5 Bible Characters Who Went from Bad to Good

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It’s easy for us to think in simple binaries about goodness. We’re used to stories, movies and TV shows where the good and bad guys are clearly defined. But while the title of this post is “5 Bible Characters Who Went from Bad to Good,” that’s not really the complete story. 

As we’ll see, many of the biblical characters have frequent missteps and negative patterns that show up throughout their lives. The Bible doesn’t necessarily tell us stories about people going from bad to good. Rather, it tells us about people turning to their Creator and being willing to recognize and turn from sin when it arises in their lives. Sometimes that’s through an intervention from God (Saul), and sometimes, it’s because they have hit rock bottom (Samson). 

Ultimately, Scripture is more focused on repentance and transformation. When it comes to transforming our character, here are five Scriptural principles that are incredibly important.  

1. Repentance and forgiveness are integral

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord — Acts 3:19

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. — Luke 15:7

2.  Our minds need to be renewed 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. — Romans 12:2

3. In Christ, we are made new

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! — 2 Corinthians 5:17

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. — Ezekiel 36:26

4. As we put God’s will first, we are changed

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5–6

5. God’s mercy and compassion lead to repentance

He does not treat us as our sins deserve

    or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. — Psalm 103:10–12

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? — Romans 2:4

These Bible passages emphasize repentance, forgiveness, transformation and the loving nature of God. They encourage individuals to turn away from wrongdoing, seek God’s forgiveness and strive to live a life aligned with God’s will and principles.

Let’s look at these principles in some Bible characters’ lives. 

Bible characters with dramatic transformations 

The Bible is full of individuals who have an encounter with God and are forever changed. We must remember that we don’t have their entire lives documented for us. So we only get snapshots of these lives. We don’t really see the moments when characters like Joseph or Daniel blow it. We don’t necessarily get to see how things turned out for everyone. 

But let’s examine some of the key moments that demonstrated a transformation in some of these Bible characters. 

1. Abraham  

Before Abraham became the father of God’s people, he was a man named Abram who lived in the land of Ur. The Lord spoke to him, telling him to take his people and head for a land God would show them. This marks a major transition for Abram. As he responded to the Lord, he likely went from an idolator and worshiper of other gods in Ur to following God’s lead. 

But that doesn’t mean that it was all smooth sailing for Abraham. Out of fear, Abram twice (Genesis 12 and 20) talked his wife Sarai into pretending to be his sister to keep himself respected and safe in foreign lands. And twice God has to intervene. 

When the Lord makes His covenant with Abram (Genesis 15), it’s a deciding moment. Abram is promised descendants that are more numerous than the stars. Abram believes the Lord, and at that moment, his faith is credited to him as righteousness. 

But when Abram’s faith waivered, he and Sarai hatch a plan to fulfill God’s promise by impregnating her servant Hagar. This plan comes to fruition but doesn’t align with what the Lord wants. Hagar’s son Ishmael is also blessed by God, but the Lord also promises enmity between Ishmael and Abram’s descendants. 

Once again, the Lord makes a covenant with Abram; this time, He promises that this covenant will extend to Abram’s descendants. He introduces circumcision as a sign of that covenant. As this covenant is established, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, meaning “father of many nations.”

Abraham’s greatest test comes after his son Isaac is born (Genesis 22:1–19). The Lord tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, challenging every promise He’s made to the patriarch. In an act of unbelievable faith and obedience, Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son and is stopped by the Lord at the last minute. This act of faith secures Abraham as a man marked and justified by his faith. 

Throughout Abraham’s life, we see a father of the faith who wavered and struggled. We see him fall numerous times (sometimes rather dramatically), but we also see him rise and follow the Lord each time. 

2. Moses

As an infant, Moses was born an Israelite in Egyptian captivity, and saved from an edict requiring the killing of all newborn Hebrew males. He was found by the pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the Egyptian courts. 

