From the early beginnings of the Church, believers have pondered and wrestled with some of the claims and promises in the New Testament. Forgiveness, salvation and eternal life have been some of the easier concepts to grasp and believe, but what follows after salvation has been the reason for endless theological debates which in many cases led to splits and the formation of new streams and denominations.
Paul tells us that we are now "new creatures", that the old has passed away, that we are dead to sin, and that we are to take on a new nature. All that sounds really good, but the reality is that we all still wrestle with our imperfections, behaviors and attitudes that we know are not always very Christ-like. As a result many have stopped believing that there can be any real transformation of our character this side of Jordan. In the meantime, it seems, we just have to live with this split-personality syndrome, but that does not line up with the promises given to us in God’s Word.
So what are we to do? Is it enough to simply ask God to change us whenever we get confronted with our faulty character trades? We’ve probably all done that. How did that work for you? Honestly, this has not been very effective for me. Of course, God hears those prayers, and yes, He alone has the power to really change us, but what if He has already done that? Isn’t that what Paul seems to tell us over and over? I want us to look at this mystery from a different angle:
What was that Jesus said about the seed dying before it can bear fruit (John 12)? Nature gives us some real clues regarding the mystery of transformation. Every seed consists of two main elements. There is the inner part often called the embryo, and that is where the new life springs forth into a plant that will bear fruit. But then there is always some type of shell surrounding it, called the seed-coat. That can be a nut shell, husk, or some other type of protective cover. It is that “cover” that has to die so that the life inside can break out.
In each of us there is what we can call our Authentic Self, and it comes to life when we surrender our life to the lordship of Jesus - being born again. That is how God created us to be in this world, and it is unique and perfect, because God does not create faulty things. Surrounding this true self is this seed-coat we can call the Adapted Self. This is into who we have developed out of our need to adapt to the world in which we live. Its the self we come to believe we have to be in order to survive and have our basic needs met.
If these two selves coexist together, how do we discern the difference between our Authentic Self and our Adapted Self? And, an even bigger question: Does this transformation happen on auto-pilot with us watching in awe as God changes us, or is there something we can do, and need to do to in order to facilitate this process? I want to suggest that the gentle Holy Spirit will always respect our own free will and is constantly waiting for our consent and invitation to bring about lasting changes in our inner man.
Taking up our cross daily means declaring death to the self that was never meant to be. In my next entry I want to introduce you to some practical ways to partner with God in that process, so stay tuned. For today I want to leave you with this quote from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
“When He (God) talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the glamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever."