The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1, An Invitation to Transformation.
By the time I was nineteen I knew something was terribly wrong, not only in my own personal life, but in the way I had been led to believe that the best we could do was try hard to be good and hang on until Jesus comes back. No one around me really expected to grow very much beyond accumulating more information and making more resolutions. We could go through a new study, memorize a few new verses, take part in a church ministry, or “take a stand” against some new danger that was looming in the surrounding culture. But that was all we knew, so we called that spiritual growth and encouraged each other to keep trying. Most Christians I knew did not even think transformation was much of an issue. After all, we had the Word, we knew what to do in order to be “obedient” and that was all there was to the Christian life. Transformation was only something those really bad sinners needed when they got converted.
It was sometime during my first semester at Bethel College in St. Paul when I came to the realization that if this was all the Christian life consisted of, the New Testament could have been a whole lot shorter! And a lot of what Jesus and Paul had taught would have to be reclassified as unrealistic ideals which had little to do with the everyday existence of normal people. Maybe the apostles and a few super Christians could relate to “the abundant life.” But most of us could only dream of such things and had to settle for trying hard to be good and not sin.
However, I could not get past the “what ifs” that kept haunting my mind. What if God meant for us to become more and more like Jesus? Not just learn how to mimic what He said or did, but actually develop a heart of compassion and a sense of wisdom and character that He possessed. What if there really was such a thing as an abundant life? What if we had actually lost our way, and no longer knew how to encounter God in ways that would transform our soul step by step? What if Jesus meant it when He said those to whom He would give His Spirit would have a well of water spring up inside them and pour out from them? What if we could “grow up in all things” as Paul prayed? What if everything they said was all true?
Well here’s the good news. That kind of life really is possible!
I am not talking about a health and wealth gospel, or an easy life, or a special prayer that will magically change our life. Rather, this is about a way of proceeding that can change our very character, day by day, “becoming more like Him” (1Jn.3:5) through hundreds of incremental changes in how we think, what we value, what we do when things are hard, how we respond when things go well – changing our basic identity and every aspect of who we are in this broken world.
And here is even more good news … I did not make any of this up! The Bible tells us over and over about a life-changing relationship with God. And while many of us have learned how to gloss over high-sounding passages that talk about becoming more like Christ, the truth is that as we learn how to actively pursue the good things God has for us, our life will naturally begin to change in new ways. And this is not hard to do. People all over the world are now in the process of rediscovering how God meant for us to grow and develop as His children.
The bottom line is this: The kind of life Jesus calls us to is absolutely impossible without transformation! We can try hard to imitate that life. We can even care a great deal about living well. But unless we are changed inside in ways beyond what we can accomplish by our own resolutions, we will never be able to love, forgive, forbear, overcome temptation, or extend ourselves from a heart of joy like Jesus did.
Perhaps even more to the point, what Jesus actually called us to is a transformative life! God’s redemptive purpose is to overcome evil with good* and to restore what has been lost. That includes us. As we are changed, God’s Kingdom is fleshed out in our body and our three dimensional world. We then become first-hand witnesses to what God is doing on the planet and in human lives. Our gospel moves beyond how to go to heaven when we die and becomes an invitation to another way of life – one that brings about healing of old wounds, power to overcome sin, and an infilling of love and grace that pours out to others. God has called us to be changed, to foster change, and to lead others to change. That is the Great Commission (Mt.28) and what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others.
* Overcoming evil with good is The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard)