If Christians live under the law of the Spirit of Life why isn’t there more “life”? The deteriorating condition of the church is well documented from the perspective of declining membership and undifferentiated morality of Christians as compared to the secular world. How is it possible that Christians can be immersed in the Truth of the Gospel, but still struggle to achieve transformation for themselves and in their ministries?
The answer lies in understanding the remarkable life changing journey of sanctification God has for us beyond salvation. Clearly, Christ freed believers from the law of sin and death, but Romans 8:2 also says Christians are now under the law of the Spirit of Life. Christians are required not to move in the ways of the flesh, but to work in cooperation with the Spirit to be molded into the image of Christ inwardly (Romans 8:5, 29). Remember, Jesus said to wash the inside of the vessel first. Salvation is the first step of sanctification, which is meant to direct the course of the Christian life (II Thessalonians 2:13). It is the path of wholeness and wellbeing and the opportunity to share in the divine nature.
No matter how much we try to be more Christ-like in our behavior, it’s a struggle against the condition of our untransformed heart. On the other hand, if a believer’s heart is transformed to increasingly reflect the heart of Christ, then being more Christ-like comes naturally. Actually, as someone’s heart is increasingly transformed, they can’t help but act more Christ-like! While people are obviously changed inwardly at salvation, it is the process of sanctification that brings ongoing change in our heart.
There are many characteristics of the heart of Christ. Consider forgiveness to illustrate the point. Extending forgiveness toward others is a fundamental requirement of God. When we comply, we have a heart that is more like the heart of Christ. If we refuse to comply however, we are promised the suffering of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:35. He was turned over by the King to be tortured for his unforgiveness. Jesus concludes this parable by saying that God will bring torment to those who refuse to forgive.
Whenever we suffer torment for opposing God’s will, we have two choices. One is the path to freedom; the other takes us into bondage which only adds to our suffering. We can give in to the urging of the flesh and embrace worldly distractions like food or drugs to medicate our heart angst, or we can go before God on our knees and repent of our unforgiveness. When we repent, we are calling upon God in faith to remove the source of our torment forever. If we choose to temporarily, intermittently crowd out our pain with the world’s solutions, we enter into bondage to an idol. Once in bondage, we add loss of control of our behavior to our suffering.
My personal breakthrough from overeating and other medicating behaviors began when I forgave the abusers of my youth and turned a heart of ministry toward them. After I did so, I began to notice God progressively remove tormenting bitterness from my heart. From that point, I was increasingly able to manage everyday temptation instead of giving in to my emotionally driven lust for food. Later I also repented of having food as an idol, which gave me more relief. After forgiveness and repentance, anyone’s heart will more resemble the heart of Christ. This obedience brings glory to God and greater peace and joy to our life.
In ministering heart transformation, we need to help people understand how they are opposing God’s desire for them to have the heart of Christ and lead them to comply.
This method of heart transformation has been successful in churches and ministries, including a maximum security prison, women’s and men’s prisoner reentry programs, and discipleship and drug addiction programs.
The call to have a transformed heart is for all who reside in the Kingdom of God. Romans 8 uses words like “obligation”, “debt”, and “requirement” to describe the importance God places on His desire to mold all of His children to reflect His Son’s image inwardly (the heart). The “call” isn’t an option for those who share God’s desire to have a life of peace, joy and wellbeing. Our ultimate hope and blessing is described in II Peter 1:4: “becoming sharers of the divine nature.” Is there any aspect of a person’s life that wouldn’t be improved by progressively sharing in the nature of Christ?
For our heart to more reflect the heart of Christ it must reflect less of the characteristics of the world. It must be less dominated by the flesh. The person we are today must make way for the heart of Christ. Withholding forgiveness is an example of a flesh urging encouraged by the world. To forgive like Christ forgave requires dying to that urge and allowing the Light of Christ to invade that part of your heart. The Holy Spirit who leads us in this process of transformation is planning a funeral for the person we are today. He knows that for us to truly be free we must first obey, and to truly live we must first die.