How Does Transformation Happen in the Christian Life?
About a year ago, I began to realize that my 32-year-old body no longer had the 20-year-old energy and motivation it did before. It bothered me terribly, and I decided to set a goal. By 35 I wanted to be in the best physical shape of my life. I needed a serious transformation. I’m 33 now and on my way to that goal, but something surprising happened not long after my training began.
Just like I let my weight slip and was feeling the effects of age, I had let my relationship with Jesus deteriorate. No excuses—just neglect. I couldn’t sense him in my life anymore. I had spent so much time crafting sermons, counseling church members, and putting out ministry fires that I no longer knew how to simply remember he was with me. I couldn’t even enjoy time in his word anymore. My Bible sat dormant for months.
The Problem: Being Ineffective both Physically and Spiritually
Over-busyness and youthful negligence had made me completely ineffective both physically and spiritually. I found myself wanting the bare minimum in everything I did. The easy hunt, the shortest church service—the shortcuts were everywhere. I also became remarkably selfish with my time and energy, only doing what I wanted rather than what was best for me and my family.
Paul gives two clear petitions in Romans 12:1-2. First, we are to present our bodies to God as holy, living sacrifices. Second, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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. (Rom. 12:1-2)
As my mind and body were slowly slipping away due to lack of self-control and ignorance, they were also being conformed to the “pattern of the world.” It was a pattern of unwise, frivolous, self-absorbed, undiscerning hastiness. These things lead to severe spiritual malnourishment. My whole person did not fit Paul’s description.
The Solution: Presenting Our Bodies As Living Sacrifices
In the Old Testament, God's people were to bring to the altar animal sacrifices that were not sickly or malnourished (Exod. 12:5; Deut. 15:21). To bring a blind, crippled, or diseased animal for sacrifice was considered evil (Mal. 1:8). God used this as a reminder to the people of 1) of their need for a perfect atonement, as insufficient as it may have been, and 2) as a means for a time of gathering to eat the flesh of the animal and to worship God properly.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is telling believers to reject offering their bodies up to the idols of the world. The natural consequences of worldly and sinful behavior on a mortal body are expedited when unhealthy behaviors persist. Instead, we are to care for ourselves in a way that leaves us physically and spiritually healthy as an act of our spiritual worship for the sake of God’s good purposes.
Being Transformed by the Renewal of the Mind
Paul’s second application deals with the mind. Paul writes to his understudy Timothy,
For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:8)
Paul is not contradicting himself. The reality is that our bodies need strength and health internally and externally in order for us to simply meet the physical demands of being faithful to God’s call in our lives. Yet, physical strength left without renewal of the mind does not lead to the type of transformation to which Paul is referring.
Renewal of the mind of a Christian is a necessary and continual work of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:4-6) who carries out this renewal by way of God’s word (Eph. 5:25-27). Therefore, the transformation I needed could only come through submission to the authority of God’s word and the work of God’s Spirit in me.
The Moment of Revitalization
In tandem with my daily lunchtime lifting, I began trail running at the local state park. My trail of choice was a rugged, curvy, uneven series of steps, carved from the natural rock heading straight up the side of a steep hardwood ridge. Falling on the jagged stone was inevitable. So was the probability of coming into contact with an unfriendly copperhead.
The trip down wasn’t safe either. After my thighs were burning viciously from the ascent, the continuous pounding as I descended made my knees want to hyper-extend under my body weight. When all of this was over, the trail opened up into about a mile-long river bottom of sand and waist-high grass. Invigorating? Not so much. Grueling is a better word. But this was where my hard heart began to soften.
Late one evening at the highest peak of the trail, I came across a small pavilion perched on the bluff overlooking the same river bottom. For the first time in too long, I took out my headphones and began to pray. The evening breeze cooled my soaked shirt, causing a chill to go through my body. Then I broke. Matthew 28:20 seemed to thunder through my mind like a shotgun blast: “I am with you always.”
Jesus Is Always with Us
By the Holy Spirit, Jesus was there. He had always been there. His Spirit was with me as I wallowed in the things I thought were hidden from everyone. He was there as I struggled with the motivation to do the right things. He was there even though I had no idea where my life was going, and he still is.
As much as I will try never to forget as a sportsman how important physical condition is to hunting success, it is far more important to remember to care for all of the systems with which God has blessed us—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—so that we will be fruitful in our duties to God and our fellow human beings as the Holy Spirit is at work conforming us to the image of Christ.
Jim Richman is an author, speaker, and outdoorsman. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of a Christian Sportsman, a blog for Christian outdoorsmen from around the world. To find out more about Jim, you can see his full bio here.
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