Transformation

So my brother and I have gotten into a couple of heated discussions about transformation in a believers life. A bit of backstory is that he has said repeatedly “Your a good man” (brother, husband, father, etc). I have an issue with this.

His claim is that upon receiving christ as savior I was transformed and have a new nature. This new nature is good and so he is correct in calling me good

My claim is that transformation is a process that occurs over the lifetime of a believer and is not complete until death. The sinful nature is still within me and hence I cannot be called good.

My study in scripture has not brought clarification in my mind and has only reinforced my thoughts. However, I get the feeling that I am missing something obvious.

I am not looking for a winner of our discussion. I am hoping that someone might help me understand biblical transformation better.

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I would agree with the statement that you have become a new creature in Christ, and this comes with a new heart, and a new nature. Even the nature to improve and work on the sin which we still struggle with would be evidence of a new nature. Without that new nature I wonder if you would even care to work on sin.

I would also be weary of creating a false dichotomy, in this instance, between good and bad. I would say that none of us are “perfect.” But, if the only choices are good and bad and good = perfect, then we are all bad. I do not think that is a post-Christ state for a believer. I would not say that Christ come along and transforms bad people into slightly less bad people.

The other thing to consider is that Christ didn’t come along to make bad people good people. He came to make dead people alive people. Dead spiritually into alive spiritually. That is the Christ transformation. There is then an outworking of that.

So all this to say, you are both right, to my mind. You are a good man working out your salvation before the Lord.

Just my thoughts. I am sure there will be valuable insight from others.

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One very small thought to add to @Joshua_Hansen’s great response: In the New Testament, Paul refers to the believers as saints. That could be another conversation, but I don’t think Paul would have simply said we are not good. We have both good and bad in us. So Paul, instead, refers to the believer’s standing before God in light of Christ’s work. This echoes back to Joshua’s statement that Christ doesn’t make bad people good.

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@ConMeg I would echo all previous answers. We are saints; not sinners. God has set us a part for Himself and made us alive in Christ. But that does not mean we are perfect.

My Grandpa said it this way: we are free from the penalty of sin and we are free from the power of sin, but we are not yet free from the presence of sin. We still face temptation and must crucify our flesh. One day when we are with Christ we will also be free from the presence of sin. I think those are helpful categories: penalty/power/presence.

C. S. Lewis has said that “God does not love us because we are good - He makes us good because He loves us”. That process of being made good is a lifelong one. As Christians, we are free from the penalty and the power of sin, but not yet from its presence. We must crucify our flesh daily and learn to walk in the Spirit as we grow from babes in Christ to mature adults. Still, we are never perfect until the day we see Him face to face.

I John 3:2 - Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

I think there are two useful analogies when dealing with this question:

  • you are a child in God’s family once you repent. A father does not kick their child out of the family every time they stumble - especially when they are young and still learning to walk. In the same way, our Heavenly Father does not kick us out every time we stumble, but He does discipline us, just as a father a child he loves (Hebrews 12:4-12). We need to take sin seriously - we need to repent - but we do not need to fear that we will be kicked out every time we fall. The Father is there to pick us up and help us continue on the journey.
  • think about a kid who is learning to skateboard - who wants more than anything to learn to skateboard. He gets out there and tears his pants, skins his knees, cracks his shin - but every time he gets back up. He won’t give up - he wants this more than anything. As Christians, we aren’t perfect, but we want Jesus more than anything - and no matter how many times we fall we will get back up - we will fight - we will repent - we will strive to die with Christ and be made like Him.

I John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness .

Philippians 3:12-14 - Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The other thing to understand is that addiction is something that requires wisdom to overcome. It is not simply (I think) a matter of prayer. We must understand what triggers the addiction and we must know how to flee / avoid it when the time of temptation is most near. Oftentimes we need community to strengthen us in those times when the fight is hardest. Fighting addiction takes time - because addiction has fundamentally altered our brains. It takes time to purify the mind, but it is worth the battle!

C. S. Lewis - Different Raw Material

Lewis makes the point that one person may have been taught to behave properly, not exposed to many temptations and generally be healthy - and for them it is far easier to behave in a way that appears moral than for someone who was brought up in a broken family, exposed to lots of temptations and has other psychological issues. In that sense, it is what we do with the raw material we have, rather than the raw material, that is what truly sets us apart.

The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing does dome tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

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Thank you Joshua. I do realize that Christ came to make dead people alive. I think my issue with being called good has to do with the fact that I can see so much evil inside myself.

Just this last week I had the realization that I could justify almost any action to myself and then keep going with a normal life. To be honest, I am afraid of myself, so when my brother says “your a good man” all that comes to mind is the evil in my heart. The worst part of this is that many times the evil is attractive. I have a very hard time reconciling this.

