Because the concept of transformation is something that is near and dear to the heart of God, it is something that is important to me as well for personal reasons as well as helping others desiring spiritual growth and transformation in their life. In this article I want to talk about the status of transformation and spiritual growth in the church, and then in future articles provide some ways that will help us move forward with the process of spiritual growth and entering into a more intimate relationship with God.
The overriding goal of this article is to wake us up to the reality of our neglect of spiritual growth and admonish the church to get back on track toward growing in their relationship and intimacy with God. Change will not occur until confession is made, and this is merely an effort to draw attention to the state of apathy in the church today to effect change. God desires for transformation to occur in the heart and life of every believer. Unfortunately for many, the process of transformation and growing into spiritual maturity ends short of truly realizing significant transformation.1
Once we come to a place of repentance and have faith and place our trust in the saving work of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, God desires for us to enter into an intimate relationship with Him and be transformed into the image of His Son where we grow to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). The Apostle Paul, writing to the first century church in Corinth writes,
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
–2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB
We are to be transformed, metamorphoō in Greek, which is from where we derive the English word metamorphosis.2 Just as a caterpillar transforms from a worm to a butterfly, we too are to be changed. Therefore, salvation is not the end of growth for believers in Christ but merely the beginning. God’s desire and goal for believers is for them to be transformed and become like His Son, Jesus, and ultimately everything that happens in the life of the believer is working toward that goal of transformation. However, studies indicate that many professing Christians do not follow a biblical trajectory of spiritual growth.
Attitudes Concerning Transformation
George Barna, in his book Maximum Faith: Live Like Jesus , provides some startling numbers with what he calls “the spiritual slide of American Christians.”3 According to Barna’s research, only 18% of American Christians claim they are totally committed to investing themselves in spiritual development, and only 20% indicated they are making a full commitment to their spiritual development. Only 23% said the most important relationship in their life is with Jesus Christ or God. Of those surveyed, 52% said they believe there is a lot more to the Christian faith than they are currently experiencing.4 After examining the findings of his study, Barna states,
If God provides us with a plan [in Scripture] and the power to become a fully transformed person, why then is it that more than 80 out of 100 Americans call themselves Christian, yet only 1 out of every 100 are broken, surrendered, submitted and loving?5
Barna concludes that many who call themselves Christians may not be reflecting the fully transformed life that God would have for them. Barna’s conclusions come after many hours of long hard study of the habits and statements of professing Christians. His intent is purely to discover what is happening within the family of God and provide the necessary information so correction may take place for God’s glory. In the end, Barna concludes that “[what] we witness is a body of Christians who are reactive more than proactive and reflective with their faith.”6 What Barna describes is an apathetical attitude of coasting through Christian life by Christians where they merely respond to, rather than actually take the initiative to pursue God on their own. At this juncture of our discussion it is important to talk about why this is happening?
Why Does Transformation Stop?
There are a number of reasons why many do not progress toward spiritual maturity. I counsel with many who have a history of substance abuse and many have been mentally and emotionally impaired. A sinful lifestyle or mental impairment is sure to hinder spiritual growth. With others, it is becoming distracted or buried with routine life and work and the neglect of their relationship with God. Jesus spoke about the reasons why people neglect their relationship with God or fail to grow in faith and spiritual maturity in His parable of the sower. In Matthew 13 he says some simply fall away due to a lack of understanding (v. 19), while others did not have a firm foundation and drifted when the trials of life came (v. 21). Still others are unfruitful with little or no spiritual growth due to their preoccupation with the things of the world and wealth (v. 22).
Barna describes many Christians with what he calls a “mindless mutiny” or a “hopeless meandering” where they simply stall along the way toward spiritual growth and maturity.7 No doubt, the reasons for their meandering are more adequately described by Jesus in His parable. Ultimately, in every case spiritual growth stops when we prioritize other things over and above our relationship with God.
The preceding provides a starting point with our discussion about transformative spiritual growth. I have surveyed hundreds of books, secular as well as Christian books on change, spiritual formation/transformation and human behavior and have only found a handful that actually provide answers on how to promote lasting change in behavior and life.
Some may not see the point of this discussion because they believe all that is needed is to come to Jesus and all your problems are solved and transformation miraculously happens. However, if they were honest and read the Scriptures more closely, they would find that this simply is not the case, and many continue to struggle with destructive sinful behaviors even after coming to faith. God is good and he keeps His promises and transformation can be a reality, but He calls us to apply ourselves to the task as well and pursue Him in obedience with faith and fervency of heart.
In my next article on the topic of transformation I will discuss different models for discipleship that include ways to apply ourselves toward the task of pursuing transformation in Christ.
Questions for Reflection
- Where are you on the path toward spiritual growth and transformation? Have you given it any thought lately?
- Does Jesus’ parable of the sower describe your attitude concerning spiritual growth?
- It’s not too late to change, for “God gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pe. 5:5). Take action today to cultivate a renewed interest in your relationship with God and spiritual growth.
- George Barna, Maximum Faith: Live Like Jesus, Experience Genuine Transformation, 2011, Table 4, Kindle Edition.
- metamorphoō : James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- Barna, Maximum Faith.