Be Transformed! Six Ways We Are Changed to Become More Like Christ
Six aspects of transformation that are part of the Christian walk with Christ.
1. “Be Transformed” – Holistic and not Compartmental
Our first consideration is the breadth of the work that God seeks to do in us. The transformation we are seeking requires our total and complete being or it is not transformation. It is a process that requires heart, soul, strength and mind. If the Holy Spirit is the transforming agent, then there will not be one minuscule particle of our being that will be unaffected by this work in us.
This transforming work attacks the most fundamental of the tenets of postmodernism, namely the compartmentalization of our lives. Modern worldviews teach us that life not only can, but should be lived in an eclectic fashion. That is, we are encouraged to portion out our values, ethics and personae into the segments that naturally divide our lives. We are assured that it is perfectly acceptable to be one person at home, another at work, still another at play.
Taken into the church, it gives us permission to segregate our lives between the secular and the sacred; Sunday and Monday need never meet. Give God Sunday and keep the rest for yourself. So goes the privatization of our faith and the sequestering of our witness. This, the postmoderns say, is healthy and leads to less stress than the impossible task of living consistently across all spheres of life.
In sharp contrast, Scripture calls us to die to the old nature, to the bifurcated structure of our lives and to the lies we have been told and believed about our vocation. Transformation involves nothing less than the complete abandonment of our thrones and the dismantling of our earthly kingdoms. Instead of divided loyalties, we are called to reject this temptation to conform to the values of our culture. It calls us to one, unequivocal and all encompassing allegiance. It is a transformation from the struggle of this divided-kingdom living to the joy of one-kingdom service.
This requires a real losing of our life and a real finding (Matthew 10:39). And the life we find is the new life in Christ – the life of the steward in the one kingdom of the triune God of grace. The transforming work of the Holy Spirit has this life as its purpose and goal. Stewards are transformed people, and stewardship, rightly understood, is the life of the disciple of Christ who has been and continues to be transformed into the image of the Son of God. This life rejects the temptations of compatibility, compartmentalization and compromise.
2. “Be Transformed” – Embraced and not Imposed
Our second consideration is the motivation for our commitment to transformation.
“For Christ’s love compels us.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NIV)
Paul reminds us that discipleship is a joyous response to the grace of God in Christ. We seek to be transformed because we are overtaken by this grace, overwhelmed by God’s love and grace. John Frank writes,
“Just as Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us, He desires that we learn to be givers in our everyday lives in response to His generosity.”
We must never confuse the indicatives of grace with the imperatives of the Christian life. It is the unmerited grace of God that is the indicative of our faith. It is the foundation, the unchanging and unchangeable truth of our existence. Once we see and know and apprehend this incredible truth, we respond by following the imperatives that such a grace requires.
These imperatives are nothing less than utter joyful responses. They may be called obedience and servanthood, but if they are the product of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, they are always joy-filled and free. They are our individual and communal response of selling all we have and, with joy, acquiring the treasure hidden in the field. When you are freely given a treasure beyond all value how can you receive it but with joy, thanksgiving, and praise? These are the transformational marks of the godly steward—this is what we are called to, created for in lives and work.
It is the scheme of the enemy to turn joyful response into dogmatic servitude. He seeks to steal our joy and burden us with un-Scriptural, self-aggrandizing activities driven by guilt and a desire to seize control of our own fate. When the love of Christ no longer compels us, a host of counterfeit motivations will fill the void.
The solution is to pray with David, “restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” When we are overwhelmed with God’s love for us, we will, in turn, open ourselves up to his transforming Spirit. What do you need to do today to be able to say with Paul, “the love of Christ compels me?”
3. “Be Transformed” – God-centered and not Human-centered
Our third component may be the most challenging. That’s because the work of transformation in the life of Christians is an utterly selfless work. If it is the work of Holy Spirit it will always have one primary focus – the glorification of Christ in every area of our lives. Our transformation is not a self-help process, but it does require our participation. As Jim and Molly Davis Scott remind us,
“The point is that we participate in the decision to move away from self-centered to God-centered. It is arguably the most important decision we will ever make.”
This participation in the move to God-centeredness is not about self-actualization or self-improvement. In an age dominated by secular humanism, which places the improvement of each individual above all else in the quest for purpose in life, the Christian understanding of transformation is radical. For our transformation is marked through and through by a call to absolute Lordship. We must not miss the counter-cultural nature of this core teaching. Consider these two quotes:
“Human life has meaning because we create and develop our own futures. Happiness and the creative realization of human needs and desires, individually and in shared enjoyment, are continuous themes of humanism. We strive for the good life, here and now.”
“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:1-2, 10)
These two worldviews cannot be combined, commingled or reconciled. They are an absolute antithesis to one another. In our work we must resist at every turn the temptation to allow some accommodation to Humanism to infiltrate our work. The transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the godly steward is radical and complete, and it leads to a selflessness that runs counter to the core of humanistic teachings and ethics. You cannot ‘put to death the earthly nature’ and ‘strive for the good life here and now’. We cannot be driven to ‘create and develop our own futures’ if our lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God’. And our transformation cannot produce in us both ‘the creative realization of human needs and desires’ and also a ‘putting on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’.
