5: The Transformation Agenda
Written by David Partington and Friends
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
God’s primary aim in every Christian’s life is to make them more like Jesus, ‘to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus’ (Rom 8:29). It also says that we should ‘become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4:13). That is God’s plan for anyone with a life controlling problem as much as for any other disciple of Jesus.
What these words state is that your future is not defined by effort, by being good, but by becoming more like Jesus. I deliberately say ‘becoming more like Jesus’ because, regardless of your sin and failure, this process started when you became a Christian. That growth may now be `in neutral` or stunted, but it’s happening, and God wants it to take on a whole new dynamic as you make the choice to live on His terms.
God knows you as you really are but sees in you what He has defined as the ultimate, realistic and achievable future for your life – to be transformed, that you ‘will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the FULL and COMPLETE standard of Christ.’ (Eph 4:13). This is YOUR calling and destiny; it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s not important how bad your life is, what’s important is how good you’re saved to be. Replace your stinking thinking with what God says, not what you have become accustomed to.
What the Word of God says in Ephesians 4 is, Don’t just change your thinking, change your way of living and start behaving like Jesus. Start living like Jesus, for your family, your friends, your neighbourhood. They all need more of Jesus and you are part of God’s plan to help them see Him and know Him better – through your life.
So how do you live and behave like Jesus? I believe the rest of Ephesians 4 has a lot to say about that. It expresses how you can not only deal with sin but live with a completely ‘new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy’ (Eph 4:24). So, do something: ‘Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life.` In other words in order to LIVE like Jesus you need to:-
- Accept that there is a standard of living laid down by God for your life which is non-optional - that which is unacceptable to Him must be thrown off or ‘put off’ by a decision of your will.
- You need to move from that which is unacceptable to God to that which is acceptable - which means that you must ‘put on’ that which is acceptable to God.
This is so important that the Bible gives us some clear examples of how it works in practice. Don’t just stop telling lies; go out of your way to speak the truth! Don’t just stop stealing, get out and work and give generously to others! Don’t just stop talking garbage; make a point of only speaking words that encourage!
As you gradually learn to say ‘No’ to sinful behaviour, and ‘Yes’ to doing things God’s way, you will grow more and more like Jesus. You’ll also grow in your love and knowledge of your relationship with God because the Spirit is renewing your thoughts and attitudes; your very mind is being transformed.
Why is it so important for your mind to be transformed? Because you live, like the rest of us, in a desire-orientated society. An article in a magazine from years ago communicated that which was not only true of the time but has become dramatically more valid over the years: ‘There has never been an age where people's desires have been corrupted and distorted by so many powerful messages from so many different directions. In fact a whole industry, advertising and marketing, has developed over the last twenty to thirty years, dedicated to using every conceivable means to raise our expectations to fever pitch, so we will respond beyond our “normal” inclination. It's an industry which has created the myth that every itch deserves to be scratched, every twinge anaesthetised, every appetite gratified, reinforced by so much advertising. We have a horror of unsatisfied desire the way that nature abhors a vacuum.` (`Games Eaters Play`, HIS magazine, May 1983.)
That’s why this transformation agenda is so vital. It’s not about learning different behavioural patterns; it’s a radical transformation. It’s clarified when we read that the `true meaning of the original Greek to "transform" is that same word from which the English word metamorphosis is derived, and means far more than a natural progressive change… Transformation here is by SUPERNATURAL means. The only other time that the same word is used in this way in the New Testament is in Matthew 17:2 to describe the TRANSFIGURATION of Jesus Christ - the Son of God - where "His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light.”’ (Charles Colson, Life Sentence.)
