I received a number of responses after my last article was posted to social media on the topic of spiritual transformation. I was not surprised to find that the predominant question raised by my last article was basically why? Why write on the topic? Why draw attention to the topic when transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit? In this article I would like to address these questions with three reasons why spiritual transformation is important for every Christian believer.
Let me begin by saying, what is being asserted here is not a form of legalism, works-righteousness or a works-based form of religion, but rather what is being postulated here is that there should be a natural flow of obedience to the Word of God that springs from the inner workings of the Holy Spirit and love that has been cultivated in the heart of the believer. The grand and glorious hope for every Christian is to possess a love for God the drives them to the Scriptures to hear and receive something from God that will bless their heart and give strength for the journey. It is a pursuit that is born out of love and a hunger and thirst for God that cannot be quenched by any other. However, with this said there are many today, even professing Christians, who lack this sense of love and thirst for God and the concept of it is foreign to them.
As a Christian counselor, I have met with many people who struggle with life and their Christian walk. With some, it is emotional problems, and with others it is their marriage or other relationships. With most, after pealing back the many layers of the onion, what is discovered is the person does not have a hunger or thirst for God and they do not spend any time at all pursuing a relationship with God. There is virtually no evidence of a consistent spiritual life in the form of daily prayer, Bible reading or fellowship. Many times, the problems these people experience in their relationships are a byproduct of their broken relationship with God. They have simply allowed the cares of the world to choke out their spiritual life and their love has grown cold. With most, what is needed is to cultivate their love toward God and to apply biblical principles to their life.
These findings should come as no surprise as the declining spiritual health of the church has been documented in a number of publications. According to George Barna’s statistics concerning the evangelical church in America, only one-half percent of professing Christians describe their relationship with God as being an intimate relationship.1 That’s only 1 out of every 200 Christians who say they have an intimate relationship with God! If Barna’s statistics are correct, this is tragic, and something needs to happen. What is needed is revival in the hearts of believers; that hearts would once again be directed toward God as their primary love over and against all other concerns of the world causing the glory of God to spring forth once again in the hearts and lives of believing Christians. What is needed is transformation.
The following is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but here are my top three reasons why transformation is important for every Christian:
Spiritual transformation is mandated by Scripture
First, spiritual transformation is mandated by Scripture. There is the undeniable expectation and the express intent of God set out in the pages of Scripture that believers will be transformed into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. With this transformation, believers are to be unified in spirit with the common goals of evangelism, discipleship and fellowship as they grow in the love, knowledge and grace of Christ with the expulsion of sin and growth toward spiritual maturity.
Paul disseminates the theme of transformation and conforming to the image of Christ in a number of passages throughout his writing of Scripture. The following are but a few.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
–Romans 12:2 2
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;”
“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
Spiritual Transformation is Evidence of Sanctification
Secondly, the process of spiritual transformation is to grow in sanctification and holiness which involves the eradication of sin. The Apostle Peter writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God calls believers to be set apart from the world and to holiness. Again, the Apostle Paul admonishes believers toward holiness when he writes, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
One of the more profound passages supporting the concept of spiritual transformation is found in Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul expresses the need to organize the church on Crete through the appointment of elders and to correct the damage caused by false teachers’ instruction (Titus 1:11).3 Sound teaching and godly living are central components of this message and its purpose of countering the false teaching on Crete. Therefore, the main theme of this brief letter is right teaching leads to right behavior. As such, Paul is working to shape and change the morals and ethics of the believers in Crete and transform their lives that God may be glorified in and through them. Paul writes,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
The cross is the grand proof of God’s righteous and ferocious abhorrence for sin and therefore we must not fool ourselves into thinking that sin does not matter. God wants us to be at total war with sin in our personal lives.
One of the most dangerous threats to the life of the church down the centuries has been the error of antinomianism. The word antinomianism comes from the Greek words anti (against) and nomos (law). Antinomianism is the claim that it is unnecessary for Christians to preach or obey the moral law (especially the OT).4 This error is the idea that because Christ has atoned for sin, it does not matter if our discipline is slack as Christians, because Christ has paid for it all. But, as Robert Linder states, “Though Christ’s atonement for sin is complete and thorough on our behalf, that is to draw the wrong conclusion from the cross.”5 Christ had to die to save mankind from sin. It makes no sense that Christians would become lazy about repentance from it. The Apostle Paul states, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1–2).
