We Christians talk a lot about the transforming effects of the gospel of Christ, and rightfully so, but I sometimes wonder if we have forgotten that for followers of Jesus Christ transformation is also an expectation.
In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
The expectation of transformation is built into that passage, so much so that Paul says that every Christian should be intentionally fending off the temptation of conforming to the pattern of this world by pursuing the consistent renewal of his or her mind. The effect of this transformation is the ability to clearly identify the will of God.
But for many Christians our ability to keep the will of God in clear view has been greatly hindered by our willingness to conveniently overlook the expectation of transformation. And our favorite way of bypassing this expectation is by creating socially-acceptable excuses for our lack of transformation.
Let me explain.
I used to have a pretty bad temper. I hid it pretty well until my frustration built up to the point where that temper would blow, causing me to lash out at the nearest person or object. The problem was that it didn’t take long for my frustration to build to the point of explosion.
Now, here’s the catch: The things that usually made me mad were the “right” things: injustices, unfair treatment of others, immorality, and disrespect for God and the Bible. Because of this, I reframed my temper in my mind as “righteous anger.” And I excused my “rage” since I was standing up for truth and righteousness.
And if that excuse didn’t work, I would just blame my temper on my heritage: “I’ve got some Irish in me so I come by it naturally.”
But as I continued on my journey with Christ, I kept being confronted by passages of Scripture like Galatians 5:19-25 (emphasis mine): “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
The more I “sat” with that passage the more I realized that my “righteous anger” was not righteous at all. In fact, it wasn’t even of God, much less glorifying to God. My temper came from my fleshly passions and desires – passions and desires that should be crucified. If I did not surrender the passions and desires that gave rise to my temper to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then I would not inherit the kingdom of God.
Well, I’m glad to say that as I have sought “to keep in step with the Spirit” my temper has significantly subsided. But this never would have happened unless I confronted and accepted the reality of my sin (instead of excusing it) and got serious about the type of transformation that was expected of me as a Christ-follower.
Here’s my point: While none of us is perfect, if you have stopped pursuing the transformation of your spiritual and moral character then you are not following Christ as you should. If you have excused your gluttony as “being fine the way you are,” or your anger as “that’s just the way I am,” or your gossiping as “just shooting the breeze,” or your lying as “exaggerating,” or your lust as, “hey, I’m a guy” then you have completely missed the point of what it means to be a Christian who claims the gospel of Christ.
That gospel is not content with keeping you where you are nor can it be reduced to simple self-improvement. The gospel pushes you to take on the very character of Christ. Paul put it like this in Romans 8:29-30: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
The words “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” do not mean that God simply wants to round off your rough edges. No, he wants you to be like Christ in your character – because that’s God’s will for you.
In Christ, you and I see the truest picture of who we are to be. So, when we excuse our sinful behavior as “this is who I am” we stand in denial of the very gospel goal we claim to follow.
Let’s stop excusing our un-Christ-like habits and attitudes and let’s start embracing the expectation of transformation that is inherent in the call of Christ.
The “greatness” (as God defines it) that we crave only comes through great expectations.