If I could simplify one of the most common questions I receive it would be, "can destructive people really change?” I want to honestly offer a few answers to this question by changing the words slightly.
Can They Change?
Simple Answer – Of course they can.
I have heard the sentiment many times that people cannot change. The understanding is that thieves are always thieves, liars are always liars, and abusers will always be abusive. I believe the Bible teaches that change is not only possible but necessary. God desires the unbelieving to practice repentance and experience transformation. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He desires the believer to practice repentance as well, calling us to put off the old man and to “Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:24)
Honest Answer – Anyone can change but the potential for change does not guarantee that it will happen.
Do They Change?
Simple Answer – Yes…Well, kind of…It depends.
I’ve been doing this work for some time now and I have seen many men make changes. Sometimes those changes are radical. It’s exhilarating to watch men make such dramatic shifts in thinking and behavior. I’ve also seen men make some necessary behavioral changes to avoid consequences or pain. This may make things safer in the short term but lacks the power that the gospel promises. Lastly, I’ve seen men attempt to manipulate everyone with superficial changes designed to deceive others into leaving them be.
Honest Answer – They do when they choose to, but motives are important in understanding the validity of these changes, and initial 'changes' do not guarantee transformation.
Will They Change?
Simple Answer – Do you have someone in mind?
As I read this question again I have the tendency to hear this, “will the person I love change?” The honest answer is I don’t know. Unfortunately the individual most desperate for change is often the one who is being victimized. The last thing I want to do is give false hope that your positive attitude or faith that change is possible will lead to your loved one’s transformation. The truth is you are not responsible for their changes but for your own safety, and sanity. While you may desperately want them to get help that is a decision they alone can make.
Honest Answer – I do not know if the person you love will ever change.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:13-17
Have you ever heard the saying, the proof is in the pudding? Biblically speaking we know that change has occurred when change occurs. I recently had an interesting discussion with an individual who couldn’t articulate the difference between confession and repentance. Acknowledging one’s sin is a wonderful first step but it is still a first step. When is a liar no longer a liar? When he says, “I know I lie” or when we witness him consistently telling the truth? Change is possible, but change is hard.
A few years ago I was invited to participate in a webinar through Our Daily Bread Ministries. This was the event where I first met my friend Leslie Vernick. Many important concepts related to change and the church's responsibility are covered in this webinar.