Summary: Only God can bring about the new birth/conversion.

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Can A Leopard Change It’s Spots

Jeremiah 13:23; John 1:12-13, 35-50

Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister

First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO

Consider one of life’s most fundamental and troublesome questions. The Old Testament prophet phrased it like this: Can a leopard change it’s spots? We might ask it differently: can be people change? Can I change? Can you—not even will you, but more to the root of the matter—can you be any different at the end of 2001 than you are right now?

For lots of people—maybe all of us—this is no academic question. John is an alcoholic. He has finally admitted it after years of frustration and failure. But can he change or is he doomed to die a drunk? Beth started her marriage on the right track, but some where something went terribly wrong. She had an affair, left her husband and broke her parent’s heart. Now her new life has fallen apart and she wants to go back. Can she change? Can a leopard change it’s spots?

Bobby is a troubled teen. He was messed up before that. He was always in trouble. He has dropped out of school and is running with the wrong crowd. His step dad has given up. His mom is at her wits end. The neighbors say he is no good. Can he change?

Frank is a go-getter of a business man. He built a business from scratch and lost his family in the process. He has a full bank account and an empty house. The doctor just said slow down and get your priorities straightened out or else. Can he change?

Warren is the pillar of the church. He has held it together for years—so most people say. Others say he has held it back for years. That he is a worker, no one can dispute. But he is also an angry, bitter man. On the outside he is deeply religious, but inside he is a mess. His life and his memories are full of hurts, doubts, and secret sin. Can next year be any different from last year? Can a leopard change its spots?

On and on the stories could go. We could all tell them. We all know them. If not our own, then those of people we know and love. Can life ever be different? Can next year be better than last? Can I loose weight and keep it off this time? Can I get out of debt and on top of my finances and stay there? Can I be a better parent or husband or wife? Can a leopard change its spots? Can I overcome a secret, besetting sin? Perhaps anger, bitterness, thoughts, or an enslaving habit that I just can’t break despite years and years of New Year’s resolutions? Can we ever become the kind of bold, disciplined praying Christians preachers talk about? Or will this year be like last—a flurry of good intentions in January, limping into disappointment in February and outright failure by Easter?

What do you think? Can people really change? Can a leopard change its spots? Can a person really be “born again?” As church-going types we know what we are supposed to say? But do we really believe that people can fundamentally change?

My message today is really an introduction to the theme I want to explore through out the next month. We will continue to explore the Gospel of John. In fact, we will spend most of the next year and half in John. I want you to get to know it well. I encourage you to read it and re-read with me. We won’t be going directly through the book verse by verse. Some of the time we will. But most of the time, we will follow a theme or a spiritual thread through the book for a while and then come back and pick up another thread. Gradually bit by bit we will try to get a sense of the story that John has woven together for us.

First, a couple of points of reminder. John’s is the fourth gospel, or biography of Jesus. It was probably the last written and one of the last books of the entire Bible to be written. Since John was writing last, I think he was attempting to tie some loose ends together. He wanted to make sure we got the big picture of Jesus. Remember his explanation for his book: (John 20:30-31) "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. {31} But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." This book was written so that people like you and me could come to faith in Jesus.

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