‘Transformation’ by ‘supernatural means’ is what God says He has for you! God really does have resources to meet ALL your emotional, spiritual and physical needs. He has the capacity to provide the love and the power you looked for all your life, which brings with it the security, significance and fulfilment you really need. Professor Lawrence Crabb puts it this way: ‘Paul was not ashamed of Christianity because it was dynamite. It transformed dead people into live people, weak people into powerful people, and empty people longing for significance into deeply fulfilled people satisfied with the real purpose and importance available through Christ.’ Crabb goes on to say, `God is glorified when I humbly bow before him, acknowledging his right to run my life, and bringing myself into line with my Creator as his obedient creature. Accepting Christ's death as payment for my sins puts me in a position where I can centre my life in the context of his will. I am alive to him, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who works in me “both to do and to will his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Now each moment of life, each unit of behaviour (getting out of bed, playing ball with my kids, kissing my wife) can be seen as part of a larger meaningful whole. The context of my life becomes the eternal purpose of the sovereign God of this universe.’ (Basic Principles of Biblical Counselling, (1975), p.62.)
I have seen too many lives changed, totally, to ever doubt that this God can help you defeat your life-controlling problem.
I have spent 30 years working with people with life-dominating problems. In that time I have learnt a few lessons, through my own life as well as observing and counselling others, about what makes broken and defeated Christians into contented and dynamic followers of Jesus. In seeking to help people find their real destiny and enjoy the freedom it brings it has been essential to counter one of the most pervasive and damaging teachings and philosophical emphases of the church over the last 40 years. What has been emphasised is that any Christian can now experience a life, this side of heaven, where everything will be wonderful. At the extreme, and even more sadly, that view is compounded by the teaching that such a state of wellbeing will be ‘hurried’ by their giving something away, normally money. It all goes with unrealistic expectations that the ‘next move of God’ in your life or experience will bring the breakthrough which means that all of life from then on will be trouble free.
These points of view have left much of the church neutralised and impotent, living on hold because, until God moves or changes, nothing is going to be different. The threat of such teaching, for most believers, is to make them live a neutered Christianity lacking in power. For the Christian with a life-controlling problem, such a perspective can be positively dangerous.
Why? Because it leaves you waiting for God to deal with your problem, rather than living in your new identity despite your problem. Your hope cannot be that God must sort all your life-controlling problems out before you can live in the likeness of Jesus. Your hope is that you, like Paul and countless Christians since, can live in the reality of "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances".
Your need for contentment is profoundly important here. Nobody knows that better than your heavenly Father. He really wants you to live in the fullness of that peace which passes understanding. He wants to replace all your whirling desires, lusts and longings so that you can move on in your real identity and calling. But He also knows that such a state of mind does not come despite problems; it comes in the midst of problems. Paul was content despite problems. He wasn’t just coping with everyday Christian life in the 21st century; he was talking about contentment (real contentment) despite shipwrecks, beatings, hunger, despair. That’s why I firmly believe that it’s possible for this to be true for you - to find a level of peace and contentment despite your life-controlling problem.
I believe it, not only because it’s in the Word of God, but because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen in the lives of those who have the most to complain about. People who have been crippled with illness, lost loved ones, been made redundant more than once, living with terminal illness. And something really is different in their lives, a peace, a grace, a contentment that communicates that Paul was right. It is possible to be content whatever the circumstances of life.
I believe the world is desperate for more people who communicate a supernatural contentment, a dynamic peace which glows and throbs in the midst of all the pressures and difficulties of daily life. I believe that if they saw this dynamic peace and contentment which comes from God, they wouldn't write Christians off as just a group of people doing their religious thing. They wouldn’t see us as just a group of people prepared to do without things and to be happy being miserable. They would see us as the world saw those first Christians: a group of people who were different because they drew their resources, despite their troubles, from the known and evident resurrection life of Jesus in one another.
God’s formula for real peace
So how do you experience this same quality of contentment as Paul and those other Christians? Paul states the formula in Philippians 4:4-6 - but let me warn you of something: it’s not something that comes with a one-off revelation. It’s something that you have to work at and, in these days of instant gratification (even in the church), something that doesn’t come easy. So let’s look at how we can discover more fully what God has for us.
First we need to ‘rejoice’ – the Word of God is quite emphatic here –‘rejoice, and again I say rejoice.’ It makes absolutely clear that rejoicing really is non-optional - there's no choice about it. Incidentally Paul wasn’t some idealist writing to a group of cosy Christians in Philippi. Paul knew he was writing to people living in a very hostile world - people involved in conflict and suffering. So what gave Paul the right to glibly tell these people to rejoice?
