You Can’t ________ People

April 9, 2012

Welcome back, everyone.  I hope you had a good Easter.

Chances are, your church may have gone the extra mile to fill some seats yesterday.

It may have been something modest, or something huge.  A couple of Easters ago, I compiled a list of some of the biggest gimmicks churches have ever come up with.  Looks like I may need to update the list, because Eugene Cho has apparently seen the mother of all Easter egg hunts.

Anyway, next week will be a real let down because most of those Easter people will be gone.

And it just reminded me of something.  We can do all kinds of things for people.  But there’s one thing we can’t do.

You can love people.

You can hate people.

You can ignore people.

But you can’t change people.


You can bribe people.

You can entertain people.

You can manipulate people.

But you can’t change people.


You can preach to people.

You can pray for people.

You can make promises to people.

But you can’t change people.


You can scorn people.

You can mock people.

You can slander people.

But you can’t change people.


You can judge people.

You can alienate people.

You can persecute people.

But you can’t change people.


You can forgive people.

You can give to people.

You can empower people.

But you can’t change people.


You can love them.

You can hate them.

You can ignore them.

But only God can change them.

This week, you’re going to run into a lot of people.  They will be your family or your kids or your coworkers, or the Christians sitting next to you in church.  They will be making bad choices, or at least choices that irritate or offend you.  You have a choice about how you will treat them.  Chances are, you’ll be tempted to waste your time trying to do the one thing with people that is impossible.  You’ll ignore Jesus’ words to love your neighbor as yourself, because you’d rather change your neighbor into yourself.  Try doing your job, and God will do his.

What do you think?  Do we spend way too much time trying to change people when we should be doing other things for people?

26 responses to You Can’t ________ People

  1. For some strange reason this post reminded of a comment I saw on a different website-

    There’s a pop-culture-related website that I like to read once in a while, and I’d figure probably a majority of the commenters are non-Christian. There was discussion that came up on there regarding “born again” celebrities, and one of the commenters was of the opinion that peoples’ basic personalities don’t really change after they become “saved”. (Actually, the way the guy put it was that if someone is an overbearing jerk to begin with, he’ll generally still be an overbearing jerk as a Christian–his jerkiness will just have more of a religious theme to it.)

    I wasn’t sure what to make of that when I read it–on one hand, I wanted to disagree with the guy, but then I couldn’t think of one concrete example from my own personal life to prove him wrong. I’d like to think that “Saul-to-Paul”-type changes happen, but I’d don’t think I’ve ever really seen it.

    Any thoughts?

    • Nice thoughts Abby! I’d wager a guess that most people in our culture who get saved but have no real difference in their lives have a very cursory relationship with God. They are not cultivating the Spirit’s presence in their lives or really want to be changed by God.

    • I would tend to agree with the commentor’s statement and I actually thing that Saul-to-Paul is the perfect example to back him/her up. Paul’s direction and motivation may have changed drastically, but he was scholarly before he met Jesus and scholarly after (I didn’t know this until recently, but there was a three year time period between his Damascus experience and his first missionary journey – three years in which he studied prophecies, etc.). He was wildly zealous for what he thought was right before he was saved….and just as zealous after he was. His personality didn’t change a bit – God just redirected it.

      I think God made us in the first place (ahem…formed us in our mother’s womb… ;p )to be exactly who we are supposed to be – we’re just a better version of that person with His help than we are without Him.

      • Interesting take. In the original conversation, I think it was about how Joe Eszterhas made crappy movies, and then switched to making crappy Christian movies after he converted. It seems God could change his heart, but not make him a better director? Too bad. :)

        I’ve had some Christian family members and acquaintances tell me that they were vastly different people before they were “saved”–however that “pre-saved” period was always before I met them. I’ve pretty much just had to take their word for it. Which is what lead me to think that maybe big changes happen–I’ve just never witnessed it.

        • I wonder what they mean by “different” though. I’d bet it has more to do with their actions than their personalities. They used to drink/party, but now they don’t anymore, etc.

          I don’t remember a time in my life when God wasn’t absolutely real to me and was 8 when I “got saved” (for lack of a better term), so I have a REALLY hard time describing any differences in my life before and after. I went through an evangelism training once that “required” you to say “and then I had a life-changing experience.” I refused. I was 8. My life didn’t change. It was just time, so I did it. I think I substituted “and then I made a decision that has affected the rest of my life.”

        • Abby, I have a friend of some 30myears whom I worked with both before and after I was Saved. I would guess that if you were to ask him he could point to exactly all the changes I have nade in my life and actions. Yes it came through Bible Study it also came through Small groups I was involved with. So it can be seen. A thought for you might be that “You and your actions might be the only Bible that some will read”, so if one is saved then act on it. god Bless,

    • All one needs to do if they have been really saved is to look in the mirror. The litmus test would be do you see change. Just my thoughts

  2. You know, I’ve heard of a church that actually CLOSES its doors on Easter (to serve in the community), so I wonder if that’s the direction we should be taking instead of putting on the lavish shows that we work so ardently to accomplish.

