Why Transformation is So Hard

“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

Transformers hit theatres in 2007 to the delight of 12 year olds (and some former 12 year olds) everywhere.  Over the next ten years and five movies, the franchise earned nearly $4.9 billion worldwide, proving that colorful toy cars – and Megan Fox – can sell movie tickets.

“I swear that was a ’76 Camaro five minutes ago!”

The heroes, Autobots hiding among humans as vehicles, transform into saviors to fight the villainous Decepticons in a battle for the Earth. This war between Good and Evil has obvious parallels to Scripture – a malevolent force with one purpose seeks to destroy God’s plan for redemption. God’s heroes from Scripture are like the Autobots (go with me on this), ordinary human beings transformed into extraordinary agents of God’s Holy Spirit.

A Common Theme

We’re moved by stories of overcoming challenges and obstacles. For Judeo-Christian Believers, the transformation motif is familiar: David transformed from a shepherd into a King by slaying a mighty warrior twice his size; Job transformed from a wealthy man to a pauper and back again; Jacob’s son Joseph transformed from prisoner to supreme administrator of Egypt; Mary transformed from a scared, unwed teenager into the mother of God’s only Son; Saul the Christian persecutor transformed into Paul the Evangelical powerhouse.

The lesson is the same in each example: the conditions of our human birth don’t define us. We aren’t confined by the things of the world simply because we find ourselves in a place or time we did not choose.

Is Positive Thinking Enough

What separates those who break free from their origins from those who don’t? In almost all cases the answer is “attitude.” Secularists call this the power of Positive Psychology (“positive thinking”), but regardless of the label, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests an attitude of positive energy and optimism defeats a dark view of the world.

There’s a great deal of angst in the world today, especially among those who see the past year’s events as apocalyptic. Social media and blogs are filled with the naysayers preaching dire circumstances and end times-like catastrophes. These are the same folks who speak so highly of self-identification and positive affirmations when the political winds blow a different way.

Credit: www.yourerc.com

They just can’t break free from mindsets holding them captive to a world to which they’ve conformed.

Amidst a deluge of self-help gurus, libraries filled with how-to books, endless diets and financial systems, exercise plans for every body type, why are so many of us unable to every truly transform? Why do we continually jump from half-measure to half-measure?

If the power of transformation lies in the application of attitude, how do we remain unchanged?

Where We Place Our Belief

Perhaps the answers lies not in what we want to believe but rather in where we place that belief. Paul reminds us in Romans 12 that when we entrust our belief in things of this world (“conforming”), we receive things of this world. Still we crave more – a new body, a bigger house, a more expensive car, a better personality. We’re never satisfied because we are never transformed.

Christians are no different than non-Christians in their need for transformation. Yet we struggle as well. Why is this the case? Perhaps because this need for transformation is the single barrier the Enemy has to keep us from God. The less satisfied we stay, the more we need rather than experience transformation, the the greater hold Satan has on our lives.

In my own journey, I’ve found four areas I must continually revisit as I strive for Transformation. These are mine – yours might be different.

 1.  Insisting on my will, not God’s.

It’s tempting to think of God as a kind of spiritual ATM: we deposit spiritual credits and we withdraw them on demand. The more “x” we put in (the more we give to the church, the more we show our “goodness,” the more mission trips we take), the more blessings we’ll receive. But the world doesn’t play fair. It pushes back, asking for more every time we give.

God doesn’t equate transactions with transformation. To receive God’s transformational grace we must first understand and seek His will, not our desires. Until we ask God for discernment into His will we will remain untransformed.

2.  Looking to the Church to transform me.

Today’s church can be a wonderful, affirming, and catalyzing place for transformation. But the church itself is not the source for that transformation. In Galatians 6, Paul reminds the congregation in Galatia that the church – both traditional Jews and Gentiles – is nothing except the affirmation of God’s power to transform: “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

When we look to the Church rather than to God for our fulfillment, we miss His point that we should be focused vertically first, not horizontally.

 3.  If I try a little harder, I can make change happen.

As a professional and an executive, I’m all about the power of initiative and effort. Yet when I allow that to spill over into my Faith life, I’m often disappointed. Life pushes back. People resist. Our efforts are thwarted.

We can’t force Christianity to transform either our lives or the lives of others. It never works that way.  Instead, we should follow Paul’s advice in Galatians 5:25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us walk with the Spirit.” Following the Spirit enables us to bear the fruit Jesus describes in John 15.

4.  Earning my way to transformation.

Think of the caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. The process is effortless for the caterpillar once it starts. The caterpillar is living on the outside what it knows to be true on the inside. The same is true for us. When we believe ourselves undeserving of grace in our hearts, we often attempt to overcompensate in our actions, trying to earn God’s love. Or worse, we try to earn acceptance from other sources.

The truth, and the truly Good News of the Gospel is that God has already done the heavy lifting. He’s already completed the hard work of transformation. We can add nothing to the perfection of His forgiveness. No effort on our part can “earn” what has already been freely given – we simply have to receive it and let it happen.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we are all being transformed into God’s image when we take off our masks and contemplate His glory. Not our will, but His. Not our church, but His Spirit. Not our efforts, but His work.

In the end, we’re not simply Hollywood-created Autobots who magically transform ourselves into humanity-saving heroes. As Christians, we need reminding just as the new church did in Paul’s time that the only true transformation comes through the Will and Spirit of God.

This week, let go of your belief in self-transformation. Remember that God has already done the work. Simply allow that work to change you, spread your wings, and fly.

Colossians 1:17

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