We come to God to be refashioned by Him. He promises us “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). I think most of us have a pretty basic expectation of how this refashioning is going to go. He’s going to take away our craving for sin, make our hearts kinder, and give us a deeper appreciation for the sacred. And at first, this might be exactly how things proceed.

At some point, though, there usually come changes that are unexpected. You see, each of us is an imperfect mortal, and invariably have misconceptions about God. At some point He is going to try and correct those, to show us who He is more truly. Beautiful as these moments are, they can also be disconcerting. We can have strong, emotional ties to our misconceptions, and letting go of them can feel like heresy.

Even more troubling, sometimes people struggle to let go of their misconceptions of God without letting go of Him entirely. They recognize a legitimate flaw in their previous belief system, but let go of the belief instead of the flaw. With this study I would like to explore how we can safely navigate doubt, questions, and evolving perspectives.

John 3:1-3

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews
Let us consider the example of Nicodemus. The man was a ruler in the Jewish faith, which faith had been God’s covenant gospel for more than a millennium before the coming of Jesus.
Nicodemus also seems to have been a sincere seeker of truth. Though many of his peers were only going through the motions, he was able to recognize and pursue the Son of God on earth. He therefore seems to have been about as ideal a follower of God as one could ever hope to find.

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God
Even to this sincere follower, Jesus indicated that there was a reformation that he needed to embrace. Good as Nicodemus was, he still required a rebirth before he would be able to see the kingdom of God. Of course that rebirth is a reference to baptism, but baptism itself suggests an internal rebirth of the soul, a fundamental change of beliefs and perspectives.
Jesus’s prescription of rebirth is not limited to Nicodemus either. By his own words, he applied it to us all. The fact that Nicodemus was born a Jew and I was born a Christian makes no difference. For though my name has always been listed on a church record, that is not the same thing as having actually awoken to the reality of Christ. Not a one of us have that awakening by default, it is something that we must pursue with earnest.
Between birth and rebirth, we will undoubtedly develop a few misconceptions along the way. When at last we gain enlightenment, we will finally be able to start correcting them.

John 6:60-61, 65-66

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
We learn from this passage that Jesus lost many of his followers after teaching a controversial principle of the gospel. The offending doctrine was that of the sacrament. He had just taught the need to partake of his flesh and blood, so that his disciples could live through him.
Interestingly, the ancient Jews had been being prepared to receive this doctrine for millennia, as the consumption of sacrificial animals was a core element of temple worship. Perhaps they were too attached to this shadow of the true principle, to then accept the fully embodied version when it came to them.

No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
One day, like these disciples, we will each realize that we have misunderstood one principle of the gospel or another. Which principle you stumble over will probably be different from the one that challenges me. Perhaps I have not correctly perceived grace, or repentance, or tithing. Perhaps you have misunderstood faith, or the Holy Spirit, or sacrifice.
Proper understanding of these, and all other principles, can only come from one source. As Jesus explained, God Himself must enlighten our minds and hearts to receive pure truth.
The question is how we will respond when that greater understanding is presented to us. Everyone thinks that they will accept truth when they find it, but it turns out that many of us are more attached to what we thought was right, than what is actually right.

John 6:60-61, 65-66

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
We learn from this passage that Jesus lost many of his followers after teaching a controversial principle of the gospel. The offending doctrine was that of the sacrament. He had just taught the need to partake of his flesh and blood, so that his disciples could live through him.
Interestingly, the ancient Jews had been being prepared to receive this doctrine for millennia, as the consumption of sacrificial animals was a core element of temple worship. Perhaps they were too attached to this shadow of the true principle, to then accept the fully embodied version when it came to them.

No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
One day, like these disciples, we will each realize that we have misunderstood one principle of the gospel or another. Which principle you stumble over will probably be different from the one that challenges me. Perhaps I have not correctly perceived grace, or repentance, or tithing. Perhaps you have misunderstood faith, or the Holy Spirit, or sacrifice.
Proper understanding of these, and all other principles, can only come from one source. As Jesus explained, God Himself must enlighten our minds and hearts to receive pure truth.
The question is how we will respond when that greater understanding is presented to us. Everyone thinks that they will accept truth when they find it, but it turns out that many of us are more attached to what we thought was right, than what is actually right.

