No Instant Spiritual Transformation

March 2007

“Lord, give me patience and give it to me now!” This prayer-joke is usually said in jest, but is more and more becoming a truism in our instant gratification, microwave world. Few are willing to wait for anything these days. Dinners aren’t home cooked anymore – who wants to wait on the oven? Drivers don’t have time to stick to the speed limit. Young people can’t wait to grow up, and as Christians, we often find it difficult to wait to become spiritually mature as well.

Transformation is a process, not a quick fix. Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to the world, but to let ourselves be transformed by the renewing of our minds, or as the New Living Translation puts it, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” Even though we can be quick to change our minds about something such as the type of sandwich to eat, wrong ways of thinking become ingrained and not easy to change. Legalism, for example, is a way of thinking that goes deep into the heart and mind. It’s also subtle and deceptive. A person with this mindset is often not even aware of the ways legalism can warp one’s attitudes and perception of the world.

One of the worst effects of legalism is self-righteousness, which makes a person believe they don’t need much transformation. It can also have the equally devastating effect of discouragement, which leads people to give up because they’ll never be good enough. Both of these mindsets can inhibit God’s work of transforming us into spirit-led, mature Christians.

As I’ve discovered in my short time on earth, letting God change the way I think isn’t so easy. I can’t say I haven’t made some progress, at least I hope so. (How does God measure this kind of progress? I believe we shouldn’t try.)

No, it seems it may take a lifetime, and even then, I’m sure I’ll feel I need more time for God to work on me. Paul expressed these thoughts well in Philippians 3. He realized all his law-keeping hadn’t made him perfect. He understood he was a work in progress through God’s grace, but he wasn’t worried about it. Like Paul, we can’t think about how much more there is to do. We can only keep going, putting the past behind and pressing forward to the goal.

Paul likened life to running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24). In Hebrews 12:2, we are told to run the race with endurance, which would indicate we are in a marathon, rather than a sprint. I’ve never run in a marathon (I don’t like running at all), but anyone who has can tell you the key is just to keep going.

With God’s help, we can, slowly and steadily, keep letting him change us, even though it will take a lifetime. If we trust our hearts and minds to the One who gives us the desire to obey him and the power to please him (Philippians 2:13, NLT), he will continue to change the way we think and give us the prize, regardless of the progress we think we may or may not have made.

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