If a Leopard Can’t change his spots, what hope is there for me?

My devotional reading today in Jeremiah was aided by a quote from Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will shared by John Meunier on his blog, which reads,

[T]he Scripture sets before us a man who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick and dead, but who, through the operation of Satan his lord, adds to his other miseries that of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, possessed of liberty and ability, whole and alive. Satan knows that if men knew their own misery he could keep no man in his kingdom.

Luther knew that apart from a miraculous work of grace in our lives our bondage to sin and death is absolute and total.    The most frightening thing about our bondage is that we cannot see it.  It has become such a natural part of our lives, so ingrained in our being, that we cannot imagine a life any different.   We even begin to approve of those who do the same things we are doing, or who remain in a bondage similar to our own (Rom. 1:32).

Which leads me to the passage in Jeremiah that spoke to me today:

Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jer. 13:23, NIV).


So long as we think we are essentially good people who occasionally do bad things we remain blind to our disease, and thus to the cure.   It’s not until we are brought to a place where we cry out with Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” that we are on our way to freedom.   We would not know that about ourselves – that we are wretched – unless the Holy Spirit revealed it to us by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.    Rather,  we would tell ourselves “peace, peace” like the lying prophets of Jeremiah’s day (Jer. 6:14), and we would gather around ourselves teachers who would tell us the same (2 Tim. 4:3).

We are born into sin in the same way a leopard is born with spots, and you and I, left to ourselves,  can no more change that state than a leopard can change his skin.    Ephesians 2:1-4 reminds us that we are “dead in our sin” and we walk according to the course of this world, feeding the passions of the flesh.   We can do no other unless God intervenes…and God did!

Jesus did not die on a cross just so you and I could remain in bondage to our sin, applying superficial healing to our wounds, but to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).   If you are in the pit of despair today, and you are beginning to see your wretchedness – your spots – and despise where your sin has brought you, then REJOICE!  You could not and would not see this for yourself, but only through the supernatural work of God in your life, destroying the work of the devil which has for so long kept you blind to your disease.   And what God has begun in you He will see to the finish!  Continue saying YES to Him, and you will, by God’s grace, find yourself free…a NEW creation!  (2 Cor. 5:17).

A friend recently asked me, incredulously, “You mean I can be FREE from the lustful thoughts that have kept me in bondage for years?”   The answer to that is the same answer Paul received when he saw his spots in Romans.    He knew that left to himself he could not change his spots, or free himself from bondage to sin and death.  There was only one answer for him, and for us today:

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25)


4 thoughts on “If a Leopard Can’t change his spots, what hope is there for me?”

  1. Your reflection leads me to believe that progressing in the Christian life is about “becoming less sinful, with fewer “spots.” It is not my intent to attack any colleagues who are faithful workers for the kingdom of God. However, as we explore the biblical letters of Paul in the New Testament we find quite pronounced themes of a Christian being “two different persons” rolled into one. Or as Luther would say, “simul iustus et peccator.” On the one hand simply put, a Christian though saved, is and always will be sinful by nature, disobeying God’s commands, doubting God’s Word, and succumbing to the affections and the desires of the sinful nature.(Lutheran Handbook II) On the other hand the Christian also shares Christ’s attributes in his new identity . .love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal.5:22) In this relationship with Christ we have the assurance of being a cross-marked child of God forever forgiven, with the proof that who we are in Christ comes from outside of ourselves. God has decreed our identity by cleansing us with Jesus’ blood, clothing us with Christ in baptism, and declaring us to be His child, forever forgiven. This does not mean that we will attain any degree of spiritual perfection or that we are free from our sinful nature. The amazing reality is that we all struggle with our sins. Some of us struggle mightily against them and we frequently fall and the “spots” remain. However, the good news of the gospel is we continue to be found
    righteous before God. God’s righteousness through Christ Jesus is imputed to us. God doesn’t see our spots when He views us. Therefore, faith in Christ continues to be a repeated crisis of repentance and faith. It’s a “daily drowning and dying” so that “daily a new man can come forth to live in righteousness and holiness.” (Small Catechism) While Luther urged his followers to develop Christian graces, I don’t believe He would concede that the “spots” can be eradicated. At this juncture I would be hopeful for such a spot removal, but I am not overtly optimistic. In my understanding of the teachings of Scripture, as long as live on this side of heaven, we will continue to fall short of God’s perfect pattern of life.

    1. And yet the scriptures repeatedly exhort us to walk in the Spirit, not the flesh. Those whom the Son of God has set free, they are free indeed (John 8:36).

      I agree that in this life we will always be in a battle with our flesh, but it’s not a battle we should be losing the longer we walk with Christ. Since this blog deals primarily with sexual sin, I’ll focus just on that: God calls sexual immorality a sin. It separates us from communion with God. Either the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the dead and is now at work in us, can break the power of the devil in us or He cannot. If I can walk in purity for one hour today, why not 24? Why not for a week? Why not for a year? Why not the rest of my life?

      God will always reveal to us more of our sinful nature as we walk in the light (so yes, we will never be completely sin free this side of heaven), but the Christian who is still in bondage to the same sins today as they were a year ago, then their growth is stunted. Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) Much hinges upon our answer to that question. Tragically, many love the darkness more than the light, and refuse to believe they can walk in it (John 3:16ff).

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