader or writer or actor said, “Hey, I’d like to come for dinner this Friday,” you would suddenly be motivated to prepare for their arrival, to get ready!
That’s the image John holds before those of us who have not yet seen Jesus—reminding us that we will! He’s coming again. So get ready! Be ready!
And let’s keep it real here: for those who aren’t ready to see Jesus, his return is not appealing. I remember getting stoned when I was a young Christian, and suddenly thought about Jesus coming back right then. It was not a happy moment!
And sometimes churches use Christ’s return as a threat to try to keep people in line. The fascinating thing is that that’s not how John speaks of Christ’s return here. Look at verse 28 again. John writes:
“And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.” 1 John 2:28
John says, “You can be full of courage and not shrink back in shame when Jesus returns.”
How can you do that? He tells us: Remain in fellowship with Christ. Continue in him. Stick with Jesus. Live deeply in Christ. Live continually in him. Like a branch on a vine, stay connected to Jesus. Remember that he’s coming again. Draw from him every day. Call on him every day. Learn from Jesus every day. Do what John did, and you will be confident and unashamed when Jesus returns. Let Jesus’ return be a positive motivation for change and growth.
That’s where John starts—calling us to look ahead to Christ’s return. Remembering that can change us for good.
For the remaining verses, John shifts to remembering what God has already done for you. Picking up in 1 John 2:29 we read…
“Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John 2:29-3:3
The miracle that God makes you his child when you trust in Jesus should make us marvel. And as we marvel at how pure Jesus is, we find ourselves motivated to pursue greater purity ourselves. That’s what John is saying.
Here’s a story to get at the heart of this. We held a funeral a while back for a guy who was rough around the edges, a real son of thunder. He apparently had been a son of thunder for a looooong time. He wasn’t an easy guy to be around. He sometimes made church services uncomfortable with things he would say. Rumblings of thunder broke out when he opened his mouth.
But then he died. And at his funeral, an antique pie safe was prominently placed on the platform. It had been partially restored…just like old son of thunder. It had some dings and scratches. There were some gouges and missing pieces. It wasn’t all that much to look at.
But it was valuable to the one it belonged to…just like old son of thunder. And most important, it wasn’t going to be left unfinished. It was on its way to being fully restored…just like old son of thunder. Just like you and me. Just like anyone who becomes a child of God.
But becoming a child of God doesn’t happen automatically. This is the most important thing today. The Bible nowhere and never says that anyone is born a child of God. Jesus says we can become ‘born again’ or ‘born from above.’ How does that happen?
John chapter 1 explains it clearly, declaring…
“To all who believed [Jesus] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” John 1:12-13
93-year-old theologian J.I. Packer says, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 182)
This is what left old son of thunder John’s jaw on the ground, amazed that God made him a child of God, and more than that, the purity of Jesus makes us want to become more like Jesus. And then if that’s not enough, God promises that when Jesus returns, we will be fully restored.
This is where we find hope to change for good: from becoming God’s child, to wanting to become more like God’s Son, to trusting that we will one day become fully like Jesus. And with that…we fall to our knees in worship.
God who changed John from son of thunder to apostle of love can motivate you and me to change towards good.
Like that antique pie safe with its dings and gouges and scratches and missing pieces, we are being restored, and we will be fully restored soon enough. With that good news ringing in our souls, let’s pray!
If you’ve never asked Jesus to come into your life, let’s do that right now, and God will change you from being a son of thunder to being a child of God. Pray this, out loud, right now:
Jesus, I believe in you. I accept you.
Come into my life as Savior, and forgive me for the wrongs I’ve done.
Come into my life as Lord, and lead me from this point on, just like you did for John.
The ways in which I’m a son of thunder, I’m asking you to change me.
Give me strength to stick with you, Jesus, to lean hard on you, to call daily on you.
Change me. Make me more who you intend for me to be.
And for all of us, let me pray for you.
Our Father in heaven, thank you for changing John from ornery to someone who was laser-focused on truth and love together.
Make us more like that, we ask. Make us more like Jesus.
Keep doing your good work of restoration in us.
I pray for each person listening, that you will enable us to stand before you confident and unashamed, because of your deep work in us and often despite us.
God, you’re amazing! We love you.
Thank you for not giving up on us.
Bless us this week and make us a blessing to someone.
If you prayed to receive Jesus today, let us know! We want to connect you with others who will help you get started strong in your walk with Jesus. So use the contact form at www.y-church.com titled “How can we help you?”
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