what’s it mean to be transformed?

Last updated on December 3rd, 2023

Intro

After all, why might anyone need to be transformed? From what to what?

You may be aware that there are many challenging verses in the Bible. The sort that could easily make us balk or simply glide over them. We may think them extreme. Not just in the Old Testament but even things that Jesus said. The temptation is to just ignore them or look for some kind of “wriggle room” to “water them down” or invalidate them as not relevant for this ‘day and age’

By the way, if you don’t have a copy of the Scriptures but would like to check it out for yourself there’s plenty of online copies. If you aren’t confident to search, here’s a site with lots of versions available, for example, the New International Version

In an earlier posting I discussed a short sample list of such verses. (see What’s with Being Balanced?). They are quotes from Jesus and most arouse an initial reaction like: “Really? Was the Lord serious when He said these things?” For example,

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or drink ….. [or] wear” (Matt 6: 25 NIV) [emphasis mine]

Even Paul wrote …

Therefore be imitators of God …..” (Ephesians 5:1 NKJV) [… Pardon? … Really?]

Similarly, calls throughout Scripture to Be Holy and Be Perfect seem extreme. Dare we say, unreasonable. However, they are just that, calls/instructions/commands to Be Holy and Perfect. Consequently, no ‘wriggle room’. In fact, they are difficult to rationalise away. They are totally unbalanced. That is, nothing balances against them. They are absolutes

Major changes needed?

So, if we are thinking these statements are not serious or are just expressing a concept, we have a problem. They are Scripture, indeed part of God’s Word. How do we action them? How can we not worry about our needs – what we will have to eat, or drink, or wear? What will our children eat, drink or wear? And how on earth can we be imitators of God? Really? Even if that is only referring to my feelings, reactions, or interactions …… still, … really? Me? Godlike? Holy?

It is no coincidence that we find numerous verses that speak of, or allude to, our being transformed. Changing from the way we are. There’s a bold statement from Paul …

Do not conform 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.” (Romans 12:2)

Or, as the NLT has it …

Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

So much in one verse …

There’s so much packed into that one verse of Scripture. For clarity of meaning, let’s read it in three other English versions to be sure we understand what Paul was saying ……

  • Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good …..” (CEV – Contemporary English Version)
  • Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind …..” (AMPC – Amplified Bible, Classic)
  • Do not be shaped by [conformed to; pressed into a mould by] this world ..; instead be changed within [transformed] by a new way of thinking ….” (EXB – Expanded Bible)
The Message paraphrase

One English version expresses Paul’s advice quite differently.  The Message paraphrase is much more ‘wordy’ but worth the read because it ‘fleshes out’ the meaning with some practical ‘how-to’. It reads:-

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you”. (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Then, if we spend time with God, if, with God’s help, we commit every single part of our life to Him, we can ….

be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he [God] wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

Of course, this means we should not be afraid to be different to the “normal” people around us. The Bible-speak for this is “setting yourself apart” from the pagan (ungodly) way of the world, “consecrating yourself to God”. Like what God said to the Israelites …

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 etc) [emphasis mine]

However, while ever we think like the world around us, with unholy minds, we can’t possibly understand let alone respond to all that God tells us. Hence the Scriptures warn us that we need to be transformed so we stop thinking like the ungodly

The example of Moses

An unexpected example of the effect of spending time with God exists in Scripture way back in Exodus

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law ….., he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. …..  Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face ……” (Exodus 34:29-35)

An unusual transformation but, as Paul remarked in one of his letters to the church at Corinth, …

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing [the glory of the Lord radiating from his face]. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. … because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. ….. And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect* the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord…..” (2 Corinthians 3:13-18 NIV) [emphasis mine]  *[reflect is in the footnotes of some texts which use the word ‘contemplate’]

Holiness – God’s Plan for us – Transformed

There are many verses in Scripture that express God’s plan and hence, expectation for us to be holy. As early as when He had brought the Israelites out of Egypt God said to them …

you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6a)

