The Bible’s View
Can You Change Your Personality?
“SORRY! But that’s the way I am and I can’t change. You’ll just have to make the best of it!” Expressions such as these have been made time and again by one member of a family to another as an excuse or in justification of displaying certain personality traits that irk, or may even severely try, others. In particular is this likely to be the mental attitude of those addicted to alcohol or who follow a homosexual way of life.
But is it really so that personalities cannot be changed? The Bible indicates that they can be. For example, the apostle Paul wrote: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” (Phil. 4:13) For one thing, he was able, by virtue of this power, to put up with all manner of circumstances; he knew how to get along with much or with little. And, as we examine his life, we find him serving faithfully as an “apostle to the nations,” although often experiencing beatings, once being stoned, three times being shipwrecked, spending a day and a night in the deep, as well as having undergone or faced all kinds of dangers.—2 Cor. 11:22-27; Rom. 11:13.
More than that, Paul was able to make a radical change in his personality. Before he became a Christian, he had been a “blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man.” Because of this, he speaks of himself as having been the ‘foremost of sinners.’ (1 Tim. 1:12-16) However, upon becoming a Christian he became so exemplary that he could write: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.”—1 Cor. 11:1.
No, this was not an easy thing to do. Paul had internal conflicts, so that at times he did the things he wished not to do and did not do the things he desired to do. But his weaknesses never got the upper hand. That is why he could exclaim in this connection: “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:13-25) Yes, great as were his responsibilities and privileges in being the apostle to the nations, he had a struggle. That is why he also wrote: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” (1 Cor. 9:27) There is no question that, by ‘virtue of the strength God provided,’ Paul was able to change his personality.
And not only could the apostle. He tells of the changes in personality made by some at Corinth who had been indulging in fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, and so forth. What enabled them to change? Their newly found religion. “But you have been washed clean,” says Paul, “but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) Similarly, the apostle Peter writes of some who had left off such bad habits. These Christians, too, had made changes in their personalities.—1 Pet. 4:3, 4.
Then again, it is common knowledge that there is very little unselfish, self-sacrificing love shown by people in general, little even by those belonging to the same religion or “church.” But Jesus said that this quality, genuine love, would mark his followers. (John 13:34, 35) For that to be true, his followers have to make changes in their personalities, from selfishness to unselfishness.
But today there are some who do not agree. For example, there is a certain clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. To a leading “fundamentalist” magazine, he wrote a letter that was published under the heading “No Help On Homosexuality.” In it he objected to an article that had previously appeared in that magazine to the effect that homosexuality was not compatible with Christianity. According to him, it is too much to expect conversion to Christianity to effect a change in sexual orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He referred to some who insisted that, at best, only 25 percent can change, and he quoted the evangelical British psychiatrist whose experience with 50 homosexuals caused him to conclude: “If anyone believes that the experience of conversion will take away sexual desires and lead to a normal attraction toward the opposite sex, then he is mistaken. . . . I have met no single case of a man being set free from them by spiritual measures.”
Why the contradiction? Who is mistaken? It could not be the apostles Paul and Peter, for they were not only intelligent and honest men but they wrote under divine inspiration. The only conclusion we can come to is that those who insist that conversion did not result in a change of personality did not use the right kind of “spiritual measures.” In other words, the professed believers were not converted to true, genuine, apostolic Christianity.
Why can true Christianity cause a change in personality regardless of the nature of the flaws? For one thing, because true Christianity inculcates strong faith in the Creator. He made us and he has the right to tell us what we may and may not do. Moreover, being the all-wise, just and loving Sovereign of our lives, he knows what is best for us. Faith in him will enable us to take his view on this matter, and his Word makes it very plain that he considers homosexuality a gross sin.—See Genesis 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Jude 7.
So, from the first step onward, there must be an accepting of God’s view that this practice is bad and an obeying of God’s command to “hate what is bad.” (Ps. 97:10) Even as an ex-alcoholic must try to “hate” the inebriating effect of liquor if he would remain free from his addiction, so must the one who once was a homosexual “hate” his former sexual orientation. To be able to do this, he needs to heed the advice: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) This requires feeding the mind on God’s Word and thinking the right thoughts. (Matt. 4:4; Phil. 4:8) Yes, with the help of God’s Word and holy spirit, persons can strip off their old personality and “put on the new personality which [is] created according to God’s will.”—Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:8-10.
God has also provided the avenue of prayer. Jesus told us that, if we pray in faith, our prayers will be answered. (Matt. 21:22; Luke 11:13; Zech. 4:6) Further, God’s Word also makes provision for the elders in a Christian congregation to help.—Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:14-20.
The facts show that these “spiritual measures” have helped men and women to get free from homosexuality today, even as they did in apostolic times. True Christianity provides both the motivation and the aids that enable persons to make changes in their personalities, all to God’s glory and to the blessing of themselves and those with whom they associate.