Can a Leopard Change its Spots?

Read: Colossians 1:13 – 20

How many times have you heard the expression that a leopard cannot change its spots? It’s a strange irony which causes us to champion change and progress but deny it when it happens for real.

I was reading about the ‘Son of Sam‘ (David Berkowitz, the infamous serial killer of the 1970’s), recently and was struck by how huge a transformation this man had been through. In 1976 he had begun a killing spree, murdering six and injuring ten people, causing fear to spread among the inhabitants of New York City. While in prison he was handed a Bible and while reading it came across this verse (Psalm 34:6):

“This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.”

He was soundly saved. Having been forever transformed, he went on to help and counsel many in the prison in which he was incarcerated.

Berkowitz, claimed to have been lead by the satanic demon Samhain (hence the name Son of Sam), following his voice to kill (Some thought he was saying this in order to escape responsibility for his crimes). His story of transformation really brings home the reality of this verse:

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13)

David Berkowitz was transformed by the power of the Cross and became a brand new person; he was still David Berkowitz but a much better version.

Likewise in the Bible, the story of Paul the Apostle is similarly striking: Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, was aggressively pursuing Christians in order to bring them to book for, as he saw it at the time, leaving the Jewish faith and for blaspheming the name of God by believing in and following a false God, namely Jesus; many would have suffered at his hands. It wasn’t until he met Jesus that he realised that he was persecuting the very God he claimed to be defending and was transformed on the spot into a new person and went on to become the most influential Apostle of all time, commissioned by Jesus to write a huge amount of the New Testament, bringing hope and instruction to countless millions through the ages since.

Paul was in this way likewise transformed by the power of the Cross and became a new person.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Apparently, metaphorically speaking, a leopard can change its spots.

Change is the very essence of the Gospel – Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost and to bring about a partial restoration to the way we were first made; that is in perfection (that is without sin and it’s inherent nature) and in a good and right personal relationship with God. The only way this change can take place is by transferring us from one kingdom to another: the kingdom of darkness, ruled by Satan to the kingdom of light under Jesus. The moment we believe by faith in the saving work of Jesus, through the cross (by us ‘poor people’ crying out to Him and being rescued out of our troubles (Psalm 34:6)), we are transferred and receive an new heart. This is what enables us to live differently: not by anything we ourselves by our own efforts can achieve, but only by a completely changed heart and by the coming under new headship/ownership, having been rescued from the bondage of a dark domain.

Consider for a moment the principles of conveyancing (some Bible versions use the word conveyed instead of transferred): When someone moves house they change locations, but the properties themselves haven’t moved, they have come under new ownership; the ownership has been conveyed/transferred to the new owner (this is the role of the conveyancing solicitor). We also, upon salvation are likewise transferred from being under the dominion of Satan and his Kingdom of Darkness to the headship of Jesus and the Kingdom of Light. (The Gospel is like a conveyancing solicitor, providing and directing the process of salvation).

But, this is not all: we have received a new inheritance too (Colossians 1:12) and can look forward to an eternity with Him in all goodness and rest instead of the destination to which all who deny Christ will head; a place of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 13:50, 25:30).

Although we are able to make adjustments to our lives as we live and learn and grow, not one of us is able to change ourselves to the extent that we can become good enough to inherit eternal life. You might say that you don’t want eternal life (quite frankly, I wouldn’t believe you if you did), but having been created to live for ever (read here for something I wrote on this), we have no choice. We do however have a choice over our eternal destination and that by faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins we can have a good outcome; the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

Perhaps you don’t believe that someone can change; well, Jesus believes you can and makes it possible and as you have read, even the worst of sinners who repent can be transformed. Trust in the transforming power of the Cross and perhaps you will be one who, like the serial killer:

“…cried [out], and the LORD heard him and [was] saved him out of all his troubles.”

For a less dramatic, but no less transformative account of change, read my story.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Paul

    Thank you for both of your emails which I very much enjoyed reading – very insightful and encouraging indeed.

    Love to you and Karen, Liz    


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s