This year, our school theme has been “Transformed by Truth.” We’ve been thinking about, talking about, teaching about, and writing about what it means to be transformed by God’s love and His Word to be disciples of Jesus, those who do what He does, thinks as He thinks, and feels as He feels. It’s not enough to be merely believers or adherents to the Word, or, as the apostle James says, “hearers.” Christ’s promises of abundant life, of new life, and of eternal life are for His followers, His disciples. I was thinking this week about everything I’ve been writing and thinking through this topic this year, and how I’d summarize it all as we near the end of another school year.
“Transformed by Truth” comes from Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As Augustine said, we’re not first thinkers or doers, but lovers. We are what we love, and whatever we give our time, attention, and affection to will mold and shape us, and conform us into its image.
I had an amazing vision of this truth when I was in New York City last week. We walked into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the few American cathedrals that rival those in Europe. It was a beautiful, reverent, majestic place, one in which it was easy to sense God’s presence, if one was paying attention. And, in fact there were a number of people sitting in the pews, obviously deep in prayer. There was an equal number, however, who sat in the pews playing on their phones and other digital devices. And it struck me as terribly ironic that here, in a place dedicated to worshipping God, were so many giving their time, attention, and affection, worshipping the device in their hands.
We’re conformed to this world when we let it mold and shape the way we think, how we believe, and how we feel. Whether it’s letting social media algorithms feed us a steady diet of what we already think we know, convincing us that everyone believes the way we do, or letting adult peer pressure and the culture around us drives us to parent from fear, or fooling ourselves into believing that buying that next thing that I don’t have will make me happy, even for a moment (retail therapy, anyone?), all of us are guilty to some degree of letting the world shape us, conforming us to its patterns.
Instead, God calls us to be transformed, with a changed and renewed mind, seeing the world through the eyes of His Spirit. Transformation isn’t a self-improvement project, and can’t be forced or gutted out on our own. Changed hearts and minds are Holy Spirit works, and as Paul says in Galatians, the same Spirit that saves is the one that transforms. We have agency, in all this, however. We have a role to play. The spiritual disciplines–prayer, studying our Bibles (whether inductive Bible study, long meditation over short passages like lectio divina, or reading large passages in a year to understand the Word in its context), time alone in silence and solitude with the Lord, and fasting, among others–are also known as the means of grace. They are called that because they are the way we place ourselves in a position where the Holy Spirit can transform us. They are the way we move ourselves under the shower of the Spirit, cleansing, molding, and shaping us.
Affection follows obedience, but only because transformation into disciples, and the heightening of our affections, always requires something of us. Whether it’s employing the means of grace, or surrendering to the Lord and allowing Him to shape us through challenges and trials, God’s grace responds to our willingness to be open to and used by God for His good purposes.
Perhaps most of all, transformation requires vulnerability. In Surrender to Love, one of the best books I’ve read all year and which I’ve talked about often, David Benner reminds us that “It is not the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life-changing. It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally.” Everything within me wants to manage my image, offering my best “pretend self”–what author Brennan Manning called “the Impostor” in us all–to other people and to God. This is my “best self,” the self of my own making, the one I’ve tried all my life to convince myself I am, and that am terrified to admit that I am not. This self can never be transformed, because it can’t receive love in vulnerability. It wants God to accept it not for who he actually is, broken and desperately in need of Jesus, but who it wants to believe itself to be.
Instead, Benner notes that what we need is to truly know God, a knowing that is deeper than belief, one that is based upon experience. This knowing comes from sitting at the feet of Jesus, letting God’s love wash over us, resting in scriptural assurances of love, spending time with God, and feeling His love for you. Like truly knowing the love of a loving spouse or parent, this kind of knowing is deeper than belief, because it is experiential, not solely from reading or learning.
This kind of love transforms us, but it is also the only thing that allows us to truly love others. We can do loving acts for others, but we can’t really generate feelings of love for them. God gives us that love, and it comes when our hearts are transformed by realizing how much we are truly loved by Him. That realization, that knowing, transforms.
Most of the time we’re too busy to experience this knowing kind of love, love that transforms. That’s why we have to be willing to slow down, to step away, to be willing to pursue rest and Sabbath and solitude. It’s virtually impossible to be transformed in the loud busyness of life, and our enemy, the devil, wants to keep us there.
And, finally, we know from this year and this passage that any vision God gives us for our lives, any ability to discern the truth, any understanding of God’s will for our lives, comes as a result of being transformed by truth. He leads and guides His disciples, because His disciples want to follow Him, and actually do follow. No one else does, so why should He lead or guide? It sounds pretty simple when we say it that way, doesn’t it? Yet, we make it so much harder.
My desire for our kids at Grace, their families, my own family, and myself is that we’ll be transformed by truth and love into men and women who want to be all God has in store for them. Why would we want anything less?