Christianity 201

March 24, 2017

Examine Yourself

Last year at this time I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’re going to share two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website.

The Man in the Mirror

by Billy Alexander

Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40).”

Bucknell University did something interesting recently. They covered all of the mirrors in the residence hall with construction paper to block reflections in what they called, “No Mirror Monday,” as part of a program to promote “body positivity” and “self-love.” (1)

At a surface level, the idea is to ignore the body shaming of the world and to promote positive self-esteem among the student body. However, in essence it is an effort to cover up the truth and confronting the truth of the image we are presenting to the world. In a spiritual sense this is a daily practice of many in the world. They do not merely go out unaware of their physical appearance but they ignore that their character is spotted by many stains (Psalm 73:6, Romans 1:28-32).

Men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) but because of sin and “self-love” that image has been marred and disfigured grossly. To be certain, we must all have a proper love of self (Matthew 22:39) but to promote this without looking in the metaphorical mirror is dangerous. The Scribes and Pharisees dressed themselves up in false humility and appeared to be the most religious and righteous men on earth. But Jesus rebuked them for not examining their inner flaws, saying that they “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish but inside were full of extortion and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25-28).” Jesus told them that they were blind to truth or their actual appearance before God. The Lord cautioned that on Judgement Day “many” will be shocked to find that they will be cast away from Him forever (Matthew 7:21-23). How else could they be unaware of their unsightly appearance to the righteous Judge unless they ignored their visible spots and blemishes?

Jesus continued on to tell us that the wise are those who “Hear and Do” what He instructs (Matthew 7:24). James expands on this notion by saying, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:23-24).” This is the state of those who hear the Bible and do not put the precepts into practice. What of those who fail to hear what the Bible says (John 12:48)? They have covered up the mirror of the soul (Hebrews 4:12) and go about blind to their true condition. We must all seek to see ourselves as God sees us.

Imagine failing to look in the mirror and going in for a job interview with a stained and untucked shirt, disheveled hair, and spinach in your teeth. Would you really ever dare such thing before a person who could determine whether or not you gain a job? Yet so many are heading into a much more fateful appointment (Hebrews 9:27) without ever laundering their garments and preparing properly (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If we allow Him to do so, God seeks to restore all of us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). “The Bible itself functions as spiritual direction, for as we read it prayerfully we are being formed more and more into the image of Christ. (2) Jesus is Himself the image of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3) and has made God visible to us all (John 1:18). As we examine His character and model and follow Him we become partakers of the divine nature forsaking the habits of the self-seeking world (2 Peter 1:4). Look deeply into the perfect law of liberty Christian. Day by day the wrinkles, stains, and scars are fading and the high definition image of God is being perfected in you. As we look into that mirror and see His image there is no shame in that.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).”


  1. http://libertyunyielding.com/2017/02/27/bucknell-u-promotes-positive-self-image-covering-mirrors/
  2. Richard J. Foster, A Celebration of Discipline, HarperCollins, 1978, p.187

August 14, 2016

Servants, Friends, and Brothers

•••by Russell Young

  “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:15, NIV)

Many apply the encouragement of being friends with Christ to themselves, although the Lord was clearly speaking to his disciples. The wording contains several points that might enlighten the reader concerning the status that the Lord has presented for friendship with him.

He said, “I no longer call…” All of redeemed humankind start their lives as servants (Rom 6:22; Eph 6:6; Rev 22:6).  They have been bought with the blood of Christ (1 Cor 6:20) and belong to him (Rom 7:4; Jas 2:7). He is their lord and master and without obedience to his call upon their lives they cannot achieve the holy state that is required for eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) Those who are Christ’s must be led by him. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) It is against human nature to want to be ruled by another; but, without the instruction, leadership, and power of Christ no one can live righteously. Those who are blind need a leader. The believer is to live humbly before Christ. (Mt 23:12; Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:6) His beginning is that of a servant.

The reason that Christ elevated the relationship of his disciples from servant to “friend” was because they knew his business and what he was about.  He had revealed his business to them and they had heard and had chosen to participate in its accomplishment.  They knew him and had forged an honourable and loving relationship with him. They no longer needed the level of guidance that a servant requires because they understood his will and had responded according to it.  His mission became their mission. Friends take seriously the heart and the goals of friends.  The requirement for service had not changed, but oversight and direction for it was no longer necessary; the Lord’s purposes were being mutually achieved.