Stewardship has been described and defined in a number of ways. However, in the end, godly stewardship is all about Lordship. Before it is about money, tithing or time, it is about Lordship. Our transformation has a direction and goal. That goal is a Christ-likeness that calls us to complete and absolute obedience to God in Christ.
4. “Be Transformed” – Process and not Pronouncement
Our fourth component requires our patience, endurance and Spirit-led determination. For while Christ’s work is once and for all, it is worked out in us throughout our lives. Transformation is, by definition, a process. It is a faith journey, a growing, reaching, and pressing on. Wes Willmer writes,
“The Christian life begins at the moment of faith, but it does not end there. It involves a steady march of spiritual growth and change. A person’s eternal destination is settled at the moment of faith, but building a life pleasing to God takes the rest of his or her life.”
Transformation requires a daily decision to venture on and enter into the continual life-changing work of the Holy Spirit. It does not happen automatically or instantaneously. It has to be entered into and pursued.
We must be wary of stewardship books or sermons that separate stewardship from discipleship. In fact they are one and the same. If we accept this treatise on the transformation of the godly steward then we are left to conclude that disciples are stewards, and stewards are disciples. These words describe two foci of one transforming work of grace in us. When we hear Jesus’ command to “take up your cross and follow me” do we not also hear his words to “sell all you have, give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me?” When Jesus calls us to “love the Lord your God and serve him only” is he not also telling us that “you cannot serve two masters, either you will love the one and hate the other or hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”?
Scripture is replete with calls to discipleship and holistic stewardship to the point that we must cease separating the two. They are one and the same calling, one and the same vocation. Douglas John Hall writes,
“Stewardship is no longer concerned with matters – including religious matters – on the periphery of existence; it belongs to the essence of things. It is for us today very close to what the prophets and apostles meant by the Word of God. For the call to responsible stewardship encounters us precisely at the heart of our present-day dilemma and impasse.”
Transformation is a calling and a work that is never fully finished, yet we do not undertake it with an anxiety or franticness. For this calling is motivated by grace and therefore it is a calling of pure, joyous response. Only as response does the ongoing process of transformation cease from devolving into mundane ritual, rigid legalism or divisive ideology. As Richard Foster reminds us,
“Giving brings authenticity and vitality to our devotional experience.”
It is God’s process at work in us as we freely and enthusiastically answer the call to obedience and surrender that leads to ultimate freedom and life. David Young sees this initial act of our submission to the transforming work of God in us in Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his disciples. He concludes,
“Transformation originates from the One who transforms. As leaders, we never do the changing. We never have the total power of insight. We never carry the power on our own shoulders. We can merely enter the drama, the first part of which is allowing our feet to be washed.”
This is the paradox lost on the Humanist. It is only in submission and sacrifice that you can attain true liberation and fulfillment. It is in the process of losing our life that we find true life, and that process is our transformation.
5. “Be Transformed” – Doxology and not Dogmatism
Our fifth component emanates from the depths of our souls. The process of transformation is a journey of joy because it is a journey with Christ. Here is where the imperatives of freedom, liberation from the bondage of sin, joyous response and an optimistic and hopeful view of the future emerge as the fruit of our transformation. There is no greater freedom available to humankind than the freedom as a faithful steward. For this reason our transformation must result in doxology, or it is not the transformation of the Holy Spirit.
We might say that there is a “legal stewardship” and an “evangelical stewardship.” By “legal stewardship” we mean that dogmatic, transactional command to give ten percent of our excess to buy our peace of mind. It is an acquiescence to our two-kingdom worldview lived out in guilt- inducing stewardship programs and high pressure fundraising techniques. It is a money-focused, manipulation-based approach that says in short, “God has been good to you, so you better do what’s right and give some back or else.” It demands a change of bank balance but not of heart. It uses tax incentives, ‘naming opportunities’ and the alleviation of guilt to conjure up a giving response. In this way stewardship remains solely associated with money. And as such it is tacked on to the work of the church like a necessary evil. Pastors hate to preach on it and congregants hate to hear about it. It is done apologetically and it seldom if ever results in a truly joyful act of giving. In so many ways “legal stewardship” has crippled the church and fostered the myriad of misconceptions about money, tithing and transformation.
“Evangelical stewardship” (from the Greek word evangelion or good news) is the stewardship of grace and generous, joyous response. It is compelled only by God’s gracious and extravagant acts toward us and for us—we are to be generous as Christ is generous. It is the exuberant ‘amen’ to God’s love and mercy to us. In this way, every act of the godly steward is an act of worship. Our whole lives are to be a joyous response to God’s grace, and certainly no less our vocation as godly stewards.
