Christians should expect to be altered and adjusted constantly. When Christ enters our lives, he changes us, not just once but day-by-day. We are children of the Living God who is alive and active in us by his Spirit. Erik Raymond reminds us that “as Christians, we must remember that change is really at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.”
Believers “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). Certain aspects of the believer’s world should withstand the pressure to change, but we hold others in an open hand. What does the Bible say about change?
Sinful and Predictable
We often hear it said that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In some ways, the world is much the same as it has always been. Violence, greed, sloth, pride, and idolatry have been common features of our world since the first sin. Essentially, every generation of people is the same as the last in terms of the nature of our sins.
Jesus cried, “Faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Matthew 17:17). He was referring to how slow his disciples were to understand who he was and the nature of the healing he offered.
Christ’s words remind us that their understanding and attitudes were not new: how long would Jesus have to put up with them, with their faithlessness and ignorance? How many iterations of their faithlessness had the Father already endured?
What these men represented individually was the story of Israel throughout the generations. The Lord repeated a cycle of inviting, loving, and instructing his children to behave righteously before they sinned and had to face his discipline. Over and over, he adjusted their circumstances so that their hearts would undergo transformation.
Rallying Cry of God
Fortunately, the Christian’s answer to suffering has not changed. Joshua 1:9 is often invoked when one fights an obvious enemy such as disease or abuse, but there is an important implication within God’s declaration to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
We can expect significant challenges to our peace and concomitant transformation throughout our lives. We remain “still” in him, but as we do this, our faith in the Lord changes — not in its direction or nature, but its depth and the outworking of that faith in front of a watching world.
“Wherever we go” is both a temporal and spiritual concept. We will travel and wander in the physical sense as we move between homes; from parents to independence to our own families; from one job to the next.
Even a nomadic person will remain unchanged, however, if he does not come face to face with the Living God and allow the Lord to do a refining work inside of him. This is the spiritual facet of movement.
As we pursue Christ more and more, looking for him in whatever is going on around us, he will also go with us. Refinement can be painful, and Christ is in the midst of it, just as he is when his children must confront an abuser or a disease.
Joshua 1:9 implies that aspects of one’s journey could be fearful and might bring suffering: after all, a battle is underway. Our enemy could be external or internal sin but is frightening either way because we wonder if we have the resources to fight.
Released to an unchanging and omnipotent God, these challenges will not unseat but will transform us for his glory and our good. But sanctification could be the scariest part. Change is “hard. It’s uncomfortable, often humbling, and painfully difficult” (Ibid.). Often, we are at war against sanctification, not against change.
Why We Wear the Armor
One can put up a shield and not feel the impact of bad news, ignoring and denying or even merely reacting. Did the church do a bad thing? Leave the church. Did a company support child pornography? Stop buying their products.
Did a friend disagree with you about your choice of spouse? Stop talking to her. But the Full Armor of God is given as defense against despair and doubt so that one can go out and face conflict and suffering; uplift others in prayer; help others as they face the fall-out of sin; and accept truthful, loving counsel.
We fasten this armor around us and call the vulnerable under its protection against despair and abuse. We are able to do more than remain calm and forget about evil and sadness in order to live peacefully; we actually grow bolder to pick up our Sword of Truth and actively go after the lies in order to defend those weaker than ourselves.
We find shelter against the temptations of pride and fear and also fight at the same time. The Full Armor of God does not prevent suffering or encourage us to hunker down and hide, unchanged. Christians strap this on so they can engage suffering and withstand the pain of refinement.
This armor is available to all of those who declare Jesus as King and Savior because they are not expected to turn and run. In fact, stay put. God will fight the battle (2 Chronicles 20:17).
He will fight it in you and around you, but mostly in you. Satan’s strategies are ugly and underhanded, designed to chip away at the relationship between a Christian and Christ. He aims to instill fear and doubt.
We Will Be Affected
Bad news should affect us. We should feel righteous anger when one of our brothers or sisters tells the shocking story of abuse; we should cry for them when they face a devastating diagnosis or when a child dies. Look at Christ, who wept for Martha and Mary when Lazarus died.
Consider his anger at the money lenders in the temple who fleeced the Jews and mocked the Lord. Our understanding of the gospel deepens commensurate with the extent to which we suit up and dive in.
But “change” in this sense is not changing one’s mind, losing one’s faith, selecting a new approach, which bends the gospel to suit our needs or believing new things about Christ. The Christian yearns for enrichment of what he already knows. We become more flexible to his purposes and less resistant to his transforming power.
Erik Raymond points out that we often want to declare that we are faithful, but do not permit the Spirit to move in and shape us to become more like our Savior. We are complacent. “But the Holy Spirit and the Word of God unsettle us with a holy discontentment. Here, aware of our nonconformity to Christ, we are prodded forward in sanctification. We see that it’s God’s will and his work to make us more like Christ” (Ibid.).
Paul declares that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Difficult as this is, the good news is that the Spirit works in us to accomplish his purposes. God is good, so the result will be good. The work is hard, but Christ does the work.
Not Everything Changes
While the believer should be changing, he or she does so as a testimony to the power of an unchanging God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
God does not change: if he did, how could we rely on his promises? How could we embrace hope or pursue a fearless devotion to our Savior? We rely on him to be the unchanging center of our chaotic world.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.