A Firm Foundation

Tackling Self-Improvement God’s Way

Following a year of living in old familiar ruts, we welcome January with renewed hope for self-improvement. After carefully evaluating our lives and planning appropriate changes, we confidently make our New Year’s resolutions. Enthusiasm runs high for the first few weeks, but before long, our old habits beckon us to relax and slide down into those comfortable patterns. By February, most of us are right back where we started, wondering why we couldn’t stick with it.

There’s nothing wrong with having a desire to become a better person, but have you tried asking God what He wants to do in your life this year? Isaiah 55:8-9 says that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. As proof of this, just consider these common recommendations on how to improve your life: Put yourself first, believe in yourself, create your own reality, and follow your heart. These are nothing like the instructions found in God’s Word. The only way to become the best we can be is by following His recommendations.

READ Luke 6:39-49

At first glance, this passage seems to be a compilation of unrelated illustrations, but verse 39 introduces it as a single parable. In the previous verses (vv. 17-38), Jesus was explaining the blessings and responsibilities of discipleship. Our passage is simply a continuation of that theme. It begins with a warning that a blind man is a terrible guide who will lead you into a pit (v. 39). Since Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of the unbelieving (2 Cor. 4:4), all their recommendations for self-empowerment won’t help you become a better person. Instead, you will end up in a pit of self-centeredness. Christians are called to walk as children of Light, trying to learn what pleases the Lord (Eph. 5:8-10). We should never live as if we’re spiritually sightless, following a blind guide’s advice.

Jesus’ next illustration features a pupil who becomes like his teacher after being fully trained (Luke 6:40). This is the ultimate form of self-improvement and should be the goal of every believer—to become like our Teacher, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). However, this transformation requires that we cooperate with His training program. His lessons involve studying Scripture, getting to know Him intimately, learning to pray according to His will, serving and loving one another, and even taking some field trips into suffering. Some of His lessons are painful, but they are the only way to become like Christ.

The next step in our quest for transformation is honest self-evaluation (Luke 6:41-42). Jesus described a self-deceived person as one who walks around with a log sticking out of his eye and yet believes that he is able to take a speck out of someone else’s. He’s totally unaware of his sin, which is very evident to others. Although the picture is humorous, the reality is not. If we truly desire to become Christlike, we must identify and overcome the sins that are blinding us.

Jesus tells us that true transformation begins internally, not externally. He uses the example of good and bad trees that can produce only fruit that corresponds with their nature (vv. 43-45). Before reforming our behavior, we must deal with sinful thoughts, attitudes, and desires, because everything we do and say flows from whatever fills our hearts (v. 45). As we become more like Christ inside, it will become apparent externally.

Jesus’ final word picture was of two houses representing two lifestyles. One is built on a foundation of obedience to God, but the other is not (vv. 46-49). The lesson is obvious. If you want a self-improvement program that really works, it must be based on obedience to God’s Word. Without that, everything you build your life upon will crumble in the storms of life.

REFLECT + EXPLORE
Reflect on the following insights from supporting scriptures. If you have the time, explore the suggested passages and journal your responses.

• The apostle Paul was a man who strived for excellence in his life.
Read Philippians 3:7-11. What were his goals? Are these your goals as well?

• Paul demonstrated tenacity in his walk with Christ.
Read Philippians 3:12-14. What did he do to reach his goals? Is your life characterized by this same persistence?

• Paul left us a pattern to follow.
Read Philippians 3:15-21. What advice and hope does he offer as you strive to follow in his steps?

• At the end of his life, Paul had no regrets about the course he’d chosen.
Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8. How did he describe his accomplishments? What changes will you have to make in your life to finish well, as Paul did?

RESPOND
Answer the following questions, journaling your thoughts if possible.

• If you asked the Lord how He plans to work in your life during 2014, what kind of New Year’s resolutions do you think He’d want you to make?

• Have you ever tried to change a bad habit or overcome a sin without first dealing with the heart issue that fuels it? What were the results?

• Does your life resemble the house that stands firm or the one that falls apart in the storms of life? What practical steps can you take to build upon a foundation of obedience this year?

Related Topics:  Gods Will

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8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.

39 And He also spoke a parable to them: A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?

40 A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.

41 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

42 Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.

44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.

45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

46 Why do you call Me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:

48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.

49 But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

17 Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,

18 who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured.

19 And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.

20 And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.

23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.

24 But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.

25 Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

27 But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.

30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.

31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return."

4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light

9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth),

10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

40 A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.

29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

41 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

42 Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.

44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.

45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

46 Why do you call Me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like:

48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.

49 But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,

9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,

10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;

11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;

16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ,

19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;

21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;

8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

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