Spiritual Transformation from a Christian Perspective (Part Two)

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...
First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak, a Medieval Armenian scribe and miniaturist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

Another way of looking at the process of spiritual formation and transformation in the Christian tradition involves an exchange of worldviews. This is what Paul was getting at when he told us in Romans 12:2 to be not conformed to this world or, in the words of the New Living Translation:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

The style of life that Christ demands is often in direct opposition to the values of our culture, just as it was contrary to the lifestyle advocated by the Pharisees and religious leaders of the first century. In essence, Paul is telling us here that our minds must be changed and that this is a process of exchanging our old worldview with the one advocated by Christ. This is where many of us run into great difficulty. One of my very favorite quotations is by Houston Smith and although a bit lengthy, I want to include it here as it is so pertinent to the subject presently under discussion:

…we have heard Jesus’ teachings so often that their edges have been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness. If we could recover their original impact, we too would be startled. Their beauty would not paper over the fact that they are “hard sayings,” presenting a scheme of values so counter to the usual as to shake us like the seismic collision of tectonic plates…We are told that we are not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that evil must be resisted by every means available. We are told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated. We are told that the sun rises on the just and the unjust alike. The world considers this to be indiscriminating; it would like to see dark clouds withholding sunshine from evil people. We are told that outcasts and harlots enter the kingdom of God before many who are perfunctorily righteous. Unfair, we protest; respectable people should head the procession. We are told that the gate to salvation is narrow. The world would prefer it to be wide. We are told to be as carefree as birds and flowers. The world counsels prudence. We are told that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. The world honors wealth. We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who weep, who are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the rich, the powerful, and the wellborn who should be happy. In all, a wind of freedom blows through these teachings that frightens the world and makes us want to deflect their effect by postponement – not yet, not yet! H.G. Wells was evidently right: either there was something mad about this man, or our hearts are still too small for his message.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you are consecrated, committed, and personally serious about becoming more like him in thought, word, will, and deed, then expect to have conflict with this culture you live in and further, expect to make sacrifices as a result of these conflicts. When the Master said to take up your cross daily, he wasn’t kidding.

Let’s face facts – in order to be a Christian, a consecrated disciple of Christ who is serious about their walk of faith, requires that we make tough choices. Like it or not, we are often called upon to go against the flow, against the prevailing attitudes and politically correct viewpoints defined by our culture. Making matters worse, we are often placed in confusing positions when it comes to making these choices because by and large the church has imbibed deeply the prevailing cultural worldview. Our spiritual leaders may be telling us to do one thing and, deep in our hearts as well as on the pages of scripture, we find these things to be unjust and evil.

When boiled down to its barest essentials, Christian spiritual transformation is largely carried out in the mind and involves the exchange of thoughts, images, and the will. Dallas Willard explains:

Christian spiritual formation is inescapably a matter of recognizing in ourselves the idea system (or systems) of evil that governs the present age and the respective culture (or various cultures) that constitute life away from God. The needed transformation is very largely a matter of replacing in ourselves those idea systems of evil (and their corresponding cultures) with the idea system that Jesus Christ embodied and taught and with a culture of the kingdom of God. This is truly a passage from darkness to light.

As we look at the scope, the dynamics, and the primary goals of spiritual transformation from the Christian perspective, we can see that we are, in the words of Paul, “new creations in Christ.” Indeed, the old is gone and the new has come. The actual outworking of this transformation process remains somewhat of a mystery and that is the way it should be. For reasons known only to himself, God has arranged this world in a manner that necessitates the evolution of faith on our parts.

In the final analysis, we have to take certain realities on the basis of faith and little else. Scripture tells us that the Father has already granted us everything we need to lead the Christian life and further, he has already given us every kind of blessing in the heavenly realms. We are not to waste time pondering the mechanisms of these facts but instead, we are to take them on faith and get busy doing our part to place ourselves into positions of increased receptivity so that we may appropriate these blessings and make them a part of our daily round.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

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2 thoughts on “Spiritual Transformation from a Christian Perspective (Part Two)

  1. “Christian spiritual formation is inescapably a matter of recognizing in ourselves the idea system (or systems) of evil that governs the present age and the respective culture (or various cultures) that constitute life away from God.”

    That spiritual transformation and “a people set apart” foundation was introduced long before Christianity emerged. It is not a hard concept theoretically. It is a simple to understand.

    God chose a people, out of all the nations and peoples of the world who would learn and do the will and ways of God.
    In a world where many Gods were worshiped, human sacrifice was practiced, infant exposure, immoral practice sexual and otherwise was the norm ….this people would be different.
    This people would know right from wrong, good from bad. This “set apart people” would do the will of God.

    Every theory, theology, thought, philosophy and every book I have ever read that reject or question the above is founded on rejecting, questioning or challenging what the “will of God “ is and the practices of God’s people.

    In a world where liberty, rights, self expression and personal opinion supercede all authority, the simple become complex and confusing.

    For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
    It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples
    It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
    Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him.
    He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him.
    Therefore, observe diligently the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that I am commanding you today
    Deuteronomy 7: 6-11

  2. d –

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and your insight into the connection between Christian spiritual formation and its forerunner in Judaic tradition. I also appreciate what you say about how we tend to complicate issues that are basically quite simple. I have come to believe that much of that unnecessary complexity arises from our avoidance of the concept of “obedience.” Instead of walking the path of obedience we tend to “over think” certain spiritual principles and, as a result, we wind up wading through a morass of intellectual mumbo jumbo as opposed to what God origninally intended. I say this out of my own personal experience as I have had, a still do at times, have a marked tendency to engage in this sort of activity. I try these days to keep before me the simple truth expressed in Psalm 131 and by so doing, establish a deeper, childlike trust in the Lord:

    “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
    Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me.
    Surely, I have composed and quieted my soul;
    Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
    My soul is like a weaned child within me.
    O Israel, hope in the Lord
    From this time forth and forever.

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