For too many Christians the very idea or even the possibility of change, and subsequent growth in Christlikeness, seems too elusive or even too naïve to contemplate. We breathe in the cultural smog of cynicism that seeks to undermine all stories of change, goodness, honesty and joy.
Cynics keep telling us of what they can see from their superior vantage point. Their x-ray vision apparently sees through all hope as simply a naïve and sentimental dream. For them, optimists are simply shallow and cannot quite see what the cynic can see only too clearly – that change is allegedly not possible. We are damaged goods and even very modest repair is nothing more than a silly dream perpetuated by those gullible religious snake-oil salesmen.
Some Christians affirm this conclusion after years of exhausting church work. They see themselves as just as egocentric and as irritable as when they first began. Others have thrown themselves into social change. However, after years of pouring themselves out for others they seem to be as angry and as frustrated as when they started the journey.
For some the issue is more theological. They began the journey with grace and they feel frozen by that grace. Any suggestion of progress in the Christian life smacks of “works righteousness” and so they keep well away.
Cynicism about any change in a mere sinner (coupled to the fear of appearing better than others) keeps them locked in that “I’m nothing but a worm” steel-lined box. Even our media seems to support their logic. Scandals and broken lives flood our daily news but they also reinforce a general sense that humanity is wretched and any hope of improvement is simply naïve.
Into this dark picture comes a gospel of light underpinned by expectations of real change; of growth in Christlikeness amongst those people empowered by the Spirit and walking in the ways of Christ. So many of these people speak of a life vastly richer, deeper and more colourful than the grey palette used to paint our world by the media.
They have experienced the transforming walk into a new way of being human. They know of a life based on “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). They heard Paul’s call and agreed that Christ should be formed in us (Gal 4:19) and that that should be the normal Christian experience.
And the historical record of lives changed is there for all to see. Augustine, Aimee Semple McPherson, Thomas à Kempis, Florence Nightingale, Ruth Padilla-de Borst, Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman and John Stott all attest to the reality of lives that changed once they started to walk in the ways of Christ Jesus.
They followed the normal expectation of spiritual transformation not because they wanted to save their nation or even change their congregation. They did it simply because it is an expectation built into the gospel. God is in the transformation business and He expects His children to join the family business in all earnestness.
Our “actions follow our essence” is an ancient maxim well worth taking to heart. Our actions are the result of who we are and what we love and who we are becoming. And when we have been immersed into that vital union with God as his new creations and flooded by the Spirit of God things must change. A purifying journey begins that seeks to bring all of life under the spotlight of a relationship with Jesus Christ. And so we start to ask daily that God searches us and roots out every wicked way in us (Ps 139:23-24).
But God never walks into the various rooms of our lives uninvited. We need to give Him full access to every area of our being. That is the essence of the journey into Christlikeness. It’s about a daily reconstruction project that asks Jesus to be Lord of all and that includes every aspect of our humanity.
And that should change us because it is a work that only God can do – a work of purification, of transformation, and of whole life formation into the ways of Jesus.