Resolved, To Be Changed - Matthew 7:7-11
With a new year comes talk about resolutions and goals - things to start doing or stop doing. And with the talk about resolutions comes all the jokes about resolutions. Maybe you’ve seen or heard one of these: “I need to start eating healthier, but first I need to eat all the junk food in the house so it’s not there to tempt me anymore.”
Or this one: “I don’t call them New Year’s Resolutions. I prefer the term, ‘Casual promises to myself that I’m under no legal obligation to fulfill.” Here’s my favorite: “Dear New Year’s resolution, It was fun while in lasted. Sincerely, Jan. 2nd.”
You may scoff at new year’s resolutions, and that’s understandable. But the truth is, we should all be resolved (or determined) in our hearts and minds to change. It has nothing to do with this being the start of a new year.
God’s plan is to change his people – to transform our thoughts, desires, and behavior – that we would live according to His truth and be more and more like Jesus Christ. A “resolution” is, by definition, “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” So, a resolution is a good thing.
18th century preacher Jonathan Edwards made a list of 70 resolutions for himself, not connected to a new calendar year, but rather, ones that he re-read on a weekly basis. I’ll read you a few of the brief ones. He wrote,
Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
But when we make a resolution to change, there’s a pitfall to look out for, because we naturally think that change is up to us. But Jesus tells us here in Matthew 7 that the inward change of a disciple is something given by God which we should continually ask God to do in us.
If Jesus tells us we should be continually asking for it, obviously, we should do that. But what should we be resolved to do as we wait for God to bring this change? Two things, and I worded them in your Worship Guide the same way Jonathan Edwards worded his resolutions. You can see them on page 6.
1. Resolved, to persistently ask my Father to change me, knowing that He will respond.
and 2. Resolved, to continually trust my Father will change me, knowing that He is good.
Now, if we look back over Matthew chapters 5 and 6, and the beginning of 7,
we see a thorough description given by Jesus of how his followers should think and live. We should be humble, we should mourn our sinfulness, be merciful and pure, and we should make peace. We should endure persecution for God’s sake. We should preserve goodness and truth in the world, and reflect the glory of God.
We should honor the whole moral law of God. We should recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s law. We should resist anger and lust. We should honor marriage as an institution created by God, defined by God, and belonging to only to God. We should resist adultery and the urge to divorce without Biblical grounds. We should keep our word and speak only what is true. We should not act with vengeance, but love our enemies. We should give to the needy in secret, to please only God. We should pray in a God-centered manner. We should forgive others. We should fast in secret. We should treasure in our hearts the eternal things over the temporary things of earth. We should resist worry and instead trust God to provide all of our needs. And we should not have judgmental hearts or be hypocritical, but deal first with our own sin while still making right judgments about the sin around us.
That’s not a fully comprehensive description of Christian discipleship. Jesus did say other things about discipleship that are not stated in these verses. But that is a daunting list of commands, one that none of us can do perfectly, and therefore, we need to change. If you scanned the summary I just gave you, you might ask, “Where do I start?” In verse 7, Jesus tells you where to start. He says,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Jesus gives three different ways of describing the act of prayer. Each one is stated in a way that implies the need for persistence. Jesus has in mind that we should be continually doing these things. We should be presently, actively asking and seeking and knocking. And we are assured that our prayers are heard and will be honored. Jesus says, “It will be given to you…you will find…it will be opened to you.” This is assurance for the believer that God sanctifies those whom he redeems. In other words, if he causes a person to be born again, he will surely change that person.
Someone who claims to have faith in Jesus but never shows any evidence of change is most likely not truly born again. God’s end goal in saving us to change us. But we understand from Scripture that God not only ordains the ends, but he also ordains the means to those ends. So, he ordains that some things occur or come to pass as the result of prayer. Is God entirely sovereign? Absolutely. Does prayer still make a difference? Unquestionably. Jesus says as much right here. Verse  “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Jesus can’t be any more clear, and he reinforces what we see repeatedly in God’s Word – that his people should pray and that God will provide.
In his classic book The Bruised Reed, 17th century pastor Richard Sibbes writes,
“God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives and gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives.”
In Philippians 1, Paul says that when God saved you, he began a good work in you, and he will bring it to completion. God makes us into what he plans for us to be. But we must persistently pray for it. This process is part of God’s work in us. D.A. Carson points out that “like a human father, the heavenly Father uses (our asking, seeking, and knocking) to teach (us) courtesy, persistence, and diligence.” Continually asking is humbling and builds endurance.
