Friday, August 14, 2009

Our big amazing transformation

"Some people renovate. Others transform."

Every once in awhile (like after the kids go to bed and the husband isn’t interested in watching television that particular night), I get to watch HGTV. The other night, I finally got to watch a couple of my favorite shows. After a couple of hours, I went to turn off the TV, but then I was caught by the above phrase that opened up My Big Amazing Renovation—not only because it indicated it wasn’t your typical renovation show but also because the idea behind the phrase reminded me of a bigger and deeper biblical truth.

Indeed, the episode chronicled one of the more amazing renovations I’d seen on these types of shows. At the beginning of the episode, a family bought a 1950s split level house of 3000 square feet and by the end of the show (albeit over a year in real time) it was a Tudor style home of 6000 square feet (you can see the before and after by clicking on the link above). It was a completely different house—inside and out. If there was any resemblance to the original house in any way, I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t a renovation; it was indeed a transformation.

And with all that language about “renovation” and “transformation,” I couldn’t help but think about those same terms when it comes to a relationship with God—individually and as a people.

Early on in my walk with God, I thought of my life as something I would, with God’s help, renovate room by room, taking the shell of my life and personality and fixing it up. You could say that I thought walking with God would be like renovating a kitchen, adding the best appliances and countertops—essentially making me a better person.

But the more time I walked with God (and those who’d walked with him much longer than me), I began to see I didn’t quite have it right. Then, over the years, it dawned on me: God wasn’t simply changing appliances or even gutting out a room and redoing it; he wasn’t about simply fixing us up—he was about transforming us. I began to glean that when we decide to trust he is who he says and can do what he says, he makes us new. He changes the very core of who we are to be the way he originally created us to be. Like that house on My Big Amazing Renovation, our insides are completely different. The old structure is gone. He makes us entirely new.

But immediately I ran into another common struggle: I didn’t feel different. Dan Stone articulates this experience in The Rest of the Gospel in one of the best ways I’ve come across (and those of you who read this blog will recognize it once again—sorry for the repetition, folks):

Are you in Christ? If so, you are a new creation. At your new birth, God birthed in you a new spirit, created in His likeness, in holiness and righteousness (John 3:6-8; Ezekiel 36:26; Ephesians 4:24). . . . For the first time you are alive the way God meant you to be alive. In your spirit you are a completely new creation.

Do you look like a new creation? No. You look like the same old Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, Jane, or Elizabeth. Externally, you still are. But you have been renewed from within. Life is within. . . . You already are a new creature. You don’t have to try to become a new creature. But you’re going to try to become a new creature until you know you’re a new creature.

Of course, we can give mental assent: “Yes, I’m a new creature, but . . .” Where you are really living comes after the but. “I’m a new creature, but . . .” But what? “But I sure do fail a lot.” Then that’s the way you see yourself. You don’t see yourself as a new creature. You see yourself as failing a lot. Instead, you could say, “I sure do fail a lot, but I’m a new creature.” Then that’s where you’re living. You’re always living after the but.

You are a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old is gone. To whom? To God. It may not disappear as quickly to you, in the seen and temporal realm, as you’d like. But it’s gone to God. He sees the unseen and eternal. He sees the first from the last. And He knows that the old is gone. The question is who’s keeping score? You or God? The old you is gone to the One who is in charge of the universe. To Him, you are not the same person you were before you entered into Christ. You are a brand new creation in Christ.

It took me 21 years after getting saved to catch up to what already was. I said, “Oh my goodness. Look how God has been seeing me for 21 years, and I’ve been bogged down in this flesh conflict, continually trying to make myself new, and losing.” The losing ceased when I stopped trying to become who I wanted to be, and saw that I already was.