Readers of God’s Word should not confuse the issue; they are servants until their heart is in tune with God’s will and their practices reflect his purposes…until his will has become their will.  Until such a state exists, the believer remains a servant and requires direct and personal leadership from the Lord; he remains a servant.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [“power”, KJV] to become children of God.”  (Jn 1:12, NIV) John’s teaching is that believers have the power (The power comes through the Holy Spirit.) to become children of God. Paul has recorded, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14, NIV) It is Paul’s teaching that believers (those who follow the Lord’s leadership) “are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:29) They will no longer display the characteristics and interests of their old nature, but will have been conformed to his.

servants friends and brothers  Being classified as a son of God is an even greater elevation.  A son of the Father is also a brother of Christ. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister, and mother.” (Mk 3:35, NIV)

The privilege and honour of being elevated to the status of a brother of Christ from being a friend is not one that is given freely and without cost.  The believer’s adoption comes at the redemption of his body (Rom 8:23); it follows his conformation to the likeness of Christ. The person who would enjoy the privilege of a brother of Christ and of a son of God must warrant it. He or she must have the characteristics of a son so that they might belong in the family.  They must honour and love their brothers, including Christ, and they must obey their Father. (Mt 7:21)

A son or daughter knows the affairs of the household because they are in it and commune personally with those in it and especially with their Father, loving him, seeking direction from him, and honouring him. Those who in their arrogance reject the authority of the Father through his Son and who continue to disregard his admonitions for righteousness and obedient service, who remain slaves to sin and their own interests, will not be a permanent part of God’s family. (Jn 8:35)

Those of this world are God’s enemies, alienated from him; their interests are not his interests. As they separate themselves from the world through the ministries of Christ they will be brought to the various relationship stages…first as a servant, then a friend, and into the relationship of a son of the Father and as a brother of Christ.

August 7, 2016

The Signs of Eternal Salvation

•••by Russell Young

Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope.  The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made.  Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:

  1. img 080716enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
  2. do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
  3. obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
  4. do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
  5. purify themselves. (3:3)
  6. see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
  7. love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
  8. experience answered prayer. (3:22)
  9. experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
  10. know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
  11. suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
  12. love others. (4:7)
  13. have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
  14. are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
  15. have a clear conscience. (3:21)

No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it.  Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body.  The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness.  A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4).  The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.

A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules.  It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service.  Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience.  Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him.  The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.

The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.

God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)

The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him.  It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained.  The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul.  Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure.  Humankind is part of that creation.  When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer.  Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.

May 7, 2016

Spiritual Warfare: The Battle in Scriptures

Eph 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

According to my recent search, we have covered the topic of spiritual warfare many times here, but tucked away in a very old post — you had to click a button to read the full piece — I discovered a collection of scriptures on the topic, and thought they were deserving of being presented here. These are from a sermon I did many years ago in Toronto, and I think I was in my NLT phase at that time! Many of the copied texts are consecutive verses in the same passage.

1) We are in a war.

2Ti 3:12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2)     We are fighting on enemy territory.

1Pe 2:11 Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls.

Jhn 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

3)     We are not to use the enemy’s weapons

2Cr 10:3 We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods.

(We don’t fight the way the world fights.)

2Cr 10:4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds.

2Cr 10:5 With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ.

4)     We may lose some skirmishes but eventually we win the war

a) We can do this!  Previously attained perfection is not required.

Rom 7:21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.

Not the verse you were expecting? And this was Paul!   But using the language of the Olympic games, he “pressed on toward the prize” and wrote:

2Cr 12:6 I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message,

2Cr 12:7 even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.

2Cr 12:8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.

2Cr 12:9 Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.

2Cr 12:10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So he’s saying, ‘don’t look for inner strength, but know there is strength in weakness.’ We can do this, but on his strength, not our strength.

b) We are the “occupying army” that God has to work with on this enemy territory.  Yes, it makes no human sense!

Similarly, victory will come through his logic and reasoning, not our logic and reasoning.

1Cr 1:25 This “foolish” plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength.

1Cr 1:26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you.

1Cr 1:27 Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful.

1Cr 1:28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important,

1Cr 1:29 so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

c) But we are “people in process,” people being changed into something new.

2Cr 5:14 Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live.

2Cr 5:15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

2Cr 5:16 So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!

2Cr 5:17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

So we enter into the battle not weighed down by who we were yesterday, but knowing who God is making us into today.

d) The result is that we are to take on the holiness of a holy God.

