Everyone knows that, as we age, our bodies change to the point that we would be all but unrecognizable to our younger selves. Until recently, however, most studies showed that such a transformation was strictly physical. In terms of personalities and what makes you you, for the most part, people stayed the same. Research that tracked people from childhood to middle age or from middle age to older age all showed that people’s personalities remained relatively stable. But it turns out those studies probably weren’t taking a big enough picture.
When researchers went back and re-interviewed living participants from a 1950 survey of fourteen-year-olds conducted in Scotland, they found that, to the researchers’ surprise, the seventy-seven-year-old versions of themselves had little in common with their younger versions. Their personalities, defined as “an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns,” changed to the extent that Quartz‘s Olivia Goldhill asked “Can you truly be considered the same person in old age as you were as a teenager?”
Goldhill would go on to point out that these findings, while different from previous studies, likely seem normal to those who have met up with an old friend later in life, only to be struck by the fact that they don’t seem like the person you remembered. In such circumstances, our first thought is often to marvel at how much they’ve changed when, in reality, chances are good that we have changed just as much.
But while that research is interesting, what does it actually mean for us as Christians? Two thoughts seem most pertinent.
First, if you would like to change some aspect of your personality that seems hard-wired into your DNA, perhaps the situation is not so absolute. Scripturally, that makes sense. After all, it would be strange for Paul to write of growing in our faith and maturing into the people Christ has called us to be if God was content to leave us as we are (Ephesians 4:15).
“That’s just the way I am” is and always will be a poor excuse for sin, whether it’s in the context of speaking our minds in an unloving manner, giving into seemingly natural temptations that God has forbidden, or any number of other ways that we often search for excuses to be less than the Lord has called us to be. We are perfectly capable of changing those aspects of our lives that go against what God desires, and he’s even promised us the Holy Spirit’s help in doing so.
Second, for better or worse, it’s always too early to become complacent with who you are as a person. Just as we must never settle for the sin in our lives, we must also never take for granted those areas in which we are walking with the Lord. The study found only that people’s personalities changed over the course of their lives, not that they necessarily changed for the better. That’s why Paul also talked about the need to run our race to completion (1 Corinthians 9:24–27, 2 Timothy 4:7–9).
This side of heaven, there will never be a sin we are incapable of committing, and to think otherwise is foolish. Satan is often at his most effective in those areas of our lives that we take for granted, and nothing hurts our witness more than when we have been built up only to fall later in life. Some of the Bible’s greatest heroes fell victim to that reality. David and Solomon, for example, were two of Israel’s greatest kings and served God well early in life only to watch all that they’d built begin to slip away as sin took hold in their final years. If a man after God’s own heart and someone gifted with divine wisdom can fail in that manner, then we can as well.
Christ’s call to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect should be the guiding motivation for all we do in life (Matthew 5:48). If there’s some aspect of who you are that falls short of that ideal today, then ask God to help you change it. If there’s any area in which you feel spiritually invulnerable, know that the enemy has most likely already begun eating away at that pillar of strength in your walk with the Lord. For better or worse, our race doesn’t end until we are face to face with Christ. Run it well.