As he grew older, he became more aware of the treatment Jews received from the Egyptians. When he saw an Egyptian slaver beating an Israelite slave, he rose up and killed the slaver, hiding his body. To avoid the consequences of this crime, he fled to Midian where he was a shepherd for 40 years. 

The Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush where he commissions Moses to join Him in saving His people from Egyptian tyranny. It takes some convincing but Moses joins the Lord and through a series of warnings and plagues, delivers God’s people. Moses delivers God’s law to the Israelites. He also built the Tabernacle where God’s Spirit would dwell. 

While wandering through the desert because of the Israelites’ disobedience, food and water were scarce. The Lord told Moses to speak to a rock and water would flow from it, but in frustration, he struck the rock twice. God still caused water to flow from it, but that disobedience would cost Moses an opportunity to enter into the promised land with the Israelites. He would pass the leadership baton to Joshua, and die on Mount Nebo.

Early in his life, Moses had the right instincts (advocating for the Israelites) and the wrong solution (killing the slaver). The Egyptian’s murder sent him on a trajectory where the Lord would wait decades before he put Moses to work for him. And while there are very few people in the Bible closer to God, Moses still ended his walk on a sour note. It’s important to remember that while reconciliation with God and personal transformation is a reality, obedience is a critical part of walking with God. 

3. Samson

God gave Samson the critical role of delivering God’s people from the Philistines. He was blessed with incredible strength. He tore a lion apart with his bare hands, carried exceedingly heavy city gates on his shoulders, and killed a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone.  

But Samson also led a life of careless self-indulgence. He ate honey out of the carcass of the lion he killed, even though touching an animal carcass was strictly forbidden (Leviticus 11:27). He saw prostitutes. He confided in Delilah that his hair was the source of his strength, and it was cut off while he slept. 

The Philistines took him captive and gouged out his eyes. At a temple assembly, they brought Samson out as entertainment. Samson prayed for the Lord to strengthen him one last time, and he pushed down the pillars supporting the temple bringing it down upon their heads. 

Even while Samson was being used by God, he was selfishly doing his own thing. It was only after hitting rock bottom that he had a transformational moment, humbly turning to the Lord in faith. 

4. Mary Magdalene 

Mary Magdalene is one of the most important figures in the gospels. She was a disciple and supporter of the Lord and the first to see His post-resurrection form. It was her that Jesus went to announce that He had risen again. But her story begins much differently. 

Luke tells us that Mary had been delivered from seven demons who had been plaguing her (Luke 8:2). This deliverance changed Mary’s life, and she followed Jesus from that point on. 

Sometimes, like Mary, our transformation happens in a single moment and lasts the rest of our lives. 

5. Saul of Tarsus

Throughout the entire Bible, no one personifies the dramatic change of an encounter with God like Saul (who is also called Paul). When we first meet him, he’s overseeing the first Christian martyrdom (Acts 7). He’s a well-respected Pharisee who is offering his approval for the stoning of a Christian named Stephen. From there, Saul went on to try and destroy the early church by dragging Christian women and men from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 7). 

On his way to Damascus to do more harm to the church, Saul had a sudden encounter with Jesus. 

As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?”

The person replied, “I’m Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. Get up! Go into the city, and you’ll be told what you should do” (Acts 9:3–6).

From that moment on, Saul’s life changed. Not only did he make his life about building up the church he wanted to destroy, but he suffered immensely to do so. He was beaten, starved, imprisoned, stoned and more. Eventually he would even give his life for the gospel. 

It’s fascinating to think that Saul’s evil was done in the name of God. It was his conviction that the church must be stopped from leading Jews astray. It was an encounter with Jesus that set him on the right track. We need to be willing to do deep personal inventory to ensure that our convictions aren’t leading us to do more harm than good. 

Learn about Jesus’ teachings

If you’re interested in learning about what it means to love and follow the Lord, check out our post that covers all the parables of Jesus. It will offer you an overview of all of His parables, linking to more in-depth examinations of many of them.  

To learn more about what it means to serve and follow Jesus and build His kingdom, check out All the Parables of Jesus.