Can the worst of people be changed – without God?
By Spencer D Gear
In my work with abused children and abusers, I often hear statements like, “There is no hope for the paedophile. Once a molester, always a molester.” As I see it, rebellious behaviour is in plague proportions in Bundaberg. Parents say things to me like, “She’s been a difficult child from birth, a rebel all her life. She’s heading for the clink. She’s out of control. You fix her.”
Can a leopard change its spots? Definitely not! But there is Someone who can change paedophiles into people with true love. Prostitutes are being remade. The dishonest can become people of integrity. Rebels can be turned into law-abiding citizens and cons into upright, Christian citizens. But self-effort won’t do it.
I am reminded of an event in the life of Dr Harry Ironside, an evangelist and Bible teacher of renown in the USA in the early part of the 20th century. He was walking past a Salvation Army open-air meeting in San Francisco when he was recognised by the Salvos. They invited him to share how Christ had changed him.
As Dr. Ironside finished his testimony, a known lecturer on socialism provoked the doctor with this challenge: “Sir, I dare you to debate me. The subject will be, ‘Agnosticism versus Christianity.’ We’ll meet in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”
Dr. Ironside agreed, but on two conditions. First, the agnostic must promise to bring with him one man who was once a no-hoper. The exact nature of what wrecked his life did not matter. He could find a drunkard, criminal, sex pervert, or any other such person. That person had been changed into an upstanding citizen by becoming an agnostic. Righteousness and goodness came flooding into his life through pursuing the ideals of “I don’t know if there is a God.”
Second, Dr. Ironside asked the agnostic to promise also to bring with him one woman who was once an outcast, slave to evil passions and a victim of corrupt living. She was ruined and wretched but had been turned around. She had attended a meeting where the agnostic was proclaiming the benefits of agnosticism and was ridiculing the message of the Bible.
As she listened to him, new hope was born in her life. She concluded that the agnostic message could deliver her from her ways and she has now become an intelligent agnostic who no longer lives in her depraved lifestyle. She now lives a clean, virtuous and happy life — all because she is an agnostic.
Dr Ironside offered the challenge: “If you will promise to bring these two people with you as examples of what agnosticism can do, I will promise to meet you at the Hall of Science at 4 o’clock next Sunday. I will bring with me at the very least 100 men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”
Dr. Ironside turned to the Salvation Army officer in the open-air meeting, a woman, and asked, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?” The Captain offered at least 40 such people from just one Salvation Army Corps and said she would bring a brass band to lead the procession.
Dr. Ironside said that he would have no difficulty picking up the 100 radically changed people from the Salvos, other missions, gospel halls and evangelical churches. He said that the Salvation Army band would play “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they led the procession to the debate.
The enthusiastic agnostic who wanted to big-note himself at the open-air meeting and brashly challenge Dr. Ironside to the debate, smiled wryly, waved his hand and left the meeting, as if to say, “Nothing doing!” He edged his way through the crowd as these bystanders clapped enthusiastically for Ironside and the other Christians.
The power of the living Christ is changing lives today, even the lives of the most wicked. He has done it throughout history. John Newton, the British slave trader, became a preacher of the gospel. Chuck Colson, former President Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, was sent to jail for his part in the Watergate scandal in the USA. He met the risen Christ and has been engaged in an active prison and public ministry since then.
I wish you could have met my Bundaberg friend, the late George Clarke. He’s in heaven now. This gangster was changed into a child of God and an honourable family man. Talk to his family members and they’ll verify that Jesus Christ does change lives.
The worst of people can be changed. Many Bundaberg people can confirm that. The apostle Paul, the persecutor of the early Christian church, was threatening to murder believers. Then the turning point came. He tells how it can happen for anybody: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.