CHANGE AND NO CHANGE
Philip J. White
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
2 Peter 3:17-18
It is not customary amongst us to give titles to our messages, but if you press me today I will give you one. It would be something like this: ‘Change and no change.’ I want you to bear that in mind. That is what I want to speak about.
In Christian life there are many paradoxes. Maybe, for the young, that is a long word; a paradox means something that appears to be contradictory – two opposite things which are equally true. I want to speak about a paradox tonight. For the Christian is not to change certain things, but on the other hand he is to change. Just keep that thought in your mind as we continue.
I read first of all in Daniel about a young man who was under great pressure. He was brought up as one of God’s people and he knew the truth; he knew what was right. And then his whole life turned around. He was brought into captivity, and he was really placed into the thick of the world, as we might say – right into the middle of the danger.
We were reading this afternoon about the power of the world and the power of the enemy. Here was a young man who was faithful, and he knew the truth, he knew his God. Suddenly he was put in a position where it would have been so easy to compromise his faith.
That is what it is like for the believer today. You are in a foreign land. There is great pressure from the world to change you. You see, they even changed his name, from Daniel to Belteshazzar. The world, dear young brother or sister, will try to change you through and through.
It seems logical, from the outside – why not eat of the king’s delicate food? It is bound to be better! It looks better. Eve fell into the trap of going for what looks better. But Daniel knew the truth. You may say, ‘It was just a detail about the food.’ But it was one thing which distinguished the people of God from all other nations: their diet, what they ate. Daniel effectively said, ‘No, I am not going to conform to the world. I am not going to change.’
Paul said to the Romans, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed” (Rom 12:2). We shall come back to that later on. The point here is that Daniel was under tremendous pressure. I do not underestimate the intense pressure there is, especially on you young brethren, to change you as a Christian. If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you love Him, but the world wants to change your way of thinking.
It is very subtle, and it was quite subtle here. ‘Just eat a bit of this and you will be acceptable to the king’ – they want you to fit in, to be acceptable. What pressure there was, and yet he said, ‘No.’ He would not bend, he would not bow – no change.
The remarkable thing, when we think about all this, is that he was not an old man, he was about 19. As we get older we get a bit set in our ways, but this was a young man whose world was totally turned upside down, and he said, ‘No, I am not going to give in to the voice of the world. You can call me something else, you can change my name: I am still Daniel to God.’ God did not change his name; He could say, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved” (Dan 10:11).
That is one thing that will carry us through: the love of God. We are to keep ourselves in it. The apostle says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). Daniel, in type, did just that. He was true to his God in a scene of adversity and a scene of opposition, and he did not bend. It is a challenge to my heart. I do not underestimate it, as I have just said: the immense pressure that there is to be the same as everyone else, especially at school, at college and as you start out at work. We do not like to be different.
And yet, if you are a Christian, you are different. It is a simple fact: you are different. You have a different origin and you have a different destination.
What a lesson Daniel is for us! He was one who did not change either his principles or his loyalties, and God honoured him. It is a wonderful thing that if you put God first, He will honour you. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work” (Heb 6:10); He will always honour those who honour Him.
I just leave that with you: a young man of about 19 years who did not change at any time. He went to the courts, he was blessed in that way, but he did not bow to the king, and even at 90 he was just the same. I remember a beloved brother giving an address about Daniel. He was 90 when he was in the lion’s den. But whether he was 19 or whether he was 90, he trusted his God and he was faithful to the Lord. He did not change. What an example he is for us, dear brethren, to be faithful to God in a world which increasingly is opposed to the Christian and opposed to everything which is of God!
Do we dare to be a Daniel? That is the simple question I raise with us, dear brethren.
There are other things that we are not to change. I read in Galatians that the saints in Galatia had wonderfully received the glad tidings. There had been great blessing. They had come to faith in the Lord Jesus. They knew what it was to be saved. They knew the gospel. And yet it was not long afterwards that something happened.