Paul wasn't saying rejoice about the suffering, about the persecution, the pressure or the conflict. What Paul wrote is ‘rejoice IN the Lord.’ In fact he said ‘rejoice IN the Lord ALWAYS.’ Then, for good measure, he said ‘I will say it AGAIN: rejoice!’ I’m not suggesting it’s always easy, but I am suggesting it’s always possible. God’s Word confirms that it is possible, when things can’t get worse, to be able to rejoice. Not to rejoice in being made redundant, or losing someone, or failing again, but, in the midst of these things, to rejoice in WHO God is, and that this God (who is way beyond human understanding) actually loves me and is actively involved in the midst of these troubles. Rejoice that what we have IN Him far outweighs all that we have to be sorry about. Rejoice in the loveliness of Jesus and all He came to do and IS doing. Rejoice in the fact of the glory and majesty of God whose justice will be done in the end. Rejoice that one day He will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
It occurs to me as I write these words that there is a fundamental problem in all of this. If your God is not big enough, then what Paul says makes little or no sense. The answer to that is not to switch off but to repent and pray to God to give you a fresh revelation of who He really is. Rejoicing here is a decision of the will, and when we reach out to God and do it then something happens. Why? Because God’s Word says it will. And when we obey God’s Word something changes - not always as quickly as we would like, but something does change and we begin to know more peace and contentment.
Philippians 4 tells us next that peace and contentment grow as we seek to be ‘gentle.’ It’s interesting how the value of words changes, isn’t it? In the hard world in which we live there is the tendency so often to see gentleness as something neutral, bland, even effeminate. Gentleness is certainly not a quality many men would aspire to; perhaps because it’s a quality almost totally opposed to the spirit of the age in which we live. But gentleness here is not something neutral - it’s incredibly dynamic and powerful. Gentleness here is unselfishness; it involves consideration for others, having a forbearing spirit. It's something that we males find difficult to be, and something that many women believe is old-fashioned. It’s a quality of Jesus which is desperately missing in so many Christian lives, a Christlike gentleness which releases into the world the power of God. Why? Because He was at peace in His relationship with His Father - His sole purpose in life was to do His Father’s will so He was relaxed enough to be gentle and gracious. The security this gave other people was dynamic and powerful, and drew people by its beauty and appeal. Don't tell me that Jesus was different from you and I. My understanding from the Bible is that the same Spirit that lives in Jesus lives in us! Or have I got that wrong?
So rejoice in the Lord, and then be gentle. That’s what Philippians 4 says we need to do if we want to be like Paul and know a peace which passes all understanding. That’s what we have to do if we too want to be content despite the circumstances.
Then the next thing we have to do is to very difficult for many people. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ Let’s be absolutely clear: ‘Do not be anxious about anything.’ The writer of the Tyndale commentary puts the reason why it’s important not to be anxious: `Being anxious betrays a lack of trust in God's care.’ Oswald Chambers writes that being anxious is an ‘unconscious blasphemy against Him’. Those are strong and challenging words that can be hard to take, but either God’s Word is true or it’s not. Paul repeats them even more bluntly: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thess 5:18). It would be a tragedy beyond imagination if God’s Word said ‘do not be anxious about anything’ and that were an impossibility. So it must be possible; and this is the hope we hang onto, and remind ourselves about, when we’re in the midst of hassle and pressure. I CAN trust God!; this thing is not bigger than Him. In the middle of all this He is going to use it for my wellbeing.
But there's more here in Philippians 4. There's the issue of ‘prayer and petition, with thanksgiving’ when we ‘present our requests to God.’ What is being written about here is specific prayer for the situation that you’re in. In other words, ask God for what you specifically need. Don’t be woolly when you talk to God; be specific and with thanksgiving in your heart, not least for all the other blessings He has poured into your life! Remember also that Paul was writing all this to a group of Christians living in a pagan society, with its attendant, full-frontal evil and temptation all around them! BUT, he wrote with the deep conviction that they could always be thankful, in all circumstances! Does that mean we have to feel thankful? No! We are commanded to give thanks, not to FEEL thankful. (However, when we are obedient to God’s Word feelings often follow!)
