By James L. Morrisson
A. God expects us to be radically transformed.
God expects that, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will be radically changed. In Romans 12:2 he tells us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (metamorphoo) by the renewing of your minds." (All Scripture quotations are from the N.I.V. unless otherwise noted.) This transformation is to be a metamorphosis, of a magnitude at least comparable to that by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. He expects us to become totally different.
Scripture uses many different images to express the change that should occur:
Each of these metaphors, in a different way, emphasizes the magnitude of the change that is expected. Each is dramatic and astonishing in itself; their cumulative effect is even more powerful. We are talking about a tremendous transformation. It should be visible to others, but its internal effect should be far greater than what others can perceive.
B. The goal of this transformation.
What is the goal of this metamorphosis? Scripture states it in a number of different ways, which overlap and can be seen as different ways of expressing the same basic concept. Scripture often does this, because our minds are inadequate to comprehend, and our language inadequate to express, the full scope of God's revelation to us.
1. To become like God in character
The whole concept can be summed up in the simple and astonishing statement that we are to become like God. Not like God in power; we can never aspire to that, although we can move in much greater power than many Christians have ever imagined. But like God in character. We are to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 5:24), the "new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col 3:10). "We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18). "When he appears we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). We are to "participate in the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). We can have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:5). (Emphasis added in each case).
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26). With Adam's Fall, much of that image was lost. But with Christ's sacrifice for us, those who accept him as Lord and Savior can be restored into God's image. "Just as we have born the likeness of the earthly man [the first Adam] so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven [the second Adam, Jesus Christ]" (1 Cor 15:49).
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). We think of this (if we dare think of it at all) as meaning that we can heal, cast out demons and even raise people from the dead. It does mean that and people who have faith in Jesus Christ are doing that now. But does it not mean more? Jesus said that he did only what he saw the Father doing and spoke only the words the Father gave him. Can we, should we, expect to do the same? He said "I and the Father are one". Can we expect this for ourselves? He said "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Can this be said of us? Paul told the Corinthians that they were "the epistles of Christ...written...with the Spirit of the living God" (2 Cor 3:3 KJV). Is not this part of what it means to "be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8), so that people can look at us and see Christ? We are to be witnesses by who we are, not just what we say. Jesus expects that there will be something different about us, that people will be able to look at us and know that we are his disciples (John 13:35). He said of his disciples, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it" (John 17:16).
Let us look at some other ways of expressing the same concept.
2. To live for the things that are unseen
Two of the great statements about this transformation are contained in 2 Cor 3:18 (we "are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory") and 5:17 ("if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation"). A look at what is said between those two statements tells us a good deal about the nature of this transformation.
In 2 Cor 4 and 5 Paul repeatedly contrasts the material world in which our bodies now live, and the spiritual world. He tells us that the spiritual world is the real one, on which we should focus. In 5:16 he says, "we regard no one from a worldly point of view." Indeed, he says ( 4:4) that "the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of God." And in 1 Cor 2:14 he points out that the man without the Spirit cannot understand spiritual things. Dr. Pat Robertson, in his book The Secret Kingdom, calls the kingdom of God "the upside down kingdom", pointing out that the rules of the kingdom of God often seem the exact opposite of the rules of this world.
In 2 Cor 4:18 Paul says, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." Again, in 5:7 he says, "We live by faith, not by sight." He says much the same in Col 3:1-2: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." God is spirit and he lives primarily in the realm of the spirit. He lived in that realm before there was any physical universe, and he will live in it even though heaven and earth pass away (see Isa 51:6). If we are to be like him, we need to learn to live in it.
This results in a wholly different order of priorities. Where the unbeliever lives only for this life, the believer is already living in eternity. Paul speaks of this in many ways. For Paul, tribulations and difficulties of this world become minor when compared to the glory to come. In 2 Cor 4:16-17 Paul says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (See also 1 Pet 4:12-13; Heb 12:2). He says "Therefore we are always confident" (5:6), knowing that when we leave this earthly body we will be with the Lord, which is better. (See also Phil 1:21). Jesus promised to those who believed in him that "In this world you will have tribulations" (John 16:33), and Paul preached that "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). But we should rejoice in our troubles because we learn and grow from them (Jas 1:2-3; Rom 5:3-5), and because they are far outweighed by the glory that is to come. As believers "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28).
