Introduction to Transformation
This is talk 10 in Being the Beloved series of teachings. Last week I introduced how God changes us into becoming who we really are: his BE-LOVED. The process of how God changes us is called spiritual formation. Paul says it in three ways: “My dear children, I am in pains of child-birth till Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19); “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom 8:29); “We are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
The last verse clearly says that it is GOD who changes/transforms us by his Spirit. BUT, it doesn’t happen automatically. It happens via our faith responses; i.e. with our co-operation. Our part, our participation in transformation, is through priorities and practices, also called spiritual disciplines/ exercises. Salvation is God’s eternal life in us. It “relates & assimilates”: interacting with God to imbibe his Being, via our practices. This is how God’s life grows and develops in us, progressively (trans)forming us from inside out into Christ’s likeness. I first discuss the “The Golden Triangle of Transformation” (see the diagram adapted from Dallas Willard), and then comment on grace, disciplines and effort.
Take time to study this diagram by reading and meditating on the texts. The action of the Holy Spirit that progressively transforms us into Christ’s mind and character is pure grace, which is God’s gift that enables change. The Spirit works through two “means of grace” (sacraments): our planned spiritual disciplines and God’s disciplines in ordinary daily life – unplanned events that happen to us. God uses these to grow and transform us, IF or AS we respond to him with faith and obedience in each event, in each trial and temptation. We practice our planned disciplines and learn to respond to God in unplanned disciplines in the context of community belonging, support and accountability: our spiritual family in home groups and church. Spiritual (trans)formation is a community journey. An unaccountable individual life, in the name of privacy, busyness or unavailability, is lonely, isolating and self-defeating. Note: planned and unplanned disciplines are not a telephone booth instantly changing us into a super-christian! Rather, it’s a long obedience in the same direction!
Grace, Discipline, and Effort
We are saved and transformed by grace, God’s enabling gift, which motivates a response called faith/trust in God. And faith motivates obedience as Paul says, “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5). We express faith-obedience via spiritual practices – the “means of grace” by which transformation takes place. Grace (God’s action) and effort (our faith response) has been confused in Evangelical Christianity. Many say “Christ did everything for us (grace), so we don’t have to do anything.” Grace opposes earning: we cannot earn/merit God’s salvation or transformation by our works or effort – it’s pure gift. BUT grace does NOT oppose or deny effort. In fact, if it’s real grace, it motivates effort, as 2 Peter 1:4 says, “Make every effort to add to your faith…” godly virtues. How? By engaging in spiritual disciplines.
A discipline is an activity/practice within our power that enables us to indirectly achieve what we cannot otherwise achieve by direct immediate effort. E.g. an athlete cannot run 100 meters in under 10 seconds by direct immediate effort. He has to train. If he does his daily exercises he will indirectly and eventually achieve their goal of running 100 meters in under 10 seconds. He will be physically fit and conditioned to do what he needs to do when he needs to do it! “Practice makes perfect!” Spiritual exercises are designed to bring us – by training and equipping – into ever more effective co-operation with Jesus and his Kingdom, to live the God-filled life. A disciplined person is able to do what they need to do when they need to do it – as Jesus did – spiritually fit for life with God, doing his will on earth as it is in heaven! So… are YOU fit for life with God? Let not God’s grace be lost on you! Rather, “make every effort” to respond and work with his grace in your spiritual (trans)formation, that you may become the best version of who you are already are: God’s Beloved.