The amazing promise of Biblical grace is not behavior modification but true transformation. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we must fight against “conforming” to the image of this world but we must passionately pursue “being transformed” by the work of the Spirit into the image of Christ. So before we examine the process, let me give you the punch line:
Conforming is something negative I do.
Transforming must be done to me!
The Scripture uses two different words to describe what we do (conform) and what the Spirit does to us (transform). 1 Peter 1:14 warns us to “not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance”. Paul says the same thing in Rom. 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world”. In each of these verses, the word used for “conform” means to “fashion yourself”. It means to outwardly imitate or mold yourself to the behavior we see in the world. This is something we often do and it is destructive.
But the promise of true grace is that the Spirit will do something to us that will change the very essence of who and what we are. We don’t stop conforming to the world because we decide to stop conforming, but because we are being changed at the very core of who we are. The Bible refers to this as “transformation”. The Greek word used for this “transformation” literally means “metamorphose“.
Every grade school student comes to understand the process of metamorphosis by watching a tadpole change into a frog or seeing a caterpillar spin a cocoon and come out a butterfly. This is not behavior modification; this is true transformation.
Getting my dog to stay in the yard by shocking him every time he steps over an invisible line, now that’s behavior modification. And it can save a dog’s life. But a caterpillar into a butterfly? That is true transformation. The very essence and character of the being has been changed. It no longer looks the same; it no longer acts the same; it no longer is the same; it has been transformed. Some amazing chemical process which I cannot understand has been occurring inside that causes a complete change on the outside. This is metamorphosis; change on the inside that, over time, shows up on the outside.
Metamorphosis (transformation) is the promise of true grace; an on-going interaction between us and the Holy Spirit that causes miraculous change in the very essence of who we are, what we are, how we think and how we behave. There is instantaneous change; being born again of incorruptible seed, freely reconciled to God and made to be children of the Father. And there is progressive change; being increasingly sanctified and growing into the image of His Son. This progressive change is the miraculous process of “spiritual tadpoles becoming Christ-like frogs”.
The New Testament makes it clear that this type of life does not happen automatically simply because we “believe in Jesus”. It becomes a reality only to the extent that we:
1) Believe that His plan is to actually live through us,
2) Humble ourselves and stop pretending we can do it, and;
3) Interact with the true transformer, the Holy Spirit.
For a larger discussion of this true “Good News” order Mark’s book, God’s Brilliant Plan: Searching for the Easy and Light Life Jesus Promised.
Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.