They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (1:23)
Everyone loves a good transformation story. Whether it’s a makeover story, a weight loss story, or a story of a new beginning, we can’t get enough of them. Television these days is inundated with them. And while we may not know the people in these stories we easily get caught up rooting for them, wanting them to succeed. We love these stories because they inspire and give us hope. They help us believe that transformation is possible for us as well.
The best part about these stories is the before and after picture. The two pictures reveal just how beautiful transformation can be. But unless they are seen side by side there’s no reference point to the extent of the change. At the end of Galatians 1, Paul shares his transformation story and lays it out very much like a before and after picture. He went from persecutor to preacher and people everywhere celebrated this change (v24).
Even though we love the before and after picture, they’re incomplete in two ways. First they fail to show that transformation is an ongoing process in our lives. It’s not a static one time event. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, those who “contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” Transformation should be an ever-increasing reality in our lives. The more we follow Jesus the more we should grow to look like him. Second, the before and after picture fail to capture how transformation takes place. And that’s the question we really want to answer. How does transformation happen? It’s one thing to want it. It’s another thing to know how to take hold of it.
We have a three-year-old daughter who likes to do things her own way. When it comes to playtime, she loves to take out every single toy from her closet and spread them all throughout the house before she makes the decision about which toys to play with. Walk into our house at any given time and it will look like a toy store exploded in our living room.
Our daughter also likes to do things on her own time-table. Meaning, when it comes to picking up her toys, she often resists and says no. In trying to lead her to be like Christ, we are currently attempting to teach her the joy of obedience. She’s not interested in the least.
In an effort to be good parents, we insist that she pick up her toys or there will be consequences. As you can imagine, she resists. She stalls. She takes out more toys. She runs and hides. She does anything she can to avoid cleaning up. And then the battle ensues. Telling her she’ll have to go to “time out” if she doesn’t obey turns into her running off, us chasing after her, and physically putting her in time out, repeatedly. Sometimes this can go on for as long as ten to fifteen minutes before we hit a break through. And what causes the break through? She gives up. She surrenders.
In order for spiritual transformation to begin it’s work in our lives, we first have to surrender. That’s exactly what happened to Paul. Acts 9 tells the story of Paul’s transformation. His first step to change is waving the white flag of surrender. Later on in Acts (26:14ff), he frames his story by saying that his former way of life was marked by resisting Christ, and his new way of life is marked by surrender to Christ. The “how” of transformation is surrender. It’s giving up and laying down your life.
But how do we get to that point? Surrender sounds easy, but it’s not our natural tendency. The question still remains, how do we do it? The catalyst to surrender is love.
When my three-year-old daughter and I lock horns in our “time out” battle, it can get pretty ugly. She disobeys. I get stern and firm. She resists even more. Instead of leading her to obedience, I start to demand it. She starts to throw a tantrum. I get angry and yell. On and on it goes. In moments like these, what breaks our cycle is love. Once I reach a point where I realize my method isn’t working I too surrendered I sit on the floor. I change my tone and invite her into my lap. We sit. We hug. She sucks her thumb and buries her head in my chest. I stroke her hair and kiss her forehead.
In that moment, in order for her to change, she needs to be reminded that she’s loved even when she disobeys. That act of love becomes the catalyst of a new desire for her. As she sits in my lap she gets to experience that my love is better than her resistance. She begins to drop her guard and her whole countenance changes.
In order to submit to Christ we first have to grow dissatisfied with our former way of life to the point where we desire the love He offers more than what we are already experiencing. This is also true for those wanting to lose weight, kick an addiction, or for a three-year-old resisting obedience. A new desire for something better has to take root in our lives.
This kind of transformation doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. It happens slowly, repeatedly, and over the long haul. Transformation requires patience and grace, both on our part and God’s. But the more we give ourselves to Christ, the more He will shape us to be like Him. And our “after” picture will be so different from our “before” picture, people may not even recognize that we are the same person. So today, don’t resist. Let your guard down and receive the love He longs to give.
1. What are the things in your life that you would like to change?
2. How are you resisting submitting them to Christ?
3. Where have your current pursuits for love left you dissatisfied?