(The following is the sixth in a series of excerpts from Pastor Stam’s classic work on True Spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)
A PRECIOUS TRUTH TOO LITTLE APPRECIATED
It is regrettable that so many Bible commentaries take so shallow a view of the subject of sanctification.
Most Bible students know that in the Authorized Version of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures the words “holiness” and “sanctification,” with scarcely any exceptions have the same meaning. In the Old Testament both words come from the single Hebrew root qodesh, while in the New both come from the single Greek root hagiazo.
According to most commentaries qodesh and its Greek equivalent hagiazo, simply mean “to set apart” or “to separate.” Now it is true that this is the organic meaning in both cases, but very often the organic meaning of a word falls far short of expressing its true significance in actual usage. Such is the case with the Hebrew and Greek words for sanctification. Organically they mean a separating or setting apart, but as used in the Scriptures they mean much more than this.
In Bible usage, both in Old and New Testaments to make holy, or to sanctify, means “to set apart as sacred,” “to consecrate,” “to dedicate.” The following passages are but a few that bear out this fact:
Gen. 2:3: “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.”
Ex. 3:5: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
Matt. 6:9: “Hallowed be Thy name.”
II Cor. 11:2: “…I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
In the above passages the Hebrew and Greek words in question are variously rendered “sanctified,” “holy,” “hallowed” and “espoused,” but in each case the meaning is, “set apart as sacred,” “consecrated,” “dedicated.” Thus Jerusalem is called “the holy city” (Matt. 4:5) and the sanctuary of the tabernacle, “the holiest of all” (Heb. 9:3,8); the Bible is called “the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2) and the Spirit of God, “the holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30).
THE BELIEVER’S SANCTIFICATION
How it would touch the hearts of many believers if they realized that both in our salvation and in our walk it has been God’s purpose, not merely to set us apart from the world, but to set us apart as sacred to Himself! Sanctification speaks of God’s love to us more than of ours to Him. This truth, to many, would cast an entirely new light on the doctrine of sanctification.
Sanctification is not a negative matter, but a positive one. God wants us for Himself. He considers us His hallowed possession much as a bridegroom considers his bride his very own, sacred to himself. This shows how precious the believer is to the heart of God and makes our separation from the world and sin the natural result of our consecration to Him. “Ye turned to God from idols,” says the apostle, not “from idols to God” (See I Thes. 1:9). True Scriptural sanctification, or holiness, then, does not consist in “dos” and “don’ts,” nor is it to be confused with sinless perfection. It is rather a consecration to God which results in a closer walk with Him.
In a very real sense every true believer has already been sanctified, or consecrated, to God. Some view sanctification as a second work of grace, after salvation. Actually it is the very first work of grace. Sanctification begins with God as He chooses us and sets us apart for Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin and leads us to faith in Christ. Thus we read:
“…God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thes. 2:13).
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:2).
Nor is this phase of our sanctification affected by our conduct. In Ephesians 5:2,3 the apostle declares that believers should “walk…as becometh saints [sanctified ones]” but this in itself implies that some who are saints do not walk so.
Even the carnal Corinthians are addressed as “saints”—”sanctified in Christ Jesus” (I Cor. 1:2). Naming sins which some of them were even then committing, he goes on to say:
“And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11).
Thus believers, whatever their state, are called:
“…them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; 26:18).
“…the elect of God, holy and beloved…” (Col. 3:12).
All this, of course, pertains to our position and standing before God. It was He who, in infinite love and grace, set us apart as His own, declaring us righteous before all. But how can a righteous God justify a sinner? How can a holy God embrace a fallen son of Adam? The answer is, through the glorious, all-sufficient work of Christ on the sinner’s behalf.
“We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10).
“For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
Positionally, then, every believer has been sanctified, or set apart, by God for Himself through the operation of the Holy Spirit and on the basis of the shed blood of Christ. Little wonder the Spirit thunders forth the challenge:
“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?…” (Rom. 8:33,34).
