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Return to November/December 2014 articles.

We hear a lot of negative discussions about “evolution” in religious literature. One of the things we have frequently discussed in this journal is the fact that the word “evolution” needs to be defined and applied in a positive way by anyone engaging in the discussion of what evolution means. Many confuse evolution with naturalism. Naturalism is the belief that the only thing that exists is the physical world, and that everything in the universe can be explained in terms of physical phenomena. There are many things in man's experience that do not fit well with naturalistic explanations, and that is the source of the conflict with the Bible. Denying any act of God because it does not have a physical explanation or cause is to ignore a great deal of evidence — beginning with the evidence of creation itself. It also includes the evidence provided by many characteristics of humans — spiritual attributes being just one of them.

In scientific terms, the meaning of the word “evolution” is an unfolding type of change. Very few people would take issue with the fact that living things can change. Agriculture depends on the changes in living things, from new varieties of corn or beans or tomatoes to improved strains of cattle such as the Charolais. Most of us would agree that there were no cockapoos on Noah's ark, no matter what our interpretation of that biblical story might be. Debates over microevolution and macroevolution get carried away into where microevolution stops and macroevolution begins. The point is that change in biological systems is a fact. Our purpose here is not to extend the debate over evolution, but to point out that there is a vital concept for Christians in the area of change. Christians themselves need to go through an unfolding type of change.

The Bible makes it clear that Christians are to evolve. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we read, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness, with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (NIV). The Greek word which is translated “transformed” is the same Greek word from which we get our English word “metamorphosis.” Metamorphosis is defined as “a marked change in form or appearance.” We use this word when we describe the change from a chrysalis into a butterfly, or a tadpole into a frog. The Greek word is used only three times in the New Testament — one of them being the describing of the transfiguration.

Christians are to evolve, to become something new. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away.” (Also in Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 2:15 and 4:24.) Colossians 3:9 – 10 says, “… you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Many times a person becomes a Christian and both he and those who know him expect instantaneous change. In our world of instant gratification, we assume that if some miraculous change does not happen then the event was a failure. In this case it would mean that God did not fulfill his promises. This is a misconception based upon a failure to understand that becoming a mature Christian is a process — an evolution — not an instantaneous, dramatic display of God's power. This evolution is directed, designed, and affected by God's Spirit and we are a part of the process. Here are some biblical descriptions of how we as new Christians can affect our own evolution.


Hopelessness can paralyze us. In Mark 9:23 – 24 a father of a child that had convulsions came to Christ wanting a cure to his child's illness. Jesus tells the father, “If you believe, all things are possible … .” The father responds, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Many times Jesus refers to belief as a part of a miraculous cure, but sometimes he does not (such as the widow's son being brought back to life in Luke 7:12 – 16). I would suggest to you that the miracle had a much more complex purpose than just addressing the physical problem. Belief is the starting point for change in a person's life, and the miracles had purpose and meaning to the people in every case where miracles were performed. The idea that to have a miraculous cure you had to have a certain level of belief is inconsistent with the evidence and with the nature of God. It is also a huge obstacle to a person's overcoming adversity. Almost all twelve-step programs have something built into them which says, “Other members of the group have been able to overcome, and you can too — believe that.”

In Matthew 17:20 Jesus emphasizes the power of belief when he says, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” Jesus was not explaining how to operate a bulldozer, but how to move mountains in our lives. Alcoholism, drug addiction, immorality, broken relationships, and infidelity are far bigger mountains for most of us than any physical structure.


How fast does a caterpillar change into a butterfly? When I was a child I decided to catch a caterpillar “in the act” of changing. I wanted to see a caterpillar with wings, so I found a chrysalis and cut it open. All I found was a gooey mess that did not look like anything but a gooey mess. Watching a tadpole become a frog is a fascinating activity, but it is not one that takes place in a nanosecond. The Greek word for “transformed” used in 2 Corinthians 3:18 refers to a metamorphosis, not an instant change.

When you study the lives of the great men in Scripture you do not see instant change. How many times did Abraham fail in his faith before he was able to make the huge leap of faith with Issac? How long did Moses take to change from a shepherd for his father-in-law to the great leader of Israel? How did David evolve from a child defending sheep to the great king of Israel? Even Paul spent three years from the time he was struck on the road to Damascus to when he went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and then 14 more years before his great work with the Gentiles changed the direction of the church (see Galatians 1:15 – 2:8.)

When I came out of atheism and struggled to find a ministry I could do for the Lord, I not only had no belief that I could do anything, but I had a lot of baggage to get rid of. I could not talk without profanity, and I learned early you could not go to the preacher's house and say, “Pass the #$@%&* potatoes.” A kind older brother in Christ took me aside and told me he had been through the same struggle, and gave me some suggestions as to how to wean myself from profanity. It took a lot of prayer, and many years of trying and failing before my heart, mind, and vocabulary could be changed. What encouraged me was the fact that my spiritual heroes had gone through similar struggles. I have evolved and become a new man, but I am still evolving and have a lot of other things to work on.


Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” This theme is repeated in Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:15 and 4:24; Colossians 3:10; and Hebrews 10:20. As we evolve we become more and more like what God plans for us to be. When you compare a butterfly with a caterpillar you do not see any resemblance between the two. A tadpole does not look much like a bullfrog. A chicken does not look much like an egg.

How God sees us and how his Spirit works within us is completely changed when we come out of the waters of baptism (see Acts 2:37 – 39). We now have the power to be changed in our attitudes, our relationships, our influence, our priorities, our thinking, and how we manage what God has given to us both in resources and in talents. In 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 18 Paul talks about those who reject Christ and who refuse to allow themselves to evolve as God would have them do. He says in verse 14 that their “minds were blinded” and there was a “veil upon their hearts.” He then says that we as Christians have freedom. “Our faces are not covered. We all show the Lord's glory. We are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory to God and to us in his sight. This glory comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.”

Do not expect instant gratification when you become a Christian. You have begun a journey of change, and you will be successful. When your evolution is complete you will be what God created you to be, as different from your old self as a caterpillar is from a beautiful butterfly. The picture of Revelation 21:3 – 5 is a beautiful creature with God. “Now God's home is with people. He will live with them. They will be His people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain. All the old ways are gone. … Look I am making everything new” (ERV).

— John N. Clayton

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