by Mark Frost –
We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever- increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. –2 Corinthians 3:18
The Scripture says that we are being transformed, not that we have been transformed. It is an life-long process that continues for as long as we turn our eyes toward Jesus and behold his glory. This is true for all believers, from the newest and weakest to the strongest and most mature. This means that God is continually making changes in our minds, emotions, will, and character. For the Christian, change is a constant! However unsettling that may be, the change is always for the better. As we focus on Jesus’ glory, we increasingly share his glory.
It is helpful to note that this transformation does not apply only to individual believers, but also to the church as a whole. Ephesians 5:25-27 states clearly that one purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice was to make the church radiant and glorious. As individual believers earnestly seek the transforming power that makes them like Jesus, so congregations must overcome their resistance to change and eagerly seek the divine renovation that can reveal the Lord’s glory through them.
The Holy Spirit is the transforming agent. In 2 Corinthians 3, the Spirit figures prominently in Paul’s discussion of God’s transforming power. Paul says that we are a letter from Christ, written with the Spirit (3:3). God has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant by the Spirit (3:6). The ministry of the Spirit is more glorious than anything in the old covenant (3:8). The Spirit grants freedom from anything that would obstruct our view of Christ (3:17). Without the Spirit, no divine makeover can take place.
How often we forget (or ignore) this truth! Periodically, I see a well-intentioned preacher announce a series of sermons on the fruit of the Spirit (based on the list in Galatians 5:22-23). The first sermon will be something like, “Ten Steps to Becoming a More Loving Person,” followed by “The Secrets of Living Joyfully,” and so on. The underlying assumption seems to be that Scripture has revealed a list of character traits that we are to develop through our own human striving. But in Paul’s theology, human striving has another name: the flesh. And the flesh is consistently portrayed as the antithesis of the Spirit. In fact, just before Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, he warns of what we may expect from all of our human striving: discord, jealousy, discord and infighting, and even sexual immorality (Galatians 5:19-21). These results are inevitable, even when our labors are for noble and admirable ends.
We can no more produce the fruit of the Spirit through our own efforts than an engineer can manufacture an apple through some industrial process. Apples are produced by farmers who have learned to work in harmony with the elements—soil, water, weather, etc.—that provide the environment in which the fruit grows and develops. So with the fruit of the Spirit. We do not become more loving people by making resolutions and adopting just the right techniques. We become more loving as we pursue a vibrant relationship with the Spirit who grows the fruit of love in our lives. My colleague, Lead Interim Ministry Partner Tim Woodroof, has written a marvelous book, A Spirit for the Rest of Us¸ that outlines a pathway for believers to be more aware of and open to the work of the Spirit. I would recommend it for church leaders who are seeking the transforming power of Christ for their congregation.
At Interim Ministry Partners, our motto is, “From Transition to Transformation.” We believe that the transition season in a church’s life can also be a time of thoroughgoing, systemic transformation that results in Jesus’ glory being seen more clearly. But the secret to that transformation does not lie in any particular process or procedure we use. It lies instead in the work of the Holy Spirit. Our best advice to church leaders, then, is “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).