Paul says here in verse 6, “I wonder that ye thus quickly change, from Him that called you in Christ’s grace, to a different gospel.” We must not change the glad tidings. We must not water it down. It is the gospel of God’s grace. The fact, as Paul says in another place, is “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried; and that He was raised the third day, according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3‑4). It is the gospel. Are we sticking to the true gospel? There are some places which advertise ‘the old-fashioned gospel.’ Dear brethren, are we sticking to the old-fashioned gospel, where Christ is the centre, where the cross is the centre, the cross of Christ? We have just started reading Corinthians locally, and we have been impressed by the centrality of the cross. “I did not judge it well to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Is the cross the centre of our gospels? Do we preach from the word?
The gospel is not to change. The word of God is not to change. We are very thankful for this wonderful book, the living and abiding word of God. It does not change. Peter says, “The grass has withered and its flower has fallen; but the word of the Lord abides for eternity” (1 Pet 1:24‑25), and it does not change. Do not meddle with it: do not add to it, and do not take away from it.
I just say this also: be careful which version you read. There are some good modern versions, but not many. There are many bad ones. The Darby bible is one of the most accurate. I just say that as a word of advice to the younger brethren amongst us. Stick to an accurate translation of the Scriptures. The problem is, in some modern translations, that things are changed, subtly. We deal with a wily foe. It might look all right on the outside, but we need to check it by the Spirit. We are thankful that we have the Holy Spirit, the One who has indited the very Scriptures. The One who has written the very Scriptures is able to open them up to us and verify them. He witnesses their veracity.
So again, it is one thing we are not to change: the glad tidings. There are many who have come adrift, who sail on a sea of indifference, a woolly gospel. This happened in Paul’s day too: Paul was a great evangelist and he says, “I wonder that ye thus quickly change.” It does not take long for the enemy to get busy. Let us stick to the word of God. Let us stick to the Scriptures. Let us stick to the gospel, that wonderful good news.
There is another thing that must not change: our worship, our service towards God. I read in Leviticus 10. Here, the system had been set up. We were reading this afternoon about coming out of Egypt and crossing through the Red Sea. “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex 7:16 etc.). And so God, in His grace, sets up this wonderful system of Levitical service. The wilderness was not the goal, the goal was to be in the land, but while they were in the wilderness they could start to serve God.
But serving God was not to be anyhow. There was a prescribed way. Here we have two of the sons of Aaron. Things do not always get passed down from generation to generation in the right way. New ideas come in and, as a result, things change when they should not. These two sons of Aaron offered “strange fire.” Now, you might say, ‘It was fire, so what did it matter?’ It was fire, but it was not the way that God had appointed. The fire should have come off the burnt-offering; it should have come from that place. They offered something which did not come from the death of Jesus. They thought they knew better than the cross. They thought they could approach God in their own way, and they offered “strange fire.”
The judgement was very severe. You might have thought that it was only a little mistake. But we were noticing in our local meeting the other day that very often in the beginning, when something is introduced on a wrong basis, God shows judicially that He is not pleased. In the New Testament, we find that Ananias and Sapphira were dealt with summarily (Acts 5:5,10). It was something new and it had to be dealt with. Think of the sons of Eli who took the Ark into battle – again, it had to be dealt with (1 Sam 4:11). Here in Leviticus, this system of approach to God was set up, and not long after – see how subtle the enemy is, he does not wait: “I wonder that ye thus quickly change” – we have these two sons who think they know better. There is a coming generation and I just challenge you, do you think you know better?
There is an acceptable way to serve God and an unacceptable way. Those that worship God, the Father, must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23‑24). There is an acceptable way of worshipping God. Any approach will not do. How do we approach God? We have access by one Spirit to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 2:18). Dear brethren, just let us be careful that we do not change our approach to God, that we do not lower the requirements.
This is not a technical or legal thing: in essence they were bringing something which God had not prescribed. They were bringing their own efforts. Cain brought his own efforts, whereas Abel brought something which was the result of death (Gen 4:3‑4). The fire should have been from off the altar. We are not told the details, but it was “strange fire,” it was something different, it had changed. Dear brethren, we are not to change our worship. Those who worship the Father must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Some worship that I hear about today makes me cringe in its casualness. We deal with a holy God, an awesome God and One Who is to be reverenced.