How precious are these truths! Yet, the apostle never teaches positional truth without applying it in a practical way. If God in love set us apart as His own, should not our love respond to His? Should it not also be our heart’s desire to be His, wholly His, in experience and conduct? Should not our hearts be touched with gratitude and wonder at His condescending love and result in spontaneous and eager consecration to Him?
It is this that the apostle has in mind as, by the Spirit, he writes that God—
“…hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him,
“In love1 having predestinated us unto the adoption of children…” (Eph. 1:4,5).
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…” (I Thes. 4:3).
But here a word of caution is needed, lest in seeking to be wholly sanctified to God, we leave ourselves open to discouragement and disillusionment.
Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to sanctify the “flesh” to God. The Scriptures teach that the “flesh,” the old Adamic nature, is totally bad and experience bears witness that this is so. The “flesh” cannot be improved, or reformed, or converted, and “they that are in the flesh2cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). It is for this reason that God sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to “condemn sin in the flesh” at Calvary (See Rom. 8:3).
We are not, then, to seek to improve the old nature or dedicate it to God, but to recognize it as condemned by God and crucified with Christ.
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him…” (Rom. 6:6).
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).
But while the believer’s “flesh” cannot be sanctified to God, his body can and should be. The Apostle Paul has much to say about this:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:19,20).
Thus the apostle writes to the Thessalonians:
“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (I Thes. 4:4).
“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (I Thes. 4:7).
And thus he concludes:
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes. 5:23).
In his very last epistle he declares that while “the Lord knoweth them that are His,” all who name the name of Christ should “depart from iniquity,” and goes on to explain that—
“…in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor.
“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (II Tim. 2:20,21).
The Church is indeed “a great house,” and in it there are all sorts of vessels. Most of these, it is to be feared, are dishonoring to the Lord and unfit for the Master’s use. God grant that we may not belong to this number, but may rather be vessels which will bring honor to God, “sanctified, and meet [fit] for the Master’s use.”
THE “HOW” OF PRACTICAL SANCTIFICATION
As we consider how to be sanctified to God in walk and experience we must again place the emphasis where God has placed it: upon His blessed Word.
No one will deny that prayer is an important element in practical sanctification, yet the Word places the supreme emphasis upon itself in this matter. Our Lord prayed for His disciples:
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth” (John 17:17).
The Apostle Paul declares that our Lord “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it,
“That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word” (Eph. 5:25,26).
Many dear Christians have said to the writer: “If only I could remember these Bible truths better, but I have a mind like a sieve.” But pour water through a sieve and it will at least have a cleansing effect. And so does the blessed Word of God have a cleansing effect upon those who prayerfully read it and meditate upon it. It is the Word which its Author, the Holy Spirit, uses to cleanse and sanctify us more and more to God, and those who are not deeply and sincerely interested in the study of the Word will never enjoy true, practical sanctification no matter how much they pray.
While there is no punctuation in the original, it appears from the context that the words “in love” belong with Verse 5.
I.e., who have not been begotten again by the Spirit.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
Have you ever heard someone say something like this, “I can’t help it, that is just how I am and how God made me.” This way of thinking is very unfortunate since it denies the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to change lives, and even goes so far as to blame God for personal deficiencies. God certainly accepts us just as we are for salvation (we do not have to try to get rid of our sin first), but His earnest desire is not to leave us the way He finds us. His desire after salvation is to start changing us from the inside-out, that is, to transform us from the depths of our being (changing how we think and act). The emphasis should not be who we are, but who we could be by the grace of God. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
God created us in His image and, to some degree, being created in His image includes being made with three aspects, or parts, just as He is three. Our three aspects are: body, soul and spirit. In general terms, the soul is that part of us that is self-conscious (relating to self and the world around us), while the spirit is that part of us that is God-conscious (relating to faith and our relationship with God).1 Each aspect has specific functions and needs; thankfully, God has a plan for each (according to His knowledge of the intricacies of His handiwork).
