By Ray Hollenbach -April 22, 2021
Wouldn’t it be a shame to stay married to the same spouse for a lifetime and not be changed by the process of sharing life together? Or raise children for twenty years and fail to grow in patience, grace, and kindness? Our most important and personal relationships touch us deeply. We experience transformation. The rough edges rounded, the abrasive surfaces rubbed smooth: changed into our true selves.
And then there’s Jesus. Wouldn’t it be a shame to take the identity of “Christian” for most of our adult lives and somehow remain unchanged?
A marriage which does bring transformation is no marriage at all. Godly marriage always brings transformation. Or another example: raising children without experiencing vulnerability and risk is to fail at parenting. Friendship without open give and take is only a shadow of real relationship. Yet year after year we find ourselves in the same spiritual shape. While promoting a recent blog post I used Facebook to encourage others to visit this site. The “teaser” in my status update was this sentence: “Wouldn’t it be terrible to be forever forgiven, but always unable to change?” One of my Facebook friends responded with the comment, “That pretty well sums up my life.” How many of us could have posted the same comment?
Any godly relationship brings transformation at the deepest level. Do we have a relationship with Jesus, or an arrangement? For many believers he’s the one who paid the price for our sin, paved the way to eternal life–and the one who left the planet a long time ago. The average believer in North America knows how to appropriate the legal exercise of God’s forgiveness, but has no real expectation of becoming “conformed to the image of Christ.” (Romans 8: 29) Scriptural promises of transformation are pushed into the future, as if they will magically happen at the second coming.
I’d like to suggest three earth-bound agents of change God can also use in our spiritual lives. In marriage, family, and friendships we experience transformation through love, commitment, and constancy. These three pillars of human relationship can also become the means by which the Holy Spirit works in our lives.
3 Pillars of Transformation
The reason I am less of a jerk after thirty-six years of marriage is simple: I love my wife and don’t want to cause her pain. When I act selfishly toward my wife, she pays the price. I witness first-hand the grief I cause and because I love her I determine to think of her before I think of me. I’m still a selfish man, but am I less selfish after thirty-six years of trial and error? The same can be true of my relationship with Christ. If Jesus is simply the Divine Defense Attorney who rescues me from hell, he has no claim on my life. If, however, Jesus is the passionate love of my life, I will joyfully conform my actions to those things which give him joy. This isn’t about following the Law, it’s about pleasing my beloved. Of course, the first question is–do I love him, or do I merely want to use his sacrifice?
Insanity is hereditary–you get it from your kids! How many times in one day can a two year-old push you buttons? Why don’t we just walk that toddler to the front door and say, “That’s it, pal. I’ve had enough. You’re on your own!” Raising children comes with a twenty-year commitment to the unknown. We stick with our children when they drive us crazy. We continue to pour our lives into them even when they are ungrateful and egocentric. We remain true to them even when we don’t understand them, simply because we are committed to them. Commitment stands firm even when love wants to run and cry. If we learn commitment from raising our children, how much more will commitment serve us as a means of grace with God? Even when we feel He may be against us, commitment can hold us firm. Of course, the Almighty is no petulant child, but there are certainly times when we do not understand his actions. His commandments can run counter to our desires, but commitment can steady us until we come to our senses again and his wisdom. That commitment can also strengthen our resolve to order our lives around his priorities.
Life is so daily. We do the laundry this week, knowing we will do it again next week. Repetitive tasks threaten to overwhelm our desire for whimsy and adventure. Yet those who neglect the everyday matters are regarded as immature and irresponsible. The constant parade of days and weeks, months and years builds faithfulness into our souls. Could we become like Tolkien’s hobbits: those quiet little folk demonstrated unseen reserves of strength. What if the everyday-ness of life reveals something of God’s grandeur?
Spiritual transformation begins with relationship, and marriage is a great example. The real question whether our relationship with Jesus rises to the level of our most cherished human ones. No one should settle for marriage, family, or friendship without transformation. Why should we settle for less with God?