I’ve been thinking about change lately; specifically, can we change ourselves? And if we can, how much of ourselves can change? The more I live I bump against weaknesses, character issues, or personality traits, that I thought I had worked on, thought I had a grip on, and thought I had changed. Then one day something happens, circumstances of life and thoughtful reflection reveal there is still a root of something I thought was gone, but remains. Perhaps it remains in a different form or manifestation, but it is recognizable; I have seen this before.
The Bible seems to argue both sides: we can point to biblical characters in both the Old and New Testament who seem to be set on their own way against God; people, who seem beyond the possibility of change. Cain, the people of Noah’s day, Jezebel, King Herod in the birth stories of Jesus all represent this idea. Jeremiah 13:23 summarizes this perspective with this rhetorical question: “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” The implication is clear, NO CHANGE POSSIBLE!
But, then there is evidence of a Jacob who moves from mistrust to trust after an encounter with the Living God (Genesis 32), Naomi in the book of Ruth, who moved from bitterness to joy, and the New Testament Saul, who is changed to Paul after encountering the risen Christ for himself. These are changed people.
Can we change ourselves? Can we be changed in and through an encounter with the risen Christ? Ephesians 3 speaks of the power that can transform our lives:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Can a leopard change his spots? Can I change the things that seem so part of me that I will never be free from them? Perhaps not, but can the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ change me? Many lives bear testimony to the possibility and reality of the change and transformation that can happen in and through Jesus Christ. There is hope!