“Be Ye Transformed!” – Part 1

“Be ye Transformed!”

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Rom. 12:1-2

Several months ago I was in my hometown of Musoma to visit my dad and the church there. During the Sunday service, Pastor Amas stood up to lead the service and he said, “I will tell you what pleases me in church. Let me tell you what pleases me in church!”

His eyes were gleaming with excitement.

“What I love in church”, he said, “is someone who is changing. A person who is being transformed in their lives gives me the greatest joy in church.”

And y’know, I was sitting there waiting to stand up and preach, but after I heard those words I began wondering if there was anything left for me to say.

Today I cannot recall what I preached on that day, but I do remember each word Pastor Amas said in those three or four sentences.

I am forever grateful for the Lord for allowing me to know what I know today. More and more I realize the gospel is all about a transformed life. This was the singular thing that the Apostle Paul struggled so strenuously to achieve, not only in his personal life, but in the life of every believer who came to Christ.

In Colossians 1 :24-29 he says, 24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

In his ministry, Paul worked to achieve only one thing – only one: to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. That means, simply, that we are imperfect, and we need a transforming work to perfect us in the image of Christ.

Here in Colossians, the apostle tells us what this work is: it is a mystery, the mystery of Christ in us. In other words, the riches of Christ in us is His ability to transform us! The “Christ in you” in this scripture talks of the work of the cross in us.

Many Christians’ eyes are on that word, “glory”; but they do not see the transforming work that Christ needs to do in them. They are not aware that the glory is in the transformation. Christ could give you all the Rolls Royces in the world, but if He is not transforming you, then that is not the Christ who died on Calvary! Remember Paul warns of “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4). There are many other Jesus-es out there!

Similarly, I could be physically raised from the dead like Lazarus was, but if there is no transformation in my spiritual life, if the cross is not at work in my life, that resurrection won’t amount to much. I will live for a few more years in this tiresome world, and that will be that. But to be like Christ is what God desires in my life above all.

And in Romans 12, the apostle tells us exactly how we are to achieve this transformation – it is by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice. That talks of the cross again. The cross is our new altar, and our bodies are the new sacrifices. Jesus brought about a whole new way of pleasing God. Many people think God is pleased when they do things, things like giving a lot of money in church, helping the poor, etc. But that’s a big “NO!” there. God is not pleased with these things. God is pleased with a life laid on the altar. That means God is pleased with someone who is walking in the revelation of the cross in their hearts.

You can help the poor but you are proud on the inside. God wants the sacrifice of your pride, not your money. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth. And surely, it is preposterous to think that we could please God with the things we own or with our money, while the Bible declares in Psalms 50:12, “…the world is mine, and the fulness thereof”; and in Haggai, The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:8).

The only thing we have that God desires are our hearts.

There are many things we do thinking we are pleasing God, but in which God is not pleased at all. And right here we can understand now why the Apostle Paul would preach no other gospel other than the mystery of Christ, Christ crucified. This is the gospel that brings death to the man on the inside.

I will tell you what pleases God. What pleases God, what God loves, is someone who is changing, changing through a revelation of and a working of the cross in their lives.

That person, whether they do or don’t do things, their work with God is done because they have given of their innermost things – their life. And the proof of their given life is the change in their lives, becoming more and more women and men of grace..

Today the church is seeking after many things, but God is seeking after only one thing: a transformed life.

[Below: This was the day Pastor Amas spoke about what pleases him in church]

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Only One Gospel!

Today I would like us to consider Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified”

The Apostle Paul says here that he would not preach any other gospel to the Corinthians “save Jesus Christ, and him crucified”! But he also says something else. He says that his preaching of the gospel was not done through “excellency of speech or of wisdom”.

Let us look at a few other scriptures in relation to this.

In 1 Samuel 16:7 God tells the Prophet Samuel that “…the LORD looketh on the heart”.

And in 1 Corinthians 1:20 we read that God has made foolish the wisdom of this world.

When you put all these statements together you arrive at two conclusions:

  1. God has only one gospel for us;
  2. God is not going to use our brains or our human wisdom to reveal His plan and purpose for our lives. God uses the heart. The heart is God’s workplace. In other words, God wants to change our hearts. We are what our hearts are. If our hearts are touched and changed by God, then we are changed. We become truly new creatures in Christ.

If we are not changed on the inside, we remain the same, old selves. We might have many things on the outside and appear to be rich spiritually, but the cold fact remains that we are unchanged. We could even have big ministries but God is not interested in that. In fact, we should be careful not to measure our status with God according to any external thing that we might have or that we could be doing.

There are things that have to do with our hearts and this is all that God is interested in. Purity of heart, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal 5:22-23) – these are the truly major issues with God.

The catch with mainstream Christianity is that it is the easiest thing to agree with this sentiment mentally, but it is an entirely different thing to live that life. Christians are struggling with these things every day of their lives! Keeping our hearts pure is not so easy after all! We need to experience Christ’s death in our lives daily so that His grace may be found in us.

Apparently, there were other gospels the Apostle Paul could have preached in his day. But he chose to preach only one – the gospel he knew had the power to change people on the inside.

When this revelation is lacking in our hearts, we console ourselves that we are okay even as we chase after other gospels which do not benefit our souls.

