Become: Transformation (1.2) - Ongoing Work of the Spirit

Next Step Discipleship, pp. 81–85

by David Daniels on

Books 9 min read
1 John 3:2 John 6:63

To read the previous section of this chapter, see: Become: Transformation (1.1) - Made New.

Transformation Is an Ongoing Process

Nothing matures instantly. Trees begin life as seeds. Butterflies experience metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to pupa to adult butterfly. Even buildings must begin with a foundation, then walls, then flooring, electrical and plumbing and, eventually, paint and furniture. This principle is true of the spiritual life as well. We are “being transformed” and with “ever-increasing glory” (literally, “from one degree of glory to another”). Our life change takes time…actually, a lifetime.

The Bible calls this ongoing change the Christian’s sanctification. The word, from the Latin sanctus, means “to make holy.” It’s the lifelong process of becoming righteous. We get a better understanding of sanctification when we put it in context of justification and glorification.

Justification is the moment of salvation. It is the work of God in a person that happens in an instant. When an individual hears the Gospel truth and expresses personal faith in Jesus Christ, God declares them positionally righteous. That is, they are pronounced “not guilty” in regard to their legal and moral status. Now a Christian, a person is named a son of God, an heir to His promises and eternally secure. They are justified by grace, through faith.

Glorification is the moment of complete salvation when a person dies. In the presence of God there is no condemnation. Rather, each Christian is finally transformed as a new creation. At the second coming of Jesus, their resurrected body is united with their eternal soul and they live in the presence of God, forever renewed. This glorious work is accomplished completely by God.

Between the first moment of justification and the final moment of our glorification is “all of life.” This span of time is what we know as the Christian’s sanctification. Having been declared holy, they now grow experientially in holiness day by day. This process is the cooperative work of the person and the Holy Spirit alive in them. One man said that sanctification is learning to be who we already are.

Because Christians still live in a corrupt world and because the sin nature in us has been debilitated, but not annihilated, temptation and sin continue to be a challenge. Even the maturing believer will experience seasons of spiritual success and failure. The “graph of spiritual growth” is never a continuous line upward, but a zigzag line filled with peaks and valleys that represent the Christian’s success and struggle with sin.

Before the introduction of digital photography, film had to be “developed” in a darkroom in order for an image to be seen. The photographic image was recorded on film the moment the shutter snapped. But, only under exposure to developing chemicals would the final image gradually appear. Photographic labs refer to this as “processing.” In the same way, God has determined that He will restore His image in us. We are God’s children, but “what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). We are continually being developed. Our sanctification is an ongoing process.

Transformation Is Produced by the Spirit

In Hollywood, the producer oversees the budget, film scheduling, cast selection, production and marketing of a movie. In short, the producer is the primary supervisor of the movie’s success. In the ongoing drama of our life transformation, we have a capable Producer: the Holy Spirit. Because Paul writes that we are being transformed, we must realize that transformation is happening to us; we do not change ourselves. Rather, the agent of our transformation is “the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

There are two opposite but coordinate truths regarding the Holy Spirit and life change. First, if you don’t have the Spirit of God, you cannot be changed. A person can attend self-help groups, counseling sessions, read books, make resolutions or take medication. But total life change is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit of God.

The prophet Ezekiel received a fantastic vision regarding Israel’s restoration after captivity in Babylon. He was transported “by the Spirit of the Lord” into a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-2). In ancient times, armies stationed themselves in the hills and would descend into the valley to fight. Dry bones scattered across the valley floor were evidence of defeat and a long period of lifelessness. The Lord asked the prophet, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (v. 3). Humanly speaking, could he imagine the restoration of those who had been defeated? Ezekiel answered, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Only according to His sovereign will and power could God raise the dead. Then, the Lord commanded Ezekiel,

Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

So, the prophet obeyed and preached to the pile of lifeless bones, and soon something began to happen. Bones began to rattle. Muscle, tendon and flesh covered them and the reconstituted beings took the form of life, but “there was no breath in them” (v. 8). A human being without breath may look alive, but lack the fundamental animating power for life. A person without breath is said to be dead.

Next, the Lord commanded Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” (v. 9). So he preached and the lifeless beings stood up, a vast army of the Lord.

Ezekiel’s vision was intended to teach an important spiritual truth. Preaching, by itself, does not change a person. Proclamation doesn’t end in resurrection. What lifeless people need is “breath.” It’s important to understand that the Hebrew word for “breath” may also be translated “wind” or “spirit.” Breath is needed for natural life. But the Spirit is necessary for supernatural life. For this reason, the Lord said, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD” (v. 14).

A pastor, preaching on Ezekiel 37, said “At the end of every human effort, there is still death.” Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). This means change only comes by the Holy Spirit. And, a person who doesn’t have the Spirit cannot be changed.

The opposite principle is also true: If you have the Spirit of God, you will be changed. Just as a movie producer is intent on making a movie a success, so the Holy Spirit is intent on producing successful life transformation in the believer. The apostle Paul assures us, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

There are various proofs of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person:

The Holy Spirit produces character. The fruit, or evidence, of the Holy Spirit’s work is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). A person who is being changed by the Spirit will increasingly show this fruit.

The Holy Spirit produces conviction. Jesus said, “When [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). A person sensitive to the Holy Spirit will be conscious of sin, have genuine sorrow over sin and exercise repentance from sin.

The Holy Spirit produces confidence. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). People filled and changed by the Holy Spirit possess a hope for their eternal future that strengthens their hearts and gives them confidence for the future.

The Holy Spirit produces contentment. Paul writes, “…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Because we have peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1), Christians are free from anxiety and rest with confidence in their standing before Him.

The Holy Spirit produces comprehension. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Jesus promised the “Helper” who would remind His people of what He taught and enable them to understand. On the other hand, the person without the Holy Spirit cannot understand spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).

The Holy Spirit produces compassion. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion…” (Philippians 2:1). Our union with the Holy Spirit produces a compassion for others and a desire to meet their needs, not only our own.

Clearly, the Holy Spirit is central to the work of life transformation. A pastor once shared an illustration with his congregation about this truth. He said, “You can make a balloon rise in the air by hitting it with your hand or filling it with helium. Some leaders think they should ‘smack’ their people to get them to do what’s right. But, if their people are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will rise to higher levels of maturity. Sanctification is the whole work of God from the inside out.”

To read the next section of this chapter, see: Become: Transformation (1.3) - Changed on Purpose.

About the Author

Dr. David Daniels (D. Min. Dallas Theological Seminary, M. Div. Denver Seminary) is Lead Pastor of Central Bible Church and author of Next Step Church, Next Step Discipleship, Next Step JournalWonder, and An Unexpected King.