If you could change just one thing about you, what would it be? If you could change one thing about how you look, how you think, how you respond; if you could change one private struggle, or something that you feel like you’ve made progress, but it just keeps coming back at you; if you could revamp it, have a makeover, modify it, literally revolutionize something down deep inside your life, what would it be?
In fact, maybe more importantly, as we start this series, is, do you believe that life change – I mean, real life change, not just exterior stuff – can really happen? Do you believe that lifelong addictions, or things that happen out of, maybe, a family of origin, a dysfunction, or fears and struggles, and – just the way you are, that you’ve just said, “You know, I guess this will never change” – do you really believe that God can, and will, change that in ordinary followers of Jesus Christ, like you?
See, the Bible teaches, and God promises, that when a person is born of the Spirit, and if that person, born of the Spirit, lives in vital union with Christ, that He will so radically change you, from the inside out, that if someone knew you today, and then met you ten or fifteen years later, there are parts that they would just say, “It’s hard to believe you’re the same person.” It’s not just some cleaning up on the outside. There’s a fundamental change that happens when Christ enters your life, and the Spirit of God is allowed to have control.
And as you connect with other people, and His Word begins to birth the very life and personality of Jesus in you, God promises, He actually commands it, the Scriptures declare it, and nature gives us an object lesson. Because, you see a little green caterpillar – stage one – who goes into a cocoon, or a chrysalis – stage two – where you can’t see what’s going on, and emerges – stage three – as a beautiful monarch butterfly. It’s called “metamorphosis.”
Meta means “to be transformed, or changed.” Morphosis has the idea of “substance, or structure.” In fact, Webster says, “Metamorphosis is a change of a physical form, structure, or substance” – and then, I love this – “especially by supernatural means.” Especially by supernatural means.
That’s the picture. That’s normal Christianity. That’s what happens when the Spirit of God comes into the human heart of a person who has been forgiven of their sin. They’re born again from above, and that’s the journey, or the process, that occurs.
Now, there’s a problem. And the problem is that we all long to change, and improve, and grow, and be transformed, but we find it really difficult, right? There is a multi, multi-billion-dollar self-help industry. Every commercial, depending on what they’re advertising – there is a before, and then there’s an after. And so I mean, we are bombarded by – what? “I used to be like this,” but for $19.95, instantly, take this pill, and you will…
There’s something in you – God made you, and made me, with the DNA, you want to change. You want to grow. You want to improve. But quite often, it’s not only hard, it doesn’t work.
Even people who lose a lot of weight, statistically, most all of them gain it back. Statistically, the people who do the fitness program, and really get in shape, statistically, they actually get back out of shape very quickly.
Statistically, those who go through recovery programs for alcohol or drugs – the great percentage of them have relapses. And, sadly, statistically, people who come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, after some incremental beginning changes, rarely live like Christians, according to Barna, according to Gallup, and, probably, according to the anecdotal evidence we have in our own life.
So, we’ve got a picture of what God wants to do, and we’ve got a problem. And what I want to talk about is a process of spiritual metamorphosis. Why is this? What’s the problem? Why don’t we change? What is it that we don’t understand, or that we’re not appropriating? God has given us everything we need to be completely transformed. It is a process; it is a journey. But I’m going to suggest that most people don’t understand the process, they don’t understand the journey, and you don’t have the tools. And that’s why a lot of Christians don’t live like Christians.
I’m going to give you an overview, and some of this is core theology of the Bible, and I wish I could spend more time. But you need to know the process.
Stage one in the Christian life, in spiritual metamorphosis, goes like this: There’s a spiritual birth. Jesus gives me a new life. The Bible calls this, the moment it happens, “justification.” It’s a legal term.
In John chapter 3, a religious leader came to Jesus and said, “We know that You are from God by the works that You do.” He was religious, he knew the Bible, but Jesus said, “Unless you are born again, unless you are born of the Spirit, unless you are born from above.”
In other words, physical life requires a physical birth; spiritual life requires a spiritual birth. It’s not an intellectual thing of agreeing with God about certain doctrines or teachings. It requires a spiritual birth. At a certain day, at a certain time, you need to realize that Christ died upon the cross, in your place, that He rose from the dead, that He has paid and covered your sin, and the sins of all people, and all time.
And the Spirit of God will convict you that you are separated from God, and you will turn from your sin and, in the empty hands of faith, ask Christ to come into your life and forgive you. And at that moment, God, as legal Judge, justifies you.
Some of you have heard the definition, “It’s just as if you didn’t sin,” and that’s true, but it’s only half the story.
The moment you’re justified, legally, here’s what happens: Imagine, if you will, a little computer screen on this side, and it has your name on it, and a little computer screen over here that has Jesus’ name on it. And on your computer screen, the moment you’re justified, you have your righteousness, which is as filthy rags, and you have all your sins, like I have all my sins.
And with justification, God does two things. One, He deletes the “sin” column, and He takes it, and He puts it over on Christ. So, all your sins are paid for by what He does. And then, He takes the righteousness of Christ, and He pushes “Share,” and He brings it over here, and He imputes it onto your column. So, when the God of the universe looks at every child of God, in terms of their position and your legal standing, He sees you with the very righteousness of His Son.
Not understanding that is why many Christians’ lives never change. And so, we have turned Christianity into moralism and trying hard to please God, or imitating Jesus’ behavior, when what you’re going to learn is, a spiritual birth occurs, and the Christian life is living out of who you already are.
The second phase is spiritual growth. This is called “sanctification.” I put these words in here very purposefully. I think, for the last twenty years, we have tried to make everything so simple, we don’t teach people some basic theological language.
