How Should Christians Think About Change? - Radical

How Should Christians Think About Change?

Some people long for change—a change of scenery, change of pace, change of decoration. For these folks, change is delightful. Others (myself included) love routine, consistency, and rhythms. For us, change is dreadful.

Out with the Old, In with the New

We all ought to admit, however, that we could become too preoccupied with change, like those Luke described: “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). We could also become too resistant to changing our ways like those Jeremiah described, “[The Lord] set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention’” (Jeremiah 6:17).

This begs the question, how should Christians think about change? Moreover, how do we assess whether or not a change is good?

Let’s begin by defining our terms, after which we will turn to Scripture to renew our minds about change.

Defining Change

For our purposes, we may define change as the movement either away from or toward a state of being (e.g., from having an old phone to having a new phone; from living a destructive life to living a God-honoring life). A good change, then, is an attempt to improve upon the present state or trajectory of someone or something according to a standard. A bad change is a failed attempt to improve according to that standard (a house built upon the sand is not a good improvement when wisdom builds on the rock [see Matthew 7:24–27]). Our motives also matter here, since we may change for good or bad reasons.

Finally, as Christians, we know the standard in our definition—of what counts as improvement—is God’s divinely inspired Word.

Change is Not All Bad

Every Christian should agree that change is not always bad because positive change is at the heart of our faith—namely, repentance. In the Old Testament, “the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes” (2 Kings 17:13).[1] In the New Testament, Jesus’ message is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).[2]

According to Scripture, therefore, some change is not only “not bad” but necessary! We are sinful in that we have failed to live according to our God-given purpose as image-bearers (Romans 3:9–20, 23), and repentance is movement away from sinning—loving the darkness (John 3:18–20)—toward walking in a worthy manner (Ephesians 4:1, 17; 5:1–2, 15).[3]

Change is Not All Good

Every Christian should also agree that change is not always good. For example, sin is frequently described in the Old Testament as “turning aside” to something away from the Lord.[4] To grasp this, we need to remember the biblical metaphor of “the way,”[5] which is the first recorded label for the early Christian movement (Acts 9:2).

When the Bible speaks of bad change—turning aside from the Lord—such sin is a deviation from “the way.” Before the flood, Moses writes, “All flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:12). About the sinfulness of Israel in the golden calf episode, the Lord said to Moses, “[They] have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them” (Exodus 32:7–8).

According to Scripture, therefore, some change is not only “not good” but forbidden. Sin and folly both involve leaving the way of the Lord. By leaving the way, we believe (wrongly) that we know better than our Maker what is best for us. Progression away from the way is not an improvement but a digression, a deviation that needs fixed not perpetuated. If one has deviated from the way, progress requires turning around and getting back on the narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14).

Changing Our Thinking about Change

All that glitters is not gold,[6] and change is not always good. Long before the Mandalorian, the Lord spoke of a time when his people would be reminded, “‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). So, how might we discern whether any given change is good or bad?

A change is good when the improvement that it seeks to make meets at least two criteria: (1) we undertake it for God-honoring reasons, and (2) it is an improvement according to God’s Word. Here are some diagnostic questions to help us discern when a change meets these criteria:

  • Am I willing/seeking to make this change for the glory of God or for my own glory? John points out spurious faith by saying, “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43 cf. 5:44). Making a good change for your own glory is something the Pharisees would do (Matthew 6:1–8). Instead, we should follow Paul: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 cf. Colossians 3:23).
  • Does the change I am willing/seeking to make fit within the “worthy walk” of a Christian following the Way of the Lord? Do not simply ask if a particular change is “okay,” as if the Lord was only worth your bare minimum effort. Ask instead if it is the best use of the life, breath, and everything that the Lord has given you (Ephesians 5:15–16; Acts 17:25). After all, we are accountable for our stewardship of God’s gifts (cf. Matthew 25:14–30).

In the end, the Lord’s word to Jeremiah is a helpful guide: “Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16 cf. Matthew 11:29).

[1] See also Jer 18:11; 25:5; 2 Chr 30:9; Neh 1:9; 9:26–35; Pss 22:27; 51:13; Isa 44:22; 45:22; 55:7

[2] See also Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3–5; Acts 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20; Rev 3:19.

[3] See also Phil 1:27; Col 1:10; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 1:11; cf. Matt 10:38.

[4] See also Deut 11:16, 28; 28:14; 31:29; 1 Sam 12:20–21; 2 Sam 22:23; Ps 125:5; Prov 7:25.

[5] This is especially prominent in Deuteronomy (5:33; 8:6; 9:12, 16; 10:12; 11:22, 28; 13:5; 26:17; 30:16; 31:29). On the theme, see Andrew E. Steinmann and Michael Eschelbach, “Walk This Way: A Theme from Proverbs Reflected and Extended in Paul’s Letters,” CTQ 70 (2006): 43–62.

[6] This is consciously adapted from Tolkien’s poem, written by Bilbo in the narrative, about Aragorn: “All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not reached by the frost” (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring).

David Christensen

David Christensen graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with his Ph.D. in New Testament (2021), after previously earning a Th.M. (SBTS, 2017) and an M.Div. (FBS, 2016). Happily married for over a decade and the father of two lovely daughters, David is an active member of Ninth & O Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) and is seeking a teaching position in Christian higher education.


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