4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. 5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.
RC Sproul was an American theologian and Bible teacher who died just 2 weeks ago. In one of his books titled “What Does It Mean To Be Born Again?” he writes, “The New Testament often uses blindness as a metaphor for spiritual deadness. By analogy, regeneration is something like being given sight. We are shrouded in darkness, but the light breaks into our lives and we suddenly see the sweetness of the things of God and delight in those things that are hidden from other people who don’t recognise their beauty. Do you have friends who just can’t understand why you’re so excited about your faith? They just can’t see it. They can’t understand it. They don’t perceive what you’re talking about.” He goes on to say, “But even we don’t see it perfectly. We need to have our vision increased. When we are born again by the sovereign power of God, that is just the beginning. We then begin the life of spiritual growth.”
This time tomorrow will be another new year. It’s become a tradition over the years to make New Year’s resolutions, with people giving things up with limited determination which leads to the inevitable limited success.
But today, rather than talk about giving things up, I want to look at making a total and radical change – both on the inside and the outside.
Probably one of the best examples we find in nature is the total transformation that a caterpillar makes as it changes into a butterfly, and the characteristics of a caterpillar and butterfly are remarkably similar to the characteristics of human beings.
We, like caterpillars, begin life as something less than desirable. I know that some think caterpillars are beautiful creatures. If you’re one of those, just pretend (for the purposes of this exercise) for a while that you’re one of those who don’t.
The caterpillar starts out life as something other than what it will end its life, but what’s interesting are the conditions, or the circumstances of the transformation that they go through.
Firstly, a caterpillar is born to change – it was never designed to stay the same.
It has an internal instinct to eat and prepare itself for the inevitable change, and it somehow realises a need to build a place of refuge to allow that transformation to take place.
We too are born to change, but unlike the caterpillar, we have the option to change.
But that doesn’t change the fact that every human being has an internal instinct to want to do better. I think you’d really struggle to find anyone who can quite honestly say that they are 100% happy with their lot in life.
We all understand our need to be better and to make changes in our lives.
Often though, people fail to put God in the equation, which always results in failure. There might be temporary success, but only God can bring true fulfillment and happiness, because He wants us to change, and equips us to change in ways that will really make a difference.
2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Just as the caterpillar is born and bound for beauty, so God has reserved for us the beauty of transformation.
What we need to realise though, is that we all start out this life the same, and it’s not a pretty picture.
Isaiah 64:6 - “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
But, thanks to God’s grace, we don’t need to stay in that state. Just two verses later, Isaiah says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
You see, that is why God makes bigger and more dramatic changes in some people, while in others there is little or no change. Some of us are prepared to acknowledge the difference between the potter and the clay.
We begin equal and we have the same equal opportunity for change.
The only difference is the degree to which we allow God to change us.
But just what is that change, and how does it happen?
What is the ‘cocoon’ change which transforms a sinner into a saint?
After a short life as a fuzzy worm, the caterpillar realises the need to secure itself inside a protected environment to allow the transformation to happen, and God convicts the sinner to repentance in much the same way.
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:9 “God who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
We have been called for the purpose of becoming a new creature. God never intended for us to remain lost and condemned. Sadly, many people will remain lost and condemned, but that is not what God wants.
Romans 12:2 tells us “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The Church is symbolic of the cocoon. It is a secure place where that growth, renewal and transformation takes place, and it is a great tragedy that there are so many freelance Christians out there, with little or no connection with their local Church who try to struggle along on their own.
The reason they struggle is that they have misunderstood the whole concept of the Body of Christ. At the same time, so many Churches struggle because they are limping along, missing some of the limbs which belong in the body, but are not there. Of course, the Church is not perfect. What else would you expect from a bunch of sinners like us? But God has still chosen His beloved Church, the bride of His Son, to be the place where transformation and renewal is cultivated and encouraged.
Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
You need your Church. And your Church needs you just as much.
We cannot expect God to be able to work in our lives until we become fully dependent upon Him; seeking His will in our lives and His protection.
We have just completed a challenging series on the Fruit of the Spirit. We all know how we are to live, and what others are to see in and through us, but we also know how far short we each fall of God’s expectations for us, but He is a God of grace, who patiently transforms and changes us. At the same time though, a point I made often during the past couple of months, we need to be willing participants in this process. God is not going to just click His fingers or wave some divine magic wand over us. We need to work with Him.
So practically speaking, here are just four steps of that transformation which will help us become more like Jesus:
1. Through hearing. Romans 10:17 – “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” When you feel uncomfortable with your status quo; when you know that changes need to be made in your life, but you’re not quite sure what or where those changes are, it might just be God speaking to you on a spiritual level. You can hear the message, even though you might not understand it yet. What you can do though, is to listen for His voice. He will tell you what you need to hear, when you need to hear it.
2. Secondly, we are transformed through study. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
How do we correctly handle the word of truth? By studying it and knowing it. Once you’ve heard the message, you need to be able to interpret and understand it, or correctly handle it. And that comes through spending time in the Word of God. We simply have to get into His Word and learn how to apply it in our lives. James 1:22-24 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
3. The next step is prayer. James wrote in 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Prayer, for so many people is a chore, and that is so sad.
