Christian Transformation

Transformation is a popular word in church circles.  Church leaders seek the transformation of their congregations.  Individual Christians seek the transformation of their own lives in sanctification.  Everybody (I hope) longs and prays for the transformation of our culture.  The question is, “What is the goal of all this transformation?”  From what I can tell from internet searches and personal observation, most of the talk of transformation revolves around character and morality.  Pastors want congregations to behave better.  Individuals want to overcome this sinful tendency and develop that godly trait.  The church shakes its collective head at the culture and wants the culture to fly right.

I don’t know that this is the biblical goal for transformation.  It certainly is one element, but I really think we are aiming far too low if this kind of moralistic change is our aim.  In fact, I question whether moralistic direction truly is transformation.  Morality may have many sources.  One may act morally so that he/she will be respected and liked by neighbors.  Another may act morally to justify him/herself in his/her own mind.  Yet another may do so for fear of divine retribution.  None of these are the kind of transformation God seeks in us, yet the church may be quite happy to hold such people up as examples for others to follow.

In the gospels, Jesus, time and time again, proclaimed Himself in terms of satisfaction.  “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Jesus’ invitation is to unsatisfied people (hungry, thirsty, fatigued and burdened) to come and find satisfaction in Him.

A possible response to these examples may be something like, “These verses are about initial salvation, not transformation.”  To this I would first ask, “How do you suppose transformation happens?  Is it not by continually coming to Jesus?”  As Christians, we still experience hunger and thirst for that which we lack.  We continue to become fatigued and burdened.  Therefore, these verses are for us.  Secondly, even if these statements of Jesus were intended to summon the lost to the initial finding of their satisfaction in Him, we still have Romans 12:2.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What is this “renewal of your mind?”  Many people take this to mean that we merely need to think different thoughts.  I, however, don’t think this goes far enough.  Jonathan Edwards believed that the biblical view of the mind encompassed not only thoughts, but also affections, desires, and motivations.  In other words, the mind and the heart are not two distinct organs of spiritual life, but are at least intertwined, if not essentially equivalent.  In this view, the renewal of the mind is a complete upheaval of how an individual interprets and interacts with the world around him/her.  The renewed mind sees and hears all that it saw and heard before.  However, it now looks and sounds different.  What once motivated an individual’s pursuits becomes a hindrance to whole new set of pursuits.  What was once pleasure becomes a source of inner conflict.

Romans 12:2 is not primarily targeting the moral deeds of the Christian.  It is addressing the same thing Jesus did.  The goal of Romans 12:2 is a transformation of that in which we find satisfaction.  It calls us to whole new view of life in which we recognize temporal pleasures for what they are and seek ultimate and eternal pleasures.  The goal of transformation is, first and foremost, a radical makeover of the Christian’s desires and delights.  Christian transformation is not about doing the right thing, but longing for and enjoying the right thing.  Therefore, the goal of discipleship in the church should accord with this goal.

The difficulty in being focused on this goal is measuring progress.  It is much easier to measure church attendance, monetary giving, number of sins overcome, etc., than it is to measure slight increases in joy, godly desire, and Christ-ward affections.  However, the answer to this difficulty is not to continue emphasizing moralistic improvements or bottom-line metrics.  The answer is to continually put forth a vision of life as the pursuit of the only true and lasting satisfaction for the human heart: the glory of God, especially as known in Christ and His gospel.

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