Transformation: Then and Now
Written by Pastor Jim Law
In our last post we focused on how Romans 12:1,2 is vital instruction for closing the “Gospel Gap.” This term describes the disparity in a believer’s life between their biblical/gospel knowledge (what we know) and how he or she lives. Paul’s point in Romans 12 is that life on the altar is presenting ourselves to God which necessarily means a changed life with continual spiritual growth.
Paul commanded believers not to “be conformed to this world (v.2).” To know Jesus Christ in a saving relationship is a call to deliberately resist being pressed into the agenda of this world’s system with its values, goals, philosophies, and judgments. This world system is passing away (I John 2:15-17), and it is in conflict with our rightful pursuit of Christ’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Living for this world’s approval is to crawl off the altar and to live off mission.
In contrast, Paul calls believers to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This command fascinates me for a number of reasons. I would like to break this phrase down over the next post or two. The transformation Paul is speaking of refers to the full-orbed miracle of salvation which begins with conversion and includes the ongoing process of being conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). For the next few moments, let’s take a brief journey and get a reminder of God’s power to save.
Transformation: The Miraculous Work of God’s Grace
Transformation is the result of God’s saving work in this world. It is truly a mystery and a miracle how he moves in people’s lives. Through the preaching of the gospel, men and women are called to repentance and faith. How does this work? How are some transformed by the saving message of Jesus Christ, and others mock or yawn at the Gospel?
I am reminded of Daniel Whittle’s hymn, I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace. A hymn which describes the mystery of God’s saving work in this world.
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
And while Whittle doesn’t understand God’s dealings, nevertheless he is resolved to press on in hope and obedience:
But “I know Whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
In v. 2, Paul uses the word metamorphóō where we get our English word metamorphosis. This term is often used in the study of insects to describe the process of transformation as it matures. In the New Testament, the root word is used to describe Jesus’ transformation from his earthly appearance to his heavenly appearance (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2). In Romans 12:2, we are presented with idea of an ongoing process in a believer’s life that begins with conversion and continues for the rest of one’s earthly life. Paul describes this sanctifying process to the Corinthians as “beholding the glory of the Lord,” and “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).”
How is the transforming power of Jesus Christ presented in real time, with real lives?
To the Gospels we go! I never get tired of reading the record of transformed lives from the inspired pen of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These varied encounters with Jesus, whether a crippled man lowered through the roof by his friends in order to get to Jesus (Mark 2:1-12), or a parable of a prodigal who was lost in the far country (Luke 15:11-32), are presented by the Gospel writers to make the point that no one was too far gone for Christ’s redeeming power (Isaiah 59:1).
Many of us heard the story of Zaccheus as children and were taken by this man who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus. Luke 19 informs us that Zaccheus was a chief tax collector and was very wealthy. We can assume from his later confession that he had accumulated his wealth by defrauding others, namely his own people, the Jews.
When Zaccheus heard that Jesus had entered into Jericho, he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him. Jesus spotted him and called him to come down and informed him that he would be staying at his house that afternoon (Luke 19:5). This self-invitation by Jesus led to an amazing visit and at the end of the day, Zacchaeus declared, “’Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:8-10). The transforming power of Christ came to a man who loved money and thought little about stealing from others. Things would be different from that day forward. Zaccheus was changed.
The Gerasene demoniac is another. Mark 5 records the details of a man who lived in a cemetery and was demonized. He demonstrated supernatural strength for “no one could bind him…,not even with a chain” (Mark 5:3), and many had tried over the course of his life. His behavior was disturbing and frightening as, “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). Luke records that “For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs” (Luke 8:27). So, there we have it. The Gospel writers describe a man who lived in a cemetery, who was demonized by many demons, who cried out and cut himself, and did not wear any clothes. Who would have given him any hope for redemption? Then he met Jesus, who in a moment’s time transformed his torment into peace.
Jesus cast out the “Legion” of demons by sending them into a herd of pigs which in turn rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned (Mark 5:9-13). The wonder of God’s transforming power is captured in this simple assessment, “the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion (of demons), (was) sitting there, clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). Did you catch that? He was now clothed and in his right mind! Accounts like these are presented in the Bible so that you and I might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in him we may have life in his name (John 20:31).
The Apostle Paul shared his testimony several times in the book of Acts (Acts 21:3-21; 22:6-11; Acts 26:12-18). He also shared his transformation with his son in the faith, Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (I Timothy 1:15,16).
The temptation in reading these stories is to think that Christ’s transforming power is confined to the distant past, but history is filled with men and women changed by the grace of God. God is moving in this world calling sinners to himself. This will be true to the end of time (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 7:9-11).
John Newton, known for his dramatic conversion from a wretched life as a slave trader, and later for his hymn “Amazing Grace,” once said: “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.” Every gracious act of regeneration is a miraculous work. Granted many conversions are not as dramatic as the Gerasene demonic or John Newton, but nevertheless lives are changed forever for the glory of God. And with this change, we begin a life on the altar for his glory.