The purpose of the Christian life is found in Scripture. Anything void of this becomes an existentialist or relativist pursuit with no foundation other than our life histories. Barth (2004) states “The purpose for which Christians are already called here and now in their life-histories within the universal history is that in the self-giving of Jesus Christ to them, and theirs to Him, they should enter into their union with Him” (p. 540). This Jesus Christ is the Jesus of the bible, not the Jesus of the mind. The renewing of the mind points to a mind that does indeed require renewal. Contemplation alone, in the confines of manmade philosophy, sets a deceptive trap that ensnares the pride of man. Rather than releasing him; it further deceives him (Col. 2:8).
It is God’s purpose that we as Christians should be “conformed to the likeness of his son” (Rom. 8:29), thus restoring the image of God, twisted by the Fall. This includes the twisting of the mind. God himself is holy (Col. 3:9-10). Holy means “to be separated” and “set apart” from any sinful use. Inanimate objects – such as the vessels and utensils used in the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 7:16) – are sanctified, or set apart for the specific purpose of serving God. In this sense, also, our sinless Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, was sanctified (John 10:36; 17:19) (Larsen, 2001, p. 185). Christlikeness, therefore, is God’s goal for all who trust in Christ, and that should be our goal also (Bridges, 1994, p.98).
Union to Christ, to recall Barth’s sentiment, seems highly relevant in the face of Scriptural reference. Christ’s work wrought within us and not ours in him. Yet partnership and commitment are both integral in any given relationship. My bond with my mother has had its share of turmoil and yet her own undying love and commitment to her son serves as an example of committed love to me. During times of self focus and selfishness, lost in the chaos of my sin, my mother’s love for me prevailed even as she nursed her paralysed husband. She serves as a testimony to “We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
The two great commandments are a standard by which we can measure our lives and a promise that through grace we will become people who love fully. The overriding aim of our lives is to obey God by loving God and our neighbour. We do not always love as we should, but we are promised that with God’s Spirit at work in us we will be able to love more and more. The task of the spiritual life is to obey the two commandments perfectly, so that our will becomes one with God’s will. The union of our will and God’s will fulfils Jesus’ prayer” Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) (Allen, 1997, p. 24-25).
The commands of Jesus require transformation. While perfection is never complete in this life, we must at least start being perfect because we are children of God. Indeed unless we become children of God by entering into a transforming relationship with Jesus, we cannot start (Green, 1994, p.35). Change begins and ends in us through union with Christ. Such union promotes never ending growth and change, which is the meaning of perfection. Union with God, therefore, is a dynamic life in constant metamorphous manifesting itself in giving and receiving (Allen, 1997, p. 33). The Christian life that is static has failed to comprehend the Lord’s “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”. Discipleship means change and change is not always comfortable.
Paul utilises the word metamorphosis to describe the spiritual transformation of the Christian life. It is the same word used to depict the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and it is no less mysterious, nor are the results any less striking (Bridges, 1994, p. 94). However such transformation is indeed a process, within the cocoon the caterpillar is literally dying to self. Some may take thirty days before the new creation appears. Inside the transformation takes the form of one entity decaying whilst another births.
Those who have not been born from above will not see the kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:1). Jesus words speak of metamorphosis. Nicodemus struggles to understand this. Without rebirth there is no change; there is no kingdom of heaven within. The Holy Spirit is opposed entry by a wall of self righteous pride (Acts 7:51). Fortunately even the learned can learn; in the end Nicodemus seems to have had a change of heart (Jn 19:39-40).
As we follow Jesus we experience transformation (Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 3:18) from the inside out, often without our knowing this is happening (Green, 1994, p.37). This is something we do not instigate ourselves, rather the giving of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s work within. Graham (2001) affirms “Only God can change the heart of someone who is in rebellion against Him. No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God’s Spirit prepares the way”.
Obviously we can make cosmetic external changes that have the appearance of righteousness before God. However, this doesn’t remove us from the darkness of our inner soul and place us into the kingdom of light. Only God can do that (1 Peter 2:9). Only the same God that commanded light to shine out of darkness has the power to shine “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor 4:6) (MacArthur, p.177). Heart change is the inner transformation that teaches the true meaning of sacrificial love.