God’s plan for our spirit is regeneration, an instantaneous act of God that saves us by His grace the moment we believe. His plan for the believer’s body is to give us a glorified body in the future (with some earthly assistance for the present time). This article will explore God’s plan for our mind. In Scripture the words mind, heart and soul are often used interchangeably; this pattern will be followed in this article. His plan for our mind is to renew it, to make it completely new, thereby transforming our entire life. Living a sanctified life (holy and God-pleasing) is based upon this renewing, that is, upon the Holy Spirit producing His character, will, values, and desires in our heart. Ultimately, we see that His grace is seen not only in salvation but in every aspect and all times of our life. His power within us helps assure what mankind so desperately seeks—a sound mind. “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
We humans are a spiritual being in a physical body with a mind (soul) to do what the Holy Spirit teaches.2
The word transformed (Romans 12:2) in Greek is metamorphosis (meta=change, morph=form) and means, a change in form. In common practice the word transformation is used to describe the change of a rather unattractive chrysalis (larva) into a beautiful butterfly. Christ’s transfiguration in Mark 9:2-13 was a metamorphosis. The Lord wants each of us to be transformed and this is accomplished by having a renewed mind. Our mind has to be changed in such a way that the old nature with its values, beliefs and practices is replaced by that which conforms to the mind of Christ. We are not genetically programmed to transform ourselves, God will not do it for us automatically, nor will He force it upon us. He will only do it as we allow Him and cooperate with Him in the process (walk in the Spirit).
“Believers are commanded to change [if you prefer, exchange]3 the expressions of the old life and nature for that of the new nature which indwells every Christian. This is done by the renewing of the mind by the Holy Spirit. `Renewing’ means `a complete change for the better’ effected by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).”4 The beauty of transformation is that we will find His good, acceptable (well pleasing), and perfect (complete) will to be exactly what we need in our life. His will in our life will prove to us, family, church, society, even the angels in heaven (Ephesians 3:10) how the perfect will of God is His gracious provision for our mental and spiritual well being.
A good spiritual lesson is afforded by a boy who observed a chrysalis transforming into a butterfly. The boy saw the struggling chrysalis trying to get out of the cocoon and wondered why it had to struggle so hard, why did God make it struggle for so long, wasn’t there an easier way? Finally, the boy intervened in his desire to ease the struggle. He took his pocketknife and carefully cut the cocoon open so the struggling creature could get out. It did, it wiggled out and the boy was delighted with his heroic efforts. But then, the chrysalis fell to the ground, writhing and struggling because it could not fly—its wings were not sufficiently developed. Eventually the chrysalis died. The boy then realized that the cocoon that he saw as a hindrance and an obstacle was instead life sustaining and allowed the chrysalis time to develop into a butterfly. The struggle was a necessary part of life and his well intended shortcuts only had detrimental effects. For the butterfly to fly required metamorphosis, and that entailed struggle and time.
“If we do not become changed from the inside-out—if we don’t morph—we will be tempted to find external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we’re different from those outside the faith.”5 If we do not allow our self to be transformed, we will settle for being informed (ever learning, II Timothy 3:7) or conformed to something other than Christ. It is here we Christians must be careful not to fall into one of the adversary’s clever schemes, that is, the belief that by not conforming to the world we are obeying Romans 12. A person can be against everything the world offers but that only makes that person a non-conformist. Non-conformity is not transformation. Non-conformity can result in a person being a cranky, belligerent, isolationist—this is not God’s desire. Transformation is a personal matter between each of us and the Holy Spirit, and, as the Lord produces His mind in us, we are compelled from our heart not to conform to the world. Transformation produces the desired non-conformance, not vice versa!
Perhaps an illustration will help clarify the above statement. If your boss said to you, “an emergency requires that you quickly go to the warehouse, do not walk but take the company car.” Then, if you were to think, “Well, I was told not to walk so I’ll run,” would that be obeying the boss? Certainly not. The boss’ emphasis was on what to do, not on what not to do. While running is not walking, that is not what the boss wants and it will not get the job done—just take the car and that resolves all issues of walking/running. In our case, the Lord’s emphasis is on transformation, which results in conformance to Christ. The degree we are conformed to Christ is the degree to which conformity to the world is averted. Pure non-conformists can end life mean-spirited and negative because no transformation has taken place, only a preoccupation with being against the world.
