I don’t know about you, but I’ve often thought evangelical Christianity overemphasises the born again experience, to the detriment of the discipleship experience.
For me, discipleship is a process of life transformation, a process that involves both the disciple and the master and the world. Here are two teachings I find very instructive.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
You’ll notice that the first teaching takes the form of a command, a command which implies the disciple is far from passive in the transformative process. In fact, immediately prior to this the apostle Paul says, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” This is a call to action.
And yet, the second teaching makes it clear that transformation is ultimately about God acting on us. That any life and light we have is a mere reflection of God’s life and light. So the evangelical Christian emphasis on God’s grace is not misplaced.
At first this may seem like a paradox, but this would be to ignore the nature of the act called for in the first teaching: that of self-sacrifice, of self-surrender, of will-reorientation through will-abandonment. The renewal of the mind begins with worship, with faith.
I am reminded of the Anabaptist concept of gelassenheit, a word with connotations of passive yieldedness (towards God) and active unyieldedness (towards the world), of willing willnessness and serene tenaciousness. Life transformation is growing in the “obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:2), of turning from the hope the world offers towards the hope God offers and living with the implications and consequences of that. There’s a sense of passive activity and active passiveness. It’s a life we choose as it is chosen for us.
And it is a life, not just an event. Turning towards Jesus is something we have done and must continue to do, deeper and deeper, as we come into deeper awareness of the deeper implications. We all experience deep contradictions in our lives, in how we relate to God and our world. Discipleship is a journey towards life integration.
5 thoughts on “Life transformation”
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Hi Matt. I’m reminded of 1 Peter 5:6 which, if I remember right, has that sort of *gelassenheit* sense in the original and could be more literally translated as “LET YOURSELF BE HUMBLED under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Active passivity in order to be transformed … what a concept!?!
Thanks for that passage Brad, that is another good example.
Yeah, Matt, a lot of that sure resonates with me…, and in fact I was just chatting to a friend recently how layers and layers of that Romans 12 passage have been continually unfolding throughout my life in the past decade.
I’m not sure if I wasn’t told, or I wasn’t listening, but in my Evangelical Lutheran upbringing, I can’t remember ever being told that I could be a disciple of Jesus. I was often told about being a sinner and about the special “12”. I am very thankful that I discovered the experience of life-journey and process, and like you, I sometimes struggle to activate passivity and passivate activity! Perhaps we are transformed through a divine and mysterious process that occurs when we continuously and deliberately choose to trust in God’s ways instead of the spin that our contextual cultural environment and its creators and perpetuators dish up for our consumption.
Perhaps you could clarify your idea of “will re-orientation through will-abandonment”. I lean more towards the idea of will-reorientation through will-discipline. i.e. at times, I have to very strongly tell myself to stop thinking or doing particular things that are negative or destructive, or tell myself to focus and act on what I know to be more in line with the more positive/creative ways of God – “bending my will” through the power of my mind, if you get my drift. Perhaps active worshipful disciples experience a transformational process through a synergistic relationship between operating with “the mind of Christ” and proving (or having proven in them through the process) the will of God in their lives.
Next, we could have a bash at expository exegesis on the “good, pleasing, and perfect” aspects of God’s will… maybe that should be on my next study agenda? I’ve never really been satisfied with what I’ve heard or read on that subject so far 🙂
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