My grandmother’s friend Alice was a sour, cantankerous woman who complained about everything. One fateful Sunday after church, as Alice was complaining about the preaching, the music, the government, and the old-age pension plan, my uncle Harry got fed up. Harry slammed his hands down on the table and shouted at Alice, saying, “Lady, you complain so much, if you died and went to heaven, you’d wreck it for the Lord. You’d ruin heaven just by being there.”
It’s one of my favorite stories. It illustrates an important spiritual principle.
We have to change.
Harry accused Alice of being a threat to heaven, but the truth is, if I go to heaven right now, the way I am now, I’d likely wreck it just as much as Alice would. The Christian life requires transformation.
I understand if, at first, this seems counterintuitive to the good news of the gospel, but the truth is that even though God loves us as we are, he loves us too much to let us stay as we are. God loves us enough to want us to become better people and enjoy the experience of life lived in closer proximity with his spirit.
In Revelation 2, Jesus warned the church of Pergamum that despite their faith in him, their lives did not yet reflect life the way he designed it. They had compromised. They had succumbed to the pressures of their culture. They had capitulated to the demands of their pagan surroundings. They had no hatred for sin. They gave themselves permission to be disobedient.
I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
–Revelation 2.14-16
The problem, though, is that you cannot transform yourself. We do not have the power to change or change much simply through strength of will.
Yet we try anyway.