As the Eleventh Doctor regenerates and becomes the Twelfth, he utters one of the most profound thoughts on personal development in television history: “We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good; you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” (If you don’t watch Doctor Who, you should.) Becoming a different person means something a bit more literal for a Time Lord than for us humans, but the principle holds: each of us are different people over time.
You may initially reject that assertion. “Wait,” you say aloud to your computer screen, even though it can’t hear you, “that’s just not so. I’m the same person I’ve always been. I mean, I’m taller than I once was, and my face has changed a bit, the body is a little worse for wear, and don’t get me started on the amount of grey in my hair, but it’s still me.” And that’s all quite true. You are still you, regardless of those physical, superficial changes to your exterior form. But I’m not talking exteriors. I’m talking interiors, interiors you’ve redecorated time and time again over the course of a lifetime.
Who among us can, with any semblance of veracity, aver your desires, wants, feelings, thoughts, interests, &c. remain wholly unchanged since your earliest recollections of them? When you were four, for example, you wanted to be an astronaut and run about in your underpants. (OK, bad example; some of you still want that.) Do you still hate your vegetables, or do you suddenly find yourself ordering carrots when you go out? Sure, you wanted to be president, but then you noticed how rapidly the Commander in Chief seems to age while in office, and now you’d rather give it a miss. As a matter of fact, you’ve abandoned a thousand dreams about various vocations. Your tastes have changed numerous times — not just your taste in food, but in music, clothing (we all had a goth phase), movies, significant others, books, you name it.
You’ve done what you swore you’d never do — and loved it. You turned thirty, forty, fifty, with great aplomb. Your temper gained a longer fuse with different triggers. Your mind began analyzing different points of view and recognized their value and validity. You reformed your ways, gave up your vices. Or perhaps you grew cold, bitter, distant, arrogant, aloof, calculating, and hedonistic. Sometimes change is good; sometimes it’s bad; it’s always different.
So whether you’ve said it yourself or someone else has said it for you, the fact remains: you’re not the person you used to be.
Odds are, you’re not at present the person you will be in the future, either. We constantly change, constantly grow, constantly morph into a different person.
On the negative side, as comic books teach us, all it takes to turn us for the worse sometimes is one bad day. Some trauma with which we simply cannot cope can send us over the edge, make us a darker person.
To make us an entirely new creation of light and holiness and goodness, however, takes the power of the Holy Spirit. Whether they deliberately borrowed the term or not, the early writers of Doctor Who chose the same word to describe the Doctor becoming a new person as theologians use for the moment we become new creations in Christ: regeneration. Through regeneration, the Holy Spirit makes us a different person:
“You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9b-10)
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone; the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
What does this mean for us? It means when we become Christians, we do away with our old sinful ways. We turn from addictions, chains, hurts, habits, and hang-ups. We instead bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are no longer who we once were. We’re different people, new people, better people, forgiven people.
That’s the true gift of regeneration.