It says in Hebrews that we have not come to mount Sinai but we have come to the mountain of the living God that we might serve Him acceptably with reverence and with fear (Heb 12:18‑28). That is the way to worship God: to have a sense in your soul of Who God is and what He has done for you in Christ, and then to come to Him. We are to approach God. We are not to keep at a distance. As we were saying this afternoon, God’s whole purpose is that we may come into His presence and enjoy His love and come into the gain of spiritual things.
Serving God needs to be on the right basis. Let us serve Him acceptably with reverence and with fear. There is to be no change: Daniel did not change. The world was against him, but he did not bend. There is no change in the gospel and there is to be no change in the service of God.
As we noticed earlier, there is a paradox here, because the other side of the coin is that we are to change to be more like Christ.
What is the purpose of your being saved? It says, we have been “predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). That is God’s goal and – praise God! – He will carry it out and all the saints will be conformed to the image of His beloved Son. The assembly, the church, is really that which reflects the glory of the Lord Jesus. We shall be like Him. ‘Like Jesus! Grace supreme!’ (Hymn 72). We are to be conformed – that is the ultimate goal.
How does that come about? How do I become more like Jesus? I read in 2 Corinthians some well-known verses. Paul here is comparing the old covenant with the new. He says there was even glory in the old covenant (v7). Let us not denigrate the old system, because what God set up was perfect in its way and acceptable. The order of service and all that God had set up, if they had carried it out in faithfulness, would have been a wonderful thing, and God would have been glorified.
But they failed, as we know. Paul is saying, ‘Well, something better has come along.’ Through Christ something better has come which far transcends the old. But there was a glory from the old, and in one sense Paul is saying that by looking at the Lord Jesus you are being transferred from one glory to another. But in a practical sense I think he is saying that we can become more like Him.
There is a change that comes about in your soul when you are saved. Let me make that quite clear: a tremendous change happens. Paul was converted; he was Saul before. That is an interesting point: the world changed Daniel’s name to Belteshazzar, but the Lord Jesus changes names too! Paul was Saul before, an arrogant, overbearing man (1 Tim 1:13). He met the Lord Jesus, and he was never the same again. You know what “Paul” means? ‘Little.’ Would you ever think of calling an arrogant and overbearing man ‘Little?’ Such is the grace of God!
Saul was changed irrevocably when he met the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9). But I believe that that change has to happen to every one of us as we are saved. Would to God that we might see more conversions today! We should pray for it. Even amongst us, dear brethren, we need to pray for conversions. Oh, you may have been brought up amongst the brethren; you may have gone to more meetings than I have. But have you been changed?
We sing a hymn sometimes,
What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart.
That change has to do with my standing. If I am saved I am fit for heaven in Christ. The Lord could come today and I would go to be with Him. But our state is a different matter: what we are from day to day. God’s desire is that you should become more and more like Jesus, down here.
It says in the Scriptures, “Even as He is, we also are in this world” (1 John 4:17). That tells me that I need to be more like Him. Am I more like Jesus this week than I was last? Am I more like the Lord Jesus this year than I was last year? It is a challenge, is it not?
What will help us to change? Reading the Scriptures? Going to the meetings? They might do. Here, it says, “We all, looking on the glory of the Lord … are transformed,” or changed. That word is metamorphosis (see note in Darby translation). I remember hearing a preaching once. Are you a caterpillar Christian or a butterfly Christian? You might be just grovelling along on the ground, when you have the opportunity to go to the highest heights.
What will change you? Looking on the glory of the Lord Jesus. That is the remedy for stagnation. “We all:” Paul, you, me. “We all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face.” In the old dispensation they could not look on the glory. Moses had to put a veil over his face, it was so intense (Ex 34:30,33). We could not look at the glory of God in our flesh. But the wonderful news is that Christ has come in, and because of what He has done and what He has become to us, we have this wonderful privilege of looking on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face.
So we look at Him and we are changed. Maybe a little, maybe just a bit. But, is it in the right direction? We are changed “by the Lord the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is vital to all of this. We cannot do it in our own strength. People have tried to imitate Jesus and failed. If you lock yourself in a monastery you will never get like Jesus. But if you look at Him, look at the Lord Jesus in glory, it will change you.
