There is a narrative that Hollywood likes to write about around the idea that people don’t ever really change. Can the bad guy really become a good guy? Or are we bound by the nature of who we are? It is an interesting idea that plays out in real life. If the person known to be evil all of a sudden becomes nice everyone is immediately suspicious and starts to wonder what real motive or game the evil person is playing at. Another variation of the theme is the good person takes pity on the evil person, cares for him, and then the evil person repays the kindness with more evil.
But in real life do evil people become good? To answer that question from a Christian perspective look no further than Paul author of most of the New Testament Bible. Paul started as a person filled with violence and hate who eventually became a leader of the Christian church on par with Peter the most famous disciple of Jesus. What we see with Paul is that his transformation was not of his own doing but something miraculous occurs that alters his life going forward.
23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:23-24 ESV
Paul by his own words was a violent man who was sold out for the faith of his fathers.
13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. Galatians 1:13-14 ESV
Paul, also called Saul, was even involved instigating the first death of a Christian, Stephen, after the resurrection of Jesus.
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:54-59 ESV
But something happened to Paul while he was trying to destroy the church of Christ.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11-12 ESV
Paul did not have a meeting of the mind with the church or the disciples. He was confronted by Jesus and forever altered moving from acts of evil to a life submissive to God. Luke in the book of Acts details how this happened.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:1-9 ESV
Paul was not a disciple of Jesus. He did not know Peter or the others in a personal way before his conversion. Paul tells the church in his letter that the gospel, the good news, he shared with them came directly from Jesus. History goes on to demonstrate how complete the change was for Paul. He wanted only harm for Christ in his youth yet in the end he authored most of the new testament and expanded the church beyond Jerusalem more than any other. Paul even willingly went to Rome giving his life to preach Jesus.
To the question Hollywood likes to write about. Can a person change? The answer is most assuredly people can change evil rebellion against God to powerful humility in service to God. But this change comes from God himself it is a miraculous event. We do not need to remain who we were before. Here is how Paul describes this transformation…
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
Even better we do not need to take Paul at his word. In any Hollywood story there is the good that must testify to the change that has occurred in the evil. Who better to validate Paul than Peter the most famous of the disciples?
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV
The gospel Paul preaches is the good news that God wants to reconcile and restore sinners to relationship with their creator. God came to earth as Jesus and paid the cost of sin that we might be free. Through Jesus God offers new life. A restored life like Paul found on that road to Damascus.