Skip to comments.True (and False) Transformation
Posted on 01/17/2005 9:51:06 PM PST by Choose Ye This Day
True (and False) Transformation
Two counterfeit forms of spiritual maturity, and one way to find the real thing.
Hank had been a Christian for 50 years. By the time I came to pastor Hank's church, he was an old cranky guy. He had been a member there since he was a young cranky guy.
Hank complained about his family, he complained about his job, and one day, he began to complain about the church's music. He stopped people in the church lobbyvisitors, strangersand said, "Don't you think the music in this church is too loud?" We sat him down and told him he had to stop that. I figured that was the end of it.
Several weeks later, I got a visit from a man from OSHA, the government agency that oversees safety in workplaces. I wondered, Why is someone from OSHA here to see me?
He began explaining dangerous decibel levels at airports and rock concerts. Then I realized what had happened. Hank couldn't get satisfaction anywhere else, so he called OSHA to report that the church's music was too loud!
I started laughing. I apologized to the OSHA agent for making light of the situation, but it just struck me as silly. The agent said, "You think you feel silly? Do you have any idea how much abuse I've taken at OSHA since everyone found out I was busting a church?"
Fifty years in the church hadn't brought a smile to Hank. He was just as grumpy as he had always been, maybe more.
How can we help people like Hank grow to be more like Christ?
Hank's lack of joy wasn't only his fault. He hadn't changed, perhaps because we didn't expect him to. We expected him to attend, to tithe, to serve, and to stay away from certain scandalous things. But we didn't expect transformation, significant change on the inside and outside.
Unfortunately, we hadn't helped him to change, either.
In Romans 12:2, "Be transformed by the renewing of your minds," the word translated transformed is metamorphoo, from which we get metamorphosis. Paul uses a variant of that word in Galatians 4:19, "Until Christ is formed in you" (emphasis added). The transformation God desires for us is a process of morphing into Christlikeness.
My son was once obsessed with the television show, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The teenagers on this show would yell, "It's morphing time," and then they would receive power to do extraordinary things.
I liked that so much I tried to use it at Hank's church. It wasn't a liturgical congregation, but I tried to teach the people a liturgy where I would say, "Let us morph." The people were supposed to respond, "We shall morph, indeed." They encouraged me to move to Chicago not long after that.
But for Christians, it is morphing time. When Jesus told us the kingdom of God was at hand, he wasn't referring to a someday promise beyond the pearly gates. The kingdom is supposed to be marked by changed lives and by the fruit of the spiritlove, joy, peace, and so on. But our churches and pulpits are filled with people who, under the surface, are just as anxious or driven or unsettled or angry or unhappy or ego-fed as anyone outside the church.
Why aren't the people of the kingdom morphing?
Some years ago, a Christian leader wrote, "One assumption in particular has haunted me throughout my Christian experiencethe assumption of the changed life. I was taught that if I was a Christian, people would see a marked difference in my life. I was taught that the closer I was to God, the more spiritual I was, the greater and more visible the difference would be. I believed that Christianity would change you outside, not just inside.
"I don't believe that anymore."
He isn't the only one that's given up. Spiritual transformation is missing in many churches because failure in the pursuit of it has caused us to settle for less. At least two common counterfeits are passed off as transformation.
Settling for the minimum
Sometimes we mistakenly think the Christian life is primarily about entrance to heaven. We're content with conversion when God is calling for transformation. Rather than expecting the kingdom of God to revolutionize lives today, we hope it will happen in heaven tomorrow.
Somewhere along the line we swapped out Jesus' gospelthrough him we can be transformed into citizens of the kingdom of God, right now, todayfor a gospel of heaven's minimum entrance requirement.
The difference is illustrated in a scene from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As King Arthur and his knights seek the Holy Grail, they come to a bridge that spans an abyss "of eternal peril." A bridge keeper allows people to cross this bridge only if they can answer three questions. Get one wrong, and you're tossed into the pit.
Lancelot is the first to test the bridge keeper. The keeper asks him, "What is your name?" Lancelot answers.
"What is your quest?"
Lancelot answers, "To seek the Holy Grail."
"What is your favorite color?"
"Right," says the bridge keeper, "off you go." Lancelot crosses the bridge, amazed this was so easy.
The second knight similarly states his name and quest. But the third question is now, "What is the capital of Assyria?"
