A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, but they were frightened when they saw the man who had been demon possessed, for he was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane. Those who had seen what happened to the man and to the pigs told everyone about it, and the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. (Mark 5:15-17)
We act like we like it. We build the beginning of the New Year upon it. We enter into relationships believing it can be true. When we are frustrated with ourselves, we hope that it is possible. Support groups are built around the conviction that it can happen.
What is the "it" of which I speak? "It" is the conviction that people can change.
We believe in our heart of hearts that people have the power to change. Without such a belief, New Year's resolutions, forgiveness, and recovery programs would be useless. Without such a hope broken relationships would never mend, criminals could never be rehabilitated, and churches would have little reason to exist. So we believe "it" can happen! However, many of us have a strange ambivalence about "it." We both loathe "it" and love "it." We depend upon "it" and yet sometimes detest "it."
The basis of our ambivalence toward change has to do with a couple of realities. First, we react toward change based upon our current satisfaction with our current circumstances. If we are comfortable with those circumstances, we tend to oppose change or anyone who might induce change in our lives. Second, we are often only comfortable with change when we know and can control the outcome of the change. We are fearful of change that we can't control.
The Bible repeatedly reminds us that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have the power to change our lives. We experience this power in the radical change that occurs in conversion. This is power not only to forgive our past, but also to change our future. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) We are promised that conversion makes us completely new and gives us a whole new world in which to live. (2 Corinthians 5:21) This power to be born fresh and new is the gift of God through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 1:10-14; John 3:3-7; Titus 3:3-7) This power is available to us even after conversion to transform us into new people that honor God. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Ephesians 1:17-19; Ephesians 3:20-21)
We often talk about wanting the chance to start over, needing power to change our lives, or hoping that the attempts of a loved to change his or her life can occur. However, we need to be very honest with ourselves. Change is scary for us. To open ourselves to God and ask him to transform our lives is a tacit acknowledgement that we cannot and will not control that change. When we lose control, we can easily become fearful of where "it" will all lead.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus still has power to change human lives radically. Many of us have seen it. Yet the power to bring such change is costly. His power to change us means we must give up everything and let him control our lives and the lives of those around us. We can't control the speed of that change. We can't control the reaction of those around us to that change. We don't know where the results of our change will take us — at least not this side of heaven.
Unfortunately, many of us see this reality and we beg Jesus to go away. We still do the "church thing." We still pray. We may even read our Bible, go to Bible studies, and take part in Bible classes. However, we keep Jesus at arm's length because we really do believe he changes a human life and we are not sure we can handle such a radical change in our own. We are not fully convinced that it is good to give up total control of our lives. What ends up happening to us is that we call on Jesus to help us in emergencies, but we don't really let him be the Lord of our lives. We don't offer ourselves as living sacrifices, people in whom the power of God can fully work. (Romans 12:1-2)
The beginning of a New Year has begun to sink in for most of us. We are starting to deal with the challenges of changing certain bad habits in our lives. So let's admit to each other that we are not going to produce changes in our lives that really matter by our own power. For that to happen, we must offer ourselves to Jesus to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. To fully offer ourselves to Jesus means we lose control of what will happen in our lives and the cost of the changes he brings. Such a commitment is scary for us. Yet at the same time, to deny him access is to ask him to leave. It is a choice to remain among the tombs of isolation, self-destruction, and demonic influence. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
So rather than working on New Year's resolutions, let's resolve to offer ourselves fully to the lordship of Jesus and the transforming power of his Spirit. Let's ask the Lord to take control and transform us. Let's relinquish our fear and our need to control to the Lord who gave his life to help us find our own.