Too often we think that Romans 12:2 gives us two commands: 1) not to conform to the world and 2) to be transformed. There is no “and” between the two phrases (implying two things); there is a “but,” which indicates the Lord is instructing us to do one of two things (be transformed). We have the choice of either conforming to the world or of having a renewed mind conforming to that of Christ. The choice of a renewed mind avoids the other. The legalists love to teach there are two items here for our obedience and then they come up with a list of do’s and don’ts to measure non-conformance to the world. This is missing the point entirely. Ideally, under grace, transformation creates a mind that has no interest in conformance to the world. In practical terms, our earthly struggle is often the fight between the world and Christ for our mind’s attention; we want to make sure the transformation side is always winning the battle.
Salvation is required before transformation can begin, but transformation should commence immediately thereafter. Any self-transformation attempts are useless. Just as we cannot save ourselves (He has to do it all for us), we cannot transform ourselves; however, He will do it for us, over time, as we yield to Him. Transformation is not an instantaneous act of God like salvation; it is a life-long process conducted by the Holy Spirit. It is the process of growing spiritually (with ups and downs), of growing in grace, with the goal of continually being conformed to the mind of Christ.
Please consider these reasons why we must each be morphed:
To overcome the defacing of His image due to sin.
Our mind is polluted from the fall, the world and our own choices—we need mental detoxification, mind renewal, reprogramming, and the mind of Christ.
We need a new mind to go along with our salvation.
We need a new value system, desires and goals—His (Philippians 2:13).
Renewal of our mind removes negative thinking, a prime source of mental and physical illness.6
To put off the old man (sin oriented, self-centered, defensive behavior, unable to admit being wrong, anger, moodiness, etc.) (Ephesians 4:22).
To put on the new man (Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24).
To remove the overwhelming burden of thinking our performance is the measure of our standing with the Lord.
Mental baggage (hidden in the deep recesses of our mind) holds us down, keeps us captive to the past, and we have to get rid of it.
More on Mental Baggage
A woman saw a very large and powerful elephant at a circus that was restrained by a small chain. The woman knew that the elephant could easily break the chain if it wanted, but every time the elephant came to the end of the chain it just stopped and did not even try to break free. The trainer said that the chain was the same one that was used when the elephant was little, and at that time the elephant tried and tried to break it but could not. So the elephant learned at that time that it could not break the chain, and he still remembers that. “You see,” said the trainer, “it is not the chain that holds the elephant captive but his memories.” Sadly, this is true for many of us, our memories hold us captive and we do not experience the freedom that is ours in Christ. Precious memories are the fabric of our lives, but unpleasant memories unravel that fabric.
The author often gets letters, calls, and emails from believers who have had a miserable past. The accounts go on and on about a terrible childhood, physical abuse, sexual abuse, depression, wrong treatment, unfaithful friends/spouses, bad parents, alcohol and drug abuse….Some people seem to be dealt a very poor hand in life, some create it themselves. Sometimes the past is composed of good things that no longer exist (careers, fame, family, friends, wealth); these can also be negative when viewed from the perspective of great loss. The negative memories of the past, when ruminated about (thought about over and over in one’s mind) will only consume a person emotionally and physically. Negative thinking about the past feeds our hostility, bitterness or sense of loss. Since we cannot do anything about the past, we need a new way of viewing it. Constant negative thinking is like a cancer of the soul and is a sure formula for actual mental illness. That is why we are instructed in Philippians 3:13-14 to put it behind us (forget about the past) and look forward to the finish line.
If we wallow in the negative events of our past and do not allow transformation, then the past will continue to be our present and future.