  3. I didn’t go to an Easter service, I went out and ran 4.5 miles then I made breakfast for my family.

    You are correct in saying we can’t change people. The truth is that we can’t even change ourselves. Most of Christendom accepts the philosophy of the Bible. What’s sad is even though the Bible says things like, “the sheep know His voice” and “I do what I see the Father doing” while making hundreds of references to hearing God, a lot of it is intellectual, and not spiritual.

    Real change is letting the new man out and letting the old man die. We spend so much time trying to change others, do better, try harder, turn over a new leaf, and yet many Christians do not have victory. That’s why we need the doctrine of universalism; we need to try to find a way to make being stupid OK for every one.

    Whatever we do for others has to be God. If we just do stuff for others, we run the risk of helping someone that God had another plan for. It is essential that we hear God and do it. This applies to church, being a witness, feeding the poor and anything else we propose to do in the name of Jesus.

    The church needs to learn how to hear God, not run marketing plans.

    If the world is going to know Christians by their love, then our love should be supernatural – something the world cannot replicate.

  4. Yep…you can’t change people, only God can do that. We just provide an environment where that is facilitated. The good news? Yesterday at our church a guy walked in that I have never seen sober and he has now been dry for 3 months. Praise God for that!!

  5. The fact we can’t change people is something God’s really shown me over the last few years. I’ve seen the true colors of folks in many situations and even though I tried to help them through it or love them unconditionally with hopes they would change it seemed nothing would do the trick. Now I’ve realized I just reflect Christ as best I can and let God do the rest. He doesn’t need me to do His work for Him in that area.

  6. ‘You Can’t FIX People’

    The law (what we do) can only make us worse (for righteousness sake) St. Paul says.

    So the law (what we should, ought, and must be doing) ought not be preached in attempt to make us ‘better Christians’…but rather it should be preached to expose us…and to paint us into a corner. So that there is no place to go but to the foot of the cross and Jesus’ forgiveness.


  7. You’ll ignore Jesus’ words to love your neighbor as yourself, because you’d rather change your neighbor into yourself.

    That’s a great line. I simultaneously think “eew. I don’t want people to be like me!” and “I totally do this. gross.”

  8. Absolutely, we waste a lot of time on this, especially in our marriages. Even if we accept that we can’t change people, we still feel like when it comes to our spouses we have special ninja powers. It just doesn’t work that way. I realized early on that I cannot make my husband a better husband, but I can be a better wife, and by doing so he is better equipped to be a husband. Funny how that works, almost as if it was meant to be.

  9. I am rather proud of our church home. Our special treat is that the pastor actually wears a suit, we put out more chairs, and all members of the family are in the service (instead of children and youth going to classes). Other than that, the same as usual. The pastor even mentioned the point you made today.

  10. Hi Matt,

    I have not posted on my own blog nor commented here much recently.

    I go in later this morning for my 5th eye surgery so I’m likely to be flying low for the next couple of weeks too.

    Just wanted to let you know why I’m absent.

    John Cowart

  11. Love this!

    So many times in the past year, God has been telling me to cease and desist from trying to change my kids because I am getting in His way. Especially since most of the bad habits/character traits they have were inherited from me :-0. He has said the same thing to me about my dad and brother, who don’t acknowledge Him. As I have let go and let God have control, I am enjoying being with everyone a lot more and showing them the same unconditional love that God shows me and letting God make His little adjustments in me. It is very hard for a perfectionist, control-freakish personality to do, but I enjoy not having a burden that doesn’t belong to me.

    I agree that God can’t change our basic personalities, nor would He want to do so because He created us and he doesn’t make junk. I think when people say they have changed after becoming a Christian, a lot of it has to do with habits and the thought life that changes. Or maybe they just drop the facade that they were carrying to fit into the world and be more the person that God created them to be. Or maybe, our personalities before we were saved were warped by sin and when we put our faith in God, He gives us a realignment.
    God Bless!

  12. This is a very good word, and I totally agree. The more we love people without condition, the more Christ-like we are towards them. And personally, I’m grateful for people who chose to just love me, as opposed to tried to change me.

  13. Wonderful reminder my friend.

  14. The best way to change someone is to pray for them and hope that God will open their eyes to the truth. Manipulation won’t work. Guilt won’t work. We can’t change their heart… only God can do that. We need to pray.

  15. Amen. Amen. Amen. Thank you for this reminder that we can’t change people. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to conform others to our perception of what the Christian life should look like that we fail to love them as Christ would.

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