What Sort of Transformation?

The president of the United States says he wants a fundamental transformation

The president, of course, is talking about a political transformation of a whole country. However, a close examination of his agenda actually envisions individual transformation as well. He opposes what he calls hate speech, and he is prepared to promote legislation and promulgate executive orders to control it, which means controlling or transforming individuals. He aggressively pursues goals of controlling what people eat in order to reduce obesity and he refuses to negotiate on what he calls preventive health services, even when they conflict with individual ethical and moral standards. He wants fewer cars on the road, which means more individuals must use public transit. He wants no incandescent light bulbs in use, which means individuals must budget for higher-priced fluorescent bulbs and learn hazardous waste management for the disposal of them at the end of their useful lives. All these items require an individual to put the president’s principles ahead of individual principles. When the president’s principles become the rule rather than the exception, a transformation has taken place.

The Bible promises a complete transformation

The Bible teaches that people can be transformed, too. The Bible operates on different principles from those of the president of the USA. Its source of authority is different, too. The president says, “We won,” meaning that when the political process of election produces a leader, then the leader gets to set the agenda. That source of authority is constantly morphing, as political issues rise and fall in importance. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, written, preserved, and proclaimed by God’s servants and embodying God’s own authority in its words.

God’s authority drives the transformation God promises. Paul wrote about that transformation to the church at Galatia, telling them that God’s Holy Spirit will change people’s heart so that they display new qualities in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) The president cannot really get inside people and change their hearts; his transformation must be imposed by external force. The Holy Spirit works within believing hearts and works his change in ways that startle and bless those who see it.

When people are transformed by political pressure—legislation, regulation, or executive order—the change is external. The outward appearance changes in response to the outside pressure. The heart within may be resentful or oblivious, regardless of the observable behavior. When the Holy Spirit transforms people, the change takes place within. The outward appearance of changed behavior is a consequence of an inward change in principle. The behavior changes as a consequence of transformation in the heart of the individual.

During the era of the Soviet Union, many people publicly complied with many requirements of the Communist agenda, but their hearts were not in it. When they had the opportunity to throw off the oppressive government and tear down the wall between East and West, they did it, with savage energy. When people are transformed by the Holy Spirit, their behavior is the fruit of an inner transformation in priorities and attitudes. When the Holy Spirit has transformed someone, there is no going back to the old ways. In Iran, Saeed Abedini could have avoided torture, trial, and imprisonment by simply giving up his faith in Christ, but he preferred Christ to the easier life he could have by giving up Jesus. In Sudan, Mariam Ibrahim could be released from prison today if she would recant her faith, but rather than give up Jesus, she and her children suffer imprisonment and abuse. The transformation worked in the heart of an individual by the Holy Spirit is a transformation people do not want to lose.

When people speak of transformation, it is important to specify the kind intended

Probably, few people had any idea what Barack Obama meant when, as a candidate, he said that he wanted a “fundamental transformation” of the USA. It is not a secret, however, what sort of transformation God wants to work in the hearts of humans. The whole Bible is the story of God’s love for people and God’s intentions on their behalf.

Transformation to God’s purposes is a good thing

Many people fear the ultimate consequences of the transformation being worked by enacting a secular political ideology in the USA. The only place where similar concepts have been promulgated as the law of the land is the former Soviet Union. Some writers suggest that the USSR failed as an experiment in socialism because the leaders were inadequate to the task. They believe that the intended outcome there was full equality for all people, whatever it is that equality means, and that in the USA, leaders are better qualified and can learn from the mistakes of the USSR. They believe that the political transformation intended by Barack Obama is good and will be good for the people. That hypothesis has yet to be proved.

On the other hand, God’s transformation of people, God’s work to change their personal qualities from “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” is demonstrably a very good thing for anyone. People who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit are happy people who feel blessed by the change, and the people around them discover that they are blessed, too.

What sort of transformation is at work in you?