September 13, 2014.
One of the best things that I have been able to do now that I have moved away from familiar surroundings and situations is to focus on who I am and who I want to be, and work on reaching self improvement goals. I didn’t realize that this is what I was doing until today really. Whereas I am not one to like change, I understand that stagnation has it’s downfalls as well and that change can bring about good things if done in the proper manner. I guess in a sense I have been changing consistently over the past three years, but I guess changing my scenery has provoked the most noticeable change. This metamorphosis, so to speak, is what I want to talk about today. In what ways is change good, and in what ways is it bad? Are there stories of biblical characters that go through changes, either towards spiritual improvement or towards spiritual destruction?
Perhaps one of the greatest stories of spiritual transformation in the bible is the character development of the Apostles before and after the death and resurrection of our Lord. As far as we know, they all went through a change that lead to boldness and courage to proclaim the gospel to a fallen world. I want to specifically focus on Peter for our case study, as it seems the most information is given about his life.
Peter is one of the most well known names in the New Testament. If you know anything about Christianity, you probably know something about Peter. He was one of the three closest companions to Jesus (James and John being the other two) and was a strong spiritual leader in the early church amidst heavy persecution. History tells us that Peter was martyred for his faith. Peter wasn’t always this way, however.
At Peter’s first appearance in the scriptures, we find him working with his brother at his trade.
“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Peter and Andrew were both fishermen. Let’s stop for a minute and think about this. If you were about to start a movement that would sweep the world, offering salvation and eternal satisfaction with the Almighty, who would you choose to help you establish this movement? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would choose two people who were not in the religious business, having a trade that is far from spiritual leadership. Yet Jesus called those who we will later find out were uneducated, common men (ref. Acts 4:13) to establish a religion that would spread throughout the world. The necessity for change in their hearts and minds is heavily implied as it would be vital to the plan.
Peter was a zealot, meaning he was considered a fanatic, passionate man who was about the issues and would push to see that his viewpoint was adopted. We get a sense of his audacious nature from John’s account of the empty tomb after the Lord had risen:
“So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.”
John stopped at the tomb, whereas Peter ran right on in. There are many things that show us the zealous nature of Peter, along with is propensity towards unbelief. When Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water, Peter boldly asks to walk on the water to Jesus as well, but then starts to sink as he is about to reach Jesus for lack of faith brought about by the boisterous sea (ref. Matt. 14:28-31). His talking gets him in trouble again when Jesus washes the disciples feet and he asks Jesus to do too little and then to do too much.
“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”
I see Peter as a man with a polarized character. He would do really good one minute and then fall hard the next minute. In fact, in the very same chapter that Jesus says to Peter “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” Jesus also calls him Satan! (Metaphorically speaking of corse, ref. Matt. 16) Near the time of the cross, Peter boldly proclaims to his Lord that he will never leave him, even if everyone else does, to which Jesus tells him the crushing news that Peter will deny him three times before the night ended (ref. Luke 22, John 18). Indeed, as noted by the prophet of old, when Jesus was arrested, the sheep were scattered, but not until after Peter drew his sword to fight! Afterwards, Peter and the other disciples fled, their courage gone when their master was taken away, and Peter himself would indeed deny Christ three times just a few hours after being willing to die for him. Peter still had a lot to learn, and a lot to change.
What’s the truly amazing part of this story? The comparison of the Apostles before and after, and for our purposes, specifically the comparison of Peter before and after. After Jesus had risen from the dead, the game changed. The Apostles received the Holy Spirit and went out preaching the good news in boldness. Acts two provides what we often refer to as the first gospel sermon, where Peter and the other Apostles stood up before the people and proclaimed Christ. This did not pleas the Jewish leaders, so they later arrested Peter and John.
“So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.”
There was no running away this time. The Jews had arrested Peter and John and confronted them about the message they were preaching. They didn’t back down, but told them right out that it was better to obey God than man. They had found their courage. A few more events transpire, an angle lets Peter and John out of prison so they can go back to speaking to the people, and they find themselves in a similar situation in the next chapter.
“[W]hen they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
Isn’t that incredible? Here is this guy, who was once just a common fisherman with an avid zeal and rash nature, who had denied the Christ he had spent three years with as a disciple, abandoning him at the cross for fear of the Jews, standing up for the name of Christ without fear, rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. If that isn’t a transformation, I don’t know what is. Like us, Peter had a spiritual journey that was filled with ups and downs. In the end, his net gain was up. Let’s look at some lessons this story can teach us about change.
1. Let God change you.
I think we fail at self improvement so often because we rely on ourselves to make the change. “If I can just do this, or If I can make it to such and such a day, or If I can learn to hurdle this or that obstacle lying in my way…” Where did you leave room for God to change you? How can God mold you if you are molding yourself? You might say (as I have done many times in the past) “Well, I prayed to God that he help me with it…” Prayer is good- great even. But what are we praying for? That God help us make this change? Is that not implying that we are leading the way and God is just helping us? I don’t think that’s what we mean when we pray this, and we can be sure that God knows what we mean (He’s not like the genie who grants the wish exactly like what is literally said), but I think there is some psychology that goes into how this request forms our later intentions and the ways we go about trying to produce the change. Yes, we have to work to change, I’m not saying that we just sit back and do nothing and just say “Okay God, go.” But the change is brought about by God.
