People can change.
This statement is often accompanied by an eye roll and shoulder shrug. Those we once thought godly and mature prove otherwise. The spouse who promised to love till death do us part, parts long before death. The friend who had our back ends up stabbing us in it instead.
Cynical Toward All
The changeableness of people can provoke a certain cynicism in us all. We tend to assume the worst in others, just waiting for them to go bad like everyone else.
We adopt a certain theory about human nature—all people, regardless of how good they may seem, will one day prove to be frauds. The result is predictable—we keep people at arm’s length so that they don’t hurt us too bad when they go the way of everybody else we’ve known.
Perhaps worse, our assumptions about the changeableness of people don’t often work in reverse. We believe that all people will change for the worse, and, in turn, don’t believe that someone can change for the better.
I see this all the time. The wife who believes that her husband will never prioritize his family. The employee who just knows his boss with always be a deceitful jerk. The friend who’s heard one too many times that his buddy is going to stop drinking.
Love Will Backfire Sometimes
This cynicism makes it hard to love since love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Such love is sure to backfire at times. As C.S. Lewis masterfully writes:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Few people like vulnerability—we’re not prone to willingly choose relationships that are likely to produce great pain which makes it hard for us to love. We don’t often align ourselves with those who might hurt us deeply. We try to avoid these people at all costs.
The problem is we are all “these people”. We are all likely to break our promises, hurt others, derail relationships, and make foolish decisions.
But, we get ourselves into deep trouble when we universalize this truth. We won’t always break our promises. We don’t hurt other people all of the time. We will not necessarily leave every relationship tattered and broken. And, we certainly can mature so that we don’t always only make poor choices.
People can change—and change for the better.
The Gospel Means People Can Change
This is at the core of the hope the gospel brings. Apart from Christ, my depraved nature enslaves me to sin. I can’t change—at least not change my heart. So, while I may do some good stuff here and there, my dead heart will not produce good, lasting fruit. It can’t.
All of this changes because of Jesus. In Christ, I am a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). My dead heart is now beating with new life. I am capable of change. And, so too are all those who share in the salvation found in Jesus.
There’s no denying the fact that some of those who claim Christ will prove themselves to be His enemies. Some will walk away from Christ and commit all sorts of heinous evil—proving to never be His in the first place.
But, change is possible for those who are truly His—those who have been given a new heart, those who have been given the righteousness of Christ, those who are indwelt by His Spirit.
Running The Risk Of Love
This means that I must run the risk of love. I have to assume that God is at work in the lives of fellow brothers and sisters to conform them to the image of Christ. People can change for better.
I can’t fall prey to the lie of “here we go again” when a friend makes a poor decision. I can’t write someone off because they’ve hurt me somewhere in the past. I can’t excuse myself out of discipleship with someone who isn’t making progress at the pace I’d like.
I’ll get hurt. There’s no question. But, love demands a belief that people can change for the better. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I still believe that people change for the worse. But, at the same time, I believe that God can change people for the better. That confidence in God’s power should override my skepticism about others and compel a life of love.
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