Transformation: God’s Work

In quiet and ordinary ways followers of Jesus are being transformed. Sometimes the transformation is a sudden burst where the changes are dramatic. Most of the time, though, the transformation is that slow process some theologians calls “progressive sanctification.”  What should not be questioned is that God is in the business of transformation. What should also not be questioned is that it can happen — suddenly or slowly. Yet there’s one more theme: confidence. The apostle Paul said “we are more than conquerors.” The apostle John in Revelation speaks a number of times of Christians conquering. Biblical faith is confidence in God’s power to transform us.

Two people come to mind when I think of confidence in God’s transforming power today: Dallas Willard’s relentless teaching that discipleship is about transformation into Christlikeness. But his voice is well-known. Another voice, one you should know, is Derwin Gray‘s, whose accessible and popular book, Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future (Nelson), is a witness to God’s grace. There is a tone to this book we need to hear: the tone of confidence. But this confidence is a confidence in God’s grace and gracious work for us and in us through the Son and the Spirit. This is not about self-help, nor does it breathe a moment of this theme. This is a book grounded in the theology of grace and God’s Spirit at work in us. It is not a complete book of theology but a pastoral missive about the message of God’s transforming grace.

Derwin is a pastor, and his church in Charlotte is called Transformation Church (!), and so the themes he talks about are the themes one person after another expresses when one’s pastoral heart is sensitive to the hearts of others. Derwin addresses fear, addictions, messiness, orphan, damaged good, religiosity (instead of grace-covered), consumer, purposelessness, worker (instead of worshiper), and failure. The transforming grace of God turns these into courageous, free, masterpiece, adopted, trophy of grace, grace-covered, contributor, purposeful, worshiper and faithful. Stories of change abound in this book. My favorite was about Herbert.

Derwin’s focus is being transformed from “destructive labels” and from “soul-tattoos” that are deeply ingrained in us. Destructive labels destroy; God’s grace-shaped label of the beloved in Christ can make us conquerors. He knows this transformation from destructive labels personally: An African American, very little father in his life, raised by his grandparents, a past that did not value education enough, a stutterer, former NCAA college football player, and a former NFL football player… there’s more … Derwin’s own story of conversion and transformation are at work in Limitless Life.  From that past to a call from God to pastor. “Transformation Church was started on February 7, 2010, with 178 people. In just three years, God grew us into a multi-ethnic, multigenerational congregation of nearly twenty-two hundred, and more than fifteen hundred people had come to faith through the ministry of Transformation Church” (13).

Each chp is shaped by Scripture and a theology of God’s transforming grace, but once again I emphasize: Derwin Gray really does believe God can transform people and so he writes from the angle of God’s power to make it happen. The book refreshed my faith and made me ask myself, “Do I teach this stuff but not really believe it? Do I really believe God can transform humans?”

The core of this book’s power is seeing the Keys to transformation, like: (1) Be humble, (2) Believe God and God’s love for you are bigger than your enemies, (3) Expect opposition and use it, (4) Remember God’s faithfulness, (5) Wear God’s armor, (6) Know you are loved… this is the sort of shape this book takes for each “giant” or destructive label in life.

Put differently, Derwin looks into the fearful, faithless, and false hearts of God’s people and calls them to know that God loves them, that God’s gracious work is available, and Derwin summons them to trust God’s work to become the person God wants them to be.  The reason people struggle with Derwin’s book is that it is filled with confidence in God’s transforming power; in other words,  he simply trusts God at his promise to be at work in us to remake us. I read a review of this book the other day, a negative review, and for the life of me I don’t see how anyone but a curmudgeon could find anything other than the glorious truth of grace in this book.

Some books take us to one theme: God’s unconditional love. This book goes further by taking us to God’s unconditional, transforming grace. Stuffy churches that talk grace need a good talking to from a pastor who knows grace is more than talk: it is power.

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  • Hi, I have an open question for the Evangelicals reading this blog.

    You believe that God causes the moral transformations in the life of believers and that’s all well and good.
    But what about unbelievers experiencing exactly the same type of positive moral changes?

  • Bill Norton

    Are you asking whether non-believers can change morally? I think the answer would be yes. But who defines or what describes what is moral?

    If you are asking, can man be good without God, my reply is, “we’ll never know.” God already is. He is the author of what is good. He is the gold standard, if you will.

    The goodness people seek is created by God.

    So if a non-believer is experiencing the same type of positive moral changes that a Christian undergoes in sanctification, God may or may not be the author of that person’s change but He is the author of the moral goodness to which the non-believers aspire.