Theology of Transformation

As church leaders, we long to see transformation in the lives of people, our church, and our city. Alton Garrison of the Assemblies of God says “Our mission is not complete until we have seen people have life change.” The word from the Scriptures often associated with transformation is “metamorphosis.” It communicates lasting and irreversible change at the core, not merely external alterations or tweaking the appearance. Metamorphosis is used to describe the process a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. The apostle Paul paints a picture of transformation:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17–18)

Paul is taking the readers back to Moses and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai. Each time Moses met with God, he walked down the mountain transformed, glowing after enjoying the presence of God. Moses wore a veil over his face to cover the fact that the glory was fading (2 Cor. 3:13) because with each step away from the mountain, he stepped farther away from the presence of God.

Paul says that we believers have unveiled faces. The glory does not decrease for us as it did for Moses. Because we never leave the presence of God, the glory increases. We never leave the mountain because the Spirit is in us. We enjoy a relationship with God that even Moses did not have.

The language Paul uses is intentional—God is the one who does the transforming. We don’t transform ourselves. We “are being transformed.” All this, all the transforming, is “from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

God desires to bring His people through this metamorphosis process. He seeks to transform the people in your church into His image, and He wants to do so with ever increasing glory. Meaning He wants the people you serve to be more like Him tomorrow than they are today.

If God does all the transforming, what is our part? If God is the one responsible to mature the people under your care, what is your role?

God transformed Moses, but Moses played a significant role in the transformation. His role was simple but still necessary.

He walked up the mountain.

Moses put himself in the right position to be transformed. He discovered the posture where God would move in his life, and he put himself there.

Some leaders and Christians drift toward passivity in their approach to spiritual transformation. They rightly believe that God is the one who transforms, but they wrongly assume zero responsibility for their maturation. The apostle Paul trusted God to do the transforming while simultaneously rejecting a passive approach to discipleship. He challenged Timothy to “train yourself in godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7) and strained toward the goal of Christlikeness (Phil. 3:13).

Other leaders and Christians drift to performance in their view of discipleship, as if we are the ones who transform ourselves. These leaders trade in their freedom in Christ for an updated version of the law filled with human regulations and legislated self-righteousness.

The proper perspective is neither passivity nor performance but partnership. Spiritual transformation is divine-human synergy over a lifetime. As leaders we must teach that our reliance upon God does not preclude personal responsibility for obedience. God graciously commands His people humbly to put themselves in the right posture to be transformed, and He does the transforming. The divine-human synergy is well seen in Paul’s encouragement to believers in Philippi:

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil. 2:12–13)

If you have ever waterskied or kneeboarded, you understand partnership. You are not the one who lifts you out of the water or pulls you across the lake. The boat has all of the power. But you do play a part. You must place yourself in the right posture behind the boat, give the one driving the boat a thumbs-up sign, and prepare for the ride.

Spiritual transformation is the same. God is the one enabling His people to mature and grow while His people are invited to place themselves in the right posture.

Church ministry, like personal spiritual growth, is a divine—human partnership. As a church leader your role is not to transform people. You cannot, and it is offensive to God if you believe you can. Your role is to place people in the pathway of God’s transforming power. Your leadership, preaching, teaching, investing, and counseling are to be instruments God uses for His holy endeavors to transform people. Those sacred practices must be used to show people how attractive Christ is so that people are positioned for transformation.

Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)