Regularly adverts pop up for weight loss products on my Facebook page, I think they assume, middle aged man, middle aged spread. Nearly all of them show before and after pictures of people who have lost incredible amounts of weight.
Why do they use these pictures?
Well, I think it is because there is something that resonates in every human soul with stories of transformation. We love stories of change for the better. Those before and after pictures are also about plausibility, they are suggesting that we too can change, and experience transformation.
At the very heart of the message of the New Testament is this idea of transformation. I would suggest a transformation which is even more challenging than losing substantial amounts of weight.
Here is a verse that never fails to take my breath away with the audacity of its claim about human transformation.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor 3:18
That verse isn’t about the transformation of our outward appearance, it goes far deeper, to the level of our character. God’s Word says that ordinary believers like us, with all our inevitable faults, failings, and flaws by the power of the Holy Spirit can be transformed progressively to be more like our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you notice those two significant words WE ALL?.
It was because of verses like this that John Wesley talked about the optimism of grace, that God’s Word was optimistic about what the transformative power of grace could do in our lives.
But was Wesley wrong?
Is this promise of transformation just a pipe dream? Is the Word of God over-optimistic when it says we can become more like Jesus?
We all know that the scandal of the church is that too many people who claim the name of Jesus are not being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Author and psychotherapist Joseph Burgo In a fascinating article entitled, ‘Why Most People Don’t Really Change’, suggests that there are three fundamental reasons why people often fail to change. Character transformation is so difficult, Burgo says, because:
a) most people don’t have an accurate view of who they truly are and, therefore, don’t recognize where they might need to change,
b) we have a human propensity to blame other people for our short-comings (e.g. family or political systems)
c) Finally, effecting change involves hard work and making difficult choices that we would rather avoid
Thinking on my own personal experience and now nearly 30 years of pastoral experience, I think from a purely human point of view Burgo is right. I have seen people stuck when it comes to change for decades over one or more of those reasons.
I think if I was a humanist looking at this, I would be pessimistic but as a believer, I am encouraged as I read those barriers to character change. I am encouraged because I think God in his Word and through His Spirit has given us the ability to overcome each of those barriers and so experience real change and transformation.
In God’s Word, we get the truth about who we are and where we need to change. The Holy Spirit is both the convictor of sin and the power for sanctification. The Holy Spirit puts His finger on those areas where we need to change but the great news He doesn’t stop there. He is not simply the revealer of sin. Conviction of sin by the Spirit is to enable sanctification through the Spirit. What that means is that the Holy Spirit shows us where we need to change (conviction) and wants to empower us to make those changes (sanctification).
Now that doesn’t mean that transformation is automatic for God involves us. This is where Burgo’s article is helpful because he reminds us that to change we need to personally stop making excusing and blaming other people for our lack of change and take responsibility and then make those difficult decisions that will allow the Spirit to transform us from one degree of glory to another.
This promise of transformation and power for transformation means being like Jesus is no pipe dream for us. Countless millions of people have been living demonstrations of its truth. We see the possibility becoming a reality in Paul’s transformation from murderous persecutor of the church to a passionate peaceful follower of Jesus, in John Newton’s transformation from slave trader to pastor. I have also seen it in countless lives of ordinary believers who have grown more like Jesus in sometimes significant and sometimes small ways. I’ve seen it many of you in so many ways.
So let me end by asking you some difficult questions if you haven’t been experiencing that transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
- Have you been failing to read God’s Word and so don’t know where you need to change?
- Have you been making excuses for yourself by blaming other people or other things for your lack of change?
- Have you been resisting making a difficult decision that will trigger change?