I previously wrote that Christians aim to live a life that is centered on God, but you can also avoid one. I want to discuss this by looking at the life of Jonah so that you won’t avoid a God-centered life but cultivate one. You can avoid it for a...
Do you think that’s possible?
Maybe for a caterpillar. But what about for you and me? What about that neighbor who blares music late at night, the colleague who takes credit for your work, or the relative who belittles you every time you see him?
To the church in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NIV). And to the congregation in Corinth, Paul proclaimed, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV).
All things have become new. Complete change. Transformation.
Really? Yes, really. The Bible tells me so.
A Transformation Appointment
If ever a person experienced transformation in the fullest sense, it was the man Jesus met on the far side of the Sea of Galilee in the region known as the Gerasenes. Luke 8:26-39 records the bulk of the story, but the prologue appears in Luke 8:22: “One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the [sea]’” (NIV).
I think Jesus deliberately crossed the sea because he had a transformation appointment with someone whom everyone else considered a hopeless case. I would’ve thought he was hopeless too—way beyond reformation, much less transformation.
Luke tells us “for a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house” (v. 27). Homeless. Naked. Stinky. Wretched. But there’s more. The man was also tortured by an evil spirit. “Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places” (v. 29).
Everyone in the town probably thought, Good riddance. He’s a danger to all of us, even to himself. He’s crazy. There’s nothing more we could have done anyway.
Then Jesus arrived.
He extended compassion to the man. Jesus commanded the demons to come out of him, allowing them to enter a herd of pigs that ran into the sea and drowned (vv. 32-33).
And what of the man?
Five Hallmarks of Being Transformed by Christ
When the townspeople came to complain about the financial loss of the drowned pigs, they encountered the transformed man “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (v. 35).
Note the hallmarks of transformation: “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.” First, to sit at the feet of a rabbi meant that one had become his disciple—forsaking all to become a follower, to learn everything possible and to pattern one’s life after the rabbi. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NLT)
Second, “dressed” implies a new standard of behavior: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … and over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12,14).
Third, the phrase “right mind” suggests wholeness. All the fragments of that man’s life had been gathered, mended, and fitted together. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:17 NKJV). The man had been transformed into a complete person—the one God had designed him to be.
The transformed man then begged to go with Jesus and the disciples. He wanted to leave the people who had known his shame and the place that had brought him nothing but misery. But Jesus insisted that he stay: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (v. 39).
Two more marks of transformation: the hunger to be with Jesus, and the desire to tell others what he has done for us.
From hopeless and tormented to honored and commissioned. That’s complete change. That’s a transformed spirit and a renewed mind.
Five Transformation Questions
So what does transformation look like for us? The Message paraphrases Romans 12:1-2 this way:
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. 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. 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.
That’s what occurred in the demon-possessed man, and that’s the transformation God desires in you and me.
Ask yourself these transformation questions:
- Do I truly seek to pattern my life after Jesus rather than after any cultural mirage or personal fantasy?
- Do I clothe myself in virtues that model Jesus, or do I dress myself in attitudes that reflect my culture?
- Do I truly desire to be the person God designed me to be—not my culture’s caricature of me or my idealistic version of me?
- Do I hunger to know Jesus more than I hunger for any other knowledge, status, or achievement?
- Am I willing to proclaim what God has done for me wherever I am and to whomever he places in my path?
If you squirm a little when you read those questions, don’t despair. I squirm too. So do most other Christians. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live within us. He alone has the power to complete the transformation within us. Our job is to allow him to do so—with no interference.
Is transformation possible? Absolutely. Jesus specializes in sin-chained, failure-tormented cases like you and me—and whomever you’ve put on your hopeless list.
The next time you catch yourself saying “hopeless” about yourself or someone else, read Luke 8:26-39 again. Rejoice with the transformed man. Worship your Savior. Then go tell someone “how much God has done for you.”