Change vs. Personal Stereotyping

One of the fundamental axioms of Christianity is that people can change. When a person becomes a Christian they begin a process of becoming something new. This truth was expressed by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (5:17):

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

After the initial regeneration by the Holy Spirit, Christians go through the processes of discipleship and sanctification making that statement of Paul to the Corinthians real in their lives. At least they should do that. My experience over the years as a Christian teacher, mentor and discipler, however, has shown me that most Christians resist change and many even fear it. That is not surprising when even the surrounding culture avoids change, often making excuses for people’s limitations. In an article from last November’s Fast Company magazine, Marshall Goldsmith notes that most leaders [from whom much is given much is expected] rationalize their limitations as things they cannot change:

“I am a terrible listener. I’ve been told that for years. People at work tell me I’m a bad listener. So does my wife. I guess that’s just the way I am.” …We often talk about ourselves as if we have permanent genetic flaws that can never be altered.

Nature vs. nurture, the old argument. Yet, beyond these established arguments, Goldsmith realizes that many of our limitations are self imposed:

Suddenly, I realized that I did not suffer from some sort of genetic defect. I was just living out expectations that I had chosen to believe. At that point, it wasn’t just my family and friends who had been reinforcing my belief that I was mechanically hopeless. And it wasn’t just the Army test, either. I was the one who kept telling myself, “You can’t do this!” I realized that as long as I kept saying that, it was going to remain true.

So maybe it isn’t just nature vs. nuture. You also have to factor in self-nurture as a contributing factor and the failure to engage in self-nurture as a significant part of our limitations.

Leaving aside self-nurture for the moment, Christians accept the influence of both nature and nurture and uniquely hold that both can change. When you move from the “old man” to the “new man” both your nature and nurture change. As noted by Paul you are a new creation, you have a new nature at work. You have also become part of the family and kingdom of God, you have a new nurture at work. This is important because it removes the excuse “that is just the way I am” to accepting and implementing change.

That said, where does self-nurture come in? Paul also said to the Philippians (4:12-13)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Christian self-nurture is taking responsibility for yourself and acting on that responsibility in discipleship and sanctification, knowing that you can do whatever is required “through him who gives me strength.” So it would seem Christians have it all, a new nature, new nurture and all the necessary elements for effective and constructive self-nurture. Now all that is left is to borrow and take to heart the effective slogan thrown around by the Nike company, “Just do it.” Yes. Stop talking; stop making excuses; stop whatever is holding you back and just do it!

Note: It does take patience and perseverance, however, to succeed at this new nature, new nurture and self-nurture effort. See my previous article “Slowly I Turned…” and the excellent article by Jollybogger in a similar vein “Revolution vs. Reformation“. You have to take the long view, as even Paul noted when he said that he had not arrived but kept his hand to the plow. Thanks to Jeremy Pierce at Parableman for the tip.