September 26 – Transformation


We’re nearing the end of our Salvation series, and for a quick reminder, thus far we’ve looked at six other aspects of salvation: Predestination, Calling, Regeneration, Faith and Repentance, Justification, and Adoption. Hopefully over those six weeks you and your group have gotten a glimpse into the massive, multifaceted work that Jesus did for us on the cross. This week, we’ll turn to Transformation, which you could also call Sanctification, to see how Jesus’ triumph in our salvation reverberates throughout the rest of our life on earth. We’ll turn to Colossians 3:1-17 to get a sense for the general operation of sanctification, a combination of putting off the old life we had without Jesus and putting on the new life we have in Jesus. Then we’ll look at Romans 8:12-17 to see the Holy Spirit’s role in all this.

As we begin discussing spiritual transformation, Colossians 3:1 is a great starting point. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” The condition in this statement is of utmost importance: if you have been raised. Not “so that you might be raised” or “in hope of being raised.” Our human tendency is always to confuse the order of sanctification and justification—we tend to think sanctification, growing in holiness, leads to our justification, when Christ makes us right with the Father. But the wonder of the gospel frees us from that confusion and the burden it brings us. We are first justified before the Father (Rom. 3:21-26) and then God’s Spirit comes to dwell in us and transform us. By default we assume we must work towards our salvation, but instead we’re called to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12), to live from it, to walk according to the saving power of Jesus already at work within us, to seek everything that is with Christ because, in a sense, that’s where we already are.

So in any conversation about sanctification, particularly ones where we talk about things to stop doing, we have to start with justification. That will prevent us from reducing weighty passages to moralistic to-do lists. From justification we can talk about fighting sin properly by keeping in mind that, through the cross, we’ve already been freed both from the power of sin and the penalty of sin. And here Paul tells us to fight hard, saying “put to death what is earthly within you.” The Puritans called this the mortification, or constant killing, of sin (like the word mortuary). Sin isn’t like some stray cat we run off every once and a while. Sin is powerful and insidious, and though believers have been freed from the penalty of their sin, they’ve now been brought into a relationship with a Savior who died on account of their sin. To leave sin unaddressed is, in a sense, to forget why Jesus came in the first place, and to forget the harmful effects sin still has on followers. But mortification is only half the battle. The Puritans called the other half vivification (think viva la France!), where we live towards and abound in righteousness. But again, this moves out of justification, in which we are identified with Jesus’ righteousness, not our own. We’re told to “put on then…”(3:12) and then given a list of attributes of a follower, but these are all attributes perfected in Jesus. Elsewhere Paul tells us more literally to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”(Rom. 13:14) Put another way, there is no biblical room for conversation about right behavior, morality, or emotion that isn’t defined by the person and work of Jesus, but thankfully, it is that standard, that living righteousness, that God himself is transforming us into through his word and the Spirit as we follow Jesus.

Really, our transformation is informed by all aspects of our salvation, not just our justification. For example, we can look to predestination to know that God so purposes our salvation that the results must be guaranteed, or we can look to our regeneration to be reminded that God has already made us spiritually alive to himself. But one other stop we should make in talking about sanctification is in Romans 8:12-17, to be reminded of our adoption. Here Paul gives us a beautiful reassurance of the operation of the Spirit in our lives as we follow Jesus: he bears witness to our souls that we have in fact been saved by God. The work of putting sin to death and practicing obedience to God’s word is challenging, and often we find ourselves seriously discouraged, perhaps so much so that we begin to doubt whether or not we’ve really been made alive in Jesus. Thankfully, God is constantly revealing himself to followers through his Spirit, who indwells both to transform and to comfort. Isn’t that amazing, that the Holy Spirit isn’t just trying to overhaul you but wants to keep reassuring you of your place with Jesus? But of course, that’s what a good Father does with his children; rather than making them a project, he makes them heirs to his goodness.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Colossians 3:1-17 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• When you read a passage like this, with things to do and not to do, how do you typically react?

• Paul starts with, “if you have been raised with Christ.” How is that important for the rest of the passage?

• How does this passage describe the transformation that occurs within a follower of Jesus?

• Take a moment to read Romans 8:12-17. What role does the Spirit have in our life as we follow Jesus?

• How do you personally think and feel about God’s work of transforming you?

• What does the passage tell us about how we help one another in this lifelong transformation?