If you would like to read my views on religion and how we got started with the ministry, you can read this.
[The following article is an edited transcription of the October 2002 Teaching of the Month, “Transformation: Becoming Like Christ,” by John W. Schoenheit.]
This month we are going to be talking about Transformation: Becoming Like Christ. In this particular teaching on “transformation,” I am going to have two subtitles. One would be Dealing with Anger and Bitterness. I believe that those are two things, the hurt and pain that we feel that results in anger and bitterness, which really keep people from becoming like Christ. The other will be Participating in the Suffering of Christ.
Ephesians 5:1 and 2
(1) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
(2) and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This is God’s command to us, the goal if you will, that has been set in front of us. We are to be an imitator of God. Not just be an imitator of God, but also to be an imitator of Christ because we are to “live a life of love, just as Christ loved.” We are supposed to imitate God and we are supposed to imitate Christ. These are lofty goals. Often times what happens is that in the process of trying to transform ourselves to become like Christ, we run into roadblocks. We often hold these roadblocks in our hearts in the form of hurt, pain, bitterness, and anger. These are a result of what happened to us over the course of our lives. We need to think very carefully about how to become transformed into the image of God and the image of Christ. How do we do that? What is the process we have to go through? We need to get some definitions in place because as we begin to discuss this, one of the things that is going to come up is the difference between our mind and our heart.
The Bible uses heart all the time, such as: “Guard your heart with all diligence. It is the wellspring of life.” The Bible uses the heart in a way that actually refers to the deep part of the mind, the seat, or the center of a man’s personal life, the starting point of the manifestations that occur in a person’s personal life. The heart is thus the core of your mind and the core of your personal life. Meanwhile, the mind itself is the place where you think, the place where you hold knowledge; it is the faculty of intellect. It is very important for us to understand that a very good distinction can be found between the heart and mind. If we are ever going to be like Christ as people, we have got to purify our heart. We have to. It is not good enough to just know what the Bible says. If we are going to be like Christ, we have to purify our heart.
At this point, I would expect you to say, “Why is that? Why do we have to purify our heart?” The answer actually is pretty simple. The answer is because what is in your heart is what will actually manifest itself in your life. In a battle between your mind and your heart, your heart will always win. Let me see if we can get some examples of that.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
In my journey to become like God and to become like Christ, I want to get to the point that I can do this. I am not going to let any unwholesome talk come out of my mouth, none. “Okay, John, got it. This is the Word. I am only going to speak what is helpful for building others up according to their needs so that it blesses and benefits them.”
Ephesians 5:3 and 4
(3) But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
(4) Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
We see a stark contrast between the heart and the mind. Now, I have got the Word in my mind. I know what the Bible says. It says, “No obscenity.” It says it right here in front of me. Also verse four says, “Nor should there be obscenity.” This is a good translation of the contextual meaning of the Greek word. God does not want His children going around using obscenity. God wants His children speaking wholesome talk that is “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I am now holding the Word in my mind. I can give myself a pep-talk and say, “That’s it, John. You are going to obey the Word here. You are going to only speak things that are a blessing. No more obscenity, no more cursing—none of that stuff.”
How long does that last? Well, when I first stumbled across this, it did not last very long at all. I had a habit pattern of using foul language in my life because of my background and training. The fact that I knew the Word in my mind did not keep me from using bad language. I get in a traffic jam, or something else, and out comes this string of expletives. It is like “Whoa, from where did that come?” I thought that I knew what to do. I thought that I knew what the Word said. I thought that I knew better than this. I thought that I knew what right behavior was. You see, you can know what to do, but in the contest between your heart and your mind, the heart will win. That is why James 4:8 says:
…Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts…
Why is it so important to purify our heart? It is important because what is in our heart is going to come out in our actions.
By the way, this is why the Old Testament was uneffective in making people righteous.
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature (The Greek word for sinful nature is sarx, which is flesh.), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Now, what was it here where it says, “for what the law was powerless to do”? What did the law attempt to do? Deuteronomy 6:25 says this:
And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
God wanted people to be righteous before Him. He gave them a law and said, “Look here it is. Read it. Understand it. Do it.” Reading it they could do. Understanding it they could do. Acting it out—they would not do. Why? Scripture says because we are “weakened by the sinful nature (our flesh).” Thankfully, God did what the law could not do because He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Can we have righteousness today? Sure we can. How do we get it? We get it through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 says that we are not saved by works. We do not gain our righteousness by works, but we gain our righteousness through Jesus Christ. [For further study read Righteousness – Every Christian’s Gift from God.]
