Why is it that sometimes you’ll meet someone who has followed Christ for decades, been faithful in attending church, been committed to countless small groups and volunteer service activities, but they have become more impatient, unkind, rude, or judgmental? Why is it that I can be so busy serving Jesus while simultaneously moving farther from reflecting his heart and image?
Have you ever noticed that church activity does not guarantee a person’s transformation into Christlikeness? Church is just the container; it is not the substance. Christ is the one–the only one–who can transform human hearts. No amount of good Christian activity can substitute. No amount of small group participation, Bible study, prayer, or church attendance can do the transforming. Only God himself can do the work of God. All these good activities are just signposts meant to point the way to a direct engagement with God.
We’ve been told a lie. The lie is that with enough involvement in Christian activity we will experience the abundant life Christ spoke of. This is not true. Christ himself is the abundant life. Activities, disciplines, involvements, and service, no matter how powerful, are not the same as direct connection with God himself.
Too often we think of transformation–or conversion–as a one-time thing. We say, “Oh, I got saved freshman year of college,” or, “I became a Christian as a child.” We forget that spiritual formation is an ongoing process of being formed into the image of Christ for the sake of others. We neglect the teaching of Jesus that says, If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. Mt 10:39 ESV , and the teaching of the apostle Paul that says, “We must work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12).
The core of the gospel is an ongoing commitment to die. To die to self and be raised to new life in Christ. Oh, how my ego resists the dying! My false self with all its posturing and pretending has to die so that my true self can be born. My self-creation has to die so that my authentic self can be found again. The self that God created me to be before sin’s distortion.
We all have a shame-based fear of being ordinary. We seek to prove our worth through hustling, proving, posturing, being unique, or procuring fame and fortune. Some of us need to be right, some of us need to be loved, and some of us need to be seen as competent or powerful. We use various narratives and stories to prove we are important.
People offer opportunities for conversion, of ongoing change. When I get cut off in traffic, I have the opportunity to die to my need to be first. When I am offended, I am presented with the choice to die to my need to be the center. When I feel rejected, I can die to my need to be liked by everyone. These small deaths make room for resurrection in my life. I can be raised to new life in being fully known, fully loved, with no fear of rejection in Christ.
The powerful question I can ask is this: Is my life growing in the fruit of God’s spirit? Am I more loving, joyful, peaceful, patent, kind, good, faithful and full of self-control? This is the evidence of God’s transforming work in my life. Not greater involvement in church, but more of the fruit of the Spirit.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
— Jim Elliot, missionary martyr