Are you the kind of person who would rather just do something yourself rather than having to ask someone to do it for you? It’s good be self-sufficient for many things. But if you would become more like Jesus Christ and live according to the commands of the one true God – if you would be someone who changes inwardly, for your own benefit and the benefit of those around you – you cannot do it on your own. You are going to have to not just ask, but be persistently asking – continuously humbled by your own need for God’s help to change.
Paul told the Thessalonian church to “pray without ceasing.” And it makes sense, because people who are persistently seeking for God to change them – steadily asking and repeatedly knocking – are so much less likely to be puffed with pride, harboring bitterness, withholding forgiveness, and looking down their noses at others. Have you been asking God to change you? Yes, we must make our efforts also, but that’s not what Jesus is dealing with here in these verses. He’s urging us to go to our heavenly Father in prayer knowing that he will respond. Are you willing to say in your heart today: “Resolved, to persistently ask my Father to change me, knowing that He will respond”?
Now, preachers illustrate our points, but no one can illustrate a point like the incarnate Son of God. Notice again verse 9, which begins with the word “or” but in the Greek language at that time, this meant something like, “to put it differently” or “to say it in another way.” Jesus obviously knows our hesitancy with persistent asking, and so, he gives an example to illustrate his point. Verse  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? You’ve seen a roll or a biscuit or a small loaf of bread that closely resembled a rock.
Picture a hungry child who says, “Daddy, may I have some bread?” and the father says, “Of course,” and then give the child a rock. Good fathers don’t do things like that. Jesus goes on, verse  Or if he (the child) asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? Only a wicked father would do that to his own babies – to his own dear little ones. Only a poor excuse for a dad would hear the request for what the child needs and turn around and give the child what is useless or harmful.
Jesus says this to his listeners – both then and now – as if this is common sense. He’s pointing out that we know this to be true. We know this difference between a good father and a bad one. This is not even a Christian/non-Christian difference. It’s not only the Christian fathers who can show good “dad skills.” An individual could practice some other religion or be an atheist and still display basically kind gestures toward his children. But look at what Jesus says next. Verse  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, but hold on - evil? What does Jesus mean to say about us? Well, I we could translate it as “wicked” or “of a bad nature.” He means, you – all of you – are morally bankrupt and, in an ethical sense, vile. This is a strong choice of words by Jesus here. He assumes the sinful human nature of all people apart from an outward display of good deeds.
This agrees with the overall view in Scripture that people in general are sinful, depraved, but not as outwardly wicked as we could be. And for that reason, you will likely, at some point, observe a Muslim father, or a Mormon father, or a Buddhist father, or an agnostic or atheist father who shows general kindness to their children.
The person may be, by some measure, a great dad. But all people are evil in that we are sinful and cannot save ourselves from the wrath of God. Only Jesus Christ can save us, and that by faith in him. But back to Jesus’ main point here: he says, If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
In verses 7-8, Jesus emphasized the faithfulness of God to respond to our prayers. In these verses, he emphasizes the goodness of God as our heavenly Father.
We should be confident that he will respond, because he is good.
Dads, do you think you love your kids? Well, maybe so, but you’re evil. You have wicked thoughts and desires. You sin against others. How much better of a father must the Creator of all things be? He is great I AM, our Rock and Redeemer. Our Savior. How much more trustworthy and reliable must he be? How much more likely to come through must he be?
Dads, do you cringe at the thought of your kids not viewing you as trustworthy? Do you think you’d rather die than let your kids down when it matters most? Some of you might have mixed feelings about your fathers. But I’ll tell you what I’ve seen, and I know many of you have seen it too. I’ve seen children, whose fathers let them down repeatedly, and still, that child would love that father. I’ve seen adults whose fathers come to the end of their lives, and that child must bury their father, yet with the knowledge of so much that the man had done wrong in his life – even to his own children – that adult would mourn and weep for his or her father and cherish whatever good that was left for them to remember about the man.
God Almighty is a perfect, holy, loving, pure-hearted, trustworthy Father. Do you approach him in this way? Continually? Children don’t always understand the discipline of their father. But as a father disciplines his child and teaches his child, the child must be able to trust that the Father means only good toward her or him.
As we go to this table today, we remember that our Father would rather die than let us down. In John chapter 1, the apostle John wrote this about Jesus Christ: “to all who did receive him (meaning Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” God the Son – Jesus Christ the savior of sinners – laid down his life so that you could be born again by the power of God to trust in his saving work. Do you trust only in Jesus’ perfect life and his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection from the dead to save you from your sins? Have you turned from sin and resolved to live for him, follow him, and to be changed by him?