Advertisers hawk products and services that are said to be able to renew your youth, change your appearance, create a new lifestyle, fix your body, improve your mood, make your life easier, and enhance your relationships. They all promise some form of change that will make your life better. But the people who buy into those promises very often end up disappointed—and looking for a new change.
Politicians run their campaigns on promises of change. Since few people are completely happy with the status quo, the most effective political platforms promise to end it. So new waves of leaders are swept into office from time to time, and before long, most voters find themselves still disappointed with the status quo. The next time elections roll around, they vote for more change.
We even promise change to ourselves. Every year as New Year’s Day approaches, millions of people vow to make the changes they’ve been longing and needing to make. They resolve to eat better, exercise more, read certain books, quit certain habits, or take better vacations. Christians may resolve to read the Bible or pray more consistently, both of which greatly increase the possibility of lasting change. Yet sometime around February, if not sooner, many of those resolutions are long broken and maybe even forgotten, and no matter how many “starting points” we set for ourselves during the year, we often find ourselves facing the next New Year with the same set of resolutions.
The gospel promises change too. The Bible assures us that those who are in Christ are new creations—that old things have passed away, and all things have now become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Many people throughout history and today have experienced radical transformation; their testimonies and examples inspire us to keep believing and hoping for radical transformation in our lives too. Yet the church is also filled with numerous people who haven’t changed much at all. And if we’re honest, most of us can testify that as much as our faith in Jesus as our Savior has changed us, there are still huge areas of our lives that remain frustratingly unchanged.
Polling research by the Barna Group and Gallup tells us that multitudes of people in the Western world who claim to know Jesus as their Savior have not experienced much change in terms of the way they live their lives, the decisions they make, and the character they demonstrate. Some polls have indicated very little difference between Christian and non-Christian divorce rates, family lives, destructive behaviors, and spiritual vitality. More recent polls that account for levels of Christian commitment suggest some significant differences; people who regularly go to church, read their Bibles, pray, and discuss spiritual issues at home actually do have significantly lower divorce rates, fewer addictive behaviors, and more satisfying relationships. But that’s about 10 to 20 percent of the American church, which leaves quite a few Christians who are struggling with failing families, personal chaos, and addictions like pornography, workaholism, infidelity, and spiritual stagnancy. In many sectors of the church, and in many individual lives, something is very wrong.
What are we to make of that? Is the gospel just one of those promises that ultimately disappoints? Is it the religious equivalent of ambitious advertising, hopeful campaign rhetoric, and personal New Year’s resolutions? Have millions, even billions of Christians bought into a false hope of genuine, lasting change?
The problem is not a lack of desire. In my experience, most true Christians have experienced at least some degree of change at some point in their lives and have longed for more. But somewhere along the way, they lost momentum, enthusiasm, and a sense of progress. They grew fatigued and frustrated. Many have had visions of continuous growth, only to experience lots of ups and downs and fall far short of their ideals. Many have never even gotten off the ground to begin with, slipping into old ways of life soon after believing. Yet the promises of God in Scripture remain. The gospel is all about change, and our longings are real. We really do become new creations. So how does that reality play out in our lives?
That’s where many Christians are struggling. I can certainly relate to that, and I suspect you can too. How can we claim that Jesus makes a difference in our lives when our lives don’t look much different from the society around us? Or, more personally, how can we claim that Jesus makes a difference in our lives when we keep struggling with the same problems and feel frustratingly, achingly unchanged? Many people long for the kind of change that comes with being a new creation. Few are experiencing it. Why?
Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on Chip Ingram’s amazing book, You Really Can Change. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.