FrankensteinTransformation of a collective body happens just the way it does in an individual body: from the inside out.

It begins in the mind, in a unified vision, thought processes, and feelings. Then it settles into the will and heart where it dwells as belief and intent. Finally, it inhabits the whole body as loving behavior in all neighbor relations.

The result is the mending of an entire social structure, sense of place, and community with God. Jesus likened it to yeast working its way through a batch of dough (Mat. 13:33).

The opposite is also true. Evil inhabits a collective body just the way it does an individual: first in a mind-set, then the heart, and finally, in behavior and relationships. The result is a fractured society of individuals incapable of neighbor love. Good will seems strange, out of place, and possibly not too bright.

This is a dead body going through external motions to appear alive, but not embracing the inner character that is life. Many of its parts attack or reject one another, and few are securely attached to the head. As Paul said it, “without love…having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (2Tim. 3:5)

How the Love of Most Grows Cold

Attack comes in many forms—willful anger, bullying, lying, stealing, murder, and more. Rejection is another form. Damage comes by withholding goodness, mercy, encouragement, or honesty. Rejection inflicts cold indifference and withdrawal intended to harm.

Verbal assault is a misuse of power that’s often elevated to an art form, especially in political circles, but in all parts of society. The readiness to publically cut people down is considered a skill and earns respect and applause. Even Christians get into the act.

I’ve been a life-long Christian, but not so long ago, I honestly thought that the best way to handle people who treated me badly was with an all-out verbal assault. I hurled word-grenades designed to inflict damage and put people “in their place.” Sometimes, it got me what I wanted, with the added bonus of smug satisfaction. Other times, it completely backfired.

Love is cold even in the body of “believers” because we make it conditional. For example, we say that respect must be earned. You respect me, I’ll respect you. One good turn deserves another. But hurt me, and I’ll hurt you. Alternatively, I may try to get God to hurt you. At the very least, I won’t ask Him to bless you, but will hope instead that He withholds it.

When our sense of well-being depends entirely on people treating us well, we’re left in the position of figuring out how to control them. The result is conditional love and a readiness to attack if conditions aren’t met—pronto.

A Heads-Up

It’s interesting that Satan is characterized as a single serpent, and Jesus characterized the Pharisees, who embodied the devil, as a brood of vipers (Mat. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Luk. 3:7). He warns that their yeast is in the dough, too.

The typical Christian today isn’t a disciple, but merely a convert to rules and doctrines (like the old me). It gives the appearance of life, but doesn’t impart life. This was the woeful situation among the Pharisees, whom Jesus said traveled far and wide to win converts, but made them twice as evil as they were (Mat. 23:15). It explains why love is lukewarm at best even for life-long Christians.

So, whether it’s a family, congregation, institution, city, or nation, any social body poised to strike is in a habitual posture of ill will. Collectively, with no intent or means of loving neighbor as self, it’s unprepared, “unfit,” and simply in no position to treat all human beings with unconditional love and good will. It just implodes in self-destructive chaos.

Mankind’s hope, then, is in new life from above, readily available through knowing God and His Son. This is God’s eternal plan now underway to get the head reattached to humanity’s body. Disciples learn to stop cooperating with various forms of attack in the misguided need to control others. In the gracious use of power, we cooperate with God, control ourselves, and get fit.

Then we can be trusted with more, and the larger body of man is transformed and redeemed, one individual at a time, from the inside out.

Practice

Obviously, the best model for Christ-likeness is Jesus himself. So it’s eye-opening to watch how he used his power. How did he react when people attacked him?

First, note that he wasn’t easily offended. His strength and well-being didn’t depend on people treating him right, especially not those who thought they held all the power and control. Even when driving the money-changers from the temple, Jesus was never manipulated into an out-of-control fit. Decide whether or not you’d like a similar freedom, and what you’d need to change to get it.

Then, try this. Picture Jesus belittling the woman caught in adultery. See him hold his nose when interacting with sinners. Hear him hiss, telling his disciples to lord it over people as most leaders do. Watch him refuse to heal a woman on the Sabbath, reminding the congregation that a sheep is more valuable and worth rescue than a person is.

Watch as he calls down curses and legions of angels from the cross. After his resurrection, look how he rakes Peter over the coals for denying him.

Silly, right? Even in a vulnerable human body, Jesus knew how to handle who he is and the power he has. We can become the same, classy kind of people. If you think not, ask him what the purpose of Christ-like love is. On the other hand, if you believe that Christ-likeness just gets infused into you like electricity, how long must you wait for it, and are you to live like a monster in the meantime?

It’s worth asking because you’re a treasure that Jesus considered worth laying down his life for. If he can rise from the crucifixion, surely, a few honest questions won’t kill him. So you’re safe with him, and he’s safe with you.

Sparks
Sparks (Photo credit: Gnal)

Unlike the early Church, today’s American concept of salvation is separated from transformation into Christ-likeness. It probably wouldn’t occur to most modern Christians that transformation is salvation.

Regarding transformation, there’s debate as to whether God automatically does that to you after you’re saved, or whether it’s something that only hard-core believers seek as a desirable, but non-essential dimension of Christian living. Either way, salvation is seen strictly as an afterlife issue; Christian living in ordinary life is seen as a separate issue.

In this view, the definition of salvation is forgiveness of sin so you get into heaven when you die. The only essential connection between salvation and ordinary life is that you must get on the heavenly reservation list before physical death.

Generally, you get on the list by 1.) admitting that you’ll never measure up to God’s flawlessness, and thus need a Savior; 2.) acknowledging that Jesus Christ is that Savior who saves you by simply forgiving sin; and 3.) asking him to “come into” your heart.

If you do that sincerely, you’re immediately placed on the list, and that’s that. You’re suddenly saved and right with God (justified). “I got saved” usually means the end of a sin or merit problem, not the beginning of a process.

Grace is seen as something that happens to you. You contribute nothing to the process but gratitude, and to suggest otherwise somehow steals God’s glory. Even your faith isn’t your own or anything you do, but something God just produces in you. “Transformation” then follows, if at all, as mere behavior modification (Bible study, praising God, etc.) and adherence to various statements of belief. This is considered Christian living, and it’s the extent of transformation for most.

Instead of generating a new kind of life in people, this model creates stone-like passivity that prevents discipleship and passage from “death” to life, the dominant issue in Scripture. American churches are thus full of converts to doctrines, but few disciples to Jesus. (more…)

A Gorilla lounging around.

A Gorilla lounging around. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post was prompted by an article in Relevant Magazine, “I Used to Be On Fire for God” and the associated reader comments. I enjoyed the article, left my own comment, and elaborate on it here.

I like Relevant’s site (self-described as aimed at the twenty-something crowd) because it’s like a finger on the pulse of the Body of believers.

As a Baby Boomer with roots in the 1970s “Jesus Freak” movement, I like seeing positive changes that younger Christians bring to the Church. Yet some things are no different today than back then.

It’s been my experience in 40+ years as a Christian that a huge segment of the Body still sees Christ’s message of new life entirely as, “Jesus is Lord!” or, “Your sins are forgiven!” or, “God loves you!” These statements are all true, of course.

But for multitudes, new life in God’s kingdom has been reduced to little more than slogans and hype. It’s sometimes called bumper-sticker Christianity. And many Christians define passion, revival, and the Great Commission as saying these as loudly and as often as possible, which is what the article touched on. (more…)