The Problem With Paul’s Conversion, Or Creatures of a New Habit

I can already see/hear the errors of my thinking displayed in this post being pinned to the wall – pointing out I’m not staying true to Biblical Christianity. However, I will trudge forward because I believe I’m raising something valid.

In many ways what I do professionally, helping people with drug addiction recovery, is much like teaching people to follow Jesus – in that both demand a total about-face, moving in the complete opposite direction they were before. Saul first persecuted the very group of people he would later join as Paul, and people who formerly led their friends headlong into drugs of abuse & addiction now help people find their way out.

From what I’ve found in my years working in treatment is that in order for someone to stay clean they must change as much as possible. I’ve seen people slip because their couldn’t differentiate their old life of using and their new life of sobriety, and (often not so) eventually they’re right back in it as if they’d never knew there was another way.

But here’s the fundamental flaw – though a total change is needed, it can’t come overnight. Not that it isn’t possible, but that if someone tries to quit smoking cold turkey they are far more likely to return to cigarettes than someone who tapers down. If you’re someone who has terrible eating habits suddenly switching to a vegetarian diet – it probably won’t last. You need a transition zone – that new thing in your life was just too drastic.

There’s a reason why the number one used word in most Christian’ vocabulary is “journey.” We’ve fallen in love with the tales of instant transformation – because their romantic, and, well, easy. Its far easier to simply be magically different than do the difficult and far longer work of making conscious decisions to be different.

It’s a seeming paradox – that ultimately drug addicts need to completely change their life – but not instantly. How many people return from retreats/conferences/services claiming they will now do everything differently – but it is all too much? We are creatures of habit, after all, and maybe following Jesus is about creating new habits (which take time, practice and often errors) than instant & magical transformation?

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3 Responses to The Problem With Paul’s Conversion, Or Creatures of a New Habit

  1. David says:

    One of your most thoughtful blogs, Charlie.

    One thing Paul did was head to Arabia for 3 years to spend time learning and getting to know God. Galatians 1:16 … to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.

    I have had both the gradual change, and the instant; miraculous change. I had my last drink in 1980 – never had a slip – left the college of my obsession behind, did AA meetings 2 times a day, got a sponsor, a group, made coffee, volunteered etc. It was no easy road for a 22-year-old.

    In 1994 I went to a conference and was instantly delivered from smoking about 2 packs of Marlboros a day for 20 years. My wife even smoked in the house and the car – never wanted one after that.

    I think we need the option for both: the supernatural; it is finished, and the methodical change that comes with making each decision necessary to go in the right direction. If not, we limit God to one venue. He doesn’t like to be put in a box – look at all the denominations we have – He does things differently from time-to-time.

    • excellent point – I definitely have seen God do miraculous things instantly – I think because of that we’ve come to expect it – and if it doesn’t happen then we can be led to believe we haven’t truly met Jesus or we really aren’t living with the Spirit in our heart.

      And time-to-time he does things differently David? He’s more of the expect the unexpected type!

      • David says:

        Yes, I would say he does a lot of unexpected things. Just do a word search for “suddenly.” He has revealed new facets of healing. There about a 1/2 dozen ways in which he approached healing in the Bible. I love the unexpected!

        I also love the “known” presence of God.

        On the other hand, God is very faithful, and we can expect that from Him – it’s not random. They guys and gals at have been working through their questions about God this week. Faithful is really the theme.

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