What Does It Take to Change?
Over 30 years ago, the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy began grabbing headlines and shocking the world. From the start, strong rhetoric promised that corrective actions would be taken to stop the abuse. Yet, news continues to emerge of these same problems today. The pattern of covering up problems instead of fixing them seems to continue, and the credibility of claims to adopt “stringent” measures to make correction wanes to nothing. Sadly, whatever has happened in the past three decades to make corrections has been dwarfed by the opposing strength of moral corruption. The evidence of any substantial change taking place is lacking.
The state of affairs regarding this sexual abuse scandal is undoubtedly abominable. Yet, what is less sensational but particularly captivating about the story is that the rhetoric, policies, apologies, and all other efforts to make change have failed to have an effect. This pattern of observing a problem and taking actions to fix it, only to have it persist, is something that most of humanity can relate to. Some problems are very difficult to fix, even if we are able to acknowledge them and judge correctly between right and wrong. Paul famously made the same kind of observation applying it to his own life in Romans 7:15, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Even when we see a need to change, it can be difficult to do.
At the point in time when Jesus Christ returns to the earth and the Kingdom of God is initially established, it will take time before the hearts, minds, and behavior of all people are corrected. During the early days of Jesus Christ’s established rulership on Earth, there will be Asiatic hordes (written about in Ezekiel 38 and 39) who still will actively rebel and fight against His perfect government. Even when this massive change begins to take place on a global scale, it will still take time for it to take effect. There will be people who will not be convinced of the need to convert at the moment in time when Christ returns, but they will continue to fight. Yes, even when the right path is plainly clear, people have a difficult time changing their ways.
With all of the difficulty involved in making a change for the better, whether on an individual level or as a group, what does it take? Is there something that we can do as converted Christians to reliably influence positive change in our lives; to turn away from sin and live righteously? Fortunately, the answer is, “YES!”
Wherever we have the most difficulty in our lives in turning away from sin and correcting our paths, we will almost certainly find patterns of behavior lurking beneath the surface that tend to lead us to repeat our errors. Old habits, especially bad ones, die hard. However, if we know that a series of our actions leads to results that we do not like, the real source of our problems is exposed. If we are trying to change our lives so we do not repeat the most tenacious of our sins, it can be useful to ask ourselves about the patterns that lead us there. Once identified, changing the patterns of our behavior can have a tremendous effect in helping ourselves to overcome sin.
Changing how we function in the patterns of our behavior is exactly what the Bible prescribes. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8). The instruction provided here is to change the pattern of our behavior so that all of our actions are motivated by spiritual goals instead of carnal ones. This simple instruction is within reach for every single Christian who has been truly converted.
The path to overcoming sin requires that we change the way that we live. Even if our will is too weak to overcome our problems directly, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, we can work on our habits that tend to cause or bring about those problems. Perhaps those habits involve a negative influence of media, other people, or circumstances that we can avoid getting ourselves into. By replacing our bad habits with the good habit of being spiritually motivated, we can, and will, overcome.