Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Transforms?

The Bible speaks of God wanting to transform His people from who we are to are to who He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:1,2; 8:29). The Greek word here refers to transformation from the inside. It is where we get our word metamorphosis, the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly from the inside. This is not merely the result of putting on a mask or gritting our teeth and trying harder, but is something God works in us (John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10). This is important, but it can lead to various misunderstandings. This is not some one-time event that instantaneously makes us holy, but a process that goes on throughout the Christian life (Philippians 2:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). Now I do not want to put down people's spiritual experiences, because I believe God can use particular spiritual experiences to minister to people and bring them forward on the journey to being the people God wants them to be. (There may be some experiences that are not genuine, but unless they contradict Biblical teaching, it is not for me to judge.) But the problem comes when we exalt any one experience to be all that is necessary to be spiritual or when we see following a particular formula as all we need to follow God. Further, it is a mistake to claim everyone must have our particular experience to be truly spiritual. If we make some one experience the standard for judging spirituality, it  leads to pride and complacency if we feel we have attained to this artificial level of spirituality or discouragement if we have tried and failed.

We can also conclude that we have no part in contributing to this transformation. But Scripture does call us to respond to what God is producing in us (Romans 6:12-14; Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7). There is no indication that this involves some high-flown secret, but merely the decision to go along with what God is working in our lives. But it also involves trusting in the fact that it is His work and not something that comes from us (Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:28,29; Psalms 127:1,2). Nor does this negate God's using various things in our lives to help bring about this transformation: the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16,17; Hebrews 5:11-14; Psalms 19:7-14), prayer (Ephesians 6:18-20; Philippians 4:6,7; James 1:5-8), and the fellowship of other believers (Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:11-16; James 5:13-16). The key thing we need to recognize is that none of these things are simply mechanical, that they all depend on God working in us to use and apply them to change us. We need to resist both the idea that we can trust in our own abilities and diligence to produce God's work in us and the idea that we can sit passively and expect this transformation to happen automatically without our engagement. There is a paradox here, but we must beware of oversimplifying the process either way.   

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