By Kyle Idleman
Transformation fascinates us. We love to see things transformed, whether it’s a house being restored, a wardrobe being replaced, an addict being rehabbed, or a face or body being made-over. In fact, I bet if you made a list of your favorite movies, many of them are stories of transformation. We love it when a bad team becomes a great team, or a wooden puppet becomes a real boy, or a pauper becomes a prince, or a bad guy becomes a good guy, or a car becomes a robot.
We are inspired by transformation. Why is that?
JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION
If someone were to ask you, “How long does it take to become a Christian?” what would you say? Probably most of us would answer that it just takes a moment. When we decide to make Jesus our Savior and Lord, He removes our sin from us and in that moment, and from that moment on, we stand before God without blemish or defect. The Bible calls that “justification.” It means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” Justification is a big-time and one-time occurrence. You can circle the date it happened on a calendar.
Justification is powerful and miraculous. It takes just a moment, but it changes everything.
And then comes sanctification.
Sanctification is a process. God is continually at work within us, molding us into the image of Jesus. It’s not only a process, it's a partnership. God doesn’t force transformation on us; we work with him on it.
In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul lays out the sanctification process.
If you start a diet and exercise program, the first thing that they’ll do is weigh you and measure you in places you never wanted to be measured. Why? Because it helps to know where you’re starting from, to get an accurate picture of what your reality has been. To own some things. It should also inspire you to want to change. That’s why Paul begins by saying, “put off your old self.”
I read an article a few years ago that helped me think more deeply about what makes up the old self.
First, there’s your DNA. The Bible says we’re born with a sinful nature, and I think some of it is inherited. Part of it is that we inherited from Adam and Eve an inclination to sin. But we also received some DNA from our parents. They passed on to you some strengths and some weaknesses. That may be obvious because of your freckles, or big feet, but it’s more than that. Whether it’s from their DNA or from growing up in their home, we tend to struggle with some of the same things they struggled with. We can’t use our parents as an excuse for our sin, but it does help to identify temptations we may face in part because of our family of origin.
Then, there's your decisions. We are a consolidation of the decisions we’ve made.
A lot of us can remember a first decision we made. A decision that was out of character for us, that made us feel guilty because we’d never made that decision before. Perhaps the first time you made a decision to look at pornography, or the first time you decided to turn to a bottle instead of God when you needed some peace, or the first time you yelled in anger at your spouse or child.
Then you discovered the scary truth: When you’ve made that decision a first time, it becomes much easier to make it a second time. And we can get in the cycle of making the same bad decisions. Before long that behavior we never could have pictured us doing seems like it’s become a part of who we are.
Perhaps you feel like that’s who you’ve become - well, it doesn’t have to be who you’re becoming. Jesus has the power to help you put off your old self.
But you’ve got to step on the scale.
You need to recognize and own the reality you’ve been living in.
You need to make the decision to put it off.
The Renewal of Your Mind
I did a survey of the New Testament, because I wanted to learn more about the transformation God wants in our lives, and the kind of thinking we need to have. I’ve had times in my spiritual life when I’ve been stagnant and these principles have made a big difference in moving me forward in my transformation.
1. Think progress not perfection.
In Philippians 3, Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” The idea is that I’m not there yet. Yes, I want to be perfect—that is the end goal—but perfection is a work in progress.
This is important to grasp. Perhaps you’re not happy unless things are perfect and, when they’re not, you’re tempted to quit. Maybe this year you made a commitment that included the phrase “never again.”
“Never again will I raise my voice at the kids.”
“Never again will I drink because I’m stressed.”
“Never again will I buy things on my credit card that I can’t pay back the same month.”
US News and World Report says on average New Year’s Resolutions last less than one month. Why? I think we start off pretty well, but before long, start to have trouble and then call it quits.
2. Think future not past.
Paul also writes in Philippians 3, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” We need to leave the past in the past and move forward towards what’s ahead.
Do you have an invisible chain tying you to your past and keeping you from moving forward? You keep reminding yourself of your failed marriage, or your failures as a parent, or your addiction and the damage it did to those you love.
The good news is that the chain has already been broken. If you’ve said yes to Jesus, what He did on the cross buried your past in the past and gave you a clean slate. Jesus already paid the price, so there’s no reason for you to keep paying for it.
3. Think application not information.
James 1:22 says,
There’s a tendency for Christians to define spiritual growth by knowledge. We assume we’re growing if we know more about the Bible. No. Biblical knowledge is important, but only if we apply what we know. If you know more, but don’t live it, all you’ve done is deceive yourself. The deepest Christians aren’t those who know every theological answer, but those who humbly rearrange their lives around the Word of God.
So stop assuming you’ll grow if you ingest lots of the Bible, and start making it your priority to live the Bible.
4. Think training not trying.
We want to become more like Jesus. Part of that is not sinning when we’re tempted, and doing good when we have the opportunity. How do we do that? Most Christians would say we need to try harder.
But it’s not about trying.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 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.”
Perhaps you’ve gotten the message over the years that the way we live a holy and righteous life, the way we are sanctified is that we try really, really hard. But it doesn’t happen through trying; it’s through training.
That’s why it’s so important to be in church every week for worship, and in a Bible study, and to serve consistently, and take time daily to pray. Why? Because that’s how you grow. That’s how we train to be more like Jesus. As you train, your old self will fade away and your new self will grow stronger.
5. Think God’s power, not willpower.
The Bible tells us in Ephesians 1: “How incredibly great is his power to help those who believe in him, the same power that raised Christ from the dead” and in 2 Peter 1:3, “(As we know Jesus better) his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.”
Relying on your power will not lead to transformation. It’s God’s power that transforms us. The Bible does not say that we make ourselves holy, but that we’re “made” holy. Passive tense. It’s something done to you. God transforms you through his power.
God wants to change you. He wants to take your:
Anxious personality and give you peace.
Bitterness and turn it into kindness.
Lust and turn it into genuine love and respect.
Mean streak and transform it into goodness.
Edgy personalities and transform it into patience.
God is in the change business.
Maybe you’ve made some New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Being thinner or richer may make you feel better temporarily, but remember, it's only external. True transformation means partnering with Him by being made new in the attitude of your mind.
Why do we love transformation? Because we aren’t fully who God made us to be, not yet, but he’s going to get us there, as Paul describes in Philippians 1:6,
“I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus comes back.”