His picture of what we are collectively becoming is beautiful and radiant.

Eph 5:26b-27 (Message) – Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.

e) But it begins with us as individuals: 

What the church is becoming collectively begins with you and me, and our choosing to strive for holiness and righteousness.

Rom 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.

 

April 22, 2015

We’re Children of… Who?

Midweek columnist, Pastor Clarke Dixon, returns after a two-week absence. Click the title below to read at his blog.

A Work in Progress. A Reflection on 1 John 3:1-10

If all the scripture we had to go on were verses 8 and 9 of 1st John, we would be incredibly stressed Christians:

8 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. 1 John 3:8-9 NRSV

From this alone we would come to the conclusion that the congregation and pastor together are a collection of devil-children. We know that we do sin and can sin. So what are we to do when the clear word of scripture does not align with our experience? Do we head down the path of despair that we will never measure up?

We remember that the Word of God contains more than these two verses. We do not need to go very far to find some comfort, indeed before John speaks about our sin, he speaks about God’s love:

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are”  1 John 3:1 NRSV

John in speaking to those who have repented of sin and turned to God in Christ does not say “we might be His children . . . ,” or “we could be His children, if we are perfect everyday in every way,” he simply says “we are His children.” Before we look at our sin and conclude that we are devil children, we look at the cross and the empty tomb to see we are God’s children. Before we look at our ability to attain perfection in purity, we look at His ability to love the impure person.

Also, we notice that perfection in purity is the goal toward which we are to progress, and so imperfection is assumed in the present. If you were to ask me how my bathroom renovation is going and I were to say “it will look good someday,” you will immediately know that it does not look good just yet. We have this same thing happening in verses 2 and 3:

2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 NRSV

“What we will be has not been revealed,” in other words let us not dive too deep into conjecture as to precisely what our resurrection bodies will look like. Paul uses the analogy of of a seed becoming a plant to describe what happens when this body becomes a resurrection body. We are not told too much about the plant! But what we do know, as John points out, is that we will be like Jesus. And what is Jesus like? Verse 3 answers that: “he is pure.” If we look forward to perfect purity when Jesus returns, we know we still have sin now. We are a work in progress.

However some will stop with “we are a work,” and will forget the progress part. They will point to the love God has for the sinner and conclude that it is okay to remain a sinner. That misses the point for several reasons as John makes clear:

First, only a fool will make no progress toward a worthy goal. It is a foolish handyman who does not desire progress toward the goal of fixing a leaky roof. It is foolish beyond measure to not progress toward purity. John assumes that we will: “we will be like him . . . all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” I can attest to the fact that progress is exciting in renovation projects. When it comes to holiness, progress toward the goal is even more exciting!

Second, to continue in the enjoyment of sin is to act contrary to God’s activity. It is the foolish employee of a roofing company who takes a shovel to potter around a garden instead of getting to the job of ripping off old shingles. As John points out:

“You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” 1 John 3:5,6 NRSV

Third, to continue in the enjoyment of sin is to show a family resemblance to a father we should want nothing to do with, a father we should completely disown:

7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. 10 The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:7-10 NRSV

On the one hand, if we desire a family resemblance to the devil rather than to our Heavenly Father, then yes, we should suspect that our relationship with God is in question. John is dealing in his letter with heresy that was threatening to infect the church which included the notion that a life of sin does not matter. It does!

On the other hand, the presence of sin in our lives is not automatic proof that we are not God’s children. It is proof that we are a work in progress. Are you already perfect? Are you making progress?

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:8,9 NRSV

 

August 23, 2013

Sanctification: The Potter and the Clay

” … that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26)

Today’s article is much longer and you MUST (!) click through to read it in full at BibleKnowledge.com so please don’t just read this outline; but if time is tight right now, you might want to scan what’s below and then highlight a section for consideration.
Potter-and-clay
The potter and the clay image isn’t actually quoted in the article; the author assumes you know it comes from Jeremiah 18:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

and again in Romans 9:

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”  21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

The former passage seems to speak of nations and kingdoms, the second might be used to speak of election or predestination. Still, Biblical commentators over the years have embraced the image of the potter in reference to God working out his perfect will and our sanctification in each of us.

(As I was preparing this, my wife pointed out that the popular verse — also in Jeremiah — “For I know the plans I have for you…” (29:11) is spoken to Israel as a nation; but “we are an individualistic society, and we figure if it’s there it must apply to me…  to an extent if it applies to the nation it does apply to the individuals that make up that nation, but the context is plural.)