I’ve learned the hard way that when all else fails I can at least be thankful for one simple thing. Because of these difficult circumstances I’m in, I really do need God! That’s a good place to be. And in that place I can know peace, God’s peace which is way outside the peace that a non-Christian can experience. The Amplified NT puts V7 this way: "That thankful state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is." It is peace outside the experience of anyone who thinks that peace comes from coping or organising everything and everyone around them. All they end up doing is keeping trouble at bay for a while - or upsetting other people’s plans. The peace the Bible says can be ours is way beyond human ingenuity and imagination, simply because it’s from God. This is why it is a peace which passes all understanding. It is an active peace, a supernatural peace that actively guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; it wraps us around in a blanket of God's security and communicates more of Jesus. It also overflows into the lives of others. You can't know peace like this without others knowing that it’s of God.
So rejoicing, gentleness, and prayer bring the reality of God and His peace, and it can be known and experienced because God's Word says so. It can be experienced by a decision of the will, not just now and again but constantly. How? By reading and learning the living Word of God so it comes to mind in the worst and best of times. It's about looking to Jesus when all else fails - rejoicing in all that He is, being like Him in His graciousness and gentleness, and communicating with Him, seeking from Him all we need. When all else fails, it’s about doing the right thing because Jesus is King.
Here’s another story:
I was born in a tenement block in Dundee on 13 February 1961. Around the time of my birth I was told that my father was often out, leaving my mum to look after the children: this was to be an ongoing pattern throughout my childhood. My Dad would constantly be out at the pub or dancing, or at the bookies, and Mum would be at home getting stressed at basically having to bring up three kids single-handed (I was the youngest).
At the age of 9, I went to school in the morning and came home at lunchtime to discover that one of my Grandads had died. My Grandad Fraser had been my refuge in the storm of arguments and fights between my Mum and Dad. I went back to school after lunch and I came home that night to discover my Grandad Etchells had died, so both had died on the same day. For my parents this was devastating and caused them both lots of emotional trauma. Mum found the only way she could cope was with the use of alcohol and prescribed drugs - vallum etc, and for that I got very angry with my mother. (It took me nearly 2 years of counselling to admit that to myself and begin to work through the process of forgiveness.) By the age of 9 or 10, when I would come home from school and expect my dinner to be ready like the other kids in my class, I would sometimes find I needed to climb in through the window, because Mum was too drunk to open the door.
When I was 16 Mum and Dad separated and then got divorced, and they both seemed a lot happier after that time. (I thank God that my Mum is now a Christian and has changed a lot over the years, and so has my Dad, and they are both wonderful people.)
Most of my early teenage years were spent sitting in a room on my own playing guitar. When I was 18, I discovered the joys of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I didn’t believe in God or any kind of afterlife and took comfort in convincing myself that there were no eternal consequences to my actions. Up to the age of about 21 I thought I had life sussed. I thought going out, taking drugs, playing in a band and having sex was the answer to life. However, I discovered that this was ultimately unsatisfying and didn’t really quench the deep, empty thirst that I had. Although I didn’t spend any time in prison I was often in trouble with the police, and the things I was doing to support my habit would have eventually resulted in a lengthy prison sentence.
When I was 21 I was asked by a friend whose wife had taken us to church when we were young, to fit a heated rear screen in his car. At the time I was an apprentice motor mechanic and agreed to help. When I’d finished he said that rather than give me money, he’d like to take me out for a meal. I thought that would be nice, we’d go out with my Mum and him and his wife and we’d have this meal - little did I know he was taking me to a Full Gospel Business Men’s banquet. When I was there I was overwhelmingly struck by the power of God and realised God’s power and God’s love, and it was a first for me. I came out of that meeting absolutely floating on cloud nine, believing that there was a living God who loved and accepted me – a messed up sinner. I believed and knew that I needed God and looked around the room at all these happy people who didn’t use drugs, and me sitting there high on heroin and cannabis and feeling miserable. I saw that becoming a Christian was the only way to really enjoy life.