What was the difference between the apostles before and after the resurrection?
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples werefor fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
What produced the change? The Holy Spirit. They allowed God to take over their lives, with all their fears and failures, and mold them into the leaders He wanted them to be. The same is true for us. If we want to make a change to improve our spiritual lives and our walk with Christ, we have to let Him in. We cannot get in his way. Yes, we have to work with him, but in the way He needs us to work, not the other way around. This is a subtle distinction, but one that is so important. After all, it is not you or I, but God who gives the increase (ref. I Cor. 3:7).
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.”
2. Change is not always bad, nor is it always good.
When you talk about change with people, you usually get one of two responses. “Oh that’s great that you are changing! Change is good,” or “You shouldn’t change. Change is liberal and bad.” Neither response is always right or always wrong, but both are right and wrong, depending on the context. Change can be a very good thing. I think that is evident from the story above, where Peter went through a lot of changes to end up the spiritual leader he was in his final days, dying for his faith. This change was brought about by God, thus we would have a very hard time arguing that this change was bad.
But change is not always good either. God does not change, nor do the scriptures. You can’t make the argument, “well, that’s just how they did it back then and things are different now… change is good!” This is simply a justification via change to invalidate the word of God. Peter must have changed again, at least a in one instance for a limited amount of time, for the worse:
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter seems to have taken Paul’s rebuke well and changed again for the better, as he later writes about Paul, calling him beloved (ref. II Pet. 3:14-16). This story can be used to illustrate how change is bad and good.
So, when we are making a change, we need to ask if this change is in the will of God? Will it make us a better Christian? Is it biblical? Is it truly self-imporving? If so, do it. Rather, let God do it. Pray about it, not just to ask God for help, but to be sure you are making the right decision.
3. Change does not mean you need to change everything.
Often when we think about change and changing our lives, we mistakenly think that we have to change everything. This is simply not true, nor is it a good thing to do. I promise you that you have some great characteristics that don’t need to change. Many of Peter’s characteristics didn’t change. He was passionate before and after, though he did seem to calm down some. He was bold before and after, though this boldness was redirected in a positive way. He loved Jesus before and after, though his love indeed grew over time, as ours should. When you are changing something about your life for the better, there are many things you don’t need to change, or even would be detrimental if you changed them as well.
Another misunderstanding that we have is that change means you have to do something completely different. But it doesn’t mean that at all. Often, a change is simply improving something you already do, and maybe even do well. Change does not necessarily mean different, but could simply mean better, or redirected, as Peter’s passion was. His zeal was great, but not when it pushed him to cut Malcous’ ear off when he came to arrest Jesus. Yet when he directed that zeal towards proclaiming the name of Christ, the church was incredibly blessed, increasing numerously.
It can be very overwhelming when we try to change everything at once. Pick a few things in you life that you need to change, whether that be completely or for improvement, and focus on those areas, keeping the rest of your character constant. Rome was not built in a day.
4. Like it or not, you are constantly changing.
Finally, we can be opposed to change all we want, but that won’t stop it. If you haven’t changed spiritually since the day you were baptized into Christ, then you haven’t grown in Christ. You haven’t matured and you are probably still on the milk of the word as opposed to the meat. I don’t say this to shame you, but to point out that this probably isn’t the case. You’ve probably changed. And that is good… or bad (see point 2); nevertheless, we are constantly changing. It is up to us to decide if we are changing in step with the Father (not that He changes, but that we are changing towards Him). When Peter started his journey with the Christ, he was going to change. That was a given. It was a must. Indeed, Peter went through many changes, both good and bad, even during his time with Christ. It seemed he was constantly changing- jumping out of boats to walk on water to sinking from lack of faith. In the end, Peter made many overall changes for the glory of God. We too, when we start our spiritual walks, should and are going to change.
I have changed drastically (well, drastically in my view, but probably not as drastically in the views of others) over the past three years. I have a deeper understanding of the word of God, yet I am nowhere near where I want to be. I suppose I will never get there until I enter those pearly gates to ever dwell with the Father, but I will always strive towards perfection, undoubtedly falling many times along the way. But on that great and wonderful day, I want to stand before my savior and hear those blessed words “well done, my good and faithful servant.” I hope and I pray that these are the words you will hear as well, and if there is anything I can do to help you along the way, please let me know. We are all working towards the same goal, and we need each other.
Is there something you need to change in your life? Make the start today, giving it to God and following His guidance to ultimately produce the fruit that will give Him glory.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 4, 16, Luke 22, Acts 4-5.
To God be the glory, for ever and ever, amen.