In an effort to relieve the pain of the past and in order to foster healing many people have tried forgiving those who have offended them. Often they are disappointed, stating that forgiveness doesn’t work because they still remember the pain of the past and people still treat them the same. Forgiveness does not mean we will forget the past; only God can forget such things. Forgiveness on our part does not change the past, or others for that matter; what it does is release us from the stranglehold the past has on our present life. Thus, it creates in us a new perspective that allows us to move forward in life. Forgiveness creates a condition in which the memories of the past do not continue to control us emotionally—so a memory of the past does not create sorrow, hostility or tears. In this regard, a Christian friend or therapist using Scriptural principles may be used by the Lord to help a person see and interpret the past and themselves differently. It is better to forgive past injustice than to let it fester into bitterness7 that tarnishes the rest of our life. Our future in Christ can be very different, provided we allow Him to make the truth that “all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17) part of our daily life.
For clarification purposes, forgiveness and forgetting the past relate to our mind; however, other civil, legal and family responsibilities still remain. One can walk away from an errant mind into a new way of thinking but one should not walk away from earthly responsibilities. So, debts, child support, criminal activities, and similar responsibilities must still be addressed.
When our minds are held captive there is no joy. Renewal of the mind allows the Lord to remove that which holds our minds captive and restore our joy. Consider this Biblical example. After the first destruction of the temple in Jerusalem many Jews were forced into Babylonian exile where they lamented, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the mist thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth…” (Psalms 137:1-3). I believe this text teaches the principle that when in captivity there is no relief from sorrow. Hanging the harps on the willow is very symbolic for it makes two things clear: 1) the harps that normally brought joy could no longer do so, and 2) the willow trees (the bark contains salicylic acid, the precursor of aspirin) could not blunt their pain. (From that time the graceful tree was known as the weeping willow).8 In similar fashion, our past, problems, addictions, etc., can hold us captive and nothing in this world will relieve the pain or sorrow—only Christ can.
There is no joy while our mind is held captive to anything but Christ.
Pastor Sadler states, “When the present dispensation was committed to Paul, the very nature of `grace’ gave birth to a new revelation in regard to our Christian walk.”9 Lewis Sperry Chafer emphasizes, “God has a purpose under grace, for a whole new manner of life for the believer,”10 that is:
Adjustment of our life to the indwelling-presence of the Holy Spirit, and of maintaining an unbroken attitude of dependence on that Spirit.
The law could work no change in the heart/mind, nor can our attempts to keep rules; the Spirit only can do this.
Under grace, God proposes by the Spirit to first create the heavenly motives and desires, and then, by the same Spirit, to empower the life through the Word unto the full realization of those desires (Philippians 2:13).
Thus, it may be seen that grace is not a way of escaping obedience to God, it is the only possible way in which true obedience can be secured.
If you squeeze an orange you get orange juice, every time. If you want grape juice no amount of faith or sincere prayer will enable grape juice to come out of an orange. Even a child knows you always get orange juice, “because that’s what’s in it.” The question is, what comes out of us when we are squeezed? What is truly inside is what will come out when squeezed by the stress of life. Does cursing, addictive behavior, bitterness, revenge, or sorrow come out? As the Lord transforms our mind and renews it His fruit is produced in our mind; then what will come out will be love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).
How Morphing Works
Believers should embrace and clearly understand transformation.
It is not an instantaneous act of God, it is a process of God (lifelong).
It is not a gift (it is not acquired all at one time or in a complete form like a gift); it is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit requiring cooperation and effort on our part. In this regard, it helps to understand that generally a spiritual gift and an act of God go together (example: salvation), whereas, spiritual fruit and a process of God go together (examples: love, joy, peace).
The passive voice (Greek) in Romans 12:2 means the Holy Spirit will do the transforming for us as we cooperate with Him (listening, yielding, relying, submitting, learning, praying, studying, obeying…).
We do not get a renewed mind by just praying, asking or believing. There are no shortcuts or quick and easy ways for becoming spiritually mature.
It results in His fruit growing in us (Galatians 5:22-23, Philippians 1:11, Ephesians 5:9).
Fruit grows slowly, requiring: nurturing (Word, prayer, obedience…), cultivation (weed removal, i.e., those old things in our life that choke out our new life in Christ), watering (worship and praise), fertile ground (a mind receptive and hungry), pruning (some strategic removal of “self” so that we can be closer to the Vine and produce better fruit), and pest removal (Ephesians 6, spiritual warfare).
