Saturday, April 01, 2006

Transformation: A Phony Sanctification

Transformation has become one of the most popular buzzwords of modern religious movements. The problem is that the way this word is used these days has nothing to do with the way the Bible uses it, even though the impression is created that it is the same. “This word now refers to an orchestrated, systemic and revolutionary overhaul of the global church, including the 'transformation' of cities, societies, cultures, marketplaces, and more.”[1]

It is based on the mistaken idea that we are to build God’s kingdom in a physical and social way, here on earth, in order that we may invite Jesus to return once the world is in proper shape to receive Him. This underlying principle is, of course, pure error. We will not prepare the world for Him nor will we build His Kingdom in a socio-political way. Jesus will establish His physical Kingdom after He has subdued the kingdoms of this world after they take up arms against Him at the battle of Armageddon. (1Corinthians 15, Revelation 20 etc).

Of course the idea that we will change and transform the world is a very arrogant and presumptuous one. The church has been in the world for two thousand years and the state of the world is getting worse and worse rather than better. Anyone can see that we are not doing a very good job of getting this world and its systems ready for the Lord’s return.

But more serious than the delusion that the church is commissioned to transform, and will transform this world and it’s systems, are the methods that are employed. These methods are often loosely based on the Bible and often appear to be very close to the teachings of Scripture. Millions of Christians are drawn into a process that is only superficially Christian but in reality is devoid of the most central aspects of Christianity – Jesus Christ and the Cross.

“Transformation,” as the term is now used, is aimed at transformation at three levels – individuals, churches and societies. In order to create an environment in which people will embrace “transformation” there has been a steady attack devaluing our traditional Christian values and beliefs and an erosion of the absolutes of Scripture. This has created an atmosphere of discontent with our values and openness to new methods.

We can go about trying to “transform” people and societies, their “worldview,” values and behavior, using these methods and still not get near the true transformation that the Bible teaches. Of course this is not a new phenomenon. The Scribes and Pharisees had developed a very intricate system of routines and rules in order to transform their society into a better one. On the surface they seemed to succeed but the problem then was, and now is, that the real issue was not being addressed – the heart of man. By managing change, implementing new systems and behavior modeling we can but change the outside but the heart will remain as evil as ever. In fact, if these methods have any impact on the heart, it is to gender arrogance, pride and even less need for the Cross and for Jesus Christ and thus reduce even more, the chances that such a one will cast themselves on the mercy of God.

There are many people in the world who outwardly have all the attributes of a Christian. Some unbelievers live better, more moral and more righteous lives than believers, but they are not saved and all their good deeds are a waste of time. On the surface, countries under Muslim law do not have a lot of crime, drunkenness and immorality but does that make those societies “good”? Will those people be saved? Obviously not. Many churches are filled with people who live good lives, believe the Bible (or some of it), attend church and give money to the church yet, these people are as unsaved and as sinful as the worst criminal.

What we need is the transformation that comes from giving up our attempts at self-reformation and from casting ourselves totally on the completed work of the Cross. Speaking to Nicodemus, who was very religious, kept all the laws and tried very hard to transform his society, Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Only the new birth can bring people into the Kingdom and only the new birth can change and transform a life. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2Corinthians 5:17). There is only one thing that can save, change and deliver and that is the Cross of Calvary.

While the modern methods are weak and ineffectual to bring about any permanent, real or substantial transformation, the Gospel is able to change those who will believe, not just on the outside but on the inside and that is where the change is most needed. Once the inside has been transformed by the Gospel, the Holy Spirit begins to work on the outside and begins to change our actions and deeds. This transformation has to be from the inside out and can never happen from the outside in. This is what the learned people call sanctification. This is an ongoing change and transformation which will only be complete when we see Him face to face. In the mean time “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Corinthians 3:18).

This real transformation is so powerful and deep that it is able to change our nature and even our personalities. It is able to turn sinners into saints, drunkards into preachers and murderers into apostles. None of these modern methods are able to do any more than provide some temporary and shallow transformation. Worst of all, they cannot save. No wonder Paul was able to shout “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

So how do we know the difference between the real and the fake. (And I am sure that some are questioning why I have not listed the methods and systems.) The difference is not in the results, because the placebo will produce similar results as the real, but only for a while. (Remember the magicians who withstood Moses before Pharaoh). The difference is easy to spot. The genuine article is marked by a Cross! Yes, if the method or message does not contain the Cross, it is not the real thing. Avoid it! Let me illustrate. Many churches are filled to overflowing because they have become seeker sensitive, serve good coffee, have focus groups and show a real interest in people. Yet, the preachers in these churches avoid the Cross. Has that church and the people been transformed? I do not think so.

I can understand why many people would want a fake Rolex. It is simple: they cannot afford the real thing. But why would anyone want fake transformation when the real thing is free and has been fully paid for at the Cross?

[1] Leslie, Lynn & Sarah. "What Is Transformation?" 2005

[Today's edifying message was reprinted with permission of Anton Bosch.]

The Truth:

"Be not carried about with divers and strange docrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." (Hebrews 13:9)