Preachers seem to have a driving internal need to tell stories. So, today, I am going to give into my internal needs and tell a couple of stories. I hope that unlike some preacher stories, these have some actual connection with what I want to think about today.
I remember being part of a study group at one point that was talking about personality and relationships. One member of the group made a very strong and pointed statement. She said, “I know I am not a nice person (her actual words here were stronger–fill in your own version of the words if you like) but that is the way I am and I can’t change it.” Those words came as no shock to those of us in the group and our only real concern was whether it was more dangerous to agree or disagree with her so we mostly nodded and kept quiet.
The second story comes from a pastoral visit I made one time. The family had two small kids who loved playing soccer. Occasionally, their soccer ball ended up on the neighbour’s lawn. This prompted the neighbour to complain and then take even more serious action. He shouldered his shotgun and marched up and down the property line, standing guard just as he had when he was in the military. In fairness, the shotgun was probably not loaded and the family telling the story was more amused than afraid but the incident was not out of character for the neighbour
So, how do these stories relate to the title of this blog? As you might have anticipated, all the people in the stories are believers. The woman in the first was the wife of a deacon, a leader in the church, a frequent worship leader, a sometimes Bible study leader and had memorized more Scripture than almost anyone I know. Those involved in the second story were all members of and regular attenders of the same congregation, where the neighbour was a deacon, a respected elder, a regular at Bible study and a choir member. Both the woman and the neighbour had been Christians for many years.
I have no doubt that Jesus loved them as they were–after all, he went to the cross for them before they even knew him. And yet there is still an issue here. Jesus may love us as we are–but that doesn’t give us permission to remain as we are. As I read through the pages of the New Testament, I find clear evidence that Jesus expects us to change after we become believers.
There are some things that belong in a believer’s life and some things that don’t belong there. For example, after Jesus heals the man at the pool of Bethesda, he meets his again later and tells him, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5.14, NIV). We are also told in Galatians 5.16-26 that there are some things which simply don’t belong in the life of a believer and some things that must be there.
As I put it sometimes, Jesus wants to mess with who we are. Part of maturing spiritually is changing who and what we are. While many conservative Christians have been given a taste of that with the lists of things we are to avoid, real Christian growth goes deeper, seeking to change the very core of our being. Our character and personality are not sacred and unchangeable.
We are formed partly by our genetics and partly by our experience in ways that even now can’t be fully explained. There may be some things that are unchangeable but as Christians, we need to submit everything about ourselves to Christ and see what he wants to do about it. Even the unchangeable needs to be submitted–it might be fixed but how we deal with it isn’t.
This kind of deep character change is part of Christian spiritual growth. It can be painful as we give up important defences and cherished responses; it can take a long time as we root out deep seated ideas and practises; it can be frustrating to get one thing right and see three more than need even more work–but it is part of what Jesus asks of us. He loves us as we are–but also loves us enough to help us become what we were meant to be.
May the peace of God be with you.