But He gave them a clue how to make that possible, in the previous verse …

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Exodus 19:5)

You might be thinking “That’s ok for them back then, but me? Holy? Really?”. Maybe you have tried to behave in a holy manner and felt a failure. Or, maybe you haven’t even tried because it seems so hopelessly impossible

However hard it is to believe that we can be holy, Paul puts it simply, …

God’s will is for you to be holy, ….. live in holiness and honour—not in lustful passion like the pagans...” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5a NLT)

On the other hand, Peter says it more bluntly, …

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy’.” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT) By the way, the Scriptures Peter quoted are Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2

Interestingly, some versions of the English Bible use the word “sanctified” in place of “Holy”

So, it seems that the ‘transformed’ that Paul was referring to is our sanctification. That is, God’s deep progressive change in us from our natural (sinful) state into God’s planned Holiness, like Jesus. Then we will better reflect Jesus’ Glory. Now, for me, that is a serious Transformation

The Renewing of our Mind

Our minds reflect the world we live in. Our upbringing, our schooling, our friends, our culture/society, employment status, our experiences, even our health all shape our thought processes. Subsequently, our thoughts influence our emotions and actions. Whilst our thoughts help us understand what’s happening around us by interpreting current information from our environment and past information from our memories, the process isn’t always accurate. Our thought patterns are vulnerable to bias which distorts how we see the world or leads us to believe things that aren’t true

But Paul says it isn’t us that reprograms our own minds but rather the Lord, if we let Him

dove be transformed

let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (NLT)
let God change the way you think” (CEV)

In fact, way back, God told the Israelites ….

Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Leviticus 20:7-8) [emphasis mine]

Did you get that? It is God who makes us holy. Phew! How easily we forget that we sin by nature. We are mostly oblivious to the way the world programs our minds. Hence it is impossible for us to make ourselves holy. So all we have to do is allow the Lord to renew our minds. Change our thought patterns away from the ‘way of the world’, toward Creator God’s Holiness, then we won’t flinch at pieces of Scripture that did seem extreme. But will we let Him? Do we trust in Him that much?

How much of us needs to be transformed anyway?

How much renewal does our mind need?

Karen Lawson, MD from the Centre for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota writes: “While thoughts are shaped by life experiences, genetics, and education, they are generally under conscious control. In other words, if you are aware of your thoughts and attitudes, you can choose to change them. …… Certain types of mental training, such as mindfulness or positive thinking, can affect our perceptions of the world and make us feel calmer, more resilient, and happier”

But feeling calm, resilient, and happy is nothing compared to what God has in mind when He transforms us into Christ’s likeness. He talks of us being holy, living holy lives, acting and reacting in a holy manner and reflecting His Glory. Wow!

Whole of our Being

In fact, the daily devotional guide entitled “Transformed: How God Changes Us”, from pastors.com identifies many verses in the Bible related to changed thinking affecting the way we live. Not simply our emotions but whole of life. The team who compiled the daily devotions included seven different yet interrelated facets of life. Our spiritual life, our physical health, our mind, emotions, the relationships we form, our finances, and our vocation and basically everything we do (sport, hobbies, acts of service etc etc)

Sometimes, a verse may be ‘revelationary’ and our immediate response may be, “Oh of course” and almost instantly our thinking changes. Consequently, so will our related behaviours. In other cases, we may need to ponder and ask Holy Spirit to help us sort through the “what does this mean for me?” Either way, if we take the Bible seriously and ask Holy Spirit for help, our thinking will change. Our actions and reactions will follow. Our lives begin transformation. Changed to grow more like Jesus, wholly holy

As for the degree of change required, that depends on our current level of relationship with the Lord. That is, how much we have already changed. Paul declared …

if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come [that person is a new creation – footnote alternative] The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

In an ongoing sense, for the changes to develop, Jesus used the expression for us to …..

remain in the Him and He in us” (John 15:1-17)

When talking about such a changed mindset The Message says:-

“…. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it…..” (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Being Transformed is Primarily About Love

