"Before And After"
We’ve all seen “before and after” pictures used in advertising. For instance, there is the guy who needed a little help with his hair loss. There’s a lady who has gotten amazing results from some kind of skin care product. There are even computer programs which can project how we will look in 20 or 30 years from now. Could be scary!
You may remember this TV commercial from a few years back. A young man, Jared Fogle, who lost a huge amount of weight eating only Subway sandwiches. His little experiment has not only made him thinner, it has made him richer! Now, I frequently eat Subway sandwiches. I don't get the same results. I am neither slimmer nor richer because I eat at Subway. But, Jared Fogel's before and after pictures showed the resulting change in his life.
To be sure, all the “before and after” pictures we see in all the advertisements are not realistic. In fact, some are just plain fake or false advertising.
Whether it is ads for weight-loss products, exercise programs, or hair replacement procedures, most people’s results are less than was advertised. Usually somewhere in the fine print is a qualifying statement that says, “Results may vary.” In some cases, the results vary because the product or program is not very good or helpful, and regardless of how faithfully or how much effort is you put forth, there is no improvement.
Obviously, some products will produce the results that the advertising claims can happen. And, if they don't the fault may lie in the person using the product without following directions, or just simply not following through with the program.
Now before and after is even more important as we look at our lives as Christians. Before and after in the Christian life involves the effect of God's power and His work in our lives. While God does not offer us a "product" or a "program, what He does offer us is absolutely the very best available.
We know that God is all-powerful, and all-knowing, and perfect. Paul agrees with this as he writes in Ephesians 3:21, “God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
When there is a breakdown in our Christians lives and we experience less than the best results, the fault lies with us, not with God or His plan and provision.
If we expect to get the best results, we have to listen to God and follow God’s program according to God’s plan and principles. And so, when we do our part and God does His part, then we experience the kind of transforming results that are promised.
Very often the Lord has to “break us” from our “Before,” before He can “make us” into our “After.” Some of us take more “breaking” than others. We see that in some of Jesus' closest followers. Take Peter, for instance.
Look at his "before." He was a redneck fisherman. He knew everything; he was unteachable. He bragged that he would never forsake Jesus. We know how that worked out. Peter was full of arrogance and self-confidence. All that had to be stripped away from him.
Just before Jesus' arrest in the garden, He turned and looked straight at Peter (Luke 22:61) and the rooster crowed and Peter remembered Jesus’ words, “You will deny me three times.”
The important change in Peter’s life came a few days after the resurrection. Early one morning, by a fire on the shore of the sea of Galilee. Jesus made them breakfast. Jesus singled Peter out and said, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (John 21:15)
Jesus keeps asking Peter if he loves him using the word agape, which is the highest word for love in the Greek language, that is, unconditional love. Peter replies each time with the word phileo, which is the Greek word for the love of friendship, which, of course, is still certainly a good word. Perhaps Peter couldn’t bring himself to use the highest word for love, since he had failed so miserably.
The third time Jesus asked the question, he switched to the word for friendship, and Peter replied in kind. But in spite of all that had happened, in spite of the fact that Peter had failed, Jesus still wanted Peter, and still wanted Peter to be a leader in the kingdom. So Jesus gave Peter the command, “Feed My sheep."
And, as we continue in the Scriptures as the book of Acts opens, we know that Peter exercised his "after" as he preached the first Gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.
The “before and after” experiences in our lives are continually changing. Hopefully they are always for the better.
I think most of us can pinpoint a moment, or event in time, when we experienced a transition from before and into the after. Our baptism, or the time we felt God calling us into full time service for Him, or the day we decide to give our lives to Him. These are significant moments in our spiritual journey. We crossed over from spiritual death into spiritual life - our before and our after.
The challenge we face is that the old man, the dead one, keeps trying coming back to life, to drag us back into our "before." So, we must understand that the Christian life is an on-going effort of setting our minds on, and clothing ourselves with the right things, and putting off and crucifying the wrong things.
It takes a willingness to accept God's grace and mercy, knowing that God continues to love us and offers the grace we need along the way.
This is what Paul was talking to the Colossians about in Colossians 3:12-14:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
In that passage we see the reality of, and the process of, “before and after.” For most of us, we are not what we used to be. We are much better in Christ than we were before we were in Christ.
Paul said, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13) It is good that we all remember that promise. We can do nothing (of any value) without the strength He provides.
Gary K Fair
PCC 04 February 2021