Every good story has a transformation. And I love a good story. I think everyone loves a good story. The concept of a story is woven into our hearts as human beings. We naturally respond to and love tales of suspense and danger and good guys and bad guys, where the good guy wins, but just by a hair. We love high stakes, the threat of the story world falling apart if the good guy loses. We love the emotional roller coaster of thinking that the good guy is down, only to find out he is up again and the bad guy is retreating desperately. We love the stories of a knight in shining armor rescuing the beautiful and courageous maiden, or the gun-slinging cowboy thundering down on a ranch, to scatter the outlaws and marry the lone woman who had been defending her family’s ranch. We love the stories of bad-man-turned-good, coward-turned-brave, rags-to-riches, bondage-to-freedom, danger-to-safety, loneliness-to-love. Whether circumstantial transformation, or personal transformation, we love a transformation.
The genuine, regenerate Christian life is a life of transformation, a story of rescue (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Without transformation, we are still dead in our trespasses. Without transformation, we are still wretched beyond belief. If look at myself honestly, I recognize that I am full of pride and arrogance, lust and fear and envy, I am discontent and angry, spiteful and dishonest and disingenuous – and then I look at Christ. That is my rescuer! That is whom I am commanded to be like. That is whom I am commanded to worship. That is my Savior. How far short I fall!
There is an unfortunate and deadly pattern in even those who consider themselves to be Christians, to try to deny their own indwelling sin, and to deny the need for transformation in their life. (1 John 1:8-9) The Bible clearly states that everyone is born with an innate knowledge of God (Romans 1:20). This means that everyone has a knowledge that this world is not how it should be, that there is something desperately wrong with the world and ourselves. If I am truly honest with myself, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am full of evil. I don’t deserve to be rescued! Without even trying to be wicked, I am wicked, and if I’m not wicked, it is simply by the grace of God! (Romans 7:21-25)
We live in a Christian culture where “good Christians don’t have problems,” where we don’t admit to our struggles, our sins, our own native evil. What a cruel message to perpetrate. What a burden of guilt, to not be able to admit what each of us suffers acutely from, to paste on a facade of perfection while withering away inside from shame! What a burden of sorrow and pain, to not be able to come to Christ, fall on our knees, and pour out our wickedness and repentance before Him, and let Him take our burdens and make us free! There is no sin too wicked, no secret too dark, no guilt too wretched, to be covered by the forgiving work of Christ. Just come. (Matthew 11:28)
What if Christian, the Pilgrim, had refused to admit he carried a heavy burden on his back, refused to drop it at the Cross, and tried to carry his burden all the way to the Celestial City? He would have died on the road, or drowned under its weight in the River of Life. And this is exactly what people do, who try to deny that they are struggling with their own evil, or who try to deny that there is such a thing as right or wrong, or that they have any indwelling sin in their life. They are refusing to let Christ take and destroy their burdens. They are denying the need for Christ. They are denying the need for a hero’s rescue, for a transformation of circumstance and person.
It does no good to claim Christ as Savior and deny the need of saving grace. It does no good to hope for Heaven if you don’t truly believe there is a Hell. It does no good to live a life labeled “Christian” if your version of “Christian” is no different from the culture. There must be a transformation.
What is springtime without first the deadened winter? What is dawn without the darkness of night? What is a rainbow without the fierceness of a storm? What is joy if we haven’t also experienced grief? What is salvation if we weren’t first dead in our sins? What is Paul the Apostle if he wasn’t first Saul of Tarsus? And what is the Resurrection of Christ the LORD if He didn’t first die a sinner’s death?
The glory of God is most beautifully manifested in His glorious rescue of wretched sinners. The salvation story is the rescue of all rescues, the ultimate knight-in-shining armor, the ultimate romance, the ultimate adventure, the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, the ultimate transformation of circumstance! The Hero comes, confronts the Villain, willingly pays the Ransom price to rescue the Prodigal, adopting as His children even those who had spit on Him, hated Him, abandoned Him, and crucified Him.
And thus we have the blessed paradox – A God who is all that is good, righteous, holy, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, a God who is just, and jealous, and justified in sending all of humanity to Hell for our corporal and individual wickedness…that same God stooped in love and mercy to become a Man, sinless and pure, to live a perfect life and die a perfect death, to pay the final price for sin: a gruesome, bloody death. (Ephesians 2:4-7) He died to save those who spit on Him, who reviled Him, who persecuted Him, who nailed Him to the tree. And each of us, by our sin, has participated in putting the nails through His hands and the crown of thorns upon His head. And yet He offers life. (Acts 22:6-8, 1 Corinthians 15)
It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t a story I would have written. I would have tweaked a few things. I would have made the object of rescue deserve it a little bit. I would have made the Hero a little bit volcanic, grabbing those who spat on Him by the shirtfront and giving them a righteous shake. But it is God’s story, and blessed be His name for choosing so glorious a rescue to be the story of all history! He makes it possible for us to live a life that is pleasing to Him – I have no power on my own to live a “good life.” I have no power toward any good, without the strength of Christ in me. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong….so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:27, 29.
Soli Deo gloria!