A Leopard Can’t Change Its Spots

Learning from the past to press on in the future.

by Roy A. Borges

The beginning of a new year is a good time to take inventory of my life. Can I improve who I am? Can I become a better person this year than last year?

The skeptics say once a criminal, always a criminal. They say I can’t change. I’m like a leopard: I can’t change my spots.

New creature

It’s not unusual for my past to be considered when decisions are made about my future. The judge did when I was sentenced. The parole board did when I was denied parole.

Two things I can say about the past with certainty: 1) it can’t be changed; 2) God isn’t looking at it. He has forgiven me for it and forgotten it. He has placed it as far as the east is from the west. He says I’m a new creature in Christ, that the past is gone (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We all make mistakes in life; there was only one perfect man, God’s Son Jesus Christ. God wants to change me into the image of His Son so He can call me an adopted son.

Forward march

Paul, one of Jesus’ worst enemies, was changed by the power of Christ. He wrote, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

I’ve discovered Christian living is a forward march, following God as He beckons me to reach forward for what He has placed before me. When I stay close to God and put my trust and faith in Him, He gives me not just the wisdom but the confidence to change.

Reasons for change

Ultimately, it comes back to the reasons I am changing. Is one to impress the authorities, the world, or my own desires to get out of prison? Or am I changing to please God and to know Him better?

Each day I change. In fact, I change every minute as I do what God wants, or I don’t and live with the consequences. Either I turn my back on compromising lies and choose to follow and trust the Bible, or I accept the worldly view, ignore God, and live in sin and disobedience.

Faith, I’m learning, doesn’t stand around with its hands in its pockets. I can’t claim God’s forgiveness, expect His help, and then live as I please. The fact that God lights my path doesn’t mean He covers my tracks.

Living for Christ

“He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). However, seeking God’s way of doing things doesn’t mean continuing to be disobedient and doing what I want instead of what God wants. Jesus died for my sins, but it is not a license to act as I wish. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

Living for Christ means I let Him live through me. It’s a daily choice — one I’ve learned to deal with in prayer, asking Him to guide me and forgive me when I let Him down and then leaving the outcome to Him. He is the potter: “The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred . . . so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (Jeremiah 18:4).

I don’t understand it, but I know God is at work shaping and removing those imperfections that keep me from becoming like Christ.

A new heart

The truth is, a leopard can’t change its spots, and with people the past is not forgotten. However, God can help me learn how to use the past to change my future. No matter how spotted the past, He can change the inside. He can create a new heart in me.

The skeptics are right: I can’t change my spots. But I know Someone who can. Do you?


Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.