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Transformed by His Presence

Renewing our minds is not passive

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We are in the life change business. The only reason I do what I do is because I want to see people’s lives changed. But, how do people change?

How does Christ get formed in us?

There are two key tools for transformation in the human heart. The Greek word translated “transformation” (metamorphoo) occurs four times in Scripture. This is the same root from which we derive “metamorphosis.” It is used twice at the transfiguration of Jesus; when Jesus is seen in His glory, He is transformed . The other two passages point us toward life change tools.

The first is in Romans 12:2, where Paul writes: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [metamorphoo] by the renewing of your mind.” Transformation occurs when we bring truth to bear on our souls. Transformation by the renewing of our minds is an active engagement, not a passive by-product. We have to actively engage with the truth to assault the lies that bind us.

A number of years ago I went on a long fast and lost nearly 20 pounds. (Though that wasn’t the reason for the fast, it was a nice by-product!) I was determined to keep the weight off, but as soon as I started eating again, the pounds started coming back. I realized that I didn’t know how to eat properly. I downloaded an app (Lose It) on my iPhone that shows how many calories you should eat, how many calories you burn when you exercise and how many calories are in the things you eat. I discovered that some of the things I was regularly eating weren’t good for me. The app helped me to change the way I thought about food; I renewed my mind.

For nearly two years I entered everything I ate into Lose It. People made fun of me and accused me of obsessing about my weight. But I knew that in order to change the way I thought about food, I had to engage in disciplined thinking. I was renewing my mind. I’arned how to eat properly.

Renewing the mind is an active engagement with the truth to overcome the unhealthy lies that lodge in our souls; it leads to transformation. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). We love to quote the second half: “The truth will set you free.” But we often overlook that this verse is actually an “if—then” promise. The truth will only set us free if we hold to Jesus’ teaching. It may take two years of vigilant effort to renew our minds.

Many of us wrestle with lies in our soul about our value. There are core lies that can shape our lives: “The issue of our value is dependent on whether certain people love us.” “The issue of our value is dependent on our performance.” After a sermon that didn’t go well, I remember coming home and lying on the couch, feeling a bit depressed. I heard the whisper of the Spirit: What are you doing lying there? I said, “Lord, the talk didn’t go well.” The Lord whispered, The issue of your value doesn’t depend on whether you give an “A” talk or a “B” talk. The issue of your value was settled on the cross.

I started using that slogan every time one of these core lies started conforming me to the patterns of this world. I would intentionally engage against that lie and repeat in my heart: “The issue of my value is settled at the cross.” Thousands of times over the years, I have reminded myself of that truth. My life continues to be transformed by the renewing of my mind as I actively bring the truth of God to bear against the life-enslaving lies of this world.

The second passage that gives us insight into transformation is 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed [metamorphoo] into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

With these words, Paul reminds us that we are transformed by the presence of God. Paul had been talking in this chapter about Moses. As Moses went into the presence of God, his countenance glowed from the reflection of God’s glory. But the glow would fade, so he put a veil on his face. The glow faded because Moses didn’t have continual access to the presence of God. But we do.

Jesus said the Spirit lives within us like a continually flowing stream (John 7:37f). When we intentionally cultivate the presence of God and live more and more in the stream of His presence, we are transformed. In 1 John 3:2b, John wrote, “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” When we finally see Jesus face-to-face, His presence is so powerful that we will be changed instantly. It takes one day longer than a lifetime to be mature, but the moment we meet Him, we will immediately be transformed into His likeness. There is a principle here: The presence of God is transformational. We must pursue God’s presence. It isn’t simply a matter of a check list of religious activities: We read our Bible, go to church, pray. Check. Check. Check. All of these activities are designed to lead us into His presence, so we can know Him and be like Him. The purpose of reading the Bible isn’t to know the Bible; the purpose is to know God. Only God can change the human heart. We must access His presence.

The first time Moses encounters God, at the burning bush, he hides his face from the Lord. The Lord gives him an impossible assignment: He is to lead a nation of people out of a land where the natives don’t want them to leave into a land where the inhabitants don’t want them to come—and the group of people he’s leading don’t want to make the trip. Moses feels overwhelmed and inadequate. “Who am I that I should do this?” he responds. God doesn’t answer Moses’ question. Instead He replies, “I will be with you.”

Moses is worried about himself, wondering if he has what it takes. God redirects Moses, letting him know that His presence holds the key. So Moses becomes a man who relentlessly pursues the presence of God. A phrase starts to appear in Scripture to describe Moses: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11a). In Numbers 12, when God is defending Moses against the attacks of Aaron and Miriam, the phrase shifts slightly. By this time Moses is described as the meekest man on earth, and God tells the leader’s siblings that normally He speaks to prophets through dreams and visions. Not so with Moses. Most translations read that God speaks to Moses “face to face.” But the phrase in Hebrew is literally “mouth to mouth” (v. 8). The man who once hid from God—and resisted God’s assignment—was transformed by the presence of God into a mouth-to-mouth friend.

We must pursue God’s presence, for it is there that our souls are transformed. We engage in spiritual activities like prayer, Bible reading and worship to meet the living Christ. In His presence, we are changed.

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