When my daughter was young, one of her favorite possessions was a lavishly illustrated book designed to teach young children about human anatomy. She would gaze with wonder at its overlapping transparent pages illustrating the skeletal, then the muscular, and finally the circulatory system. Another favorite was a page containing an artist’s rendition of a person progressing from fertilized egg to infancy, childhood, puberty, maturity, and old age.
That illustration reminds me of an obvious truth—that it’s in the nature of created things to change. Without change we would never realize our potential. Positive change, whether physical or moral is a gift. While some of our transformations are delightful, like learning to utter our first words, others are dreadful, like slipping into dementia.
But God is not like us. As uncreated Spirit, he is not subject to change. He can never get better or worse. He is already everything he ought to be, everything he can be.
The Bible speaks clearly about our own need for radical change. Jesus came into our unstable, fallen world, with the sole purpose of transforming our relationship with God and others. In this sense, change is our only hope. One of the main words the New Testament uses to help us understand the kind of change we need to embrace is the Greek word metanoia, or in English “repentance.” The big idea behind metanoia is that of turning. We make a 180 degree turn away from sin so that we can make a 180 degree turn toward God.
Though repentance can seem like a hard word—something we dislike—the result of true repentance is neither shame nor depression but a sense of lightness, relief and joy. The sins that burdened us are lifted by the grace of God. Repentance frees us so that we can bask in his mercy rather than wallow in our sin. Though it’s good to experience godly sorrow, the ultimate result of repentance is peace. The Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” always makes me think of what true repentance feels like:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.1
What kind of change do you most need to embrace? Instead of resisting because you fear you can’t change or because you don’t want to, turn to God in trust, confessing your sins as often as you need to and then asking him to show you how to change.
1. Written and composed in 1848 by Joseph Brackett.