Ephesians 2:8 and 9
(8) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
(9) not by works, so that no one can boast.
The reason that people could not do the law is because what was in their heart and the demands of their flesh overrode what they knew to do in their mind. This is a very important concept when it comes to becoming like Christ. If you want to become like Christ and you think that the answer is, “I am simply going to study the Word, find out what it says and then go out and do it.” Well, you have got a bit of an education coming. Like I said, we just read a verse that says, “No obscenity.” By the way, I am an advocate of that. I believe that we should clean up our mouths and the way that we speak. It is only going to happen as we clean our hearts.
That is where we are going to go now.
(33) “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
(34) You brood of vipers, [This is referring to the religious leaders and Pharisees.] how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
(35) The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
That is exactly right. Whatever is stored up in us; whatever is in our heart is what is going to come out of us— “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
I like how the New American Standard Bible translates Luke 6:45.
Luke 6:45 (NASB)
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good. The evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
If we are ever going to be like Christ we have to cleanse our heart. In the battle between the heart and the mind, the heart will win. If we have anger, bitterness, hurt, and pain in our heart, that is what is going to come out of us. We have to work hard to get that out. [For further study read Healthily Processing Anger.]
Cleansing the heart is not just a mental exercise. It is not as easy as cleaning a pan, where you just get some soap and a scrub brush and clean it out. We have to change the way that we live, and we are also going to have to, in many cases, come up with an explanation that satisfies our minds so that we can release the anger and bitterness that we have in our heart. If you have any anger or bitterness in your heart, sometimes you need to come up with something that is mentally satisfying where you can release that. I know that a lot of people have released a lot of anger and bitterness just because they understand that it hurts them to hold it, which is part of why the Bible says to forgive.
What I want to do now is talk about the process of cleansing the heart. It takes time and some mental and physical effort to cleanse the heart. We need to learn how to cleanse the heart. The first step would be to be confident that the change can occur. You can do it. I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to in my life, and I have even felt this way on many occasions, that say, “I will just never change. I have been fighting this, fighting this, and fighting this.” One of the keys to success in cleansing your heart is to have confidence that change can occur.
In Matthew 13:15, Jesus Christ is talking about the people and how they fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah.
For this people’s heart has become calloused…
(17) So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
(18) They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
(19) Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality…
I think that you and I know that many situations in life occur where people go from bad to worse. It is interesting that a lot of times we try to be good so often, and we try to cleanse our hearts, and it is like swimming up-stream. This is because our sin nature is going in the opposite direction, yet it is so clear that people can get worse and worse in their life. Somebody who is a liar can become an addicted liar. Somebody who likes possessions can become a thief and an embezzler. We understand that people can go from bad to worse in their hearts, but the good news is that also means that we can go from bad to good. Of course, Romans 12:2 is one of the great verses.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,
Peterson’s translation uses the word culture there.
Romans 12:2 (The Message)
Do not conform any longer to the culture of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
This is a verse that has great hope because it says that a person can be transformed. That is what we want to do. We want to be transformed into the image of Christ.
If we are going to change, the first step is to have confidence that change can occur. Do not give up on yourself.
The second thing that I would say is that I would get God involved in your change. Pray for God’s help. 2 Corinthians 13:7 is just a really cute verse on this. I say that in all seriousness. I just read it, and I laughed because so many verses exist on prayer. This is not a teaching on prayer so I am not going to spend a lot of time on it; however, when we are talking about doing right and cleansing our heart, look how great this verse is. The Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church, and what a mess they had been. They had messed up the manifestations. They had messed up the Lord’s Supper. They had all sorts of differences (fights) among them. They had messed up the financial situation. They had all kinds of weird questions about their sexual behavior. The Church was just really having problems. This is the close of the last chapter of the second epistle. The Apostle Paul writes this to this Church.
2 Corinthians 13:7
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong.
That is what we want to do. We want to pray in support of ourselves. We want to pray for God’s help.
The first step in transformation is to have confidence that you can change, and second pray for God’s help. Get God involved. Ask for His insight and wisdom. The third step is to realize the seriousness of the situation and prepare to do the hard work and take drastic action.
Thanks for reading.
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