Jonah 3:4-5, 10; 4:1

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry
The story of Jonah is very interesting. First God calls him to teach the people of Nineveh and he tries to run away. Then he repents of that folly and goes and proclaims death and destruction on the city. They repent and are spared, and he is furious that God is willing to forgive them.
Jonah clearly knows God, has intimate conversations with Him, and presumably wants to be a good disciple…but he keeps butting heads with God anyhow. He thinks that God’s policy should be one way, and is disappointed when it is otherwise. In this small story of his life, Jonah seems to be more devoted to his sense of what is right than God’s.
But we probably shouldn’t criticize him too harshly, because I think each of us disagrees with God on one point or another, even as we’re trying to follow Him. Some of us are worried that God is too lenient, afraid that He isn’t going to punish those who deserve it. Some of us are worried that God is too harsh, afraid that He won’t accept us with all of our indulgences.
When we make up our minds as to what the spiritual truths are supposed to be, we then become very touchy when someone suggests that we are wrong. Like Jonah, “it displeases us exceedingly, and we are very angry!”
I have personally experienced this a few times, and in hindsight I’ve always realized that my anger was not righteous indignation, I was lashing out because someone had touched a nerve. They had inadvertently touched on some festering emotional baggage. Of course, I did not want to admit that I was wounded, so I maintained all the more loudly that I was standing for the right. But of course, God sees through that whole facade, and tomorrow we’ll examine how He breaks it down.

Jonah 4:4, 6-11

Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?
So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city,
And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons?

Doest thou well to be angry?
So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city.
Yesterday we observed how Jonah became angry when God showed mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah wanted them to be destroyed instead. God challenges Jonah with the question “doest thou well to be angry?” but Jonah does not respond. He gets up and leaves instead.
Sometimes we get angry with God because we, too, disagree with His methods. We think we know how things should be, and are hurt to have Him tell us that we are wrong.

And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief
But God prepared a worm, and it smote the gourd that it withered
And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?

When our pride has been stung we lash out. “Hey, don’t touch that! It hurts!” Which request God promptly ignores. He jabs His finger firmly into it! He isn’t going to just let this go. We have a festering blemish and He is going to lance it and it is going to hurt…. But He only does it so that we can finally heal.
So while Jonah is fuming under the gourd God reaches out and makes him even angrier! He kills the gourd, and when Jonah complains he brings back the still unanswered question: “doest thou well to be angry?
This time Jonah answers “I do well to be angry, even unto death.”

Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured
And should not I spare Nineveh, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons?

And now the Lord shows Jonah the contradiction that he is making. Jonah is sorry, and rightfully so, for the death of a gourd. But he is unfeeling for the death of an entire city. Even the densest of people should be able to see the misaligned priorities here. The Lord is stressing to Jonah that there is no pleasure in destruction. It is tragic for a gourd to fall, and it is tragic for a people to die. Perhaps Jonah already knew these things in his head, but needed God to break him down so that he could feel them in his heart.
I certainly have been emotionally tied to my own misconceptions as well, and like Jonah I built up walls to protect them. I said I was being “righteously indignant,” but I wasn’t, I was just being obstinate.

John 8:39-40, 52-53

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham?

A major point of contention between Jesus and the disbelievers was that they perceived his teachings as an attack on their patriarchs. Here they are making an appeal to authority, claiming that their doctrine is derived directly from Abraham. Jesus frankly refutes that claim.
Their position, though, is one that I believe many of us can directly relate to. We often bristle when someone suggests that some of our conceptions of God and morality are amiss, even when the person making that suggestion is God, Himself! One reason is because that accusation feels like a slight against the place where we received our teaching: our childhood home. “Art thou greater than our father?!”
Sometimes God is going to say things that we don’t like. And it might be “your parents were wrong, so stop holding onto their old beliefs.” Even if He’s only saying they were wrong in part, that still stings us.
Or, it might be the exact opposite. He might be saying to you “your parents were right all along, so stop trying to be smarter than them.” Even if He’s only saying that they were right in part, it still stings us.
In the end, people tend to feel very passionately about their family of origin. They either love them or they hate them, they are proud of them or they are proud of having grown past them. In either case they struggle to accept that some parts of that home could be good, and other parts not so much. Sooner or later, though, God is going to come disrupt our personal pride, and coax us toward a higher truth.

