In chapter 4:17-19, Paul challenges the believers in Ephesus to be different than the Gentiles around them who don’t even realize something is wrong. This describes pre-contemplation well. In this stage an individual is unaware of a need for change or doesn’t intend to change. Often others have realized that a problem exists, but the individual doesn’t want to acknowledge that others are right. This often takes place through denial, blaming or blaming oneself. But the truth is that these unhealthy actions often serve a purpose. They are an ineffective way to help us do life. It is only when we realize how healthy they are that we can move to the next phase.
Paul reminds the Ephesian believers in verses 20-21 that they have been taught a different way of life and that they know that living as the Gentiles do is not the best way to do life. Paul is moving them from the pre-contemplation stage to the contemplation stage. Here, an individual is aware of a need for change and even thinks seriously about it. However, they have not yet decided to actually take steps to make a change.
Paul tells the Ephesians in verses 22-24 that they need to have a plan and that the plan is to put off the old self and put on the new self. This is the preparation stage. Here the individual decides to take action in the near future, maybe has tried a few things. They commit to the change, begin problem solving and develop a plan to change. But we still haven’t arrived at the place where an individual is stepping into change.
Stepping into change happens in the action phase. In verses 25-30, Paul outlines a series of behaviors and actions one can take to do something about it. Having trouble lying or speaking honest truth to your neighbor? Do you find yourself stealing, or working to find a job or to give to others? In the action phase an individual begins to engage the in successful steps towards the desired outcome but hasn’t yet attained the outcome. The individual has begun to enact their plan and build on their successes. As they go through this process the individual begins to see changes in whatever the issues they are working on.
What do you do once the change takes root? You put a new plan in place, a plan to maintain the changes that you make. In maintenance the individual reaches their goals and works to prevent backsliding and consolidates the changes made in the action phase. Here an individual builds perseverance and builds a community that will help the change take root. In 6:10-17, Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of the tools they have to use in the maintenance phase, the armor of the Lord! With these tools all believers can be on both the defensive and offensive against threats to the changes they have made.
In this last step, an individual is able to look for others to help on their journey. The individual realizes that they have the skills and abilities to help others make similar changes. Paul writes about this in Ephesians 4:2-3, where he challenges the believers to bear with each other. Paul knows that we best learn from each other and challenges the community to work together and help each other in the change process.
So as you head into 2018, what are the changes that God has asked you to make? If you are honest with yourself, how are you doing with that change? Are you in action? Maintenance? Or when you are most truthful are you still in pre-contemplation? Who are the people who can help you on your journey, or is God asking you to help someone else on theirs?
Don’t let 2018 just be a year of making great plans for change! Listen to Paul make a plan to put off the old self and put on the new and step into that plan today!