Stone also offers a helpful articulation on the difference between how God sees us and how we experience ourselves using a concept of “above and below the line” based on 2 Corinthians 4:18: “… while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Stone draws a proverbial line between the seen and unseen, with above line being the unseen and eternal and below the seen and temporary. (Stone reiterates that while there really is no line and both realms coexist, he finds the analogy helpful because it helps us understand this truth better.) Above the line, is “changeless and timeless,” “the realm of spirit and of God’s absolutes … of I AM, where things simply are.” Below the line, is the “natural realm,” the one Paul called “this age.” It is the “created realm of matter and appearances,” “has a beginning and end,” “the realm of past, present and future.” And both realms, Stone underlines, are "vitally important to God."

Now, above the line, says Stone, “God has already perfected those of us in Christ. We are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). We are His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) . . . holy and blameless and beyond reproach (Col. 1:22).” In other words, we are new. Below the line, however, “we are in the process of being sanctified. We have needs. Our emotions fluctuate. Our behavior changes. We experience growth.”

Our problem comes, says Stone, in where we get our identity. Do we get it above the line or below? Do we get it below the line—where we fail, sin and fall short—or do we get it above the line “in our spirit” where we find “the identity God gave us at our new birth”? We must focus above the line, says Stone:
In God’s economy, in the seen realm we become because in the unseen realm we already are. As we know and rest in unseen and eternal truth, God manifests that truth in the visible realm. ‘For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.’ In the unseen and eternal realm, God has already perfected us. In the seen and temporal realm, God is bringing that perfection, or completion, into view.

That’s why we can say we are complete and a new creation while simultaneously, in the seen and temporal realm, a process is going on. From God’s point of view, in the unseen and eternal realm, we are a finished product. At the same time, in the seen and temporal, He is continuing to work the truth deeper into us and conform us to His image.
So, how do we get there? How do we live the reality above the line in the reality below the line? Stone again:
God says you are a brand new creature. … So in faith you agree with God: “Gosh, I read that, and it sounds too good to be true, but I’m going to believe that. I’m going to set my face to that.”

The truth is that when we first trusted Christ, we were made perfect (Hebrew 10:14). We were complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). But who knew it at that point? So we thrashed about below the line in all of our soul activity, trusting in appearances instead of God’s truth. All we ever do is catch up with the truth. Through our trust in God’s revelation, His truth becomes our experience.

If we never get to the point where we appropriate truth, we are caught in a flesh trap forever. God has designed life so that our will, which He is at work in, has a role to play. We have to choose to trust Christ in us.
And that’s where I am thankful for folks like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, who so brilliantly point out the obvious ways (spiritual disciplines) that God has given us to work with him in order to trust him and his Spirit within us and experience his truth—to live in that reality as we catch up to his truth. As we walk with God and others, this truth along with God’s other truths will seep deeper into our hearts, minds, souls and bodies as we will find his truth becomes our experience. We stop believing we’re that old 1950s house—it’s long gone—and start realizing we’re something brand new.

But here is where the house analogy breaks down for me. God’s kingdom is more vibrant than we can even begin to comprehend. It is not a structure to be sought or built or maintained—and neither are we. God’s kingdom is full, abundant and alive. It is moving, thriving and thick and deep with life. And, as kingdom creatures, so are we.

And, with all my ponderings on what it means to be God’s people together (“church”), I can’t help but wonder if all this talk about renovation and transformation applies to us as a body. Is there something to be understood about us as God’s people in terms of thinking above and below the line? Are we already that people with God’s law upon our hearts, those who are known by our love, those who live in a rockus and tumbling unity born out of the Spirit within us and nurtured by doing what is the best interest of another instead of ourselves, those who confront injustice and speak in the names of those who cannot, those who God works through and with in his plan of redemption, “a covenant people,” as Willard puts it, “in which he is tangibly manifest to everyone on earth who wants to find him”—are we those people already above the line? Is it just a matter of catching up with God’s truth below the line?

Something I find worth thinking about. And something I’d love to see because, frankly, I’m weary of renovations when it comes to God’s people. I long for transformation.

(Image: HGTV's web site)

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