The schematics below will be used to help illustrate this important ministry. Concerning the soul and spirit, Hebrews 4:12 indicates that only the Word of God can discern the difference between them because they are so much alike in their nature and activities. Likewise, the activities of soul, mind and heart are similar, overlapping considerably.
In Figure 1, the four circles represent our entire being. On the outside is our temporary house (our body), next deeper down into our being is our soul (mind/heart), and further into the deeper parts of our being (our core) is our spirit. The most inner circle would be a black hole (void of God) for the unsaved, but for the believer the Holy Spirit comes within and fills this most important part of our being. In time past (including the Gospels), the Spirit worked from the outside to create changes within the person. But now, in this dispensation, the Holy Spirit is within the person and works outward—a much more effective means for assuring a Godly demeanor. He works from the deepest recesses of our being, working outward, transforming our mind and life in the process.
As the Holy Spirit works, He is primarily interested in the most important areas of our existence, i.e., our spirit and the deeper parts of our soul. What is contained in these areas where the Spirit primarily works? Well, the core issues of life. Starting at the deepest issues and going toward the less deep, the order is somewhat like this: God-consciousness, faith, conscience, character, value system, will, desires, and so forth. Figure 2 represents a more detailed view of various parts of our composition (from the body to the Holy Spirit) and how they relate. Things like personality and emotions are far from the core; it is not as likely He will change our body, personality or emotions as it is He will change the core issues. He changes our core issues and creates fruit in our life; thus, a person will have inner joy (character issue) but may not display a happy face (emotion). Other examples of His transforming power are seen when a person’s value system is changed from pro-choice to pro-life or when a person’s desires are changed over time such that addictive behavior is overcome. Godly convictions, conscience and behavior are created through a renewed mind.
The Spirit is needed in transforming us because we are incapable to affect any change on our own. As an example, consider our character, which comes from the depths and recesses of our being. Our character is different than our personality, our personality is our outward manifestation to the world around us. Our character looks inward, it feels our hurt and joy, it arranges our inner value system and motivations. Character is the foundation upon which our personality acts. Our character has some very basic needs, and these needs are generally established early in life and are based upon our first and most primitive experiences. The word for character originally meant, “to carve, engrave, scratch, or cut grooves.”11 It comprises the deepest imprints (grooves) in our person, and these grooves are not easily changed. For most people these early-formed imprints are permanently engraved into their being. Those grooves that are in error are the `scars of life’ that cause many people mental health problems their whole life. We need Divine help to remove them (when they are contrary to God’s will). It is like erasing scratches in a phonographic record or CD, impossible for us, easy for Him. If done through self-effort we only “pick scabs” and create permanent scars. We must depend upon Him to make us new from the inside-out to remove the grooves and erase the scars of the past; otherwise, they will control us and hold us captive our entire life.
Prepare for the Journey
The life-long journey of transformation is not necessarily easy and it has frustrations. It is the journey He has planned and will guide; it goes places we did not know existed. None of us could have even dreamed of such a journey.
A. Accept thorns: Recall the boy and chrysalis story; struggle is one means for growth if we want to mature. God uses struggles and trials to mature us; we must bear His cross. Accept the fact there will be many discouragements and even doubts, but do not let them deter you from further growth.
B. Expect Spiritual Advancement: Philippians 3:15-16—Let your level of spiritual attainment be your guide for further advancement, but do not get stuck at some level and think you can not mature more. Your imperfections will be revealed by the Holy Spirit so that you may continue to grow and be more complete (not sinless, but a well rounded Christian). Maturity versus infancy is the issue; God wants to continually transform us so we more and more conform to Christ.
C. Rejoice in the Refiner’s touch: God loves you just the way you are, but refuses to leave you that way; He wants you to be like Christ. We love babies just as they are, but do we stop when they fill their pants? No, that is their nature; we want to help them grow and refuse to leave them that way (II Corinthians 3:18). We do not want to be spiritual babies for long.
