As news broke over the weekend that the famous but troubled singer Whitney Houston had died in the Beverly Hills Hotel, the lingering question for many people was whether or not drugs played a role in her death. The fact being that she had repeatedly checked herself into rehab units, as well as publicly struggled with all sorts of substance abuse, especially during her rocky marriage, the possibility did not seem too far-fetched. Today the coroner seems to confirm suspicions that her death may be due to prescription medicine and alcohol.
So did she simply trade illegal substance abuse for a more legal substance abuse? In other words did she really change? In 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer as this Fox story reports it, Houston said, “the biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy.” Though she could not know how self-fulfilling that prophecy became, it appears that Houston certainly had no illusions about her difficulties. The problem quite simply was that she did not know where to turn for real help with her problems.
Before we get too caught up rushing to accuse Houston of having an addictive personality or condemning her for foolish decisions, let us not forget that for each and every one of us, the biggest devil we face day by day is the one we look at in the mirror. The world, the flesh, and the Devil all three tempt us to disbelieve even the possibility that we can change or alter who we are in the very least.
The most pitiful reality is that churches often times succumb to the same lie of the Devil, namely that people cannot really change. When we share our faith, or admit someone into membership, even when we just show up for worship, in the back of our minds we probably think “I just can’t trust all these people to really make significant changes.” We doubt the sincerity of those who make such claims, and at the first signs of conflict or sin, we abandon the erring brother. Instead of coming alongside, lovingly reminding them of Christ’s righteousness and grace extended to us, we jump immediately to condemning them as hopeless, unregenerate people.
This is no way to proclaim Christ! If people can’t really change, then there is no hope for any of us. Praise God, by the Spirit and Word of Christ people can change. Even so, many of us can fall prey to the deceit of this lie. Look with me at Mark 16:14-20 to find three particular ways that we can combat such temptation.
First look at verse 16:14. When we begin to be troubled, and our hearts begin to be hardened, then we need to hear the loving rebuke of the revealed Scriptures. In this passage the Eleven hardened their hearts to resurrection power. Jesus himself came to lovingly rebuke them. Why? The rebuke came because they had not believed the prophecies He revealed three times in Mark to trust the reports of the witnesses. This short verse delivers to us a two-fold encouragement. If we see a brother waffling, then it is our duty to lovingly rebuke him and ask for him to return and believe again. If we are the brother who is waffling, then we need to seek and especially listen to the loving rebuke of those in our church family. One of the easiest ways to hear such a rebuke is to simply attend the Sunday worship service and hear the gospel proclaimed again.
Second, look at verses 16:15-16. We may ask what looks like to put on a believing heart. Again Jesus answers this question for us when he makes it clear to the disciples that the will prove their belief by proclaiming the gospel to Creation! In other words when we trust Christ enough to stop our private pity party and publicly proclaim our dependence on Him we have expressed saving faith.
Though proclamation will always focus on sharing the truth verbally, we also proclaim the gospel anytime we choose to publicly live against the grain of our times in order to please Jesus. Verse 16:16 confirms this reality when it makes clear that salvation is for those whose hearts are so changed that they cannot continue in their former ways but must proclaim to the world this new belief. Baptism, far from being a saving work in the early church, was proof to the church and outside world that the baptized one in plain sight of those who hated Christians, would rather please Jesus than any man. Unbelief does not require any such inward, outward or eternal change.
Finally, look at verses 16:17-20. Jesus mentions that there are further signs that accompany those who believe in him. Without entering into a huge debate over the miraculous nature of the signs that are listed, I think it is clear that whether miraculous or not Christians will have power to display outward evidence of their inward change. Just look at the way the signs listed in Mark 16 confirmed the salvation of the apostle Paul – a murderer of Christians that no one could believe would follow Jesus.
- Paul cast out demons in Acts 16.
- In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas testify to the signs and wonders that fell upon the Gentiles the same way they had fallen upon the apostles in Acts 2.
- In Acts 28 Paul picks up, is bitten by and asp, and yet lives.
- In Acts 28 as well Paul heals the leader of Malta not to mention many other miraculous healings by his apron or handkerchief.
- As it comes to deadly poison, the word for poison is only used two other occasions in the New Testament. In James 3:8 the tongue is mentioned as one that is full of deadly poison, and then in Acts 14 the Jews are said to poison the minds of the people at Iconium against Paul with their words. Though they would have stoned them, Paul and Barnabas escaped.
In sum, Those who repent of their sin and put their trust in Christ will still be a people who will face temptations and difficulties. Even so, for those who let Christ by his Spirit lead them, change is not impossible! No, true followers of Christ will put off the selfish devil inside in order to focus on that which pleases Jesus. Such focus will lead to gospel proclaiming lives.