This morning I am very excited to start us off on a new journey! Over the last 13 months, we have worked our way through the book of Acts – studying the early church and the first disciples as they began to carry out their Jesus-given mission of being His witnesses and bringing the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. And I trust that you’d agree with me in saying that it’s just been a real encouragement to us to watch how Jesus transformed those early disciples. I mean, they were just regular men and women like you and I, but God did some amazing things in and through them that totally transformed their lives and at the same time, also transformed the world around them.
Of course Paul is the poster-boy for people who were radically transformed for Christ – being a murder transformed into a missionary – but I think for a lot of us, he’s a little hard to relate to. Most of us don’t have such radical stories of transformation – nor do we really want to! I’m glad that I didn’t have to get saved from a life of crime or some other sensational life-disaster! While that is some people’s story, for the majority of us, we’re a lot more run-of-the-mill!
We probably relate more to guys like Peter and John – just regular, average folks who weren’t murderers or extortionists or anything like that. I mean, maybe they were a little rough around the edges – I can imagine Peter having a bit of a temper and maybe some self-control issues. But on the whole, I imagine they were both probably pretty decent fellows even before they met Jesus. They were hard-working fisherman – good jewish boys who tried to live good, decent lives… Much like all of us!
But you know, even these good, decent, Jewish boys still required a radical transformation. And as we follow their stories through the pages of the Scriptures, we see that this is exactly what happened.
We won’t trace their whole story this morning, but I just want to point out one little verse that kinda captures their transformation.
It says in Acts 4:13….
13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.
Isn’t that cool – they were ordinary men with extraordinary boldness – because they had been with Jesus. Now don’t forget that just weeks before this, both Peter & John had run away in fear as Jesus was arrested. In fact, while Jesus was on trial, Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus! Not exactly a bold witness for Christ in that moment, was he?
But yet now, the members of the Jewish high council were amazed at their boldness as Peter & John proclaimed the message of the risen Messiah. Something happened to these men that totally transformed their lives!
And that “something” is what I want us to look at throughout this upcoming summer! You see, I am convinced that Jesus wants to totally transform your life and mine! Yes, He loves us just as we are – with our sins, faults, and failures – but it’s not his desire to leave us that way!
2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
This verse is speaking of total transformation. It’s not suggesting that Jesus will bring a few tweaks in your life – or make a few changes here and there, but rather, He will completely transform your life into something brand new.
This is what we see in the life of Peter and John, and this is what we see in the life of Paul! Total transformation – it’s like they became brand new, totally different people!
But my question is: do we see that in our lives today? Is this the common Christian experience in our churches now? Are our churches full of people who have been radically transformed from one type of person into another?
Or to make it more personal, is that your story? As you consider your life – your walk with God over the years – have you been totally transformed – or has Jesus only make a few tweaks here and there?
Maybe He’s added some devotional time in your schedule, or reduced some of your colourful language in public? Maybe He’s added in a little more guilt when you blow up at your kids or laugh at those off-colour jokes at work.
And of course, I’m exaggerating here to make the point, but truthfully, if those are the only kinds of changes that Jesus is making in your life, maybe you’re missing out on something?
I think for a lot of us, we’ve experience the tweaking power of Christ, but maybe not the life transformational power of Christ!
Because I don’t think that this transformation is only for a select few like Peter & Paul, pastors and missionaries…. Notice how that verse says: If ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new Creation… Jesus promises radical transformation for ANYONE and EVERYONE in Christ.
In other words, if you have not been radically changed from the inside out – if you are still pretty much the same the person that you used to be before you met Christ, then maybe something’s missing!
And so that’s what I want us to look at through this summer message series. What might we be missing that’s keeping us from being totally transformed by Jesus? Have we misunderstood a little bit what it means to be a follower of Christ? Are there some key elements in our discipleship process that we’ve neglected to teach and apply? Are there some principles or practices that we’ve forgotten about in our modern, western culture version of Christianity? Whatever caused such radical changes in Peter & John & Paul’s lives – might that be what’s missing in our lives?
Those are the questions that I want to explore over the next several weeks. But with that, I want to make a couple clarifications.