Prayer is an incredible gift. Through prayer, we have the opportunity to have an intimate, one-on-one relationship with the person who created the entire universe.
On August the 20th 1977, Voyager II, the inter-planetary space probe was launched into space at a speed of more than 144 000 km/h.
Eleven years later it reached Neptune, 4 320 million km from Earth. Then it left our solar system, and will not come within one light year of any star for another 958 000 years, but will still remain in our galaxy which has more than 100 000 million stars. Our galaxy is one of about 100 000 million galaxies.
There is some small print in Genesis 1:16 – “He also made the stars.”
Andrew Murray said, “The power of prayer depends almost entirely upon our apprehension of who it is with whom we speak.”
When we pray we are talking to the person who just happened to put all the stars and planets in place, but we can just call Him ‘Abba, Father’.
Prayer is an amazingly precious gift – use it.
4. And the 4th step in the process of transformation is that we continue to seek out God, because the process of being transformed will never be completed this side of the grave.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
It really is a process which is ongoing. We find time and time again, that the nearer we get to God, the more we realise just how far away from Him we actually are.
Which doesn’t do much for our egos, but if you go back to our example of the caterpillar changing into a butterfly, even though the change is radical, it’s essentially the same animal.
The appearance might have changed, but the same caterpillar remains.
We too, when we go through the transformation, still have some of the same characteristics even though the change is undeniable.
Jesus said in Luke 15:7, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
There are fewer things which bring more pleasure to God than a sinner that turns to Him in repentance.
But again, we must stay focused on Him, because we need His help.
Once we have been transformed and become a ‘new creature’ we have work to do and guidelines to follow. It’s about living for Him and His purposes, rather than our own. We need to bear fruit for Christ, and there needs to be evidence of what He has done and is doing in our lives.
Colossians 1:10 says, “We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”
Though the butterfly has transformed from something not so pleasing to the eye into something of beauty, danger lies ahead.
We must constantly be on our guard, because satan and his demons are constantly trying to destroy us and our witness to others.
Peter gives us a stern warning in his first letter: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
We mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that once we turn to God our transformation is complete.
A butterfly faces the same, if not more dangers than it did as a caterpillar, but it is infinitely more beautiful.
And a saint is infinitely more beautiful than a sinner in the eyes of God, but the big question is, are we living the life of a saint – a sinner forgiven by grace?
Are we struggling to live a life as a ‘new creation?’ You may well be one of those people this morning.
For many the Christian life is one of failure, of disillusionment, of disappointment and one in which the old self still seems to rule.
Why is that? I think it’s because while we know we have been born again in our heads, and we know the Scriptures about being a ‘new creation,’ our hearts have never grasped nor believed the change.
Your mind is still thinking as the old self did. You have never brought your mind under the Lordship of Christ and under the influence of His Word.
The mind cannot be renewed or transformed because what is being put into it is not of Christ but of the world.
Instead of turning to God’s Word, to prayer, or the counsel of other Christians, many make the mistake of turning to the things of the world when choices have to be made and decisions taken.
The world dictates the direction of our lives and we wonder why we are disappointed and disillusioned as Christians. That is why Paul says in verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 5 ‘we no longer view anyone from a worldly point of view.’
He wants us to think with a Christian mind.
So many of us are still living according to the old self, and merely pay lip service to Jesus.
You have never really repented of your sin. Yes, you have asked for forgiveness but you have not repented. What do I mean by “You have not repented?” You have not turned away from the things of the old life, and those influences are still reaching into your life every day.
If you are one of those people, you need to ask God to make a complete and total change in your life.
January the first needs to be more than the day you stop smoking, or eating healthier food, or watching less TV.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Christlikeness is God’s goal for all who trust in Jesus, and that should be our goal also.”
Both of those words, transformed and conformed, have a common root form, meaning a pattern or a mould. “Being transformed” refers to the process, while conformed refers to the finished product. Jesus is our pattern or mould. We are being transformed so that we will eventually be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Sanctification or holiness, then, is conformity to the likeness of Jesus Christ, after we have been transformed.
The commentator Jerry Bridges asks, “How can we know whether we are being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ?”
He encourages us to begin with studying the character of Jesus. He goes on to say, “One of my favourite descriptions of Christ is that He loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Jesus did not just act righteously, He loved righteousness. In His humanity He loved equity, fairness, justice, and upright dealings with others. At the same time, He hated wickedness. Jesus hated sin as sin. We often hate the consequences of sin (even if it seems to be no more than guilt feelings that follow sin) but I suspect we seldom hate sin as sin.”
I think he’s made a very good point there. Until such time as we are as appalled by our sin as God is, will there really be any true motivation to want to change?
Our prayer needs to be that God will help us to see sin as He sees it, to see non-Christians as He does – broken, lost people, made in His image, who desperately need to see and know how much God loves them.
A caterpillar is given a God-ordained instinct to change, and it cannot resist that change. It is created to build a cocoon around itself and to emerge as a butterfly.
We were created for perfection too. God created you to spend eternity with Him. We know what sin has done to that pre-ordained plan, and how it has destroyed our lives.
But by His grace, He sent His Son to be our Saviour. The opportunity to change is given to us all. Are we willing to allow the power of God’s Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Christ? Are you willing to be changed?