Do Christians Really Change?

So, recently I’ve been thinking about how we change, partly because I had to write a report looking at moral transformation, which if you follow me on Twitter, you will know has been a lengthy and somewhat difficult process… Plus in January’s Christianity magazine Jeff Lucas wrote an article entitled: ‘Nearly four decades of pastoral leadership has taught me this unpalatable truth: people rarely change’. And on top of that I preached a few weeks back from Philippians and looked a bit at how we change when we become Christians and how God uses that. So here’s a few slightly rambling thoughts…

I think we can assume that as we grow older we change. I always find it funny when people say, as an insult, ‘ooh she’s changed’, I mean after all, I’m not sure any of us want to be the same person we were at 16 do we? Of course we change! We grow, we have experiences, life happens and gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) we change.

So what about for Christians? I don’t believe that we radically change in terms of our make up/ traits etc, when we become a Christian. I believe that when we are conceived, or created that we have within us all that God wants us to be. So then when we come to know Him He takes all of that and uses it to its full potential for His kingdom. For example Saul, passionate, dedicated zealot, becomes Paul, passionate and dedicated – for God’s kingdom instead of persecuting it.

As Christians our aim has to be, surely, to become more Christ like throughout our lives. Our lives are a journey, and through that journey we come to know more of God, more of his plans for us, more of his character. I mean just as I have no desire to be the same person I was at 16, I wouldn’t expect to be in the same place with God in 10 years time as I am now. So then if our aim is to be more Christ like, then we are surely being morally transformed in this way, by our experiences and by life in general.

Jeff Lucas suggests that for many Christians life has become comfortable, got a bit boring and so we just plod on without any intention of changing. Which is rather a depressing thought isn’t it? I mean even if I weren’t a Christian I would hope that I would be shaped by life experiences – you know the old saying, we learn from our mistakes? Lucas says: ‘having tamed the bigger beasts, we settle down and wait for the sound of a trumpet, when everything will be changed in a moment.’ Can that really be the case that for some after the initial big bang, they just carry on as normal? I wonder then, if those people are getting the right teaching, or the right encouragement! 

I was having a chat along these lines with a friend after a particularly challenging ethics class, who suggested that if we believe that we become more christ like, does that not imply we have a better view of ourselves, than say, Joe Bloggs on the street? Can we say that we are a better person than we once were? The answer is I think, that we can and do change, but we only do so by God’s grace.

So then I wonder do we actually change or are we simply becoming more of who God has already intended us to be? When we are ‘changed’ by experience is that because of a deliberate choice to respond to experience? One of the books we looked at for my ethics module this term is  Virtue Reborn by Tom Wright, where he suggests that ones character is formed from a deliberate choice of action:

 ‘Character is transformed by three things. First
you have to aim at the right goal. Second you have to figure out the right
steps you need to get to that goal. Third, those steps have to become habitual,
a matter of second nature’

 Is a deliberate choice to change the key thing here? or will God shape us in this way no matter what? As with my report I find I am still left with questions… love to know others thoughts!

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  • Reply
    February 28, 2014 at 9:59 am

    I wonder if Jeff Lucas actually meant what he said in the way that you have read into it? Perhaps he was challenging complacency in us, a challenge not to rest on our laurels and to be continually seeking to grow and develop as a Christian. This seems to me to be about discipleship at it's most basic, following 'the way' as early Christians were described before the description Christian evolved.

    I've been on several courses at CWR where Jeff Teaches and I've always found his theology to be founded on hope and biblical inspiration – I'd find it strange that he wasn't challenging us through his teaching, and perhaps the article you read is part of how he seeks to develop that ministry.

    However, I can state that Yes, I changed when I became a Christian, and have changed and grown radically since than – whether that growth was spurred on by the exploration of a vocation or my need to be continually inquiring, learning and doing more. After all, at 64, I'm once again a renewed journey exploring a vocation, despite setbacks and knockbacks in the past five years or so.

    Perhaps some do settle down, content in their own skins, but it's refreshing for me to constantly meet new people who are not standing still, but moving forward at all times.

  • Reply
    February 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Hi Ernie
    Yes perhaps that is what he was aiming at although I did find it a slightly depressing read! I'm sure like everything, there is a real mixture in church. There will be those who are content to bide their time, but also others like you and I who seek to be continually transformed…
    How's everything looking for you? any more news?

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