D. New light/truth demands change: Transformation enables us to mentally accept the concept that a “reasonable service” for our Lord is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, Romans 12:1. If you have to give up former ways, habits or addictions, He will first change your desires and then give you the willpower to do it—change becomes easier than originally thought. As we commit to a new way of life it will, over time, become a natural way of life. Change/sacrifice is what God asks, and is a ministry of the Holy Spirit we should take great care not to quench.
E. Stretch Forward: In Philippians 3:1-14 Paul uses a race runner’s analogy. The runner’s speed is slackened by looking backward to those behind, so the Christian’s onward progress is hindered by dwelling on the past. The past, whether bad or good, can hold us captive and prevent future advancement. Forgetting the past means to not let it dominate our present emotions and life. If things have been made right with those involved, we should forget about the past and stretch forward to the things ahead, like a runner leans toward the finish line. You cannot run the race looking backward.
Outcome of Transformation
Transformation results in a closer walk and intimacy with Christ. Intimacy allows us to be ourselves without fear of disapproval. Thus, I can pour my heart out to Him without fear of His disappointment and He can pour Himself into me without my resistance or fear. A transformed mind thinks something like this:
As the Lord leads, I desire to live with a personal, intimate relationship with the Lord—a life infused with a God-given purpose. May my intent be to know Him so closely that everything I think or touch is filled with the fullness of Christ. Furthermore, may my passion be to have a mind with the inclination and desires to believe and pursue Christ-likeness with every aspect of my being.
Transformation creates true empowerment. Power is produced from within, actuating and providing us with the ability to perform what He desires in our lives. As His fruit begins growing in our mind, our lives displays more and more Christ-likeness, and our lives reflects the fruit of growing in grace. We are empowered to glorify God.
There is a fairly well known process for getting from the thought of doing something to actually getting it done. First we have the thought of accomplishing something, this is the conceptual stage that involves our will; it takes place in our mind. The next step is to move the thought from our mind to verbalizing it (saying it), this expresses our desire to others and tends to establish it in our heart. Once we have verbalized our desire then we move to establishing our intent (the planning stage): answering the what, how, and when questions that help assure accomplishment of the goal. Then, the final stage is to have a passion about doing (action) what is needed to see the goal become an accomplished fact.
Note how similar this is to what God did for us so that we could be “in Christ” in this present age. First, by His will he developed the concept in His mind (thought it all out before the foundation of the world), verbalized it (let Us make man in our Own image), planned for the whole process of Christ’s death and the life hereafter (He even planned to keep some things secret for a time), and finally He put it all into action and directed the process.
Each step of maturity brought about by transformation of the mind helps assure the next steps of spiritual growth are godly in origin. The renewed mind can then correctly express the desire, plan for change and passionately pursue the goal. But, all too often we quench the Holy Spirit (I Thessalonians 5:19) by finding excuses for not allowing the Holy Spirit to work fully in our life, e.g., “All men lust,” “A bad temper runs in the family,” “I just cannot love my spouse.” How sad, how inexcusable! He commands us not to have this mind-set and has created a way that He can accomplish needed change from the very core of our being. The Lord’s heart must ache for the person who has been a Christian for years and has preferred to retain the mind of the old nature. This compromised holiness is the precursor to a compromised life, with less impact and service than desired.
In addition to quenching the Holy Spirit there is another way we hinder transformation. It has to do with how we view things in general, and how we view something can subconsciously drive our intent and passion. It has been shown that we have best results when we view a situation from the positive, rather than from the negative. If viewed from the negative, there is often a break in the process between Desire and Intent. God puts the thought in the mind, the person translates that into a desire, but Satan (or self) finds a way for partial obedience to seem very godly, and this prevents further advancement. The example below will help clarify this.