At that time I knew I was saved, I knew I had eternal life and I knew that God loved me. But I was a very, very messed up individual who found comfort in taking more and more drugs until I blotted out all the pain and insecurity that I felt about the world that I lived in. I was on a kind of self destruct mode and knew that if I was going to have any kind of life I needed to do something fairly radical. I went to a doctor for some help and he put me on prescription for some methadone tablets called Physeptone. I subsequently discovered that when I crushed these tablets down and injected them it made me feel really good, so I did this for three years. One day I was speaking to someone who said that all the chalk from the tablets built up in sacs around your heart – I went to bed having palpitations honestly thinking I was dying. I thought that I’d injected so much chalk in my veins that my heart must be a mass of chalk. I went to my psychiatrist and told him what I’d been doing, thinking he’d give me some injectable drugs, however he didn’t. All he did was tell me I would be dead if I didn’t quit, and he could not help me. He cut off my script and left me for about a week before I had a place in a detox. It was a week of hell for me.
After the detox - I think I was in there for about 2 weeks - I came out still having the shakes. For the first four days I thought I’d have a drink to calm my nerves and help me through, so drank a bottle of whiskey a day for four days. After the four days I thought it wasn’t worth it and decided to go back on heroin again. But after my second stint in detox I decided to go to the Christian rehabilitation centre Yeldall Manor. My plan was to go there for six months so I’d be able to go back to my doctor and tell him I’d given it a try. I’d then tell him that I couldn’t stop taking drugs, so he needed to give me another script – injectable this time and then I’d be ok.
In the end I spent two years of my life at Yeldall Manor. I relapsed after 18 months - it was Easter and I’d gone home to Scotland and used, and ended up back doing the exact same things that I’d been doing years ago. So I decided that I was going to give up on rehab and head back to Yeldall just to get my things. However when I got there I realised that if I was to have any kind of future I needed to really come before God and repent. God brought me to a point of brokenness where I realised I couldn’t live out there for even four days without messing up my life. So I decided there and then that if God could use a sinner like me, He could take me, use me, smash me to bits, do whatever he wanted, but I couldn’t live my life on my terms any more. So I handed my life over to Him. That was 18 months into the Yeldall programme. I then had to re-start the programme because I’d lapsed – I kind of did it fast-track, doing the whole programme in about six months. I began to go from strength to strength, knowing that God’s hand was on my life.
When I left Yeldall I had a couple of jobs - the first one was filling syringes with grease which was quite monotonous and put me off syringes for life! The second was as a foreman in a garage, and after I’d been working there for about a year I found out that Yeldall needed volunteers. I decided to take a year out and return to Yeldall to help out to say thank you for all they’d done for me - returning to my job afterwards. However it didn’t quite work out like that! The main reason I am still at Yeldall Manor after 22 years is that I love it and believe God wants me here. I also believe that God provided the opportunity for me to come to Yeldall to sort my life out and then help other people (which in a way makes sense of my life).
So I came back to Yeldall Manor to work for a year as a volunteer – I worked for three years on the maintenance team and then got involved in aftercare and then ongoing support. I did that for a few years and then got involved more and more in the care side and the counselling, until now when I’m in the position of Deputy Manager of the programme - I absolutely love my job!
I met my wife Marie and married her in 1990, three years after we met, and have been happily married ever since. Next to becoming a Christian, marrying Marie was the best choice I ever made in my life. God has blessed me with a beautiful wife, wonderful friends, a great job and home life. I’m not particularly materialist but it is nice to know that materially and financially God has blessed me (even though as Yeldall is a charity, the wages aren’t particularly high). I still can’t believe I get paid to do what I love doing, which is spending time with the residents trying to help them sort their lives out. It is such a privilege!
I still hold on to the promises of God that “all things work together for good”, and, “We are not tempted beyond what we can cope with, but God will give us a way out”. God has given me Marie as my way out, and I thank Him for her.
© David Partington and Friends