Sanctification – the word literally means, “to be separate.” All those verses where it says, “Be holy, be sanctified, it’s sacred,” This is the same root word.
This is not just a moment in time. Notice, this is, Jesus changes me to be progressively more like Him. You often hear this as “progressive sanctification.” “If any man is in Christ,” the Bible says, “the old things pass away” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “behold” – listen to the tense of the verb – “all things are becoming new.”
Justification: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God,” new relationship. Sanctification: “Therefore, if any man” – any woman – “is in Christ” – new relationship – “the old things are passed away; behold” – process – “all things are becoming new.” It’s a journey.
The third phase is spiritual maturity, and the word here is glorification. That word, maturity – it’s everywhere in the Scripture. Jesus would say, in Matthew chapter 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, verse 48 – He summarizes a point and says, “Be ye perfect” – that’s this word – “even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” And you’re thinking, Whoa. Or the apostle Paul would say – the goal of all his life is, “We want to present every man, every woman, complete, or perfect, in Christ.” James 1 will open up and say, “The whole goal of difficulty and pain is, we endure, and we go through it, that we might be perfect, or complete.”
The word is teleios, and I say that just so you hear – do you hear, sort of, telescope? Or for you apologists, it’s the teleological argument. The word means that something is by design, and the design has a fulfillment.
And what God is saying is, the fulfillment of your design, when you become a Christian, is, He is going to make you like His Son. And 1 John 3:2 says, “We do not know, little children, what we will be like, but this is what we know: When we see Him” – Jesus – “we will be like Him.”
And so, all those verses about, “Be mature; grow to maturity” – it starts with justification – a point in time – a journey of sanctification, and then there is one day when you will achieve maturity: You will actually be like Christ, and be transformed. That’s the spiritual life.
Question, then: Is this just for superstars? Are these people that just make it into the Christian Hall of Fame, or a handful of pastors, or missionaries?
And around here, we talk about maturity being very clearly defined as becoming a Romans 12 Christian, right? And in verse 1 of Romans 12, we know it’s being surrendered to God, and then verse 2 talks about being – what? – separate from the world’s values: “And do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed” – circle that word – “by the renewing of your mind.” It didn’t say “by trying hard.” “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
And then, notice the result. Notice what God wants for you, what He wants for me, what He wants for every follower: “That you might” – literally, the word is, “That you might test,” or experience, or know, “by way of real experience the will of God, that which is good, acceptable, and well-pleasing,” or, “perfect.”
You know that word transformed? It’s – are you ready? – metamorphosis. Now, that’s God’s goal for all of us. And I think the issue is, if that’s God’s goal, if that’s God’s agenda – I like to call it, it’s “the miracle of life change.” We’re going to talk about how it really works, and how you can experience it.
Ephesians chapter 4, the entire chapter, is about how this really works. Ephesians chapter 4, the context, of course – are you ready for this? – is Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3. So, for three chapters, he has told us, “This is what God has done for you” – doctrine. Chapters 4, 5, and 6: “This is how you live, in light of what He has done.”
In chapter 1, he said that you’ve been adopted. He said that you have been chosen. He said that every spiritual blessing, in all the world, in heaven, is yours. He says that you’re a part of a family. He says you have an inheritance. He says you’ve been sealed with the Spirit. He says you have been made a part of a supernatural family. Everything you need, you already possess. You are in Christ.
And in chapter 3, then, he prays a prayer. And, please, don’t miss this prayer. Glance in your Bible – go up to about verse 14, 15. And when Paul looks back on all that God has done for you and me, and every Christian, he says, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, who is the Father of all the families of all the earth.”
And he goes, “Here’s what I am praying for you: I am praying that God would strengthen you in your inner man, down deep in your heart, that you would be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth, and to know the love of God that is beyond understanding, that His love – you would begin to grasp, not how hard you need to try, but you could grasp that chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3 – all this truth, it’s really just an expression that you, totally apart from anything you have ever done, are so deeply loved. You are accepted. You are forgiven. You’ve got a purpose. He has given you a gift. He has prepared a place for you. He’s for you.”
And then, chapter 4 is going to open up, and notice what it says. It says, “A prisoner of the Lord, then” – in light of that – “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that you have received.” Well, how? “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
And then, he says, “Well, why?” Well, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called in one hope when you were called – there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
And what he’s going to do, in these six short verses, is explain to us, “Now that you are justified, I’m going to explain to you how that spiritual green caterpillar gets transformed into a butterfly. And I’m going to explain the part that God does, and I’m going to explain the part where He asks you to cooperate.”
And so, notice, in verse 1, he’s going to say, “The call is to let Jesus live His life through you.” Notice, it says, “As a prisoner of the Lord then” – in your notes – “I urge you to” – will you put a line under “live a life”?
And he’s really saying, “I want you to walk worthy of this calling that you received.” Well, what calling? The calling of chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3: You’ve been chosen. You’ve been placed in the body of Christ. The Spirit dwells in you. You’ve been called into a group of people called “The Church,” a supernatural body. You have been called with a purpose. You’re loved. Now he says, “What I want you to do is, I want you to walk worthy.”
And what the apostle Paul is saying, for three chapters, “You’re loved. You’re forgiven. You’re cared for. You’re part of a body. You have a future. Those are all the things you now believe, and you possess. Now, let your behavior reflect your beliefs. Let your conduct say the same thing as your creeds. Let what you profess and what you practice tell the same story. Let what your lips say is true come out of your life.”
Basically, what he’s saying is, this is not about trying harder. He says, “You are in Christ. Now, here’s the command: I call you to let Jesus have full freedom and reign to live His life through you.” That’s the call.