Kay Smith, the wife of Pastor Chuck Smith, said many things in her Bible Studies, but one of her more profound sayings that has circulated through the church is her statement about godly living and sin which is, “I refuse to entertain myself with the things Jesus died to remove from the world.” It is true, it was because of God’s love that Jesus died on the cross to redeem mankind from the power of sin. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
The following from John Benton’s commentary clearly illustrates this point:
Imagine a father and son trapped in a remote cave, with an anti-personnel explosive mine positioned at the only exit. They are lost. The father checks this device and realizes that it is impossible to defuse it. They are trapped. Time goes on but there is no way out. They are certain to die of starvation if nothing else. Imagine that eventually the father, having with tears explained the situation to his loving son, decides that the only way to save his son’s life is to go and throw himself on the mine in order that his son may go free. If the father carried out such a rescue, and his son escaped to freedom and to life, how would the son feel about anti-personnel mines for the rest of his life? Would he be likely to treasure them? Would he keep one on his mantelpiece as a point of interest in the home? No! He would hate the wretched device which killed the father he loved. Just so, though we are free, sin is the explosive which cannot be defused, and Jesus is the one who graciously sacrificed himself to set us free. The grace of God in the gospel teaches us to hate sin. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to worldly passions.5
Spiritual Transformation is a Foreshadowing of Things to Come
Lastly, spiritual transformation is a foreshadowing of things to come as part of God’s eternal kingdom at the end of the age. Paul writes,
“Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”
–1 Corinthians 15:49
We have borne the image of the original earthly man of dust, but God will not wait to begin His work in the life of the believer and will immediately set out to begin transforming us to the image of His Son. Dr Joel Green explains:
Restoration to the likeness of God is the work of the Spirit within the community of God’s people, the fellowship of Christ-followers set on maturation in Christ. From this vantage point, “image of God” points ultimately to the transformation of believers in resurrection, a transformation already at work in the creation of a new humanity through the dissolution of barriers dividing human beings from one another along gender, social, or ethnic lines.6
The transformative work of God within the inner man is a foreshadowing and in preparation of the kingdom life that awaits every believer. The Apostle John writes,
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
–1 John 3:2
God seeks to begin His work through the power of the Holy Spirit transforming our hearts and lives according to His design for us. It is, therefore, every believer’s eternal destiny to be changed according to God’s plan for their lives. Submitting ourselves to the transformative work of God’s Spirit changing us into what we are destined to become is part of the saving grace of our life in Christ.
Hopefully this article has been helping to answer the question of why spiritual growth and transformation are important to Christians. Any theological argument postulated against transformation is indefensible in light of Scripture and with what we know about the Christian church today. By consistently submitting ourselves to God and practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading and fellowship with other believers we grow into a deeper more intimate relationship with God and experience spiritual growth and are transformed to be like Jesus.
In my next article I will talk about how God’s grace works in the transformation of believers changing them to be more like Jesus.
Questions for Reflection
- How would you describe your relationship with God today? Are you closer and more intimate with God today, or have you become more distant in your relationship with God?
- Are you making effort to pursue a relationship with God toward spiritual growth and maturity?
- Do you consistently practice the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer and church attendance, or are you inconsistent and unstructured with your approach to a relationship and worship of God?
- George Barna, Maximum Faith: Live Like Jesus, Experience Genuine Transformation, 2011, Table 4, Kindle Edition.
- Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article has been cited from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
- Douglas Mangum and E. Tod Twist, Titus, ed. Douglas Mangum and Derek R. Brown, Lexham Bible Guide (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), digital ed.
- Robert D. Linder, “Antinomianism,” ed. Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 62.
- John Benton, Straightening Out the Self-Centered Church: The Message of Titus, Welwyn Commentary Series (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1997), 129.
- Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. Edited by Craig G. Bartholomew and Christopher R. Seitz. Studies in Theological Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008, 69.