Because we are living in eternity, "those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Cor 5:15). Hence, "we make it our goal to please him" (5:9). We should not be like those who "loved praise from men more than praise from God" (John 12:41; see also Isa 51:12). Jesus has told us, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).
These are all major shifts in our attitudes and priorities. Truly they require a "renewing of the mind."
3. To live by the spirit
When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God sends us the Holy Spirit to live with us and be in us (John 14:15). "God's Spirit lives in you" (1 Cor 3:16, see also 6:19). It is because we have the Holy Spirit living in us that we are able to be transformed. But the process is not instantaneous. The Holy Spirit inhabits our spirit, but our soul and body need to be brought under the Spirit's control.
In Galatians, after describing two forms of living by the flesh - legalism and license - Paul says, "So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law" (Gal 5:16-18; see also Rom 7:6, 8:4-8). To be transformed by the renewing of our minds is to learn to live by (in obedience to) the Holy Spirit who is within us. The evidence that we are succeeding is whether we show the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22). Paul also tells us, "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:16-18). This is almost impossible if we live in the flesh, but possible if we live by the Spirit.
4. To be yielded to God
Part of what living by the Spirit means is that we are wholly yielded to God. Paul puts it this way, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments (weapons) of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Rom 6:13; see also 6:19). We are no longer "slaves to sin, which leads to death" but "slaves to...obedience, which leads to righteousness" (Rom 6:16). "Submit yourselves, then, to God" (Jas 4:7). Jesus told us, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15; see also 1 John 5:2-3). Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing and only said what the Father told him to say. If we would be like Jesus, we need to do the same.
C. How can we achieve this transformation?
The task of achieving such a transformation seems impossible. How can we acquire the character of God? But God always enables us to do what he calls on us to do. We can become like God in character because we have God in us. Jesus abides in us and we in him (John 15:1-8). He has given us the Holy Spirit to be in us forever (John 14:16-17; 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19). As we allow the Holy Spirit who is in us to control our soul and body, we can become like God in character. And he has given us the dunamis, miracle-working, power of the Holy Spirit, the same power in which Jesus ministered while here on earth (Acts 1:8), so that we can do all things through him who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). .
We need always to keep in mind two things about this transformation. First, It is a process. It does not happen all at once. We "are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory." We spend a lifetime learning how to live by the Spirit, live a new life. We must "work out", and keep on working out, our salvation with fear and trembling. We must "make every effort...to be holy" (Heb 12:14). We must submit, and keep on submitting, to God. Over and over and over we must "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5). Near the end of his life Paul did not consider that he had arrived (Phil 3:12).
Some of the passages do sound as if they speak of an instantaneous transformation. We can understand those passages in this way. The change in our spirit comes about immediately. But it usually takes quite a while for that change to be reflected in our soul and flesh. Also, God's time is not the same as ours. A thousand years are as a moment in his sight. 2,000 years ago Jesus said he was coming "quickly"; we still wait for his coming. After Eli told Saul "the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and given it...to one better than you" (1 Sam 15:28) it took 20 years before David assumed the throne.
Second, we and God cooperate to bring it about. We cannot do it ourselves. And God will not usually do it without our cooperation. In this, as in so many aspects of our spiritual life, we and God are co-laborers. "We are God's fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9). "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil 2:12-13). We work and God works. We labor together.
One aspect of the transformation we seek is called showing the fruit of the spirit. An orchardist cannot cause fruit to grow; he can create conditions favorable to its growth and protect it from parasites, diseases and other forces that seek to destroy it. In somewhat the same way, we cannot cause God's character to grow within us; only God can do that. But we can create favorable conditions for its growth - by faith, prayer, study of the word, etc. - and we can protect that growth from enemy attacks.
What is our part in this labor? Let me suggest some aspects of it.
We need to believe that God can and will transform us into his image, that this astonishing metamorphosis can and will occur. We need to consider him faithful who has made the promise (Heb 11:11). "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). We must "believe and not doubt"; if we do not believe that God will do this, or if we are double-minded in our belief, we cannot expect to receive anything from God (Jas 1:6-8).
We must make an act of the will. We must choose to be transformed, choose to put off the old self and put on the new self, choose to live by the Spirit, choose to submit to God, choose to be weapons of righteousness, etc. God, through Moses, told the Israelites, "See, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life..." (Deut 30:19-20). God gives us that same choice today.
