Salvation and Change

Most of my life, I have felt deeply and profoundly trapped. Trapped in my life, in my skin, in my suffering and shame. Trapped by the fear of man and even the fear of myself and what I am capable of. I’ve been trapped by my limitations and my strength. I’ve been trapped by trauma, grief, lies, people, sickness, depression, insecurity. The list, as usual, goes on and on. Sometimes, I feel like such a lame and broken record. If I heard myself from another’s ears, I’d be annoyed and impatient, thinking “Just get over it.” Which really shows what’s in my heart.

I have never had much grace for myself, or compassion. In turn, I often have very little for others too, apart from when I see someone oppressed or suffering. Otherwise, as much as I don’t want to admit this, I typically am harsh, critical, and judgmental. I am the kind of woman I never wanted to be, with an often bitter heart and condemning spirit. I’ve fought it so much, but the older I get, the farther down that barren road I’ve found myself. Awful how that is, isn’t it? How - left to our own devices - we become what we hate.

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I wish I could say I’ve walked in freedom because of my faith, but the truth is, I’ve walked in sin because of my fear and self-preservation over devotion to God. Sometimes, I tremble knowing how unfaithful I’ve been to Jesus and how my heart could possibly be so weak as to stray time and time again. How is it possible that I can be so full of fire and zeal one day, and so cold the next? My love for God is a fickle, faltering love. It’s only because of his love for me that I can even love at all, and somehow, I continually forget him and choose to worship something powerless, dead, and cheap instead. Why is it we are so forgetful, so wicked?

I want to change. I believe in change. But change is such a double edged sword, a paradox in itself. It’s a word with a double standard. We say it all the time, “People don’t change.” And then turn around with the next breath saying, “People change.” We say it with certainty, with absolutes. Which is it? It feels like an excuse in one hand and a dagger in the other.

Humanly speaking, our power to change is much more limited than we can begin to imagine in this self-sufficient day and age. The evilness of human nature is not something we can ever destroy through education or government or systemic world changes. Even time in all its fullness will not be what changes humanity. Even from the perspective of Christianity, nowhere in the Bible does it say God will change your heart, it says instead that He will give us a new one.

So, I’ve come to the understanding that mere change is not enough -- and vastly so. Change is not salvation in itself, change is the fruit of salvation. We must first be saved in order to be made new, which brings about an eternal, everlasting, outside-of-self kind of change - and despite the fact that we remember our old ways and still live in our fallen flesh, we should no longer walk in the ways of wickedness, for true rebirth in Christ cannot be rivaled by sin.

It gives us the courage to wrestle with the truth and not walk away from it denying, but to stand up and face ourselves in the mirror, not forgetting what we’ve seen.

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In striving to overcome in my own strength, I’ve sought change as a prerequisite for salvation, not the other way around. And in doing so, I have found myself wanting, lacking, not trusting Christ. I have been working: working hard and striving constantly to bring about salvation by my own hands, not leaning into God’s grace and mercy, believing by faith, and allowing Him to mold me however He desires. Instead, I resist His hands and try to form myself into the image I believe I should look like. And in my own strength, I’ve come up utterly dry and faint of heart, believing I could never “change” how I need to.

But here’s the valuable lesson of late: I can change!

I can give myself permission to change, not by my own might, but by surrendering to Christ’s will and work in my life, in my heart, in my body and entire being. It’s hard to know what that looks like, but I’m starting to grasp it more and more. I give myself permission to change, yes, to become what I know I can become. But more importantly, I give myself permission to be changed: changed by God and perfect love. Sometimes, when we live in a world where we must fight for everything and hustle at every corner, in a culture where we increasingly claim that there is nothing broken about “the self” yet where the very fabric of identity is being pulled apart from a million sides, finding the courage to allow God to take over our change is largely elusive. Finding the grace to give ourselves permission to change and be changed can be a very grey area to our modern minds, but it is a very powerful tool to grab hold of.

See if you can give yourself permission to fail sometime, and permission to let go of trying to control something. Say, “I can change,” and notice how that makes you feel. And not because you will be able to do it, but because Christ will. Take the weight of change off your shoulders by recognizing that through salvation, and trust/obedience to God, you have a new nature! I had to in a sense be told: you are allowed to throw off the old and put on the new, because the old is not who you are anymore. It is now only like clothes you may instinctively reach to put back on because you’ve become so accustomed to them. You don’t have to wear those rags because you think you deserve death and suffering. But listen to the truth: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).