We want tangible signs of growth.
We’re through coasting along in our spirituality. We want to conform to Jesus Christ. And we want this to happen all the time. We want nothing less than transformation of the whole person. This is what Jesus said was the greatest commandment of all,
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30, ESV)
Listen to the language Jesus is using (as he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5). This is language for the whole person. He is using all the elements of the human person to describe an entire takeover. It’s not just the mind, with its intellect and ability to reason; it’s not just the heart and its decision-making capacity; it’s not merely our strength, referring to everything from the body itself to the habits contained in it; it’s the entire person! It is the heart, mind, and body integrated together in perfect harmony under the rule of the Lord Jesus (something the late Dallas Willard called the integration of the soul). Everything that makes you who you are–that is what must come under the conforming power of Christ. Not just one area of your life. Everything. Jesus is here speaking of a deep transformation that seeps into every pore of the human personality. Transformation is basic Christianity.
There are a couple reasons Christian’s don’t experience transformation.
First, it’s easy to think of spiritual maturity as only referring to one part of the human personality. For example, you may go to a lot of bible studies, listen to sermons, take theological classes, and know the Scriptures, but also be emotionally unhealthy. In this case, you are investing in your mind, but not your heart. Or you might be Biblically versed and emotionally healthy, but lose your temper every day when things don’t go your way. In that case, you are investing in the mind and heart, but not the body (habits). Or you might be a seasoned practitioner of spiritual disciplines, and have a rich inner life, but not know basic things about God’s kingdom and the gospel, leading you into error. That is a case of investing in the body (and even heart), but not the mind. In all of these examples, there is a part of your personality that is not coming under the rule and reign of God, and the result is the “disintegration of your soul.”
A second reason is that you may have been told or taught that the gospel of Christianity is mainly about how we can be forgiven. While it certainly includes that, the gospel is the good news that Christ is King (Matt 4:23). Yes, he forgives the penitent, but he also changes their lives. Christ the King invades broken hearts through our union with Christ, conforming us to his image. So while the gospel includes forgiveness, it is primarily about the transformation that comes with God’s kingdom. The gospel shouts loud and clear that the Kingdom of God, in all of it’s transforming power, has been made presently available to anyone who trusts in Him. And to those who trust in him enough to follow him, we are given some outlandish claims in Scripture…
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:11-14
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ~ Colossians 1:28-29
This transformation is not something we do merely by our own effort. It is by God’s grace. But it is something we must exert effort towards. As Paul says…
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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. ~ Philippians 2:12-14
And it’s not a cruel joke by God, transformation is actually possible. We may not perfect in this life, but the Bible leads us to believe that we can become mature in this life. Paul speaks of this in-between tension to the Philippian church…
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way. ~ Philippians 3:12-13
Many Christians can look back on a date where they consciously gave their lives to Christ. It may have been a confession of faith, an inward posture, or a sudden belief. We believe experiences like this can be good, and often mark the beginning, not the end of a long journey following Jesus. It is the beginning of path marked by transformation. And it is our path. The path of transformation for the whole person.
Some of this blog post was adapted from a sermon I gave on the same topic, called, A Description of Spiritual Maturity.
Read more in this series on Reality’s Core Values.