It is often said that first impressions last. That is, when we meet someone new we form a certain view of them – perhaps based on rather superficial things. That view sticks – and from then on we are apt to see that person in that way. That is bad news if our first impression is poor.
Fortunately, that is not how God works. Our changeless God promotes and recognises change in us through his amazing grace.
Our evening congregation tonight starts a series of studies in the letters to seven churches of first century Asia Minor (Rev 2-3). With some significant variations, these letters have a common pattern of praising some features of the church, making some criticisms, giving a warning and holding out the promise of good things to come if the church changes its ways.
For example, the church at Ephesus is praised for its hard work, perseverance, purity and doctrinal orthodoxy (Rev 2:1-3,7). But, this church has forgotten about love! If it does not change its ways, the Lord threatens disaster (v5).
But, notice how the Lord holds out the prospect of change. The church is urged to remember the love she had at first, repent of the loveless orthodoxy which had befallen her and return to her first love. These words all call for change, but the very call holds out the prospect that change is not only needed, but is also possible. All this is motivated by a promise that those who overcome will be allowed to eat of the tree of life from which humanity was banished as punishment for sin (v7, Gen. 3:22). In all the letters to the seven churches, the means of change is for the church to listen to the word of Jesus and act on it (v7a).
These things are also true for the church of today and for we who are its members. We too have need of change – in what ways are the problems of the seven churches mirrored in our church and in us as individuals? But, we also can change and our change must also be directed by the word of Jesus.
That possibility of change is an expression of the Christian gospel. Let us hear God as he speaks of our need of change and let us welcome his change as he forgives, renews, restores and rebuilds. And, let us be ready to forgive and restore others as they also change under the gospel.