How Do I Change? Pt. 1

Les Newsom  |  November 03, 2015

I can hardly think of a more pressing and universal question asked by college students than the simple, “How do I change?" How do I take the things that I don’t like about me (and they seem to show up more and more in college) and simply "be different?"

This is nowhere near as simple a question as we might think, due largely to the fact that so many attempts have been made in the past to change, but end up with failure and disappointment. Tim Keller says that there are three ways that our culture tells us change happens:

First, the mechanical view of change suggests that becoming someone different than what you are now is the result of following the correct procedure. Diet and exercise plans thrive on this view. “Three simple steps to a new you” or “Five ways to get the things you’ve always wanted” hold out great promise but are rarely long lasting.

Second, the moralistic view convinces us that we simply have not adopted the correct set of rules. This view sets you on the course of fresh commitments to “do better” and the deployment of reminders to engage in better will power. However, when failure results from this approach, the discouragement goes deeper into shame.

Third, the mystical view promises to open us up to a hidden, powerful force (either inside us or out) that, once tapped, brings about change in a sweeping and mysterious way. All that is needed is a “yielded spirit” and a willing mind. These efforts can be exhausting. Why? Few can sustain the kind of emotional energy it takes to keep this kind of life up, and once fatigued by the effort, burnout is not far away.

So take a look back over your own journey to change. How have you done? Do you find yourself in a hopeful place, or are you so discouraged that you’ve given up trying?

The Bible understands you... perhaps even more than you know. It talks all about change and the hindrances that come when we strive for it. There’s much to say in coming posts about those truths, but for now, realize that the Bible’s desire for your change is not a superficial exercise. In other words, the God of the Bible is not interested in the kinds of shallow exercises of a little “light pruning” around your life that so often mask themselves as real attempts at change.

Think about that friend who recently endured a breakup with their partner. Oftentimes, when a couple starts to drift apart, the more confident of the two will threaten to leave and end the relationship. Panic ensues in the heart of the almost-rejected. They make vows to change. They’ll be different from now on. Moved by pity, they make pledges to each other that this time will be different. However, as soon as the threat of the partner leaving is gone, the other loses their zeal for change and the old habits show up again.

What’s happening? Real change does not happen, says Keller, through coercion from an outside force but a powerful internal dynamic. In other words, we don’t really change when we rely on something outside of us to force us into change. True transformation of life happens when God establishes a new heart, something on the inside of you that resets the way you look at everything, and thereby brings about lasting change.

Jesus uses the metaphor of a branch extending off of a vine. “I am the vine. You are the branches,” he says. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Jesus is saying that in order to really experience lasting, deep change, you have to get connected to him. But what does that mean? What does it meant to “abide” in Jesus?

Figuring that out is the beginning of the path to real change and a new “you” and the topic of our coming posts.