Galatians 1:10, 1 Kings 12:6, 8

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.

Or do I seek to please men?
But he forsook the counsel of the old men and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him
We are social creatures, ones that crave the approval of our peers. Rehoboam preferred to be aligned with the men of his own age, and by that lost the kingdom of Israel. Paul suggested that if his desire was to please his peers, he would not be able to remain a servant of Christ.
I do believe that one of the greatest obstacles to letting go of our misconceptions is social. Most likely, if we are trying to accept a higher truth, we are close to others who still firmly believe the lower things that we once did. Those that drink socially have described how quitting the bottle was made all the more difficult by worrying what their friends might think of them.
True friends, of course, will still support one another in divergent beliefs. The things is, you’ll never know whether you have a true friend or not, until you see how they react to your boldly living a higher truth.

Logic

We use the word “logic” quite a good deal, it is something we strive to live in harmony with. In its original form, “logic” is simply the study of how to make correct inferences from known truths. If A is true, then so is B.

Logic has many different branches of study, including propositional calculus, predicate logic, and modal logic. It has applications to mathematics, computational problems, and even philosophy. Many of our technologies today, such as the modern database, are based upon its principles.

Another way to explain logic is that it is the study of relationships between truths. Take for example the statements “Adam is the father of Seth” and “Seth is the father of Enos.” By these two truths we may logically infer that “Adam is the grandfather of Enos.” In fact, by being given only a smattering of relationship facts, logic can be used to recompile entire family trees, defining numerous relationships between every member.

And all of this works…until a lie is introduced to the system. It has been proven that a single lie can totally break down any logical system. By process of elimination, one can prove or disprove anything. You could simultaneously prove that Adam is the father of Seth, that he is the mother of Seth, that he is no one to Seth, and that Seth is actually his father. And you can also disprove all of those statements, too. In a word, everything becomes “relative.” Where before you could go to a system of truth and find verifiable fact, now all that remains is a shrug of the shoulders and a “maybe.”

This happens to us in our lives as well. Each of us is born with a very simple model of truth. We inherently accept principles of love, faith, and goodness. It is a small core of truth, but it is sufficient. As we go through life we discover new facts, accepting those that seem to fit with our already-establish model, and rejecting those that do not.

However somewhere along the way, each of us will make a mistake. It is very easy to do. Perhaps a trusted authority figure gave us a notion that we accepted without a second thought. So we added a falsehood, but we believed it to be a truth. We may not realize that anything is amiss for a while, but over time, that lie will corrupt our previous associations. We’ll start to notice logical contradictions in our beliefs, and finally we’ll know that our system has become untenable.

Sadly, many will throw the entire thing out at this point. The work of pruning out the lies from the truth seems impossible. They will claim that there never really were any truths to begin with. It can be a hard thing to let go of a misconception about God without letting go of God entirely.

But that is not the only option. Sometimes evolving our beliefs is a matter of going back to basics. We realize that we went astray, so we return to what few facts we really do know: that we are a child of God, that He loves us, that there is such a thing as “good.” It might be a much smaller belief system, but it will be true again. Then, with utmost care, we add back in only the parts that fit with this core.

Personal Example

On my mission I served in the country of Guyana, where I observed people with a far different culture than the one I had been raised with. I was able to clearly see how the principles that I was living compared to the ones that these people were. To say that either my culture or theirs was “better” than the other would be a gross oversimplification. They were different. There were some trends among the Guyanese that I thought were better, and some from America that I thought were better.

One area where I felt the Guyanese traditions were more in touch with Christ’s teachings was in treating everyone like a neighbor. When I came back to my own country, it stood out in stark contrast how few people met my eye and gave me a “good morning” as I walked down the street.

Another gap as wide as two cultures is that from one generation to another. Spend an evening surrounded by people 20 years older or younger than you, and it’ll feel like you’ve visited a new country! And while each generation usually claims that their way is better, once again this is an oversimplification.

Just from my own perspective, I believe that my generation has done better with seeing the inherent worth in everyone, and in maintaining love for the sinner. On the other hand, the prior generation is better at dividing good from evil, and they know that commandments are not just suggestions!

