A song by Brandon Heath resonated with me recently. The song is called “I’m Not Who I Was” and that should describe any person who has decided to follow Jesus Christ. It certainly describes me. I am not who I was forty years ago or twenty years ago or even one year ago. This journey with Jesus cannot be status quo. You are either going forward or backward. Most of us have done both at various times during the journey. I have made a lot of mistakes over the thirty-eight years of my fumbling, bumbling, stumbling walk with Jesus. So the lyrics by Brandon Heath echo my own experience.
I wish you could see me now
I wish I could show you how
I’m not who I was
I used to be mad at you
A little on the hurt side too
But I’m not who I was
I found my way around
To forgiving you
Some time ago
But I never got to tell you so
Heath’s song illustrates Paul’s familiar text about becoming a new creature in Jesus Christ. Those verses takes on a fresh new perspective in this translation from The Message.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. I Cor 5
That we are a new person in Christ is theologically one-hundred per cent accurate. We do get a fresh start and the slate is clean before God. But we have a hard time accepting that amazing grace. We have a particularly hard time applying that to our lives and to others. We tend to look at snapshots of a person’s life and form judgments based on those few images. But the progress of Christ in a person’s life is revealed in the total album of their journey. You could have taken some snapshots of my life during spiritual deserts that would have led you to believe that I was not a very good Christian and maybe not a believer at all. I am grateful that God does not give up on His children who wander. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul often used athletic metaphors as he challenged the church at Galatia to shun false teaching and continue the race.
You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.
Understanding that we are a new man or woman is vital to freedom in Christ. Giving others the grace to become new creatures is vital to how we unify in the body of Christ. We also need to be ready to wipe the slate clean and not get historical when they backslide. And yes, I mean historical.
“That is just what you used to do, I knew you hadn’t changed!”
That is what I mean by getting “historical”. We are quick to remember how others used to be and not quick to believe what they may become. Maybe they have changed and that bad moment was just a temporary spiritual pothole on the journey’s road.
Samuel Johnson wrote that “God does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?” That is a great question. But we too often do exactly that. We expect grace but don’t grant it. Too often we dwell on the weakness and not the gifts that God has given others. Or we acknowledge the gifts but make sure to note the weaknesses. All of us are a mix of gifts and flaws. And over the years God patiently knocks off the rough edges as He molds us more and more in His image.
I recently wrote about another song that talks about the grace that changes people. Check out the video for a song by country singers Montgomery Gentry. The song is called “Some People Change” and the images are not safe and politically correct. The video is set at an old fashioned tent revival in the middle of a cornfield. Montgomery Gentry sing about a young man brought up in racism who is changed by faith in Jesus.
His old man was a rebel yeller:
Bad boy to the bone.
He’d say: “Can’t trust that other fella,”
He’d judge ‘em by the tone of their skin.
He was raised to think like his Dad:
Narrow mind full of hate.
On the road to no-where fast,
Till the Grace of God got in the way.
Then he saw the Light an’ hit his knees an’ cried an’ said a prayer:
Rose up a brand new man; left the old one right there.
What a powerful lyric. The grace of God got in the way. That is what happened to me. I was living a life far apart from God and headed nowhere fast when the grace of God got in the way. And thank God for that interruption in my directionless path. The next stanza talks about a Mom raised in an alcoholic family who finds the strength to throw the bottle down. In the midst of the difficult stretch Joni and I have been riding I have seen the grace of God getting in the way over and over. I recently sat with a dear friend that quit drinking after coming into a relationship with Jesus. A marriage restored with another couple. A young man leaving drugs to go into full time Christian ministry to help others battling those same demons. Another work friend who life has been turned around by faith. Some people change when the grace of God gets in the way and we stay out of the way!
The chorus goes like this…
Here’s to the strong; thanks to the brave.
Don’t give up hope: some people change.
Against all odds, against the grain,
Love finds a way: some people change.
Thank God for those who make it:
Let them be the Light.
Some people change. The question I have to answer is do I give them the grace to allow that change? God accepted me when I was unacceptable. Lord help me to have the grace to accept others even when they seem unacceptable. We have a hard time with that, don’t we? We keep score and are quick to point out failure to justify our lack of acceptance. Paul addressed such behavior to the Ephesians.
But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil….
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Eph 4 NLT
And yes, I know that I may get burned by that approach. But if I am to err I pray that I will err on the side of grace. Don’t give up hope. Some people change. And we need to give them the grace to believe that maybe, just maybe, they are not who they used to be.