3 Words that Summarize Gospel Transformation

Every Christian has a story. A story of transformation. And they are gloriously varied.

Your story might be that you were raised in a nonreligious household. All the way through childhood, you never darkened the halls of a church. You chased all the things the world can offer to their very end. But in college, you had a roommate – one assigned to you at random – who shared the gospel with you and you believed.

Or your story might be that you were raised in a very religious household. Fundamentally religious. You grew up under the thumb of the law, surrounded by rules and regulations. But then, at some point, in the midst of your efforts to earn God’s approval, you were invited to a crusade or revival service in which you heard the good news of the gospel preached for the very first time.

Or your story might be that you grew up in a home in which the gospel was regularly spoken but also lived out in the way you interacted with your parents. As a young child, then, it seemed very natural for you to believe this message was true and willingly give your life to Jesus. You’ve followed Him ever since.

Varied stories, and yet there are some commonalities. In fact, you could summarize gospel transformation in three words:

Believe. Become. Behave.

This same pattern is the way Paul wrote his letters. Consistently, the apostle reminded the churches of the New Testament of the truth of the gospel. This is what they have believed, and are continuing to believe. Then he reminded them that as a result of their belief in the message of the gospel, they have become something different. They have become saints. Sons and daughters of God. It’s only after Paul has told them what they have believed, and what they have become, that he concerns himself with what they should do. Behavior flows from who we have become as a result of what we have believed. Here’s a few examples:

Ephesians 1-3 is about new life and the new society God is building through Christ. It’s not until chapter 4, verse 1, that he says, “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received…”

Colossians 1-2 is about the greatness of Christ and what it means to live in Him. It’s not until chapter 3 that Paul says, in light of this, that we should live a certain way, setting “our hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…”

Romans 1-11 has every bit of theology imaginable in it, from the universality of sin to the greatness of grace and faith, from predestination to the role of Israel in the end times. But it’s not until chapter 12 that he says in light of all of this mercy from God, you should “present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”

Do you see the pattern? For Paul, it seems it’s about understanding who God is, and then understanding that in Christ all things have been made new – including us. Once we believe this, we become something different. Then only after we have believed and become does he address how we behave.

We should take notice of this pattern, lest we get it mixed up. And sometimes we do in the church. We get a “believe, behave, become” model that implicitly teaches that if you behave in the right way, you can at last become something good and acceptable to God. It’s dangerous. It creates legalists who rely on their own righteousness rather than truly living by faith. It creates legalists like me.

But Paul’s theology, the “believe, become, behave” model, recognizes that we have already become something new in Christ. We are already different. That means that the behavior part is not an effort to become something different; it’s about recognizing and living out the newness that is already in us. That kind of theology is God-centered and grace-centered, and teaches us to make much of the cross, because that’s where our righteousness resonates from.

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  • eric says:

    The bottom line for me: the ‘behave’ part just seems easier to address.

    Take child-rearing for example. As we train our kids, everything inside of us says “Oh, if my kids would just behave, everything would be fine.” And in the trying moments of life, we default into the mode of behavior management – you know, just trying to get through the next 5 minutes without another major meltdown. If we do make it, and they do obey, we are able to rest and we convince ourselves that we have done our kids a service and all is well. In the moment, this seems like the easiest path.

    But go to the bigger picture. What should we be doing to teach our kids? Sure, they need to obey. But beneath all of that, we must teach them about who they are – who God created them to be. This takes a lot of work and patience on our part, but it ultimately instills something in them that’s deeply connected to understanding the way of Jesus.

  • Michael K. says:

    Agreed – I do think it’s simply alot easier to manage behavior than to delve into the “become” part.

    Have you ever read “Shepherding a Child’s Heart?” I think for parenting stuff, this is a great explanation of the “become, behave” stuff we’re talking about.

  • defenderoftruth says:

    would you care to clairfy?…..are you speaking of pre-conversion or post-conversion? or both?

  • Michael K. says:

    Sure – glad to do that. While I do think it’s both, I was speaking here of post-conversion. It’s my opinion that even after conversion, we tend to teach a “behave, then become” mentality as opposed to teaching that we have believed and therefore become so we should therefore behave accordingly. I think we put the become part out of order.

