Words for change
God’s unchanging character is the foundation upon which we can change.
Are you excited or frightened? Is it a command, a request, a statement? Do you see it as external or internal? In the changing of the year, we reflect on change “for auld lang syne.”
Time, by definition, changes, and studies suggest the pace of change is increasing. There is economic change, social change, political change, family change, church change, work change, health change, gender change.
I recall an old Saturday Night Live skit about a bank that made change. They could make different kinds of change from dollars to coins and vice versa. That was all this bank did – make change. How did they make money? Volume. I now think of this ironically. Banks have made voluminous change.
Our words for change carry connotations. “Change” itself is a neutral bartered exchange. Other words are mild modifications: adjustment, shift, transition. Then there is more radical change: reversal, revolution, transformation. Change can be optimistic: advancement, development, innovation; or negative: mutation, correction, distortion.
How does change feel to you? If your life is good, change may be threatening. If you are oppressed, change is a hope. If you focus on embracing the past, you might resist change. If your focus is more future-oriented, you might strive for change. Usually, by definition, “conservatives” fight change, and “progressives” promote it.
The Gospel is a message of change. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). This message shines into a world of darkness, on those selfishly out for themselves, using the name of God for their purposes, and using evil power to win (Matt. 4:1-16). This darkness is the “auld lang syne” of Rome, Babylon, Egypt and east of Eden.
The Gospel is that God is a-changin’ this world in Jesus. We can change because God has come to us, but the change is not what we expect. It is not power and prosperity. It is suffering and sacrifice. It is not fully now, but “already, but not yet.” Change is a long, hard process because God has chosen to still use us. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12b-13).
How do we change? Change requires transformation. “Metanoia,” Greek for “repentance,” is about changing internally, and literally in Greek, “change your mind.” We need to change our minds from the ways of the world, which are the ways of self, to the ways of God. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).
Then we need to change how we look at each other and the outer world, not with fear, but with faith, with light and love. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16a).
The doctrine of divine immutability is sometimes more Greek philosophy about the essence of the divine than it is Biblical, about God’s actions. For us God’s unchanging character is the foundation upon which we can change. God is not fickle. God’s word can be trusted (Num. 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29). God keeps his promises in a changing world (Mal. 3:6). In this is our hope (Heb. 6:16-20).
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (Jam. 1:17-18). Change is life and growth.
Be so Biblically conservative that you are progressively changing. The word for change is “hope.”