Paul, as Saul, was one of the most learned men of his day in the things of God. And yet, in the first chapter of Galatians he reveals that during the time that he thought he knew everything about God, it was at that very moment that he was persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ! He had all the head knowledge concerning God, but his heart remained unchanged. He was still an ordinary man, full of pride, anger, malice and hatred.

What was lacking? Paul answers this by declaring that the change in his life came after he received a revelation of the crucified Jesus Christ. Mark you, it was not a vision, but a revelation. In his spirit, he understood that Jesus died so that he, too, could identify with Him in that death in order to be found with Him in His life! And since this revelation was a work of the Spirit of God, there was a power that came with it to effect that change in Paul. It was a work so powerful that it conquered the sin nature in Paul’s life.

There are many different gospels being preached today; but it is difficult to find a gospel that deals with the issues of the heart of man. Many deal with the emotions of men. The heart is left untouched. People hear a gospel, but they are left still carrying loads of bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, fear and many other un-Godly things. They jump and scream on hearing ‘powerful’, charismatic sermons, but they go home and live defeated lives. Pride – the true self in man – is destroying many Christians’ lives. Because the gospel they are hearing is not a revelation, these people’s hearts remain untouched – and their lives remain unchanged.

If victory over self and sin is lacking in our lives, then no matter what other ‘victories’ we may have we still are far short of the mark.

God is not going to change our hearts – and our lives – through head knowledge, or any other gospel apart from the gospel that the Apostle Paul received, which is the gospel of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Grace is Mercy – And Victory (Part 2)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Eph 2:8-9

In my last post I promised to narrate two incidences in my life where I have witnessed God’s grace – here in the form of His unsolicited mercy – in my life. Well, as I was meditating on these experiences I came to realize I had spoken hastily: there are actually many more occurrences in my life where I have seen the Lord’s grace working in my life than I can narrate. Probably these two stood out more prominently, but the others are no less spectacular.

Time and space does not allow me to narrate both incidences here, so in this post I will narrate only one. If I find the grace to narrate the other one, I will in a later post. Everything, though, is geared to give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by saying that I was educated in a British school. That doesn’t mean that I went to Britain, no. But our African school had a British principal and we were taught by many British teachers. I remember names like Mr. Kirkwood, Mr. Shaw, Mr. James, Mr. Pragnell, and many others whom I cannot now recall. This school and the teachers built into me an appreciation of the things of God, for which I am eternally grateful. The teachers weren’t necessarily saved, but they had that deep-rooted tradition of worshiping God. Every day we would sing Christian songs, and pray. This kind of lifestyle had a big impact on my later life.

But not everything about the British is praiseworthy – and I hope by saying this I will not be receiving a summonses from The Hague! The flip side of my British upbringing was that I took on a certain trait of not wanting to be disturbed. Later on in life I found that I highly valued my privacy, something that was set to put me on a sure collision course with society at large because Africans generally have few reservations or barriers in their relationships.

It was with this rather egotistic mindset that I moved to Musoma in 1993 and the first morning after I arrived I was subjected to the rudest intrusion into my privacy that I had ever met. Exactly at 5 a.m. I was woken up by the loudest noise I had ever heard at that hour, which I later learned was a Muslim ‘crier’ calling the faithful to prayer over a loud-speaker.

I had never been subjected to such an experience before and I was livid. What right had anyone to wake me up at such an unholy hour? And if he had any right to yell into a microphone at that time, I also had the right to sleep!

Mind you I was saved, but had you shone a flashlight into my face at that moment, you would have turned to stone. I could feel my eyes and they were icicles! I lay there in bed seething and thinking of which appropriate authority I should go see first thing in the morning. At that time I wished I was a lawyer – then I could know the precise clause in the Constitution which guaranteed my right to sleep without interruption! The thought even crossed my mind that I should write a letter to some newspaper editor to highlight this great social injustice.

But the morning light dispersed many of these thoughts and I was not even sure then how I would present my case to a civil authority. I decided to persevere and await the end of the matter. One way or another, I was certain there would be an end to it!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, let me say that I really suffered as my ego was pounded morning after morning, day after day. I could have moved to another location in town, but in Musoma there are mosques strategically situated in every part of town. The agony went on for quite a long time.  I don’t recall having the grace to even pray about the situation. Whenever my thoughts turned in that direction, I would be anything but a fine, young, born-again Christian man.

Then one day, I woke up and it was gone! The condition that had troubled me for so long had simply, in an instant,  vanished from my heart. I remember clearly that I just woke up and I felt this deep peace in my heart. It was like someone had come in while I slept and cleaned my heart – literally. I hadn’t realized how much of a burden I had been carrying! I found myself having the softest, most loving thoughts towards the Muslim crier. At that moment I truly loved him. I felt clearly in my heart that I would even welcome it if they were to affix that loud-speaker to my bedroom window and direct the horn towards my bed!

And that has been it up till today. I have my challenges with regard to the Muslim faith, but I have never had a problem again with the crier. Never. Whatever time he decides to make his move, or however loudly he calls out, whether he be far or near, my heart is always at peace.

I want to make it clear that it is not that I decided to accommodate the situation, or something as simple as that. No. This was a supernatural transformation that occurred in my heart one morning; and it was so tangible that I knew immediately the Lord had touched and helped me.

I did mention that I did not pray about this temptation. That does not mean we should not pray. I would not encourage any such thing. Indeed, we should pray very hard to be delivered from temptation and trials. But I am sure God delivered me even without me praying just to show me His abundant grace, which is not dependent on a formula or any principle.