"I don't know that."
Suddenly the knight is hurled, screaming, into the abyss.
The third knight, Sir Galahad, is nervous as he's asked his name and quest, but he answers correctly.
"What is your favorite color?"
Sir Galahad panics. "Blue no, yellow. Aaaaahhhh," he screams as he is hurled into the pit.
Finally, the king steps up. "What is your name?"
"Arthur, king of the Britains."
"What is your quest?"
"To seek the Holy Grail."
"What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?" (Don't ask. It's a goofy theme that runs throughout the movie.)
"What do you mean," asks Arthur, "an African or European swallow?"
"What? I don't know that," answers the bridge keeper, who immediately is launched into the abyss. Arthur and his followers thereafter cross the bridge unhindered.
Many people's idea of the gospel is that some day we'll get to the bridge to paradise and be asked, "Why should you be allowed to cross?" As long as we answer correctly, we make it across. Answer wrongly, and we're cast into the abyss. The gospel is redefined to be the announcement of the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven.
In Hank's church, this is all we asked of him. He knew the words. He knew what his standing before God was based on. But we didn't know how to transform his life.
Jesus never said, "Now I'm going to tell you what you need to say to get into heaven when you die." The gospel writers make it clear that Jesus' good news was that we no longer have to live in the guilt, failure, and impotence of our own strength. The transforming presence and power of God is available through Christ, right here, right now. To live in that power, you must become his disciple, or as Dallas Willard captures it, his apprentice.
Unfortunately, too many apprentices are burning out because they're seeking spiritual transformation the wrong way.
Only looking the part
A second counterfeit form of spiritual maturity is outward appearance.
In his commentary on Romans, James Dunne noted that first-century rabbinic writing focused on dietary law, circumcision, and Sabbath keeping. Why would the rabbis spend so much time on these ancillary aspects of the faith?
Because all groups want to define who is in the group and who is out. Groups tend to establish "boundary markers" to make this distinction. Sociologists define these markers as highly visible, relatively superficial practiceslike dietary laws and Sabbath customs.
Conforming to boundary markers too often substitutes for authentic transformation.
The church I grew up in had its boundary markers. A prideful or resentful pastor could have kept his job, but if ever the pastor was caught smoking a cigarette, he would've been fired. Not because anyone in the church actually thought smoking a worse sin than pride or resentment, but because smoking defined who was in our subculture and who wasn'tit was a boundary marker.
As I was growing up, having a "quiet time" became a boundary marker, a measure of spiritual growth. If someone had asked me about my spiritual life, I would immediately think, Have I been having regular and lengthy quiet time? My initial thought was not, Am I growing more loving toward God and toward people?
Doctrine can also be a boundary marker. Dallas Willard said, "One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not to hurt anybody with it. Yet Jesus was always right, and he never hurt anybody with it."
Boundary markers change from culture to culture, but the dynamic remains the same. If people do not experience authentic transformation, then their faith will deteriorate into a search for the boundary markers that masquerade as evidence of a changed life.
A pastor once asked me, "Isn't your church worldly?"
"What do you mean by worldly?" I asked him.
He answered, "People in the world listen to contemporary music, and you use contemporary music in your church. People in the world use drama, and you use drama. Everybody knows that Christians should be different from non-Christians by being more loving and joyful and all that stuff, but everybody knows we're not. So shouldn't we do something to make ourselves different?"
I felt like saying, "In other words, if we can't be holy, then we should at least be weird?"
Where people are not growing more loving and joyful and truthful and compassionate, Christians have often tried to look different in other areasweird boundaries disguised as holy differences.
Doctrine, behavioral standards, and even sanctified peculiarities may identify who's in the club, but they also present a façade of pseudo-transformation, masking an unchanged life within. Authentic transformation happens a different way.
The way to transformation
When Paul writes about being "morphed" in Romans 12:2, he gives a command, but in passive voice. He doesn't say, "Transform yourself"; he says, "Be transformed." We can't make transformation happen ourselves; it is something God does to us. But what then is our role in itpersonally and in our churches?
1 Corinthians 9:25 says, "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." Here is the reason many people give up on transformation or accept boundary markers as pseudo-transformation: we spend ourselves trying to be transformed, when the Bible calls us to train to be transformed.