Back to the actual reading for today — which you might want to bookmark and read on a day you have extra time — here are the ten points:

1. God Needs the Word in Us Before He Can Start the Sanctification Process

2. You Have to Be Properly “Centered” in Jesus Christ

3. Sanctification is a Slow, Steady, and Progressive Process

4. God’s Hand Will Personally Mold, Shape, and Transform You

5. Let God Develop You to Your Fullest Potential in This Life

6. God Knows Exactly What He Wants to Do With Your Life

7. Do Not Stretch Beyond the Boundary Lines That God Has Set Up For Your Life

8. God’s Eyes and Attention Are Always on You

9. God Will Always Be Doing Major Pruning in Your Life

10. Let God Mold You Into the Specific Person He Wants You to Become in Him

Previously at C201:  We’ve looked at the potter and the clay here and here. There’s also a 3-minute video here.

Related music: Have Thine Own Way (traditional hymn)

March 8, 2011

Christ Formed In You: Spiritual Transformation

I want to introduce something a little different today.  Sometimes a blogger will work their way, chapter by chapter, through a current Christian book.  Others will dedicate a whole blog to promote a particular book they’re enjoying.  We’re going to crash in the middle of a blog which is the latter type, set up to promote the book Christ Formed in You by Brian Hedges (Shepherd Press).   If it whets your appetite for more, click back to the beginning or, better yet, buy the book.

This one is titled The Pattern of  Spiritual Transformation.

How does God get us up on our feet and moving in the right direction? What are some of the basic elements we need to understand in order to walk more like Jesus? Two related passages of Scripture give us the answer.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

In these verses, Paul provides us with five essential elements which make up spiritual transformation: the goal, the motive, the cost, the process, and the power. Each element is important. We must have the right goal, if we’re to know what we’re striving for. We also need to be rightly motivated in our pursuit, while at the same time fully understanding and embracing the cost. An understanding of the process is also essential, if we’re to fully cooperate with it. And, of course, we must be resourced with power, or we’ll get nowhere.

1. The Goal: The Image of Christ

As we saw in chapter one and have repeatedly emphasized throughout this book, the goal of spiritual transformation is conformity to the character of Christ. We see this in 2 Corinthians 3:18: we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” This is God’s eternal purpose. As Romans 8:29 says, God has “predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son.” He wants to make us more and more like Jesus in his spotless holiness, humble service, radiant joy, and self-giving love.

2. The Motive: The Mercies of God

Next, consider the motive, which Paul declares with the phrase, “the mercies of God.” This again takes us back to the thrust of this book. All genuine spiritual transformation is driven by the gospel.

Sometimes Paul’s letters are somewhat evenly divided between an exposition of the gospel and encouragement to his readers to live differently because of the gospel. But in the book of Romans, the first eleven chapters (out of sixteen) are almost entirely one great and glorious exposition of the gospel. Then we come to the first phrase of the first verse of chapter 12, which includes a “therefore” encompassing all that came previously. After eleven complete chapters explaining and extolling the glories of the gospel, how does Paul summarize it all in a single phrase? “Therefore, by the mercies of God . . .”

Paul is saying that the gospel is ultimately about God’s mercies [i] lavished on us in Christ, even when we were enemies to God (Rom. 5:10). God has justified us freely in Christ (Rom. 3:24), liberated us from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:6-7), and indwelt us by his Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 13-17). God did not even spare his own Son, but gave him up for us (Rom. 8:32). This level of mercy and grace, this stunning demonstration of unwavering commitment to those whom he loves, assures us that God will give us everything we need. What amazing mercy! Only the ravishing taste of such mercy and grace can change us.

3. The Cost: Present Your Bodies as Living Sacrifices…

4. The Process: Renewing the Mind…

5. The Power: The Spirit of the Lord…


[i] God’s mercies include: righteousness (3:21-26), redemption (3:24), grace (3:24), peace (5:1), grace (5:2), justification (5:1), hope (5:4-5), the love of God poured out in our hearts (5:5), union with Christ (6:1-11); freedom from sin (6:1-23; eternal life (6:22), freedom from the law (7:1-25); no condemnation (8:1), the Spirit (8:9), sonship (8:14-16); the hope of the future redemption of our bodies (8:23); the Spirit interceding (8:26-27); all things working together for our good (8:28), conformity to Jesus Christ (8:29), calling (8:30), glorification (8:30), and so on.