THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF THE GOSPEL
How Does the Gospel Transform Us?
The question of how spiritual transformation takes place is perhaps one of the more perplexing questions of Christianity.
Misunderstanding the nature of spiritual transformation has disastrous consequences, such as pharisaical pride, dark despair, and even abandonment of Christianity. These sad consequences reflect either a neglect of the gospel or confusion on what the gospel actually is and accomplishes. A clear grasp of the gospel displaces pride, overcomes despair, and grounds one firmly in the love of God.
The gospel is primarily about what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection in behalf of sinners. Additionally, the gospel also includes His entire person and work. Essentially, the gospel is Jesus. Because the promise of the gospel is external to us in a person who lived, died, and rose again, it offers an unwavering, unchangeable hope and source of joy. The promise of the gospel is immutable, since Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever,.
Consequently, transformation never offers more than the gospel.
The gospel establishes and continues our acceptance before God. The gospel offers us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ freely imputed to us when we experience repentance from sin and faith in Christ. This imputed righteousness remains our gift from God forever. Never was there, is there, or will there be a moment when we stand accepted by God on the basis of anything other than the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is always the unchanging source of our joy. No experience of spiritual transformation can offer more than or even compare to the joy of the gospel. The eternal, steadfast joy of the gospel overrides the fluctuating joys of our experiencing incremental transformation. The eternal, steadfast joy of the gospel remains the true joy both in the disappointments and the satisfactions of our experiencing incremental transformation.
Losing the joy of the gospel and seeking a replacement joy through any experience of incremental transformation produces the disastrous consequences of pharisaical pride, dark despair, and even abandonment of Christianity. The only stable, constantly satisfying joy is the joy of the gospel.
Transformation receives its power in the gospel.
When transformation loses its dependence on the gospel, it easily becomes more about what we are doing to achieve a righteous life that reflects our spiritual disciplines than about what God is doing to produce a righteous life that reflects the power of the gospel. Certainly the Scriptures talk both about our obedience and God’s working in our life, but the primary focus of transformation is God’s working through the gospel to transform our hearts and minds. William Edgar describes God’s part very well:
“Only God can effect such a change… The great difference between self-generated transformation and biblical conversion is that God is the one ultimately at work to effect the change… The only way we can be transformed is by operating, in all areas of life, under the grace of God, who gives to all who believe in him unconditionally.”
The outward transformation of obedience is empowered by the inward transformation of a mind being filled with love and thankfulness for Christ. This grows as the Spirit of God through the Word of God increasingly discloses to us the glory of Christ in the gospel.
The gospel is the fuel that sets aflame the fires of love and thankfulness which generate obedience to the will of God. Without hearts that are set aflame by the gospel, attempts at transformation remain only external and continue to produce the disastrous consequences of pharisaical pride, dark despair, and even abandonment of Christianity.
In our meditation on Scripture and listening to the Word, let us seek a prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit that He would continue to unfold to us the glory of Christ in the gospel.
Only in this way can our outward obedience be the natural fruit of gospel transformation.
Transformation progressively reflects the person of the gospel.
One of the evidences of genuine conversion is that one’s values, beliefs, and behavior progressively reflect the values, beliefs, and behavior presented in the Bible. Spiritual transformation reproduces gospel values in our lives. Gospel values are values that are exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Transformation is the process of believers being recreated in the likeness of Jesus Christ as described in the following verses:
“Do not be conformed
to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing
you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
-2 Corinthians 3:18
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
-2 Timothy 3:16-17
Focusing on the glory of Christ in the gospel is never simply a ‘spiritual, naval-gazing exercise.’ Contentment in the joy of the gospel and dependence on the power of the gospel do not result in spiritual inertia.
- Transformation is New Covenant centered, which is gospel-centered, which is Christ centered.
- Transformation involves our action in contemplating the glory of the Lord.- primarily in the Word, which we fail to read properly if we do not see the glory of Christ in the gospel
- Transformation takes place by work of the Spirit as we contemplate Christ, as revealed in the Word.
- Transformation is true freedom from trying to achieve God’s favor on our own.