The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. —GK Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World
Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.” — John 3:3, NLT
We like things uncomplicated. Life is challenging enough already. Becoming a Christian ought to be a fairly simple proposition, not unlike joining the Royal and Benevolent Order of the Elks. You stand before witnesses and pledge your loyalty, you pay your dues, you recite some ancient and mysterious chants—and you’re in the club!
This “club mentality” leads us to believe that we can leave our faith at the door of the church. Many who call themselves Christians seem no different in the externals than anyone else. Their lives seem unaffected by the power of the faith they profess on Sundays. Is Christianity a fraud, or are some Christians guilty of malpractice?
There are plenty of misconceptions about Christianity. It is not a creed to which one gives assent or a set of laws to be slavishly followed. It is not a behavior-modification gimmick, the spiritual equivalent of snapping a rubber band against your wrist whenever you want to do something bad. It is not “fire insurance.”
True Christianity is a life-altering miracle. It is literally a rebirth, a whole-life transformation powered by God’s Holy Spirit and touching every corner of our lives.
But all of us who are Christians have no veils on our faces [an allusion to Moses in the Old Testament], but reflect like mirrors the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured in ever-increasing splendor into his own image, and the transformation comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. —2 Corinthians 3:18, JB Phillips
Several years ago, my daughter found a chrysalis on a tree branch. It held a caterpillar that, in the darkness and warmth inside, was undergoing metamorphosis. We brought the delicate capsule inside and waited.
In a few days, the chrysalis cracked apart and a very wet and weak-looking creature emerged. It rested, and as it did so its wings unfurled—they were beautiful, splashed with blue, gold and black markings.
A butterfly is not a caterpillar with plywood wings bolted on: it bears no resemblance to its former self—metamorphosis has utterly transformed it. The caterpillar used to be slow and ungainly; the butterfly has become a gymnast. The caterpillar used to be scruffy and homely; the butterfly has become a fashion model. The caterpillar used to be earthbound; the butterfly now soars, and sees the world from God’s perspective.
In the Greek text of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, he uses that very same word, metamorphosis, to describe the transformation that God proposes to do in us. This promised transformation is no hyperbole—as the Spirit of God works in us, our values, our presuppositions, our hopes, our desires all come under the influence of God. Everything becomes new. And, like the butterfly, we learn new spiritual habits that are central to our new identity: prayer, meditation, fasting, servanthood and worship.
Renaissance, literally rebirth, is not a clich. Spiritual metamorphosis is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If a caterpillar wears a butterfly costume, or sticks a “sign of the butterfly” insignia on his car, or waxes poetic about soaring above the trees, he is still just a worm crawling in the dirt—unless God transforms him. Some of us would rather remain earth-bound.
Christianity is about Renaissance. God is not in the business of slapping a coat of paint on run-down tenements; he plans to tear down the slum and transform the city, one building at a time.