We all want it. We all long for it. We all search for it: a meaningful life, one that brings fulfillment and satisfaction. Some call it “the good life.” Others name it “your greatest love” or “your heart’s desire.” It’s the thing for which we are willing to sacrifice and transform ourselves so that we can achieve the vision of life we believe will ultimately satisfy us. For now, let’s just call this thing that we long for and desire “it.”
Our contemporary culture offers a host of glittering images of “it.” These captivating visions range from a life spent fighting for the rights of the oppressed to one that is primarily devoted to achieving inner peace; from a life spent in the pursuit of excellence to one that is dedicated to making sure that our family is financially secure. We see these images of the good life on television and computer screens and within the pages of novels, newspapers, and magazines. They offer the promise that devoting one’s life to this political party, this diet and lifestyle, this job with this salary, or this type of parenting will ultimately fulfill us.
Our own version of “it” may be conscious or unconscious. In either case, it determines the choices we make and the ways in which we seek to be transformed. So the real question is this: According to what—or whose—vision of a meaningful life do we actually want to be transformed?
This question is not new. And it is not to be taken lightly, especially by those of us who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:1-3).
Paul understood two things: first, the power of the gleaming visions of “it” that arise in the world, and second, that only in God can we find true fulfillment. Thus, he implored his readers to no longer let those other visions of “it” rule their lives but instead to be transformed from the inside out by fixing their attention on God.
Paul’s urging to the Romans is just as relevant to us today. The images of “it” that surround us today are powerfully alluring. They dominate the world in which we live and often creep into the doors of our churches and of our hearts. How many of us think of God as a participant in our own story of achieving our dreams of self-fulfillment—whether it be in having the right appearance, the right job, or simply accepting ourselves as we are? How many of us spend our waking hours considering and working toward our next vacation, or the time when we will finally achieve the ideal weight, or the way in which we can secure our own future? How many of us seek to transform the world so that we can feel good about ourselves or view our service to God as a tool for getting what we want from him? These are all evidence of different kinds of “its” transforming us, ruling our hearts and minds.
Instead, Paul urges his readers, stop searching for “it” over there. Look to God’s mercy, he says, and there will you begin to be transformed. Paul knew that all the other “its” competing for our attention will leave us empty, unsatisfied, unfulfilled.
It is a truth taught throughout the whole of Scripture and Christian history that to be a Christian is to be transformed by God. Your whole goal in life, your satisfaction, and your desires are fulfilled not just by something but by someone outside of you: the God of the universe, who so loved the world that he sent his Son to redeem and renew the world. That “it” is not primarily about you; it is about God.
Sometimes we may get squeamish about allowing ourselves to be transformed, because it requires something radically counter-cultural: it requires acknowledging that we are sinful and that there are things we desire that are wrong. Yet not allowing ourselves to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in the light of who God is and what God has done for us is akin to visiting the Grand Canyon and then dumping trash into it. That’s not what we’re supposed to do! Instead, we should stand in awe of this amazing gift of beauty and then commit ourselves to be stewards of that beauty.
That is what the gift of the full-orbed gospel does to us. We stand in awe of our salvation; we receive it as a gift, and then we allow the Spirit to radically transform us from the inside out.
When we find our “it” in God, not only will we bring ultimate glory to him and find the satisfaction and rest our souls long for, we will also be transformed into God’s likeness.
This is the pursuit of holiness, righteousness, and justice that pours from the pages of Scripture—not cold moralism but a living faith. This is a life that is lived by the rhythm of hating what is evil and clinging to what is good. And as we are transformed into God’s likeness by receiving the gift of salvation, everything else in our lives will be transformed as well.
Our approach to work, our families, our health—and yes, even our politics—will be transformed as we seek to understand how to live in the light of the full-orbed gospel. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian, expressed it this way: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Living out this truth in the world begins by submitting ourselves and our desires to God.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” writes Paul to the Corinthians. When we find our “it” in God, we will be transformed. And as we are transformed, our lives will reflect God’s glory to the world.
- “To be a Christian is to be transformed by God,” says Doornbos. Why are we sometimes hesitant about allowing ourselves to be transformed?
- What’s your vision of the good life? How does that vision shape your work, relationships, spending, politics, and even your leisure time?
- In what ways can we “receive our salvation as a gift”? What evidence do you have that you are being transformed by the Spirit “from the inside out”?
- How can we submit ourselves and our desires to God? How does our participation in the body of Christ make a difference in our individual transformation? In our communities?