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Can People Really Change?

I know the questions sounds cynical, pessimistic even. But I don’t mean it that way.

When I say change, I don’t mean from non-functioning to functioning members of society; I don’t mean from non-productive to productive; or unreasonable to reasonable. I mean can they change from the core.

As Tim Keller might say, not just a change from immoral to moral, but something different altogether. Perhaps, transformed is the better word.

And what does it mean for us to be changed, if once that change occurs, we remain static from there? It seems the prospect for second naivete isn’t popular or pondered very much in the circles I run into (as opposed to ‘in’). Here’s the thing, I know a lot of good people, and they’re good because they know right from wrong. And they don’t do wrong, which by and large, makes them good people.

And when we commonly say people are changed, have a religious experience, we’re still talking about that type of goodness, a goodness that indicates they are not criminals or they don’t think bad thoughts, they don’t listen to the wrong kind of music, and are careful to associate with the right kind of people. And I understand, that’s fine, that’s dandy, but is that really a transformed life?

Doe not do anything bad or criminal make one good? Does it really indicate change? So an addict breaks the habit, has he changed directions or just run out of gas?

Even if that addict reads the Bible everyday, cleans up, and goes to church – is that a transformed life?

I was wondering about this question when I read recently that Jesus healed ten lepers and only one of them came back to thank him. One out of ten. All of them were healed, and only one of them actually felt like being cured of leprosy was worth chasing the healer down. One. And here’s the other kicker for me, Jesus sends him away with a simple blessing, “Your faith has made you well.”

He didn’t say, “Come, follow me.” or “Go get the other nine.” Nor did Jesus say, “What a terrible ROI, AGH!” or “Find your friends, their leprosy is back.” And I love how Jesus didn’t say any of those things. It fills me with wonder that he simply sends him on his way and goes right into how people will not be ready for the kingdom of God when it comes.

What is change? How small, how tiny is it that you and I could be healed or broken or broken into and still walk away ourselves cured, but untouched on the inside? Do we really change?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

2 responses to “Can People Really Change?

  1. khl ⋅

    i actually had the same question a couple months ago. it’s quite rare to see transformation. people have a change in mindset but still work with the same tools and dysfunctions. but we have to believe in change, right? or at least have the hope that it’s possible?

  2. Dan ⋅

    The question reminds me of a Michael Card song, “I Have Decided.” Some excerpts of the lyrics come to mind:

    ‘I have decided,
    Being good is just a fable,
    I just can’t ’cause I’m not able.
    I’m gonna leave it to the Lord.
    There’s a wealth of things that I profess,
    I said that I believed,
    But deep inside I never changed;
    I guess I’d been deceived.
    ‘Cause a voice inside kept telling me,
    That I’d change by and by,
    But the Spirit made it clear to me,
    That kind of life’s a lie.
    (chorus) I have decided,
    I’m gonna live like a believer,
    Turn my back on the deciver,
    I’m gonna live what I believe.
    So forget the game of being good,
    And your self-righteous pain.
    ‘Cause the only good inside your heart
    Is the good that Jesus brings.
    And when the world begins
    to see you change,
    Don’t expect them to applaud.
    Just keep your eyes on Him
    and tell yourself,
    I’ve become the work of God.

    I think the ‘good’ factor is no longer even a factor according to this song. I’ll put it this way, the striving of trying to be good has no merit. Because even if we were 1% successful, is it not for own glory in some way, perhaps we don’t even realize it? There’s no due glory to the Maker. I think the big myth many believe, even church goers is that being good is what gets someone to heaven. In an ironic way, do we not as Christians somehow have it ingrained in us that we must be good, or at least act good like God loving/fearing people ought. I mean come to think of it, do not some of our AA parents shower us with a certain conditional love that says implicitly ‘do xyz and only then will you be our proud son/daughter.’ XYZ = can be study hard, go to the best schools, behave in church etc. I couldn’t believe the lyrics when I first heard it simply because it ran so counter-agaginst what I had believed the Christians life to be. I think it’s rather freeing knowing that we were loved unconditionally by God before we ever could love back but a tiny bit.

    As Christ said, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Mt 7:16) – a truly transformed life should speak for itself, the evidence may be a bit quiet to see. Take the wonderful example of the returned leper. Wouldn’t gratitude be a possible motivator that made him/her come back and thank Christ? Could thankfulness be a fruit in this case? Now this brings up one question, is this initial nudge towards transformation implanted by God in our lives or is it a free will realization of the rational being? I’d love to hear thoughts on this.

    I’ve been married for almost 5 years. My wife was not raised in a Christian home, but for some reason I cannnot help but notice how much more Christlike her family members are than my parents and me who profess to be life long Christians. My wife tells me often, ‘why are you acting righteous?’ After about the fourth time she said this, I began to think of my actions and why should would say something like that. In short, I’ve been so conditioned to act a certain way especially at church amongst other believers and could put on the holy talk and say the right Christian things that I didn’t even know it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m truly tranformed. In fact have I not been living in a partial lie? I think we are work in progress towards absolute transformation. Thus, tranformation to me is progressive, the right path of this transformation is perhaps a turning point in a life (like salvation or deliverance from a disease or addiction). The path’s direction does get altered due to man’s sins/stumbling which hampers transformation. But, I do believe there is midcourse corrections to get us back in line. This is what I’d call grace but that’s another topic.

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