You might not know “Brock,” but his struggles with extravagant spending and gambling can illustrate three essential elements for change in a Christian’s life.
What Brock needs to change in his life
Brock has been a Christian for about three years. Currently, he is a manager at a plastics manufacturing company, and he receives a good salary. Nevertheless, he is struggling with making credit card payments because of luxury items he’s purchased over the past year: a large flat-screen TV, a motorcycle (he already has a car), and a sapphire necklace for his new fiancée, Cheri. The city where Brock lives has a riverboat casino. He started going to the casino a couple times a week to win extra money to pay off his credit card bills.
When Cheri found out that he was frequenting the casino, she became concerned and confronted him. Brock agreed that he would profit from getting help before his financial situation worsened.
How would you help him make God-honoring change in his life? Even though he is willing to entertain the possibility of change, that is no guarantee that the change will actually occur. Thus, you could point him toward three essential elements in the process of making godly changes in his life.
Element #1: Motivating godly lifestyle changes
In order for Brock to be successful in making lifestyle changes, he will need sufficient motivation, which will be heavily influenced by his self-concept and by his perceived purpose for life (whether it’s to be happy, to be successful, to honor the Lord, etc.). Since Brock professes to be a Christian, you should remind him that his relationship with God gives him a special identity and a particular purpose for living.
A special identity
Brock fills a variety of roles that contribute to his self-concept (his identity): he is a son, manager, fiancé, etc. You could ask him, “Have you thought much about what it means to be a Christian manager? A Christian fiancé?” Such questions can reveal how conscientious he is about his status as a son of God who should “live a life worthy of the calling [he has] received” (Eph. 4:1).
Any lifestyle change Brock pursues must be consistent with his identity as a son of God (Rom. 6:1–11; 2 Cor. 5:14–15). Whenever Brock pursues God-honoring change, assure him that he can rely on the Lord’s wisdom and strength to make the change (James 1:5; Phil. 1:6, 4:13). That is not to say it will be easy, but it is achievable. If Brock waffles on this key point, you could follow up in a number of ways. For example:
- “Brock, have you experienced any changes in your life since you’ve become a Christian?”
- “Brock, you seem hesitant to embrace the promise of God’s strength and wisdom available to you. What contributes to being a little skeptical about this?”
Brock might need the reminder that the New Testament is filled with letters written to churches and individuals who faced this challenge of living up to their new identity as Christians (1 Corinthians and 1 Peter illustrate this point particularly well). He can be confident that the Scriptures can equip him to face this challenge successfully. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit can empower the type of change Brock should seek as a child of God (Galatians 3–6 stresses the crucial role of the Spirit for Christian living).
A particular purpose in life
Unlike his non-Christian acquaintances, Brock also has a radically different purpose for his life. It is presented in different ways in the Bible; you could point him to:
- “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
- “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
- “Whatever you do … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
You will probably need to explain what some of these phrases mean, so he understands clearly that he doesn’t have the option of living for himself. Instead, he has the privilege of living according to his Creator’s design for him!
Element #2: Specifying what needs to change from the inside out
Lifestyle change for Christians is succinctly laid out in Ephesians 4:22–24: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Thus, another element of the change process is helping Brock specify what behaviors, attitudes, thought patterns, etc., need to stop (the “former way of life/old self” to be “put off”) and what biblical alternatives can replace them (the “new self” to be “put on”).
Specifying the put-offs
You should make sure Brock understands what unbiblical aspects of his life must be stopped—and why it is important to the Lord that they be stopped (that is, how they are “corrupting” and “deceitful” for him). Brock might think, “Clearly, I have to stop going to the casino and stop my excessive spending.” Both of those changes would be valuable, but if he doesn’t appreciate how they are directly connected to his growth as a Christian, he will be more likely to resume them later.
So Brock needs to link his ungodly behaviors with the underlying unbiblical desires that produce them. The easiest way to do this is to ask him what he hoped to accomplish by going to the casino so often. That in turn can lead to an inquiry about what made each of his luxury expenditures so attractive to him. Once his desires or goals have been articulated, you can help him see from specific biblical passages how his goals and desires compare to God’s will for him. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with TVs, motorcycles, or necklaces, the pressing question Brock must answer is whether such purchases might reveal a commitment to pleasure over responsible stewardship, or perhaps a desire for status with others rather than a desire to serve others in love (see, for example, Prov. 21:17; 1 Tim. 6:6–10). Brock has made impulsive money-related decisions that will enslave him if he doesn’t break his pattern.
For well-established patterns, people benefit from tracking when the behaviors, attitudes, or thoughts occur and what triggers seem to prompt them (such as events, people, physical states like fatigue or hunger, and values adopted earlier in life). In Brock’s case, this tracking exercise might take the form of a “Dissatisfaction Diary.” When he is experiencing dissatisfaction, he can record:
- The situation in which he finds himself dissatisfied
- The types of thoughts he is entertaining
- What these thoughts reveal about his attitude toward God’s provisions for him
Specifying the put-ons
Every aspect of a Christian’s life should be infused with a desire to represent God on earth, just as Jesus did during His earthly ministry. Therefore, Brock must learn not only what ungodly patterns to remove from his life but also what godly patterns can fill the void, creating a new direction or sense of purpose for him. As the new patterns solidify, they will also help protect him from returning to the old ways.
In discussions with Brock, you would need to be attentive to the following “put-ons” (based on Prov. 22:7, 30:7–9; Matt. 6:19–21; Phil. 4:6, 11–13; Col. 2:6–7):
- Learning to be content with basic necessities (fasting can help here)
- Being thankful for all God’s blessings each day
- Spending only what he can afford, based on a detailed budget
- Selling luxury items that can’t be paid off in a month
- Storing up “treasure in heaven” (spending time serving others in church and other organizations)
Element #3: Pursuing accountability from supportive relationships
Finally, as a Christian, Brock should not think he needs to make these changes all by himself. Because he is a son of God, he is part of the family of God. He should forge relationships with other Christians who could encourage, support, and guide him through these changes (Rom. 15:14; Heb. 3:12–13, 10:24–25). Accountability to one or two other Christians will be intensive to start with, for example:
- He might turn over debit and credit cards to someone (or lock them up and give the other person the key).
- He might meet regularly with someone to discuss expenditures and review his bank statement.
Then as Brock’s resolve gets stronger and he shows evidence of thinking more biblically about money and possessions, the accountability can become less stringent and more sporadic—although he would likely benefit from some accountability for up to six months for the issues he now faces.
What Brock has to look forward to
The changes Brock has to make probably will not come easily. He might go through periods of doubt or even some rebellion before he is finally comfortable with a new way of handling money and possessions. Temptations might be hard to resist at first, but they need not derail his eventual victory. You can help him face possible setbacks with patient love (1 Cor. 13:4). Just as you encourage him to persevere, you model that perseverance yourself. As he progressively sees his financial life improve, he also will become more and more excited about hearing from his Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).