The Christian life is one of change: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Paul describes the Christian life as one of change from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are to be transformed (which is the verb form of the word metamorphosis) by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2) and conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29). If you are a Christian and you are not already just like Jesus (which, I think, describes all of us), then, change is in your future. God intends to keep changing you until you are just like his Son; he’s making you like Jesus. That means changes in the way you talk, the way you think, the way you relate to others, even in what you desire.
One of the biggest problems in the Christian life – in life generally, for that matter – is that people want their circumstances to change but they expect to stay the same. They want a better marriage, for example, but fail to make a deliberate and determined choice to change. They seem to think, though it’s hard to see how this could really be true, that they will somehow drift into positive change. That’s like sitting in a boat on a river above a waterfall, hoping you will drift in the opposite direction.
I know alcoholics who have stayed sober for decades, but they stayed sober by changing and continuing to change – by growing. But staying sober is not the only thing that requires change; staying Christian does too. It requires progressive changes, one leading to another, across the span of a lifetime.
If that is true, we’d better know what it takes for people to genuinely and lastingly change. Let’s say you don’t like the shape you’re in – either your geometric shape (which is increasingly pear-like) or your fitness shape (which is lethargic and unhealthy) – so you go on a diet and you lose 20 pounds. You (1) Look better; and (2) Feel better; but (3) Will regain that 20 pounds in a year, and probably 20 more, if your outside shape changes but your inside shape doesn’t.
Let me tell you the story of a young woman who worked in a restaurant. She was about 23 or 24-years-old when a man about her own age came into the restaurant. Before he left, he asked her to go out with him that night, and she agreed. It was a warm summer evening, and he took her to a beach that was crowded with twenty-somethings. Everybody was having fun, listening to music, swimming – all the things twenty-somethings do.
When they got to the beach, he got a cooler out of the trunk that was filled with beer. When they found a place on the beach, he opened up the cooler and had one. Then another. He shared his beer with the people around him, and drank with them, one after another. He got so drunk that he and a guy he’d just met wandered off and didn’t come back. The girl, who was new to the area, had to ask someone to take her home. That was their first date.
It wasn’t their last. He came back to the restaurant, apologized, promised it would never happen again, and got her to give him a second chance. Before long, they’d become an item. Not too many months down the road, he asked her to marry him. She later told me how he phrased the proposal: “If you marry me,” he said, “I’ll change.”
Dumbfounded, I said to her, “And you said ‘Yes?’ What were you thinking?” If they had come to me to officiate their wedding, I would have turned them down. But she did say yes and married him. So, do you think he changed? No. He kept drinking. Kept staying out all hours of the night. Kept disappointing her for years.
I know all this because the woman who told me this story, many years later, was my mother. The man was my dad. He eventually changed, and changed greatly, but only because, in the midst of tragedy, he gave his life in a deliberate and determined way to Jesus Christ.
(Next: What is takes to change.)