    But in terms of pre-conversion, I think this type of thinking is similar to “10 Steps to Having a Better Life,” or other ways to improve the way you’re living sort of thing.

  • defenderoftruth says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I think this is a great thought provoking blog post that drove me to my Bible.

    While I would agree with a lot of what you said, your “pattern” lacks the same thing that most churches lack today: repentance. True repentance, that is. It is my opinion that most churches have all but lost this most vital component of faith. It is a doctrine that is all but lost today. I have even heard preachers (even some good ones) say when speaking about repentance and sin “now I don’t want to make any of you mad….” Who cares!? It’s for our good! Are we pleasing man or God? I also once heard a preacher say “if you are repenting all the time, there is something wrong.” I am not sure what theology that is, but repentance is a daily, hourly, minutely process. Therefore the reverse of this statement is actually true. There are many exhortations about keeping with repentance. Many times over is repentance mentioned in the New Testament. I would say it is significant. Even after conversion (1John 1:9, 10); prior to conversion, it’s obvious you would know my stance here. Repentance and faith are inseparable. I suppose if we start preaching this stuff though it might cause someone to spill their Starbucks coffee they are balancing with their Bible….assuming they brought their Bible.

    I think I see where you are coming from, but if you want to know where I am coming from there is no need for me to restate it, J.C. Ryle says it best: http://www.gracegems.org/24/Ryle_repentance.htm. It says so well what’s wrong with our Christian living.

    Just my opinion, if I were going to summarize Paul’s letters into a pattern, this is the pattern: Become, Believe, Behave. This gets into more almost lost doctrine of regeneration and justification. You cannot believe until you become regenerated by God the Holy Spirit. When Paul said we were dead in our trespasses and sins, I have a hard time believing that means we can do anything without The Spirit doing His work. Someone who is dead cannot believe anything, they are dead. When Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the grave…..Lazarus didn’t say….”wait a minute, let me think about it”….he was dead. But he came forth out of the grave, not from his own belief but by the power of the Son of God. This is a great picture of regeneration and salvation in my opinion. So, you have to “become” alive from the dead (Ephesians 2:5), be given a heart to “believe” (both acts of God so that no man can boast), and caused to “behave” in God’s statutes (Ezekiel 36).
    Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

    I think so often we forget that we are a new creation of God’s (when we are pulled from the state of being dead in sin) in Christ Jesus for good works. It’s only then that it becomes a synergistic work of God and the sinner. I think this is also why so often Paul prayed the prayers like Ephesians 3:14-19 for the saints. Clearly he was aware of the great mystery of the battle that goes on in the saint between our fallen state and the indwelling Spirit of God. God wants good works from us, but our tendency is towards sinfulness. It is abundantly clear to me that prayer for strength in this battle must come from God and be sought from God, daily, hourly, minutely. Jesus said that we must “labor” for this food (John 6:27). We must have faith that “I can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens me”.

    At the end of the day, in many places, I think the golden calf has a new look in North America. But it isn’t the God of the Bible. I think Paul was well balanced in His letters not only showing Who God is…..but more importantly showing us how totally depraved we are and why we need a Great Savior. May we plead with all men everywhere to come, repent, and believe on the LORD Jesus before it is everlasting too late.

    And so to your question that you ended with: I believe it is because American Christianity has become so corrupted with self that it’s about me, me, me that it is wondering off into myths (Just do ABC and you’re saved; dangerous to ever assure someone of their salvation. Let them work out their own salvation with fear and trembling). We try to over simplify everything and make it more palatable; an easy believeism. We have become so “Purpose Driven” that we have forgotten that it isn’t about the purpose, it’s about the promise. It’s not about this world; it’s about the inheritance of the things above; yet to come and beyond comprehension. We have so convinced ourselves that we are in control of our “decision for Christ” when correct exposition of Scripture clearly teaches that it has nothing to do with us and we are absolutely at His mercy (1Co. 3:7, Romans 9, 10, 11). We have all but lost that it’s about Christ and Him crucified. It’s about God and His glory; His Honor; His Praise; His Name. What makes us think our jealous God would ever allow sinful man to share in the glory of His mighty works? When God enlightens your heart and mind to this fact, you enter a new place of humility and humbleness to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. I believe this is the point your faith is strengthened to believe that God will finish the good work that He began in you. After all, He is the Author and Finisher of our faith too but that does not negate our responsibility to repent and believe whatsoever. There is nothing like a great mystery eh?