There is an enormous difference between trying to do something versus training to do it. Take for example a marathon. How many of us could run a marathon right now? Even if we tried, really, really hard? But many of us could run a marathon eventually, if instead we trained for it.
While I cannot speak Russian, no matter how hard I try, I can be transformed into a fluent Russian-speaker with training. I'll need to pass my eyes before a new alphabet over and over. I'll need to recite with my mouth and with my mind a new vocabulary. Eventually, the training will allow me to become a new speaker.
Training means arranging life around those activities that enable us to do what we cannot do now, even by extreme effort. Significant human transformation always involves training, not just trying.
Too often in our churches, people hear us talk about what an amazing person Jesus is. They leave thinking, I've got to try hard to be like him. We're unwittingly setting them up for frustration. When the trying proves ineffective, they eventually quit or rely on external trivialities to pretend they're transformed.
Authentic spiritual transformation begins with training, with discipline. As we train ourselves in godliness, we begin to overcome the limits of sinful patterns. The purpose of that discipline is always freedomtraining myself to be free of the obstacles that hinder my transformation.
Two types of training
The training required varies from one person to the next, depending on maturity and the particular sins that need to be addressed. Sins can be loosely divided into two categories: sins of omission (not doing what I ought) and sins of commission (doing what I shouldn't).
Dallas Willard wrote in The Spirit of the Disciplines (Word, 1988) that the spiritual disciplines, the tools of training, can be divided into two corresponding categories: disciplines of engagement, like worship or study or prayer; and disciplines of abstinence, like fasting or solitude or silence.
There is a connection between the type of sins that I wrestle with, areas in which I need to grow, and the disciplines that will train me for transformation in that area. As a general rule, if I'm struggling with sins of commission, then the disciplines of abstinence train me. For example, if I struggle with gossip, the discipline of silence trains my mouth not to speak unbridled.
Likewise the disciplines of engagement train us against the sins of omission. For example, cranky Hank was omitting joy. The discipline of intentional celebrationengaging in activities that celebrate God, life, creation, and other people, and thanking and praising God for all of itwill train Hank toward a life of joy. Hank may not see the results of this training immediately, but that's the way to rearrange his life around opportunities for the Spirit to increase his joy.
If you are struggling with impatience, training may mean rearranging life around opportunities for the Spirit to increase your patience. Deliberately drive in the slow lane on the freeway. Purposely get in the longer line at the grocery store.
If the Holy Spirit is calling you to break patterns of sin, merely trying leads to frustration, but deliberately training leads to change.
Spiritual transformation is a long-term endeavor. It involves both God and us. I liken it to crossing an ocean. Some people try, day after day, to be good, to become spiritually mature. That's like taking a rowboat across the ocean. It's exhausting and usually unsuccessful.
Others have given up trying and throw themselves entirely on "relying on God's grace." They're like drifters on a raft. They do nothing but hang on and hope God gets them there.
Neither trying nor drifting are very effective in bringing about spiritual transformation. A better image the sailboat, in which if it moves at all, it's a gift of the wind. We can't control the wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts the sails accordingly.
Working with the Holy Spirit, which Jesus likened to the wind in John 3, means we have a part in discerning the winds, in knowing the direction we need to go, and in training our sails to catch the breezes that God provides.
That's true transformation.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership journal.
Click here for reprint information on Leadership.
Summer 2002, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Page 100
Great post..Thank you!
You're welcome. I love this guy's way of simplifying and clarifying what is truly important.
This is (mostly) from Ortberg's excellent book, "The Life You've Always Wanted." I highly recommend it.
Most of the time, I feel like a Hank.
We all have Hank days..I am trying to avoid thinking about the sins of omission part.Oh, my.
Yes, me too. I commit what I should omit, and omit what I should commit.
So there's the sins of commission, sins of omission...and I think at times I'm also guilty of sins of transmission. That's when I transmit my bad attitude to someone else (usually my wife or one of the kids).
Great article to start the day!
No-brainer: Because the Word of God is not being taught. The demons inside this Hank character should have been rebuked in Jesus Name and sent to hell so that man could have been delivered.
Interesting that the pastor laughs at a complaint about loud music. Today's churches have the volume so high the people can't hear themselves sing. And so, they don't sing. Usually, the song leaders are the few who are singing.
Auditory damage? Who cares? These churches are into "feel good" music. If people aren't becoming more like Christ, perhaps it's because the leadership aren't providing good examples.