A person says, “I hate being so angry.” This is viewing an area of concern from the negative perspective. The problem with this view is that the expressed desire is to hate anger, so in order for this person to hate being angry they must be angry. The intent (plan) follows the desire, so the plan in this case will revolve around how to hate being angry. Unfortunately, in order to continue to hate one’s anger a person must stay angry. It seems absurd at first, but such views inadvertently and subconsciously set a person up for failure; in this case, the person tends to get hung-up on hating anger rather than getting over it. They can find solace in the fact they hate what God hates, but they end up being just partially obedient and do not appropriate God’s provision for victory. A person has to view and state their desire positively, “With God’s help, I will be slow to anger.” Once we have thought it out and verbalized being slow to anger, then plans to accomplish this can begin and the person can passionately practice being slow to anger.
The person above must make cooperation with the Lord a moment-by-moment issue. Cooperation requires searching for Scriptures that apply to the situation, confronting the situation constructively, making no provisions to continue to sin, repenting (immediately stopping wrong behavior and acknowledging the sin), and practicing replacing anger with the things noted in Philippians 4:8. A specific formula/approach for success in overcoming each problem area of life cannot be given because it is the work of the Holy Spirit and may be different in each person’s life. What works for one may not work for another, this is His domain. Again, there are no short cuts and each person must search the Scriptures daily for help and insights, while also searching for strongholds in their life that have to be brought into obedience to the Lord.
How should one verbalize a temper problem: “I wish I did not have a bad temper” or “I will be longsuffering”? How about relationships: “My spouse and I have irreconcilable differences” or “Christ can make something beautiful out of the ashes or our marriage and I will make that my top priority.” Consider this approach for any issue, say, being overweight.
There is instruction in the oxymoron, “Lord give me patience and give it to me now.” Prayer alone will not yield patience. Prayer coupled with a willing mind and obedience to His Word will. The very instance we feel impatience occurring we must cut it off, “make no provision for the flesh,” and replace it with proper behavior. This may require some personal suffering; but recall Romans 5:3 indicates tribulation (suffering) leads to patience, which leads to experience (character building) and that to hope. So, when we seek patience we are likely to experience suffering and gain experience in the process. Transformation is the process of embarking on a journey with the Holy Spirit, trekking into unexplored secret avenues of our lives, going down paths we never knew existed, and accomplishing the impossible. We learn it is a journey based upon obedience, trust and reliance upon Him.
The first step in God’s plan to make us whole is our salvation. Salvation provides the very deepest spiritual needs a person has; these are the spiritual blessings of Ephesians 1:4-2:6. Although we get these blessings the moment of salvation, it takes the life-long work of the Holy Spirit to help us understand and appreciate them. These blessings help erase insecurity and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness by replacing them with the comfort and assurance of Christ.
The next step in making us whole (sound-minded) is our transformation. A leopard cannot change its spots; on the contrary, a Christian must. We have access to Divine empowerment to change the spots (core issues) of our life. To say, “I cannot help who I am,” is not true. Christians have the Holy Spirit within them, so the issue is not who you are, but who He is. He determines who you can be. In all stages of our life, no matter what our age, the Lord has work to do; the issue is, are we willing to yield and cooperate. It has been said there are two sides to every person, one minute sweet and lovely to one person and a minute later explosive in rage to another; this does not have to be the case for the believer.
Transformation is accomplished through mind renewal, and as He renews our minds the fruit of the Holy Spirit is produced in our life—slowly but surely replacing the attitudes and character traits belonging to the old nature. Then, when we are squeezed by life’s trials we display the love, joy, peace, and longsuffering indicative of Christ in us. A popular hymn refers to us as worms before our salvation; we may have been worms at that time, but His ministry is changing us worms into beautiful creatures of great worth.
(Steve Shober is a Naturopath (natural health practitioner) and a member of the BBS Board of Directors. If you have questions about this article, you can contact him at: Biblical Health Ministries, 7179 Clover Hill Dr., Waunakee, WI 53597; or email@example.com. Biblical Health Ministries is a non-profit ministry dedicated to teaching God’s provisions for our health.)
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The phrase in brackets was added by this author.
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Bitterness has been shown to negatively influence a person’s gall bladder and anger negatively influences a person’s liver. Over time both of these will lead to physical as well as mental illness.
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