Commenting on the Great Collection in II Corinthians, Jouette Bassler concludes that for Paul,
“Giving to others thus glorifies God (v. 13) and an act of charity is thereby transformed into an act of worship.”
We must hold together the act of worship and the act of stewardship. When we give our lives, all of our lives, back to God, we are worshipping our Creator and following the commands of His Son by the power of the Spirit. Our worship is Trinitarian in nature, and so is our stewardship. We worship the Father, in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit. Likewise we are empowered by the Spirit to give our entire lives back to God in and through the atoning work of the Son.
If our stewardship is worship, does it not make sense that our work of stewardship is ministry? Does it not follow that Christian fundraisers are involved in ministry as they promote godly stewardship among God’s people? Does it not follow that stewardship should be part of every worship service every Sunday? Would it not be true that raising up godly stewards is a core calling of church and para-church organizations? And should not we be just as concerned about the stewardship faithfulness of our congregants and Christian neighbors and colleagues as their faithfulness in discipleship, personal devotion and Christian service?
When we see stewardship as worship empowered by our ongoing transformation in Christ we take a major step forward in putting the call of the godly steward back where it belongs, at the center of the Christian life. Randy Alcorn states it clearly,
“Stewardship isn’t a subcategory of the Christian life. Stewardship is the Christian life.”
6. “Be Transformed” – Death not Denial
Our sixth and final component asks ‘how do we achieve this attitude of the joyous response of the godly steward?’ The answer may surprise you. We only achieve it through death. It may seem odd to end this series on life-giving transformation with a discussion of death, but in the end our transformation to godly stewards is really all about death. In his classic work Deitrich Bonheoffer writes,
“The cross is laid on every Christian. It begins with the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ…When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
Paul tells the church in Colossae, “You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) He reminds them that in following Christ they have “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” (Colossians 2:20) Paul exhorts the Christian in Rome that they “have died to sin” and that in being baptized into Christ Jesus they were “baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death.” (Romans 6:2-4) For Paul this death is critical first because, “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” and second, “if we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:7-8) Paul tells the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
With all this talk about death you would think we would feature it more in our preaching and teaching. It is perhaps the single most critical step in our transformation into godly stewards. This death is the abdication of the throne of our own kingdom. It is the death that Secular Humanism cannot understand, as it is a death to control over our lives and futures. It is the first act of submission, obedience, and discipleship. It is selling all we have to purchase the treasure hidden in the field. It is placing the value of our possessions in an eternal balance and finding them valuable only as they are useable for the work of the kingdom. It is a real death, a death to our quest for self-actualization, a death to the value system that measures our worth by what we own and control. It is a death to a sinful nature that values things over people and places our pursuit of happiness ahead of our pursuit of holiness.
We begin our journey of transformation by dying this death, or we do not start it at all. There is no shortcut and no second way. In place of this death, the world wants us to embrace a denial of our real sinfulness. If we can somehow soften our sin, we can eliminate the need for this very real death. Denial is the final lie of the enemy in the guise of a human-centeredness that tells us that we really are OK if we will make some minor modifications. Humanism tells us our future is in our hands and we have the stuff to make a better world. Christ tells us that we are in need of holistic transformation that starts with the confession of our sinfulness and the death to all that keeps us bound by that sin.
Regardless of how many ideologies and movements try to tell us otherwise, we cannot set ourselves free. Freedom is a gracious gift of God and not a result of our own works. And as we accept and embrace that gift, our first response is this death to our old nature and all the lies that it regurgitates to us daily.
It is through death to sin and not a denial of our sinfulness that transformation begins. For that reason, the great stewardship question is not, “are you living the Christian life?” but “have you died?” As we answer yes, we start on the journey of holistic, life-changing transformation that daily remakes us into the godly stewards we were created to be.
This blog was an attempt to provide a roadmap to that transformation, and it is my prayer that through them you will be inspired and guided in the glorious calling of the steward in the kingdom of the triune God of grace.
This blog is excerpted from the upcoming book, The Calling to Christian Leadership: Foundations and Practices, Edited by John S. (Jack) Burns, John R. Shoup, and Donald C. Simmons, Jr. Submitted for publication in 2014.
1 John Frank, The Ministry of Development, (Woodinville: Steward Publishing, 2005), p. 15.
2 Jim and Molly Davis Scott, Kingdom People, (Woodinville: Steward Publishing, 2004), pp. 157-158.
3 Humanist Manifesto II, The American Humanist Association, 1973.
4 Wes Willmer, God and Your Stuff, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), p. 23.
5 Douglas John Hall, The Steward, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 95.
6 Richard Foster, The Challenge of the Disciplined Life, (HarperCollins: San Francisco, 1985)p. 43.
7 David Young, Servant Leadership for Church Renewal, (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1999), p. 137.
8 Jouette Bassler, God and Mammon, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), p. 107-8.
9 Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity, (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2003), p. 140.
10 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: MacMillan, 1948), p. 73.