If we let God renew our mind, that is, let God change the way we think, changes occur in every part of our being. Foremost, our love for Him most certainly will increase

Three verses about our love come to mind. They are extreme, they challenge our outlook/perspectives

i) “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) [emphasis mine]

That’s like, with all of our everything. But the things of this world are so corrupt. Even our best friends and family can albeit inadvertently distract us from Jesus. We must love Him first and foremost to be able to follow Him. In fact, Jesus said …

ii) “If anyone comes to me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters more than he loves me, then he cannot be my follower. A person must love me more than he loves himself!” (Luke 14:26 ICB)

iii) “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Submitting fully to transformation by God, to allow Him to reset our minds, the way we think, can seem scary. We hesitate out of fear:- fear of losing control; fear of what others might think about the change; fear of getting too close to our Holy God. These fears are destructive, inhibiting fears to which we are vulnerable if we don’t know God’s Perfect Love for us. Or, worse still, if we love something and/or love someone else more than we love God

I say these fears are destructive. Is there any fear that is not?

Digression

The Old Testament in the Hebrew language distinguished between four types of fear. One, quite different in meaning from the others. Using a concordance with a Hebrew dictionary we can check verses containing the word “fear” and see that four Hebrew words landed in English translations as “fear”:-

H2731 = chǎrâdâh (pronounced khar-aw-daw‘) – trembling, anxiety
H3372 = yârê (pronounced yaw-ray) – frightened, dread
H3373 = yir’âh (pronounced yir-aw‘) – morally reverence or respect **
H6342 = pachad (pronounced pakh’-ad) – sudden alarm, dread, great terror

So then it becomes less confusing when we read a verse like:-

the fear [yir’âh] of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) as well as
the fear [yir’âh] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10)

That kind of fear is a good, helpful fear. Some more recent translations have used the word “respect” for the healthy kind of fear yir’âh. Anyhow, either way, we should (healthy) fear God and have no (harmful, destructive) fears of anyone or anything else. However, it appears that many people live the opposite. They have little to no (healthy) fear of God but, on the other hand, are living with numerous harmful kinds of fear of all manner of things, people, and even people’s opinion of them.

See an earlier article “What’s the deal with fears?” for a detailed discussion of ‘fears’ good and bad

Conclusion

Even though it is commonly accepted that we are made in the image of God, one doesn’t hear too much teaching about living in holiness, being like God.

Yet, there are many references to such a transformed lifestyle throughout Scripture. For example:-

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Leviticus 20:7-8) [emphasis mine]

“God’s will is for you to be holy, ….. live in holiness and honour—not in lustful passion like the pagans...” (Thessalonians 4:3-5a NLT)

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy’.” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT)

So the big question is “how?” and the answers are plentiful starting with what Moses said way back in Deuteronomy 6:5 and repeated by Jesus ….

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) [emphasis mine]

To live with so much love for God means we must be transformed from our natural self

Jesus also declared that …..

Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. ….. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! ….. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love”. (John 15:5b-10)

To remain in Christ is how we action what Micah was talking about when he said …

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) [emphasis mine]

Walking with God, like Adam and Eve, fully conscious of Him at all times and in a conversational relationship with Him. And we can’t overlook the powerful prayer of Paul …..

May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the [Holy] Spirit [Himself indwelling your innermost being and personality]. May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love,That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!” (Ephesians 3:16-19 AMPC) [emphasis mine]

… just sayin’

Resources

  • AMPC – Amplified Bible, Classic Edition, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
  • CEV – Contemporary English Version, Copyright © 1995 by American Bible Society
  • EXB – The Expanded Bible, Copyright © 2011 Thomas Nelson Inc.
  • ICB – The Holy Bible, International Children’s Bible® Copyright© 1986, 1988, 1999, 2015 by Thomas Nelson
  • MSG – The Message, Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
  • NIV – The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984
  • NKJV – New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson
  • NLT – Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation
  • Transformed: How God Changes Us, Small Group Study Guide, Copyright 2014 Pastors.com
  • Photo: dove – by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash

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