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In order to deal with pain and hardship, we must think Scripturally instead of thinking the way that the world does. The theme of transformation runs throughout the New Testament. God does not want us to stay where we are. He wants us to change—radically. Change is often difficult and can be painful. But it is what God wants and expects of us.
God expects that, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will be radically changed, transformed. The Greek word is metamorphoo. This transformation is to be a metamorphosis, of a magnitude at least comparable to that by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. God expects us to become totally different.
Scripture uses many different images to express the change that should occur:
Each of these images, 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.
If a person is not significantly changed by their salvation, then we are entitled to wonder whether their salvation was genuine.
We are supposed to be salt and light to the world, and to let our light shine before men (Matthew 5:13-16). We need to so live that the difference between Christians and non-Christians is inescapable. We need to stand, boldly and clearly, for what we believe.
The Fruit of Transformation
What is the result 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.
Developing Godly Character
The whole concept can be summed up by saying that our character is to become more and more like God’s character.
We are to “…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 NIV), the “…new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10 NIV).
God intends us “…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Romans 8:29 NIV). We are supposed to think more and more like Jesus Christ does. (1 Corinthians 2:16). (Also see Philippians 2:5.)
Let us look at some other ways of expressing the same concept.
Living for Spiritual Things
Two of the great statements about this transformation are:
A look at what is said between those two statements tells us a good deal about the nature of this transformation.
In 2 Corinthians, chapters 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. He says, “…we regard no one from a worldly point of view…” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NIV). Paul also said,
And in 1 Corinthians 2:14, he points out that the man without the Spirit cannot understand spiritual 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 Isaiah 51:6.)
We need to learn to see things from God’s perspective. This results in a wholly different order of priorities.
First, the natural person, the untransformed person, lives primarily for material things. His priorities are those of the material world. In contrast, the transformed person lives primarily in a spiritual world. He lives primarily by faith in God and in God’s word, rather than by his physical senses. He regards the unseen things of faith as more real and more lasting than the material things which surround him. The transformed person is living primarily in a different world, a world in which spiritual rather than material things have primary importance.
Second, where the natural person lives only for this life, the transformed person 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. He says,
Paul says, “So we are always confident” (2 Corinthians 5:6), because we know that when we leave this earthly body we will be with the Lord, which is better. (Also see Philippians 1:21.)
Jesus told those who believed in him that in this world they will have tribulation (John 16:33). Paul said that “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), and that “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV).
However, we should rejoice in our troubles, because we learn and grow from them (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5), and because the glory that is to come is far greater than our troubles are. 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” (Romans 8:28 NIV).
Third, “…those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV). Hence, “…we make it our goal to please him…” (2 Corinthians 5:9 NIV). We should not be like those who “loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). (Also see Isaiah 51:12-13.) Jesus has told us,
These are all major shifts in our attitudes and priorities. Truly they require a renewing of the mind.
Living 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 14:16).
It is because we have the Holy Spirit living in us, and his power working 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.
Yielding to God
Part of what living by the Spirit means is that we are wholly yielded to God. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to obedience and righteousness (Romans 6:16). We submit ourselves to God (James 4:7).
This transformation is a process. It does not happen all at once. We “…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)
We spend a lifetime learning how to live by the Spirit, to live a new life. We must keep making every effort to be holy (Hebrews 12:14). We must submit, and keep on submitting, to God. Over and over and over we must take our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Near the end of his life, Paul did not consider that he had arrived (Philippians 3:12).
One aspect of this transformation is showing the “fruit of the spirit.” A farmer cannot cause fruit to grow. However, he can create conditions that are favorable to its growth.
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, Bible study, and guarding our thoughts.
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 (Hebrews 11:11).
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, and so on.
Stay in God’s Word
The agent that renews our mind is the word of God. It is not enough just to read Scripture. We need to believe it, take it seriously, and follow it. We need to let it dwell in us, work in us, become engrafted in us, and become a part of us.
Scripture speaks often about the importance of meditating on the word of God (Joshua 1:8; Psalms 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.
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. (Philippians 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 our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We need to do this, not just daily, but moment by moment. Whenever we find ourselves thinking unscriptural thoughts, we need to repudiate them, renounce them, and replace them with thoughts that are Scripturally true.
We need to pray for wisdom and for any other quality that we lack.
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 cooperate with his work in our lives.
Jesus told his disciples to persist in prayer (Luke 18:1-7, 11:5-10). We are to “…run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV). (Also see Hebrews 6:11.) Scripture is full of words telling us to apply ourselves diligently to the task before us. We need to keep pursuing, making every effort, pressing on, continuing, standing, etc.