But what about two people from the same demographic? Same age, same culture, same race, etc? Well, I married a woman who was exactly that, and you know what? The differences between us were still just as stark as the ones between different cultures and different generations! Though both of us were already Christians, we had very different methods for following Him. And again, it would be an oversimplification to say that either of our ways were superior. Some areas she was further advanced in, and some areas I was.

We struggle to accept the idea that other people might be more advanced than us, though, even if only in part. We tend to think that our culture, our generation, and our family of origin were best. They can’t just have been good, they must be best. And we can spend a lot of time trying to convert people over to our unique perspective. In the end, though, it is not helpful for Guyanese to become Americans or Americans to become Guyanese. Millennials do not need to become more Gen-X, nor vice versa. My wife and I don’t need to remake one another in our own image.

Instead, all of us need to become more like Christ. We all have room for improvement, and we all can gain valuable lessons from one another. We can view the differences between us and adopt all the good parts that each holds. There are things you can learn from different cultures, generations, and individuals. Several members, coming together in one body. There are even elements of Christianity that I’ve seen non-Christians get better than us! Your next lesson in discipleship is everywhere about you, you just need to look for the good.

Summary

At the outset I was concerned that this study might be taken the wrong way. I never meant to suggest that we need to “evolve our beliefs” in the sense of calling certain commandments outmoded. I never meant to suggest that we try to blur the lines or call truth relative. I absolutely maintain that there is still right and wrong, that there is still good and evil, and that God has a specific path that we need to follow.

And that’s what this study was really meant to be about: learning God’s way better, and how we block our progress when we assume that we already know it perfectly. Perhaps the most important prerequisite to being teachable, is admitting that there are things one still needs to learn.

In this study I’ve tried to show how the need for rebirth is universal, and how it is no heresy to change one’s mind on spiritual matters, when one is sincerely deepening their faith. Let’s review a few of the key points that came up along the way.

We Are All Still Learning

We examined the stories of Nicodemus and Jonah, two men that were presumably very spiritual and very sincere seekers of the truth. Yet both of them were yet lacking. If they hadn’t been, these scriptural passages wouldn’t even exist!
Jonah’s case is particularly interesting, because he has the audacity to argue with God about what is right! It seems ridiculously arrogant, to reprimand the author of rightness for not doing the right thing…yet I think more of us do this than we realize. I’ve woken up to the realization that I was so arrogant myself.
None of us thinks that we’re perfect, but we do tend to think that we know perfectly. We feel that we aren’t wrong in our convictions, only that we don’t follow through on them. While yes, we probably do know better than we behave, perhaps we should also consider that if we actually did know better, our behavior would follow suit.
John 3:3- Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God
Jonah 3:10, 4:1And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

We Have Emotional Blockers to Our Growth

Which is worse, to admit that one was wrong, or to remain being wrong? Obviously the latter, yet I think all of us can readily recall moments where we refused to admit that we were in error, even though in our heart of hears we knew that we were.
And each of us probably knows what the root cause of our stubbornness is pride, pure and simple. The solution is also simple: to let go of that pride.
Or perhaps I should say, the solution is simple to write, not necessarily to do! Indeed, I wish to maintain utmost respect for just how difficult an undertaking it is to admit that one was wrong.
When we recognize this wall of pride in another person, or even in our own selves, we should be very sensitive about it. There could very well be a wound that is tucked behind that wall. The mind often has a very good reason for not wanting to admit its faults. Perhaps one was made to feel great shame as a child, and a part of them is afraid that confessing an error will subject them to that horrible pain once more.
Yes, one still needs to let go of their pride, one still needs to let go of misconceptions to embrace higher truth, but let us be gentle as we invite the refiner’s fire.
Isaiah 1:25- And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.

Releasing Misconceptions is Not Letting Go of God

Many of us might be afraid to sin against the God of our childhood. We might feel that if we say we believed something incorrectly, than we are saying that all our beliefs were incorrect.
I think of the man who was blind from birth, whom Jesus sent to wash in the pool of Siloam and then received his sight. His entire perspective was literally changed in an instant! However when the Pharisees heard of it, and how the man maintained that it was Christ who had healed him, they cast him out of the synagogue. He was no longer welcome in the worship of his youth. Isn’t that what we’re afraid of as well?
It is a very understandable hesitation, but the answer to it is found in the rest of that blind man’s story.
John 9:35-38- Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.