Most times all I cling to is that Christ is still at work in me.

I appreciate your time and energy in considering my question. This is still something I am going to be wrestling with though.

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@ConMeg. Just to add to the great conversation taking place. I believe you are right to conclude that transformation continues. However, I think it would be considered spiritual growth not transformation from bad to good or death to life.

The transformation is completed upon accepting JESUS. But following on to know Him as the scripture advises means that life is a continuous classroom experience. As I live and walk with the Lord, I learn more and more about Him. I continue to learn more about trusting Him. I continue to learn more about what it means to be loved by GOD. And I continue to learn more about how I can live in victory and relationship with the Lord. This learning has made me a better person than I was when I first met the Lord.

A lifetime here will surely not be long enough. Spiritual growth should continue because the ways of GOD are infinite. Each year has taught me more and more of His ways. I remain amazed at GOD’s presence in my life and I get to be with Him in Heaven on top of that amazement.

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I deeply appreciate your response Sean. It is very perceptive of you to go to addiction because that is a huge portion of my concern with being called good. Why do I still have evil desires? Why is evil still attractive? Details would be inappropriate but these two questions touch a raw spot for me.

I know its not right but there are times I despise myself. How can God be so good to me and yet I cannot even have right desires? Jesus gave so much and deserves better than wandering desires. Why can I not honor him?

How can I be called good? I am not.

I apologize for the rant there but this is a decently raw image of what is going through my head when someone says “good” to me. With the evil I see in me, how can I actually be transformed? If I have a new nature then where is the evil coming from? Do I have a dual nature? Is there hope in this life? (I know that we are perfected in the next.)

If the “good” comments were in comparison to other people I wouldn’t have an issue. The issue is the connection to my spiritual nature. I am going to stop there because I am a rambler but I am really having a hard time wrapping my head around this.

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@ConMeg Thank you for sharing your thoughts :slight_smile: I would point out a few things:

  1. The Bible is clear that even as Christians there is still a war within us between the Spirit and the flesh — we will not be free from the presence of the flesh until resurrection
  2. Even after we are saved, it is still a journey to renew our minds and overcome negative thought patterns established during long slavery to sin — we are new creatures who are being renewed in body and mind daily, but the journey free from addiction is one that takes time, persistence, grace, and wisdom - it is not necessarily automatic, though in some cases God may do something miraculous.

Galatians 5:16-17 - So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

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@conmeg – I understand exactly how you feel. Every Christian does.

Your brother is right that you’ve been “made good” by the new birth of the Spirit at salvation; you’re right that sanctification is a lifelong process. As for which of you is “righter” in your overall assessment, I’ll have to side with your brother. I’ll give you a short answer as to why, followed by a deeper dive into the how of it all which you can read if you’re interested.

I believe the Apostle Paul would take issue with your statement that the sinful nature remains within you and hence you cannot be called good. In Romans 7, he clarifies that the sinful nature is in his flesh, which is not the part of himself that he identifies with (verses 17-25). He repeatedly says that it’s not the “real him” that’s driving the sin in his life, but the flesh that he’s stuck with until the resurrection.

But putting all that the Bible says about sinners becoming saints together, the bigger picture that emerges is this:

Adam was created with a natural body from the dust of this world on the outside, and a supernatural soul reflecting the likeness of the Creator breathed into him on the inside. So man’s body can interact with the natural world, and his soul can commune supernaturally with God. Eve was created with the same capacities – all of which we refer to as our “human nature”.

This “soul” (a word I’ll use for simplicity) is a triune reflection of the image of God with a “mind to reason” as God does, a “heart to feel” as God feels, and a free “will to act” as God acts (again, words chosen for simplicity’s sake).

When Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation, her mind was corrupted by believing a lie, her heart was corrupted by desiring the forbidden, her will was corrupted by choosing to disobey, and her body was corrupted by the fruit she swallowed – Adam too, for similar reasons that are open to discussion.

This introduced something alien to our “human nature”. We call it the “sin nature”, and it corrupts us inside and out.

But notice that the sin nature is something in addition to our human nature. Our human nature itself is not what’s sinful about us. Adam and Eve each had uncorrupted human natures before the temptation. Jesus was born with an unstained human nature that He never corrupted. Our human nature is actually incompatible with the sin nature – humans weren’t designed for sin. In fact, sin kills humans. The sin nature dulls our image of God, hinders our reflection of Him and dehumanizes us. The more our minds are controlled by lies, our hearts by lust, and our wills by fallen urges, and the more we gratify our fallen flesh, the less “humane”, the more “bestial” we become – inside and out.

