Sunday, October 07, 2012

"Be transformed," he said

We were talking the other day about how to become less apathetic, which in my case means "how to become less self-centered."

It's part of a more general question: how do we change, how do we grow? How does someone become warmer, more patient, less anxious? The Apostle Paul gave us a command ("Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind," Romans 12:2) and other biblical writers gave us various clues, but we don't have a lot of step-by-step instructions. I know a couple of ways that don't work:

  1. Just Trying Harder (Galatians 3:3)
    This doesn't work because my spiritual growth or formation isn't my project; it's God's! John Ortberg gave a terrific sermon on this topic January 10-11, 2009 (link). That command in Romans 12 wasn't worded "Transform yourself"!
  2. Hoping for change but not doing anything (James 2:14-17)
    My growth is God's project (we are his workmanship, Ephesians 2:10) but that doesn't mean I just sit like a block of wood. "Be transformed" is a command, as is "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, love...." (Colossians 3).
So what does work? I actually wrote an essay on this topic in February 2009, shortly after the sermon mentioned above. I still believe what I wrote back then (except for the links that have since broken), though I might summarize things a bit differently today.

The fact is that God must change us; we cannot change ourselves, as I think the Greeks knew too (besides Paul's rhetorical storm in Galatians 3). Our part is to put ourselves in the way of the means of grace.

Okay, sorry for the jargon, but there's a story of a boy who needed sunlight to be cured from some childhood malady. The cure was in the sun's rays, but the boy's part (or his parents' part) was to make sure he got in the way (the path) of sunlight. In a similar way, God must change me but I must stay connected to him.

If I never read the Bible, never pray, never listen to sermons, never share or celebrate or study with fellow Christians, never participate in the sacraments; if I spend my non-working hours watching television, reading pulp fiction and playing first-person shooter games... then I'm not putting myself in the means of grace and am not doing anything to be transformed.

So does this stuff work? If you put yourself in the way of the means of grace, where the sunshine of God's curative rays so to speak can reach you, will you be transformed?

I have to believe you will, if you want to be. What does Philippians 1:6 say? And what does the rest of Philippians say about how to have 1:6 happen in your life? Or mine? We need to practice humility, to give generously, to be aware that God is the one who changes us, to set our minds on what is true, noble, right, praiseworthy, to refrain from anxiety, to let our forbearance be evident to all, and so on. We put ourselves in the path of the means of grace, we walk in the road of grace, and we'll be transformed by the power of grace.

My February 2009 essay is a little less disjointed (and so is this November followup), but that's what I think. You and I can't just work ourselves into becoming better people without a change of heart, and we can't just wish ourselves there either. We need to focus on letting God work his change in us.

Come to think of it, I wonder if that's part of what Hebrews 4:11 means: "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest."

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