This is the nineteenth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz.
[For the Easter season: Knowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz]
Some of the most dramatic stories we tell in our books and movies and legends involve the transformation of a person into something entirely different. There is Beauty and the Beast, Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde, and endless science fiction stories of creatures that change shape or species. We love these stories, perhaps because we all know we need dramatic change.
We get our word transformation from the Greek metamorphosis which means to change form. The writers of the New Testament use the word to describe the very best thing that can happen to a person: a change for the better. Not just a slight improvement or a change of attitude, but a true reshaping of a whole life: mind, heart, behavior, attitude, values, relationships, character. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, and it goes on for a lifetime. It is a qualitative change of life from the inside out; what the apostle Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” which includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
The idea of living the Bible holds this prospect: that God’s word, spoken into the core of our lives with power and repetition, is the way of transformation.
Some people don’t think they need God’s help to change. Just “turn over a new leaf” or dig deep and make some new resolutions. While we should respect the intent of those who want to make real changes, we should remember that true change, real transformation, can only occur when simple human willpower is overwhelmed by the power of God. We are up against the powerful deforming effects of sin and the considerable forces of evil.
No wonder we often quote Romans 12:2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (metamorphoo) 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.” Here we have a clear two-fold option. The world (“this age”) has a definite shape or pattern—a morphe. With no divine influence or intervention we will be shaped by the world, its values, behavior patterns, and mindset. There is no such thing as indeterminacy. Every person is shaped and influenced. We will “conform” unless we are “transformed.”
The alternative is to come under the transforming influence of God. To undergo transformation. The heart of spiritual transformation is the intentional, sustained re-patterning of a person’s life after the pattern set out by God when he created human beings in his image. God is the shaper. He formed the universe by his will and word, and he intends to re-shape people who have gotten misshapen by sin. Jesus proclaimed the life-transforming power of God every time he healed twisted limbs, made the blind see, multiplied fish and bread, and called Lazarus out of the tomb.
The “renewing of your mind” Paul talks about reminds us that God’s work is restorative. God is changing things back to the way they were meant to be in the first place. “Mind” is the core of our inner lives where our motives and values reside, and where beliefs are formed and decisions are made. The very worst human biases and malice and evil are at the core, and so it takes a perpetual work of God—at the core—that makes transformation possible.
Transformation is not a method, but there are things we can do to welcome and foster the work of God in reshaping us.
First, we should set aside any superficial clichés about changed lives. It is easy to use the words of transformation. Christian leaders especially are inclined to speak easily about “changing the world.” But humility is the order of the day. Any overconfidence in ourselves will undermine the prospect of transformation. Any pride about a few behaviors changed will set us up for a fall. The one thing Jesus would not tolerate was self-righteousness.
Second, we should commit to lifelong patterns of connection with God. Scripture readingKnowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz. Get it now.
[If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.