My relationship with the Lord and my mother typifies heart change. Not until I had fully submitted to the Lord’s gift of grace and began the reading of scripture did the mother/son bond grow stronger, more loving and more committed to each other. My heart softened considerably, rather than contacting my mother sporadically and harbouring bitterness for my circumstances, I forgave, accepted responsibility for my actions and visited her regularly. I worked in her garden, called her weekly and prayed for her daily. Likewise her response to me became more supportive, more spiritual and subsequently increasingly more loving. The change of heart brought by the Holy Spirit was evident in the total acceptance and forgiveness of one another.
From a biblical perspective, change of heart and God’s Word work hand in hand throughout the process of Spiritual Growth. The words of Ezekiel emphasise this “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezek 11:17-20).
Turning from idols or that which separates us from true union with Christ is highlighted. A new spiritual-union is foretold. God’s Word serves as the adhesive for this union. Jesus’ commandments need to be known to be followed. The subsequent heart change, wrought by the receiving of God’s Spirit, enables following. A heart of flesh that is now capable of Love. Saturation in God’s Word is paramount to this.
The first and most important book we are to study is the Bible. The psalmist asked, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” He then answered his own question, “By guarding it according to thy word”, and added “I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:9,11) (Foster, 1980, p. 59). Whilst studying scripture is a catalyst to change we must keep in mind that our justification by God is based solely on the meritorious work of Christ and our union with Him (Bridges, 1994, p. 53).
Again it is through this union that change is evident in the process of spiritual growth. As scripture is further expounded; deeper understanding is unveiled. Distinguishing between what is right and wrong or good and evil is the progressive discernment of those maturing (Heb. 5:14).
Paul also prays the Philippians may grow more and more in knowledge and depth of insight of what is best (Phil 1:9-10). Spiritual growth points to a maturing relationship with Christ, instigated by the Spirit and fed by the Word. From milk to solid food; the many analogies speak of growing progressively.
How Does Change Occur
Change seems to be progressive in nature. A gradual education and renewal: the continuance of repentance and the striving for perfection. The Lord Christ is continually teaching those who follow. Yet a desire to follow is crucial for change to occur. Tozer (1984) writes “Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God” (p.15). A longing after God must be nurtured in the heart and mind for union with Christ to mature and grow. How can one Love God with all their heart and mind if lip service is the true state of their offering?
The heart of flesh represents a soft and tender heart, one that is able and willing to receive and act upon the truths of God’s Word. When a person is united to Christ, there is a new creation. A Christian is a radically changed person the moment he or she trusts Christ. Regeneration is a key principle that is occurring within this trust relationship. Evidence of such regenerating work of the Holy Spirit should be apparent (Bridges, 1994, p. 95-96).
Evidence of Change
If the purpose of the Christian life is transformation into the likeness of Christ (through union with Him), It seems logical to expect to see this likeness emerging. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit (Matt 7:17). Jesus himself clearly exonerates the evidence of change in the follower’s life. The Holy Spirit is continually shining His spotlight of conviction into the recesses of our hearts, revealing sinful attitudes and actions we were not aware of (Bridges, 1994, p. 102). It is part of the follower’s responsibility to keep in step with the Spirit and no longer the sinful nature (Gal 5:25). In doing so change will be evident as one repents of that which is wrong and turns toward God (that which is right).
My relationship with my mother continues to mature lovingly. Discussions centre on God’s Word, Christ’s action in our lives and our dual commitment to following a life of love. As my mother’s life draws to a close I am acutely aware of how much I shall miss her and therefore cherish the time I have with her. I therefore seek her company regularly and stay in contact. This fruit emerging is certainly new fruit. Prior to conversion my attitude was self centred and blasé toward my mother’s love for me. It was a constant and in arrogance accepted as deserved even though my actions should have pointed to the contrary.
By realising my mother’s love is not deserved, but rather a privilege, my reciprocation of that love is no longer self gratifying but rather sacrificial. Only union and obedience to Christ has brought this change. The evidence of such brings both of us to the praise of His name.
Christian purpose is the transformation into Christ likeness. Christ likeness is to Love God and Love others. Whilst on the surface this sounds simplistic; Scripture is required to re-educate the hardened heart that has become flesh through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Then it appears the eyes can see and the ears can hear. All of which is wrought by Christ in us, not us in him nor our effort but His alone. Our obedience to Him allows His tender hands to remould that which was broken. This new lease on life should bear visible change that points toward Christ’s likeness and thus gives us purpose.