The hymn says,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
I would encourage each of us to look more on the glory of the Lord. It will change us if we have a vision of the glory of the Lord.
Isaiah saw that. If you read in Isaiah 6, you find that he got a glimpse of the glory of the Lord. He did not feel adequate for it. He got a touch. He was then commissioned for service.
May we increasingly know what it is, by the Spirit’s power, to look at the glory of the Lord Jesus. We have a wonderful Saviour: the One, the hymn says,
Who lived, Who died, and Who lives again
In glorious majesty
(hymn 24; see Rev 1:13‑18).
If you have a vision of Him, the world may be against you; the flesh is ever present to hinder you. And yet if you take your eyes off yourself – our eyes “looking stedfastly on Jesus” (Heb 12:2); are we looking for the glory of the Lord? – you are able to change.
I said that the goal of God’s purpose is that you may be conformed to the image of His Son. There is coming a day, and I think it will be very soon, when the Lord is coming again. It says, at that moment “we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52). That work will be complete. But we can help it along, can we not? Are you hindering or are you helping the work of the Holy Spirit?
One of the functions of the blessed Spirit, Who is living within us, is to focus our eyes on the glory of Jesus. There is much distraction. We live in a world where I feel increasingly the distractions that surround us. The enemy of our souls is so clever – he distracts us constantly. But the Holy Spirit would help us to lift our eyes to where Jesus is. Not where He was, but we need to be where He is. “Even as He is, we also are in this world.”
That is a change that should happen in your life and in mine. I read in the end of Peter because this just sums it all up. In verse 17 it says, “Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things before, take care lest, being led away along with the error of the wicked, ye should fall from your own stedfastness.” There is to be no change. But then he goes on to say, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” That is the right sort of change, dear brethren.
There are two sides of the coin: take a pound coin. On one side you have the value, the measure. I know that the value of money deteriorates, but, in essence, it is still 100 pence. That is the value. It will always be 100 pence. It cannot change. We must not change the value, the measure, the standard.
On the other side of the coin what do we see? It is the image of the sovereign. Dear young brethren, it is God’s desire that you should be more and more like Jesus, our blessed living Head, our glorious Lord. The One to Whom it is predestinated that we shall be conformed. We shall be like Him. I cannot think of anything better than that I, who once was a poor, wretched, miserable sinner, have the dignity of being a son of God and that I am destined to be conformed to His image. It is to be under His leadership, to be under His authority, and to be changed into His image.
So what does the Scripture say? “We all, looking on the glory of the Lord, are changed” – the Authorised Version says “changed;” although “transformed” is probably a better word, I will use the Authorised as it keeps the sense of what I am saying tonight. “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed unto the same image from glory to glory,” a step closer to the coming reality when that final call comes and we shall be like Jesus.
Well, there are the two sides to the coin, dear brethren. Let us not change what God ordains that we should not change, but let us be changed to be more like His beloved Son for His praise and glory. It is all to the glory of Jesus. Peter says here that there are two sides: he says, ‘Do not fall from your steadfastness, but grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.’ Oh, I wish I knew more of Jesus, but the whole point is that it may be to God’s glory.
“To Him be glory both now and to the day of eternity.” God will be glorified in His saints, in His assembly, in a day to come (2 Thess 1:10). But you can give glory to God now. It is a wonderful thing that even in these terrible times on earth there is still a sphere where we can give glory to God in the assembly in Christ Jesus (Eph 3:21).
The assembly is a vessel that is suitable to Christ. Even that vessel in one sense is perfect, and in another sense is being made ready. It is an interesting thing that the assembly itself, the bride, has made herself ready for that great day when we meet our Lord and Saviour, our heavenly Bridegroom (see Rev 19:7;21:2).
Well, I leave that with you. It may be poorly presented but there are two thoughts, two sides of the coin. Let us not change what matters to God, let us dare to be a Daniel. Let us not change the terms of the glad tidings. What wonderful news it is! Sometimes we underestimate the wonderful, glorious news of the glad tidings. Let us not change our approach to God, how we serve Him, how we worship Him. But let us be changed to be more like Jesus. May it be so, for His name’s sake. Amen.
14 March 2009