Spiritual Transformation is an important subject in the Christian community and rightfully so. One of the inescapable truths that serious church leaders must grapple with is the apathy of those who populate church pews on Sunday. Common knowledge is that perhaps as much as 90% of all the work in a local congregation is done by about 10% of the members. The numbers fluctuate a bit but this sad template applies to most churches and across denominational lines.
To say that “most” church members are content to show up once a week for a worship service, give some money, sing a few songs, listen to the preacher, and live much like their pagan neighbors the rest of the week is not a stretch. Since this is true, the challenge is how do we get “Mr. Joe Christian” transformed from nominal believer to an on fire disciple?
Based largely on the popular idea that more “activity” equals more “maturity”, many church leaders have simply opted to create more and more opportunities throughout the week for members to be involved. In my view, having committees, ministry teams, and small groups staffed by people with little appetite or aptitude for God solves nothing. Unless church leaders are content with a church that operates like a civic club that methodology is not a good idea.
The apparent question then is how does “Spiritual Transformation” happen? There is no valid answer unless we first know “what” it is. The first thing we must understand is that it is a work of God.
“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13)
This important text, understood in context, lays the foundation for any spiritual transformation of the believer. I invite you to read the prior 12 verses and you will see the Apostle’s plea for selflessness, putting the interests of others ahead of our own, and imitating the humility of Christ. The verse preceding the one above gives the correct response to the knowledge that God is at work in us for His pleasure.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)
The often quoted phrase “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is more often than not taken out of context and misapplied, putting “self”in the seat of power only God deserves to occupy. The “work(s)” we do are in the knowledge that our part of the equation is to humbly walk with God as He directs.
Paul’s absolute confidence in God’s ability to transform believers into the image of Christ should encourage each of us that in our own lives and the lives of those in our faith communities, God is at work!
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)
It is God’s will, work, and purpose to transform every believer into the image of Christ. That work will be final at the resurrection. Until then we must cooperate, on purpose, if we want God’s best life now. We must not only know God is at work but we must do the work of a disciple, that is we must practice the disciplines of the Christian faith. Bible study, prayer, and interaction with other believers is essential to our growth.
A man is what he thinks. The remedy is to think right. The injunction of Romans 12 applies here.
“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.” (Romans 12:1,2)
Two striking truths challenge us from this passage. First, we are to give our whole selves to God as a sacrifice. This is true worship! The implication is human effort alone is worthless to God. Secondly, we must have renewed minds. Unless, and until, we are no longer depending on the energy and resources of human flesh, and we begin to have minds filled with God and his purposes and not focused on our own agenda’s, there will be little “Spiritual Transformation”.
What then is the solution for the church at large? First, know and admit the problem. Our people have not been taught correctly. We have taught for centuries that more “church” related activity equals spiritual growth. Instead of a recipe for maturity this method often results in hypocrite church members.
Once we believe and admit the bankruptcy of human effort we must focus our personal and cooperate teaching and practice on the worth and work of God in us by the Holy Spirit. We must dethrone “self” and invite God to have free access to every facet of our lives.
More trust and less trying, less hustle and more humility, and ego crushing purposeful living and loving will open the door wide for God’s work in us and through us.