3. Stay in God's word
The agent that renews our mind is the word of God. We need both the logos, or general word of God recorded in his Scriptures, and the rhema word specifically tailored to our personal situation and needs. Jesus said "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). James tells us to "receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas 1:21 KJV). Paul says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 3:16). He says that it is by Scripture that the man of God is "thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16). "The word of God is living and active...it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb 4:12). "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every (rhema) word that comes from the mouth of the Father" (Mat 4:4).
Jesus says "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3) We know God primarily through his word. But it is also as we spend time in his word that he sometimes gives us those moments of revelation of himself that are so necessary. Paul prayed that God would give us "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that [we] may know him better", and that the "eyes of [our] heart may be enlightened" (Eph 1:18). The best way to achieve this is to spend time in God's word.
Note that it is not enough just to read the word. We need to let it dwell in us, work in us, become engrafted in us, become a part of us.. Scripture speaks often about the importance of meditating on the word of God (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2; 119:78). The Hebrew word for meditate suggests a cow chewing its cud, working the material over and over to extract all the good from it.
4. Guard our thoughts
If we would be transformed by the renewing of our mind, be made new in the attitude of our mind, we need to guard carefully what goes into our mind. We need to think on those things that are true, noble, right, pure, etc. (Phil 4:8). Even more important, we need to guard against our own wrong thoughts, the thoughts that come from the flesh and not the spirit. We need, to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5). We need to do this, not just daily, but moment by moment.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault" (Jas 1:5). The same principle applies to any other quality we lack. "You do not have, because you do not ask God" (Jas 4:2). "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (Jas 5:16). And Jesus told us "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Mat 7:7). The form of the verbs means "keep on asking", "keep on seeking", "keep on knocking". When we keep asking God to change us into his likeness, we unite our will with his and make it possible for him to co-labor with us.
Jesus told his disciples "that they should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1). We are to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb 12:1). We must "show this same diligence to the very end in order to make your hope sure" (Heb 6:11). Scripture is full of words telling us to apply ourselves diligently to the task before us. We are to "pursue", "make every effort", "press on", "continue", "stand", etc. The promises of God do not usually drop in our laps. They come to the one who persists, presses in, keeps on keeping on. "The kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it" (Mat 11:12).
7. Resist the enemy
There is an enemy who does not want us to succeed. His purpose is to "steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10). If he cannot prevent us from being saved, he will try to keep us ineffective. He does not want us to take on the image of God for two reasons: (1) he hates God; (2) he knows that if we do take on the image of God we will be more powerful opponents. So he will do everything possible to distract, discourage and defeat.
Make no mistake. We are dealing with spiritual warfare here. The Spirit and the sinful nature "are in conflict with each other" (Gal 5:17). Within our body sin is at war against God's law (Rom 7:23). "The sinful mind is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). "The weapons of our warfare" have divine power to demolish strongholds in our minds, and to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:3-5). The image of putting off our old self and putting on the new may sound as easy as taking off one coat and putting on another, but there is an enemy who will resist it stubbornly every step of the way.
The primary battleground is the mind. It is the mind that God wants renewed and it is in our mind that the enemy most often attacks us. Hence the paramount importance of feeding our minds on Scripture, praise and communion with God, and of learning to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Jesus Christ.
We fight the enemy, not in our strength, but in God's. "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Eph 6:10). The weapons we fight with have "divine power" (2 Cor 10:3). "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says God (Zech 4:6). Jesus has given us "authority...over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19), but it is only when we submit ourselves to God that the enemy will flee from us (Jas 4:7; compare Acts 19:13-16).
If we recognize the enemy's work, submit ourselves to God, and stand firmly against the enemy, he will not succeed. If we fail to recognize the enemy, fail to submit ourselves to God or do not take a stand against the enemy, we may allow him to obstruct or defeat the transformation we seek.
8. Keep the vision
"Where there is no vision the people perish" (Prov 29:18 KJV). We need to keep hold of the vision, to keep our eyes on the promise God has given that we can be transformed into his likeness. We need to focus on the unseen promise, and not on what we perceive in the natural as our shortcomings or the seeming slowness of any progress. We need to keep reminding ourselves that "with God all things are possible" (Mat 19:36), and that God "calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom 5:17). Let us, then, push aside all sense of discouragement or failure, "throw off everything that hinders" (Heb 12:1), and "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called" us (Phil 3:14).
2002 by James