If We Could Change
By Acting Differently
Why Would We Need Jesus
If I were to say the old nature couldn’t change many people might agree.
By “Old Nature” I mean the sinful nature, the flawed one we’re all born with.
But, if I were to say the old nature couldn’t get worse, which is what this post will try and prove, many might balk.
On the face of it, that statement isn’t easy to accept.
We know people can deteriorate morally. They can do terrible things on one day and then commit worse crimes later. It’s a process of change and it’s for the worse.
We’ve all seen it happen. One step downward creates a spiraling momentum that’s hard to stop. Inertia, once moving, doesn’t halt easily.
But there are reasons to believe this change doesn’t effect a person’s nature.
One, People Do Not Change
Yes, change does happen. Babies grow bigger and stronger, and develop in many ways: coordination, strength, intellect, etc. They become adults and eventually grow gray and wrinkled, and then they die.
All of that is change. We expect it to happen and measure it to make sure growth occurs normally.
The question is does this change effect a person’s nature?
First of all, a clarification. There are many different kinds of change: growth related, development related, lifestyle related, circumstantial and more. Which one are we talking about?
Some of these changes are automatic (physical growth) and some require an intentional effort (physical fitness). No person becomes more fit without intelligent consistent exercise.
The topic here is none of the above. This Change has nothing to do with the normal processes of life. It’s about corrective change. A change that modifies a person’s life in a positive way. This change replaces bad behavior with good.
And the question is do corrective changes effect one’s nature? General observations seem to suggest they don’t.
We don’t like it. We wish it weren’t true but the fact that people don’t change is universally attested to anecdotally. People can and often do revert. We hate it when it happens but recovering and recovered addicts have been known to return to their addictions. Pathological behavior has a way of hanging on.
Like it or not, the fact that recovered addicts can revert is proof that no change really happened, at least not at the level of nature.
Something new behavior may have been added but the old wasn’t removed. They didn’t change, they rearranged, temporarily.
Yes, some people do get beyond – not over – their addictions and manage to remain clean. But honest recover-ees will attest to the fact that their addictions have only been pushed to the background. They haven’t left.
I’m not saying people don’t want to change. They try to change all the time. They even go through programs to induce change and join groups that support change.
But people don’t change, at least not their nature. The best predictor of future behavior is still past behavior, because inside, at the nature level, nothing changes.
I’m not being negative. We live with this reality daily. Adding new habits to your life, a good thing for addicts to do, does not eradicate the old ones. It is more reasonable for us to focus on developing better interests (habits) than deluding ourselves into thinking old habits are eradicated.
Developing more healthy interests won’t make the bad ones go away, but it will change your focus and makes for a more balanced life.
Two, Actions Are Separate To Nature
The way a person acts may stem from their nature but nature and actions are separate.
Babies are born innocent and guiltless but they still have a flawed nature. They did nothing to corrupt their nature. It was inherited.
But, it stands to reason that if we were born with an imperfect nature, and we did nothing to cause the imperfection – it was entirely inherited – then there is nothing we can do to change that.
We did nothing to cause a flawed nature, we can do nothing to change it. It’s a fixed state.
It is neither caused or changed by personal action.
More to the point, any action you take after your birth has no transforming effect on nature in either direction, from bad to good or good to bad.
Your nature and your actions are two separate layers of personal existence.
Ted Bundy worked in Seattle’s Suicide Hotline crisis center and was described as “kind, solicitous and empathic” by a colleague but these good deeds had no effect on his actions or his nature. He remained a murderous criminal.
His actions were separate to and contradicted his nature. Why? Actions and nature are separate.
Nothing we do after birth can change the flawed nature with which we are born. If we could change our nature just by acting differently, why would we need Jesus?
If righteous actions can’t improve our nature why do we think sinful actions will make it worse.
Your actions can worsen but nature stays the same.
Three, Thoughts Are Separate To Nature
Bad thoughts can be encouraged by a sinful nature but your mind/thought process is separate from your nature.
Have you ever had a situation where your first impulse was to do something radically aggressive but before you acted on that impulse a thought occurred to you that dampened the rage?
The thought could have been a recollection of something your mother said or something you read in a book or the experience of another person in a similar situation who suffered the consequences of acting wrongly.
And that thought prompted a different response.
Actions spring from a balance of your nature and your understanding. The more you learn, the more valuable experience you gain, the less likely you are to be controlled by an uninhibited nature.
Meaning, of course, that a person’s nature and their thoughts are separate. They represent two sources of input which may not run in parallel.
The point is not that one is right and the other wrong. Your mind can easily feed the wrong inclinations of your nature but they are separate.
Your mind can change, your nature not.
When a person goes against their better judgment, what is leading the way?
Four, Tastes Are Separate To Nature
Tastes are appetites developed for foods and interests as we grow but there is a limit. The ones we develop is largely determined by available options.
People in the Arctic regions, for example, learn to eat animal meat of all kinds and fat, lots of it, prepared in many different ways: raw, dried, fermented or cooked.
They also develop a strong interest in hunting since there are no local butchers.
You won’t find too many of these people craving broccoli and carrots. You also won’t find too many interested in farming.
And recreation? How about Knuckle Hop or Ear Pull? That’s what they come up with since there is no baseball or cricket in the Arctic.
Tastes in the Arctic are quite different to more modernized cultures but when it comes to Nature these northern people are in line with the rest of humanity. On her blog Melanie McGrath (an author of several fiction and non-fiction titles, teacher of creative writing at university level and journalist) posted 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Crime In The Arctic. Those 5 things are:
- The per capita homicide rate in Nunavut, Arctic Canada, is on a par with Mexico and South Africa.
- Violent crime in Nunavut is seven times higher than in southern Canada.
- In Alaska woman are four times more likely to become a victim of violent sex crime than in the lower 48 states of the USA.
- The violent crime rate across the Arctic is highest in summer.
- In Arctic Canada, which is 25 times the size of the UK, there are approximately 400 police and only 1 criminal intelligence officer.
No difference. Fairly standard.
Apparently we all have the same flaws. From one culture to another it doesn’t change.
Five, Emotions Are Separate To Nature
Some theorists view emotion as interruptive and others see it as motivational. It may be both.
The anticipation of Guilt keeps us from doing questionable things but the exhilaration that comes with success keeps us moving forward. Obviously, emotions change all the time and reflect the immediate state of things in your life.
The point is emotion and nature are separate. A flawed nature inclines toward the wrong thing, guilt or no guilt. The stronger the moral training the more conflict will exist between nature and emotion.
Nature can be limited in expression but it doesn’t change. Emotion constantly changes.
Six, The New Nature Is Separate To The Flawed Nature
The Greatness of this next truth is often hidden in the forest of Christian Do’s and Don’ts. We stay so busy trying to do the right thing and avoid the wrong thing that we lose sight of the fact that the actions of a Christian, though there are consequences in this life, have absolutely no bearing on the new nature.
Let me explain.
Salvation is called a rebirth. People who are saved have been Born Again. This popular phrase has been nuanced by overuse but one understanding that most people agree with is it is partly metaphorical and partly literal.
We don’t, as Nicodemus said, “enter into our mother’s womb a second time and be born,” but there is something new in the believer that wasn’t there before. We call it a new heart or a new nature. It is born in us at the moment of salvation.
That means, of course, that Jesus did nothing to change our Old Nature. He was happy to let sleeping dogs lie. The old nature can’t be changed, renovated, restored or saved. It was replaced with the new.
As Paul said:
When I would do good, evil is present with me. (Romans 7:21)
The implication is the new can’t be changed any more than the old.