So the sin nature “burns away” at our humanity, degrading it over time.

But when a sinner’s mind opens to the truth of the gospel, his heart turns from sin to the Savior, his will says “I do” to the heavenly Groom, then the sin nature inside him is nailed to the cross as a new nature inside is born (or resurrected, both phrases are Biblical) redeeming the soul and replacing the old man that had been wreaking havoc with the mind, heart and will.

This new nature is the very Spirit of Christ Himself that begins healing the mind with truth, the heart with love, and the will with power.

But while the soul has been redeemed, and the sanctifying restoration has begun, the body on the outside is still fallen.

So now the new believer has the nature of God living inside the nature of Adam – the soul of a saint in the body of a sinner – a constant conflict. Galatians 5:17 explains that the flesh (your old outer man) lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit (your new inner man) against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

But someday, the body will also die, be buried, and resurrected in glory – and then the outer man will have finally caught up with the inner man, and we will be wholly holy.

When the Bible talks about the flesh, it means the body and all its juices – the chemicals, secretions, enzymes – everything about you that’s made up of atoms – even those hormones that affect your moods. It’s all struggling with your new Spiritual nature to control your will.

So your Spirit wants to be at peace, but someone insults you, and your flesh churns out adrenaline that makes you want to swing a fist – and your Spirit has to say, No, flesh! Down, flesh! Bad, bad flesh!

Your Spirit wants to be pure, but some bikini babe goes bouncing by, and your flesh churns out hormones that make your head swirl – and your Spirit says, Bad, flesh! Down, flesh! No, no flesh!

Your Spirit hates sin. Your body will crave it until the day it dies, but your Spirit will grieve and groan over sin even as your will gives into it – until the body is redeemed at the resurrection (Romans 8:23).

And that conflict between the Spirit and the flesh that so frustrates your soul is a powerful testimony to the reality of the transformation going on inside. Every time your Spirit agonizes over another failure, it’s a reminder that something within you is not behaving as it did back when your inner sinner and your fallen flesh were in infernal harmony with each other. Notice how Paul prays for the spirit, soul and body in I Thessalonians 5:23.

Three applications:

  1. The Spirit that was born in you is the very Spirit of Christ Himself. It’s absolutely and infinitely holy. It’s the very holiness of the divine nature of which you are now a partaker. It cannot be any holier. Gazillions of eons from now, that Spirit in you will never be any holier than it was the day you were born again!

Of course, in the resurrection, it will finally be freer to express the holiness as it’s always longed to. But the new nature inside you is already yearning and working in you both to will and do what pleases God.

  1. The Bible never describes God’s followers as wicked. Not once. Ever. God describes His people as righteous because the Spirit within them reacts against the fallen flesh and desires to govern the will.

Here – I’ll demonstrate this for you.

Lot was arguably the weakest follower of God anywhere in the Bible. You can read his story in Genesis 19 to see what I mean. In fact, it would seem reasonable to even question whether a man like that was a worshipper of God at all. But in II Peter 2, the apostle describes Lot as a just man in verse 7, he calls him a righteous man twice in verse 8, and even calls him godly in verse 9!

Lot? Godly? Yes! Because Peter shows how Lot, seeing and hearing the sin all around him, vexed his righteous soul from day to day. Godly souls are vexed by sin – just as you’ve described in yourself.

God’s people do not sin because they are wicked. They sin because they are weak. Lot was weak, but not wicked. Jesus recognized that the hearts of His sleeping disciples in Gethsemane were willing to pray, but they were weak to the flesh. The struggle against the pressures of the world, the lusts of the flesh and the deceits of the devil often wear us down, but we are ultimately destined to overcome because the Spirit within us is greater. The flesh may win some battles, but the Spirit is predestined to win the war in conforming our sin-damaged souls back into the image of Christ. A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again – Proverbs 24:16.

  1. From the instant you were saved, God has loved you as much as He loved Christ Himself. Jesus, praying to the Father in John 17:23, said, Thou…hast loved them as thou hast loved me. In fact, He proved that by sending Jesus to die for you. Nothing is ever worth more than what someone will pay for it. To God, your soul was worth the life of His Son. Not angels, not animals, not anything else but Adam’s children was ever worth that to Him. Dying for us was the only truly hard thing God ever did. Our souls are the only thing that ever cost Him anything. Creating the universe didn’t even make Him sweat – redeeming you made Him sweat blood.

May you and your brother continue to have fantastic discussions!

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That is intense James. Thank you for your time and energy in your thoughtful reply.

I must say that you pointed out some things I had not considered. I will be spending some time wrestling through these.

God bless you.

Coniah

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