Editor’s note: This is an eight part series by Charlie on expository preaching.
- In his first post Charlie looked at the essential element of good preaching.
- In his second post Charlie looked at preaching to glorify God and transform lives.
- Today he looks at how the Word of God effects transformation.
In the last two blog posts I have suggested that the primary aims of sequential, expository preaching are to glorify God and transform lives. In this post I want to address the manner in which the Word of God effects transformation in his people.
To state the obvious, the aim of the process of sanctification is not behavior modification but soul transformation. God has not purposed to make us better people but to alter our very nature into the image of Christ, a nature that is then displayed, in part, by our behavior. As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its fruit” (Luke 6:44). An apple tree does not become an apple tree when it bears apples, rather, it is shown to be an apple tree when it bears apples. Likewise, a Christian does not become a Christian when she bears the fruit of a Christian, rather, she is shown to be a Christian when she bears such fruit. So the aim of sanctification is not merely to cause us to bear the fruit of a Christian; it’s to transform our nature into that of a Christian which will in turn cause us to bear the appropriate fruit.
One of the primary means God uses to effect the process of sanctification in His people is His Word. Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The word for “transformed” in verse 2 is metamorphoō from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” It means to be transfigured or transformed and therefore it is used to describe the alteration of Jesus’ body from a common body into one which “shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). It is used only four times in the New Testament (two of which refer to the transfiguration of Jesus) and is always in the passive voice, which means that the subject of the sentence is receiving the action of the verb. Something is being done to the person(s). For instance, Jesus’ body was transformed by something outside Himself as the Father chose to glorify Him in the presence of His disciples. In the same way, our minds are transformed by something outside ourselves as, by the mercy of God, we present our bodies to God. In other words, our job is not to transform ourselves but to present ourselves to God who transforms us by his power.
Now, if we’re not careful with Romans 12:1-2 we might come to think that God’s design is simply to transform our minds but this is not the case. God’s design is to transform the entirety of our being and He starts with the mind. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This means that the radical change of one’s nature begins with a radical change of mind. It means that if we are to break free from the mold of the world and instead be shaped into the image of Christ, we must learn to think differently about God and creation and ourselves and so many other things. How else shall this transformation take place but by regular and intense exposure to the Word of God? How else shall we come to think and act like Christ but by hearing and reading and studying and memorizing and meditating on the Word of Christ?
The fourth text in which the word metamorphoō is used is 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The goal of salvation in this text is the same as that in Romans 12:1-2, namely, to be transformed into the image of Christ, but the means are stated in somewhat different terms. Here, instead of being transformed by the renewal of our minds, we are transformed by “beholding the glory of the Lord.”
We must carefully think about this. In a sense, we do visibly behold the glory of the Lord when we look upon creation with the eyes of faith. When an unbeliever looks at the night sky she sees only a night sky. When a believer looks upon the night sky she sees the handiwork of her Father. She sees the glory of the Lord on display for all to see as He so obviously unveils His power and wisdom and artistry. To this we could add many examples, and go into great detail about them, for the “heavens declare the glory of God” and the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord (Psalm 19:1, Isaiah 6:3). There is a sense in which one can visibly behold the glory of the Lord by beholding His handiwork with the eyes of faith.
However, we cannot discern the fullness of the character, wisdom, will, and ways of God by looking on His handiwork. Indeed, creation does reveal God to those who have faith but it is not a sufficient revelation. We need more specific information. We need to know that which is beyond knowledge (Ephesians 1:17, 3:19). We need to know who this God is who stretched out the sky and sustains it all by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). This type of knowledge does not come by sitting in the woods and contemplating the being of God, rather, it comes by regular exposure to the Word of God through which God has revealed Himself. Without the Word we can contemplate our idea of God but we can never behold “the glory of the Lord” in a way that’s true to who he is.
Therefore, I conclude from both Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 that the Word of God is a necessary element of the process of sanctification. In other words, if we remove the Word of God from the equation, we destroy the possibility of transformation. I’m aware that in some parts of the world believers are unable to secure a copy of the Bible, and in those cases I can only say that God grants a special grace. But I have met with believers from such troubled lands, and frankly, their hunger for the Word is unrivaled. They literally seek the Word of God as a treasure and when given the opportunity, they fill their minds with it so that they’ll always have it with them. Even in such extraordinary circumstances, the Word of God is necessary to the transformation of the people of God and this fact is proved by the longings of persecuted believers around the world to have the Word of God.
When it comes to preaching, since God has purposed for His Word to have such a critical place in the process of transformation, we must afford it the highest place in the teaching ministries of the church. Preaching the Word of God in the presence of His people is not sufficient to effect the transformation of their nature but it is a crucial starting point. Indeed, the preaching of the Word in the prominent services of the church creates an atmosphere in the church where the people of God long for the power of God that pours through the Word of God. When we preach it, they tend to read it. When we preach it seriously, they tend to take it seriously. When we passionately display its worth, they tend to prove its worth by integrating it into their own lives. Preaching the Word of God is not the fire that blazes within the Christian soul but it is the breath that fans that fire into flame.
Therefore, I assert once more that every sermon must be designed, in one way or another, to unleash the transformative power of God upon His people for the glory of His name. Sometimes that power comes in a whisper and sometimes in a roar, but it always comes when His Word is faithfully unfolded before His people.
Now that I have laid down a foundation in the last three posts, I will move on in the next five posts to discuss five elements I believe to be essential to developing sermons that glorify God and transform lives. For now, though, let me put a few questions before you: What other texts would you point to that address the transformative power of the Word of God in the lives of his people? How important is it that preachers place a high value on the Word of God in the primary worship services of the church? How can that preach it in such a way that is faithful to the text and accessible to the people, especially unbelievers or newer believers?
The following list shows us where we are headed in this series:
Blog Post 4 – Preaching the Actual Words of the Word of God
Blog Post 5 – Seeking the Presence of the Holy Spirit
Blog Post 6 – Pursuing a life of Holiness
Blog Post 7 – Developing Genuine Love for the People
Blog Post 8 – Preaching and Hard Work