I am a wretched man. Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25a).
What’s your personality type? If you don’t already know the answer, there are a bewildering number of tests you can take to find out. These tests will analyze you and categorize you (and further subcategorize you) according to your dominant traits and predispositions. Some assessments will even prescribe certain careers that best align with your personality. While these techniques can be exceedingly helpful in identifying our strengths and overall patterns of behavior, they can present a danger Christians need to avoid.
Sometimes our efforts to understand ourselves can lead us to become trapped inside a static framework. We can think, “I am the way I am, and there is no changing that,” or “people are the way they are.” At its worst this mindset contributes toward fatalistic attitudes. For example, “I’m stuck. The die has been cast. I’ve made my bed, so now all I can do is lie in it.” But usually the peril is far more subtle. Without even realizing what we’re doing, we gradually develop habits that solidify our preferred self-understanding. We justify our actions—whether good or bad—using what I’ll call the “I couldn’t help it” standard. According to this standard, we say what we say (or don’t say) and we do what we do (or don’t do) because we can’t change who we are.
Disciples of Jesus, however, need not rely on the prevailing notions of therapeutic psychology to learn who we are. We believe the Living God has said clearly and authoritatively that radical change is both necessary and possible. In other words, change lies at the heart of the gospel. Apart from Christ we are enslaved to the power of sin. Although we might not be as bad as we could be, even the very best we could offer to God would never earn His favor or grace. Consequently, we are fully deserving of God’s just penalty for sin, namely, eternal death. Yet Jesus, the One who knew no sin, absorbed the judgement we deserved so that God’s righteous anger toward sin might be satisfied and so that we might become the righteousness of God (see 2 Cor. 5:21).
This change comes about through the new birth, whereby the Holy Spirit changes the believer from the inside out. Even though perfect righteousness before God will be impossible to attain in this life, the Spirit is fully able to finish what He begins in us (Phil. 1:6). Don’t succumb to cynicism; instead, trust the Lord to make you more and more like Jesus ever day.
I hope you have a lot to give thanks for this year. Above everything else, though, I pray you’ll take time to thank God for the saving transformation available to us through Christ.