Then he said, “In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NJB)
The perfect New Year’s resolution for mothers would be to try and obey this request from Christ. Surrounded by kids, mums especially love this verse becomes it validates the charming qualities we see in our children in a society which tends to overlook the powerless and extol those who are rich and powerful. Most reflections on this verse also focus on our kids’ virtues, virtues Christ extolled throughout His life on earth — such as humility, vulnerability, dependence on others, and the beautiful ability to trust and love others unconditionally without censure.
However, the most pressing question triggered by this verse is: How is it possible for adults to change and become like little children? I can see the wisdom of Christ’s request, and I have the power to alter my behaviour and actions, but it is impossible to transform my ingrained attitudes and impulses. Brutal force cannot turn iron into gold, people into saints, sinful inclinations into Godly virtues.
Instead of the word change, some versions of Scripture use the word converted; some use the word turn. It is vitally important that we understand that the Greek word for turn or change (στρέφω strephō) is in the passive voice (straphēte).
This means God must be the one who changes us; we cannot convert or change or turn ourselves and become like little children on our own. This transformation does not happen by gritting our teeth and forcing it to happen. We must acknowledge we are powerless and ask the Father to do it in us. Just like a small child asks their daddy to help them.
Of course, the first step is to actually see our sin and the really repent and turn back to God, but that won’t transform our inner selves. Believe me, I’ve tried to change, and when I understood the limits of my power, it was like banging my head against a wall. This is led me to the next step — humility.
It is humbling to finally realize how helpless we are to obey God with our own willpower, but in the face of eternal mysteries, it is the only possible response. Anything else would be arrogant. Anything else means we slip into the mistake of the Pharisees, who confused outer conformity to the Law with inner holiness. We all make this mistake but this year, as we consider our New Year’s resolutions, let’s focus on God, not ourselves, and ask God to be the one to change our hearts.