The dilemma of personal transformation. Can a leopard change its spots?
I have always been fascinated by this fact: Why do some believers make remarkable strides in their spiritual walk within a short period while others remain stuck in the rut despite having clocked many years in the faith?
Here we are referring to in-depth and lasting change from within—involving our character, affections and will—which, by all accounts, is difficult and will take time.
“Can an Ethiopian change the colour of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
We are not alluding to the type of change akin to that of a chameleon—where the believer “adapts himself” to changes in the environment. For a believer can be Goody Two-shoes on Sundays in church and be no different from anyone in the world on weekdays.
Let’s spend some time considering the process of change. God is the author of personal growth and transformation. But what about our role?
Once a believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1: 13) through faith in the finished work of Christ, change begins. The Spirit convicts the believer of his /her sins and shortcomings. Gradually, the fruit of the Spirit becomes manifest (Galatians 5: 22-23).
“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
DIVINE HEART SURGERY
However, personal responsibility also plays a crucial role in effecting change for the better.
Sometimes we think that being transformed by the Spirit means that our mind is either passive or plays only a minor role. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Thoughts determine our character, destiny and worldview. That’s why it’s important to renew our minds with the unchanging Word of God. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). For more: http://bit.ly/18YsUbL
Perhaps nothing sums it up better than Paul’s reminder to us:
“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2: 12-13). For more: http://bit.ly/1i4ec6W
No discussion on the issue of personal transformation is complete without taking into account of the fact that we are sinners. The Bible doesn’t mince words when it exposes our true nature. “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”(Jeremiah 17:9). Though sin has lost its stranglehold over us, none can claim that they are free from sin after conversion (Ephesians 2:1-3, 1 John 1:8).
The Christian walk is a moment-by-moment experience whereby we are given the choice whether to serve the spirit or flesh—as opposed to a ‘once and for all’ experience of victory. For more: http://bit.ly/1awc42C
As long as we choose to walk by the spirit, die to self, lay our selfish desires at the foot of the cross, we will win the battle against the flesh: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
By choosing to ‘walk by the Spirit’, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). What are some of the practical steps involved? Draw near to God; be exposed to people and situations where God is glorified; pray in the Spirit; listen to uplifting messages; worship God; fellowship with other believers.
Sometimes God uses adverse circumstances to mould our character. Some “hard nuts” only crack open when confronted with terminal illness, such as cancer, and the prospect of dying prematurely. The process of growing into maturity is long and arduous. It involves learning to persevere through our trials and doubts and arriving at a place of unshakeable faith (James 1:2-4, Hebrews 12:11).
At other times, God uses good company and role models to change us—provided we are humble.
When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preaching boldly in the synagogue, they “took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately”. Apollos was already an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well. But he was open to correction. As a result of his humility, he blessed many believers through his teaching. He also refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate, proving that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 18).
Indeed, there is much truth in this statement by author and speaker, Charlie Jones: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
The apostle Paul, while spending the last lap of his life in prison, reminded Timothy to fetch his books and parchments (2 Timothy 4: 13).
Not discounting the work of the Holy Spirit, the people whom we mix around with and the books we read—including the Bible—can become powerful tools in personal transformation.
Though it’s difficult for us to change, it is not impossible.
- God can effect in-depth and lasting change in us—from inside out.
- Through the Word (Romans 12:1-2) and Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
- For the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).
- Even so, we need to be co-workers with God. We need to renew our minds with the Word and obey Him.
- God may use trials and other people to change us so that we become mature and complete.
Sometimes we think that being led by the Spirit means our mind is either passive or plays only a minor role. Nothing could be further from the truth.
How we can be set free from bondage, emotional wounds and baggage to live a victorious Christian life—one filled with meaning, purpose and power.
Some say we no longer need to struggle against sin on account of the fact we are made completely new at the point of conversion: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”
Some compare the Christian life to a walk in the park. They say everything is by faith. You just have to believe in what Jesus has done for you at the cross. Anything more than that smacks of self-effort, pride and legalism.
The battle that has been raging for centuries: Should the believer emphasise the Word or Holy Spirit more?
One man passionately believes in giving away books to impact lives.
Note: Dr Lim Poh Ann is a medical practitioner. He was the former editor of Asian Beacon magazine (Dec 2008 – Oct 2011). He can be reached at his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AskDrLi
SOURCE OF ARTICLE: http://limpohann.blogspot.my/2014/04/can-we-change-ourselves.html
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Dr Lim Poh Ann