A caterpillar enters a chrysalis (cocoon) and emerges as a butterfly. A complete transformation has taken place. The old caterpillar no longer exists. The new life of the butterfly soars far beyond the limitations of itself as a caterpillar. This is most certainly a picture of the transformation God seeks to do in the life of believers in His Son, Jesus Christ!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
How does the transformation take place? Through the agency and power of God’s Holy Spirit! This is the simplest and most important place many followers of Jesus get wrong. We take sanctification — the transformation of a sinner into the new creation of Christlikeness — to be wrought by our work of self-improvement. We make it all about trying to be like Jesus. We work hard at cleaning up our language or stopping smoking or drugs or serving in the Church, seeking to “prove” we are the real thing and make ourselves over to be like Jesus. And we succeed to a point even as we fail miserably to actually find inner transformation.
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit inside us to change our hearts, which will then make it possible to both change our behavior and the spirit with which we behave. When the Holy Spirit is given permission by our humility of heart, He will pour the love and grace of Jesus into our hearts, eradicating the works of the flesh and growing in us the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
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. (Galatians 5:19-25 NIV)
When we live by the Spirit of the Living God, we no longer desire to do the works of the flesh Paul names, and instead our hearts are changed to reflect the love of Jesus in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Transformation is an inside job. God works it in our hearts. Behavior modification is the work of our will, seeking to please God. The impact of the Gospel is the work of God’s will, seeking to restore us to the image bearers He created originally, which has been so messed up by our Fall into sin.
Too many Christians have settled for only the first half of the Gospel. The first half of the Gospel is about our justification — our forgiveness by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf on the Cross. While “getting saved” is a huge step of faith in a person’s life, it is only the beginning point of the second half of the Gospel — sanctification. God wants to transform us, as surely as a caterpillar is meant to become a butterfly. He counts us as righteous (made right by the saving Grace of Jesus) when we give our lives to Christ initially. Then He begins to impart actually right living into our lives by changing our hearts, making us more and more like Jesus as we walk with Him by faith.
So one of the most significant questions we can ask God to show us about our own discipleship is this: Has anything changed? If I am the same person I was a month ago, or a year ago, or ten or fifty years ago when I asked Jesus into my heart, then I have to ask myself if I am being transformed by the power of God into a new creation. The discernment of the truth of this question is perhaps most difficult for the person who grew up in a Christian family, has not led a particularly sordid life, has always believed God loves us, and cannot point to a dramatic transformation from sinner to saint because of Christ. I am one of those people, for the most part. I never did drugs or got drunk or practiced promiscuous sex — even though I lived my teen and young adult years in the permissive 60’s and 70’s. Has anything changed since I started walking with Jesus?
Well, yes. I’m living for Jesus and for others, not just for myself. My old teenage temper is pretty much transformed into patience and calmness. (Full disclosure — I am not a finished product but a work-in-progress. I still get impatient and mildly torqued off when someone camps in the left lane going five-under the speed limit!) I have done my best to seek to build God’s Kingdom and not my career in serving as a Pastor. I do not live my life by fear, but by faith.
How about you? Has the Gospel had real impact in your life beyond your knowing you are forgiven and have a place reserved in heaven when you die? Is your life more about walking in the flesh or growing the fruit of the Spirit? And if you’ve been living like it all depends on your effort to change your life, are you ready to humbly seek the transformation that can only be done by the Holy Spirit?
May God move all of us into the second half of the Gospel and make us more and more like Jesus!