In recent episodes of the popular podcast, This American Life, various stories were told to illustrate the idea that people never really change. Perhaps they may change in minor or temporary ways, but deep down at their core, people never really change. This is what makes relational intimacy so frightening, adapting to a new culture so challenging, and new skills so elusive.
The idea that deep, lasting, positive change is impossible resonates with much of what we see in this world of broken promises, short-lived commitments, and the stubborn reappearance of old habits. And while we may not want to admit it, we as Christians may sometimes suspect that change, even for us, is more myth than fact. As a pastor, I hear this suspicion expressed by those who fear their sin is inescapable. As a friend, I see this suspicion portrayed in embittered withdrawal from a parent, spouse, or child. And as a sinner myself, I feel this suspicion creep up in my own heart with the Holy Spirit’s unrelenting exposure of sins old and new in my life.
But the Bible says that change is possible. Despite our nagging suspicions, change is not a myth. You and I really can change, and change for the better in this present age.
The book of Ephesians is an incredibly helpful guide in understanding the dynamics of change for the Christian. For example, Ephesians reveals that the goal of this change is something far greater than the moralism what we naturally pursue: being good so life goes better. The goal is deep, lasting, positive, and God-glorifying. It is the holiness that God has promised: being perfect as God is perfect (Eph. 4:24). While we cannot achieve perfect personal holiness in this life, Ephesians declares that we are on the road of change towards holiness because of God’s gracious saving work in us (Eph. 2:8-10). Of course, life on the road of change is hard work. Holiness is promised, but that doesn’t make us passive. To make progress on this road, Ephesians calls us to make use of the realities and resources He has given. Realities like the will of the Father, the resurrection of the Son, and the power of the Spirit. And resources like fellow believers, music, and prayer (Eph. 2:11-22; 5:19; 6:18-19).
Perhaps the more than anything else, Ephesians commends the Bible as the thing that speeds and guides us on the road of change towards holiness. We see this most clearly in the command to unsheathe “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).” This connection between the Bible and holiness also overflows repeatedly in the poetry of Psalm 119, with statements like, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I will keep it to the end (Ps. 119:33).” And there could be no more powerful summary than in Jesus’ prayer to His Father, “Sanctify them in Your truth; Your Word is truth (John 17:17).” If we are to make progress on the road of change and grow in holiness, we must be people who read, meditate on, and live in light of the Bible.
When our hearts tell us that holiness is a lost cause, we need to drown out the lie with the sounds of God’s Word. We need to hear again that change is not only possible, but promised for all those who are God’s workmanship created for good works (Eph. 2:10). About three hundred years ago, the great hymn writer Isaac Watts penned a hymn that sings these truths in poetry. And so we pray, “Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God, my roving feet command, nor I forsake the happy road that leads to Thy right hand.”
“Laden with Guilt and Full of Fears” by Isaac Watts
Laden with guilt and full of fears, I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears, but in Thy written Word.
The volumes of my Father’s grace does all my griefs assuage.
Here I behold my Savior’s face in every page.
This is the field where, hidden, lies the pearl of price unknown.
That merchant is divinely wise who makes the pearl his own.
Here consecrated water flows to quench my thirst of sin.
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows, No danger dwells within.
This is the judge that ends the strife, where wit and reason fail.
My guide to everlasting life through all this gloomy vale,
Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God, my roving feet command,
Nor I forsake the happy road that leads to Thy right hand.