It is so easy to see the faults in others. We can so readily point out the areas where they need to change, the choices they should make to achieve the desired outcome, or the bad choices that led to certain problems. Objectivity has its benefits. But that kind of advice isn’t always welcome, or well received. People don’t like to be told they are wrong (even if it’s true), and our attitudes and words can make it that much harder to swallow. How do you change the world if the world doesn’t want to be changed?
First determine if you can expect change. As Christians, we have a standard that we live by, but it is set by God whom the world does not acknowledge. We can’t expect those who don’t believe to live the way we do. That is where legalism comes from; outward conformity without inward change or belief. Accept the areas that you can’t change, and pray about it. God can change where we can’t, and for those not of our faith He needs to be there first. Rather than trying to change those people, share your faith with them. Love them as God does. That will produce far greater change than a sermon or lecture because obedience should be based on love for God, not duty.
Romans 10:13-15, 17 NASB
13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” … 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
If the change you want to see isn’t a person, but a situation, say domestic violence or foreign policy, seek ways to make a difference. Contact legislators, set up a program in your church to help victims of abuse, sponsor foreign children. GET INVOLVED. The best way to promote change in situations like that is to do something. You can’t move the whole mountain by yourself, but if you don’t start digging it may never happen at all.
James 1:27 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
If the change you are looking for is a fellow Christian, the situation is a little more delicate. If they are living in blatant sin, then we are called to confront them, but we are to do it with a spirit of gentleness and love, and caution lest we fall into sin or pride ourselves. We need to make sure that we know the whole situation before we walk up to someone and say hey straighten up (unless of course they are doing it in front of you). Talk to them first and find out what is going on. And remember that our motive for “changing” them should not be to make them do what is right, but out of love and fear of them falling away completely, for the love of God’s glory, for the concern of the destruction their sin may cause.
If it is not blatant sin, we need to be very careful about speaking out against it. We all make bad decisions and we should not be nit-picky about another’s bad choices while making our own. It is almost essential to have a good relationship with that person already, a closeness that already permits open speaking like that. There are only a few people in my life that I have that kind of relationship with, and most are my husband and kids. As with blatant sin, it needs to be done gently and lovingly with correct motives and caution against your own sin and attitudes.
In all of this it is helpful to remember that we are no better than any other. We all started as sinful, lost souls saved by the grace of God alone. The only reason there is any good in any of us is because God put it there. The Bible is very clear that nothing good in us is of our own merit. Extend that grace to others rather than extending condemnation. Ask for God’s wisdom and direction.
But probably the most effective way to inspire change is to be the change you want to see, and it is the best place to start no matter what change you are looking for. If you want to change a lost family member or friend who looks to drugs for fulfillment, make sure that the joy of your relationship with Christ is evident in your life. If you want to see an end to hate crimes, genuinely love those who are different from you. If you want a saved family member to treat others (or yourself) more kindly, show them kindness first, not in a “see I’m doing it right” attitude, but out of genuine love for them and God. If you aren’t willing to be kind to them why should they be kind to you? Don’t do any of it just to get what you want, even if it is right. If you want others to be like Christ, then you be like Christ first. (If you want others to be like you then you are the one that needs to change.)
Luke 6:42 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Be the change you want to see.