    Make no mistake; my understanding of the sea of Scripture is very limited. My prayer is that God would protect anyone who reads this from any error I have made.

  • Michael K. says:

    DOT – Thanks for your well thought-out and worded response. Really like and resonate with what you had to say.

    I also agree about the necessity of repentance, its essential link to faith, and our obsession with self.

    I also like your not-so-subtle jab at the Starbuck’s church.

    To your point about the inner struggle, I think for me, as I continue to struggle, I seem to gravitate to the question: Which side is the real me? Is it the side who wants to sin, or is it the side who wants to follow God? And I believe that now, after conversion, that the real me wants to follow Christ. The struggle comes between the new, real me and the old me that’s left inside.

    So you could say that sanctification is the process by which the old me drifts away and the new me is fully embraced (since the new me is created to be like Christ). Or maybe like this – sanctification is looking more and more like my true self in Christ.

    Too much? What do you think?

  • defenderoftruth says:

    Brother, as much as I would like to take credit for what I said, most of it is a hodge podge of learning from what I consider to be great preachers. I always try and measure what’s said like a good Berean should, but these are things I have learned listening and reading from various great men of the faith. Gifts from God no doubt! But I believe them to be truth.

    The Starbucks comment is all mine…..and probably not a fair observation. But it’s hard for me to fathom someone worshipping God and singing “Humble thyself in the presence of the LORD” sipping on a latté through a straw in between music breaks. It is a pet peeve of mine much like someone carrying a cell phone into worship Almighty God. I figure there is not a call that is that important…..what’s your priority this morning? Worship of God, or taking a call? Unfortunately, I see this more and more in non-Starbuck churches. Satire I suppose is not one of my strong suites.

    Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

    That is without a doubt one of my favorite texts. Perhaps said in satire, but it isn’t a rhetorical question. Which leads me to your question; No I don’t think it is too much. I believe that the more God conforms us to the image of His Son the more we become like Christ in all His ways. I believe the more we become like Christ, in the sanctification process, the war reaches new intensities.

    I think part of our suffering is that Christ is in us and yet sinful flesh is still there. I think death to self is about the most difficult task on the agenda. And let us not forget, the devil knows God’s Word better than us. This is why I believe that Paul instructs us to put on the WHOLE armor of God so that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

    The devil wants us to question who we are in Christ. The scoundrel wants us to fail and to look back at our sin and want it. One of the most significant things I believe Christ ever said happens to be the second shortest verse in the Bible: “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32)

    So for me, I know first hand what it means to wrestle with the old self. It is interesting to me that when I was first made alive in Christ, there were certain things about me that God changed in an instant and I was in this euphoric like state for a while. I believe that God little by little removed this euphoria and parts of the old self cropped back up, yet some of those things about me were still gone. I become more grateful for this because I believe it keeps me looking at the cross and at the foot of the cross.

    In other words, the more I grow in the faith, the bigger the cross gets to me…..and the bigger the vision of the grace of the cross gets……the greater vision I get of the magnitude of my sin, and I hate it and who I was….and find myself back at the cross. (that last part, I also learned from a good teacher)

    But to borrow from one of my favorite preachers: When I stand before God, I don’t want Him to see me (and my “true self”) I want Him to see Jesus. Sin paid in full.

    Hope that all makes sense…..and sorry to ramble so much. Hopefully I haven’t hijacked your blog. I have been accused of being too radical and taking the Bible too literally. I realize there are many idioms and hyperbolic statements in the Word……but there are messages for us in them idiots…..I mean idioms.

  • Michael K. says:

    You’re fine, buddy, and again I appreciate your comments. I resonate particularly with the seeming paradox of “the further I go in my spiritual walk the farther it seems I have to go” principle.

    You’re always welcome here, DOT.


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