First of all, I don’t want this to sound like we’ve been doing it completely wrong for years and we’re all just a bunch of fake Christians! That’s not what I’m saying! The fact is, God has already done some amazing things in probably all of us! Life transformation is a life-long process and I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m discounting what God has done in your life already! As Paul says in Philippians 1:6…
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
I am confident that God is at work in your life – the transformation has begun! But my hope for this message series is that each one of us can identify the next steps in our journey with Christ – whatever that may be for each one of us!
Are there ways that we can align with God more fully to bring about the transformation that He has already begun within us?
God has given us a will and mind to think through things and make our own decisions – but sometimes what we think and what we decide does not align with what God thinks and what God desires for us. And so when we conflict with God in that way, that certainly hinders the transformation process.
So are there ways that we can better align our thoughts and understanding and desires with God’s for that He can transform us into the people that He created us to be?
And I guess that’s really the heart of this series.
I think for each one of us, there are areas of our lives where we are resistant to doing things God’s way. For whatever reason, we hold on to our way of doing things – insisting that our way is best! But real life transformation comes when we realize that, in reality, God’s way is best – and we willingly choose to embrace that way.
This is what Paul is writing about in Romans 12:2 – when he talks about being transformed by the renewing of our mind. But even before he gets to that part, as a lead up into that statement, he says in chapter 11, verse 33…
33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back?
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
The idea that Paul is conveying here is that because God is so rich in wisdom and knowledge and understand – so much more so than we are – we would be foolish to insist on doing things our own way! God has created us by his power and for his glory – and His will for each one of us is to be transformed into a new person – a new person who knows and embraces God’s will for their life – which is good and pleasing and perfect.
And I really want you to catch that – God’s will for your life is good and pleasing and perfect! In other words, God wants to give you the life that is the most life-giving, joy-filling, and purpose-fulfilling life possible. It’s this kind of life that honours and glorifies him the most!
But at the same time, you also need to realize that God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you may not include a comfortable, easy life! Rather, it may include suffering. It may include pain. It may include enduring hardship and loss!
In fact, Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 16:24
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
And by the way, the cross back then was not an endearing image of your faith like it is today. The cross was the cruelest means of execution in the Roman world – but that’s what Jesus instructed his disciples pick up and carry with them!
It would be like saying take up your guillotine and follow me. Or take up your hangman’s noose and follow me. Or bring along your firing squad and follow me.
The point is, that in order to embrace God’s will for your life – his good and pleasing and perfect will for your life – in order to experience that, we have to be 100% willing to die to our own way – and trust that His way is indeed best! Even if it is hard. Even if it is uncomfortable.
Jesus continues in verse 25…
25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
It’s kinda like trusting a surgeon just before you go under the knife. You know it’s gonna be painful. You know it’s going to be uncomfortable – so why do it? You do it because you also know that it’s going to bring healing and health! You trust the surgeon to to give you life rather than cause you to lose it!
In the same way, we need to be willing to give up our own way – to stop hanging on to our own life – and be willing to give it up for Him – because in giving up our life – we actually save it! We find that His will actually is good and pleasing and perfect!
This is the process of transformation. It’s learning to give up our own way, take up our cross – dying to ourselves, and follow Him.
So what specifically does that look like? It’s one thing to say we need to give up our own way, take up our cross and follow Him – but how exactly do we do that in real life? What does that look like for a welder or stay-at-home mom or a student or a part-time florist or whoever!?
Well, that’s what we’re going to get into over the next few weeks. For now the question that I’ll leave you with is this: Are you willing to let God totally transform your life? Are you willing to give up your own way and trust that his way is best? Are you willing to take up your cross – no matter how uncomfortable or painful that may be – and to trust that His will for your life is good, and pleasing and perfect?
Because that’s what it takes to experience total life transformation!
As I mentioned last week, throughout this summer, every Sunday we’re going to have the privilege to hear the personal stories from many different people in our church of their total life transformation!
Now that doesn’t mean that they’ve become super-saints or that they’ve finally got it all together. I don’t think any of us fit into that category! But rather, these folks have come to a point in their life – probably many times actually – where they have decided to trust God’s will for their life!
Their stories are all very different – some are new Christians, some have been Christians for decades, some have endured incredible hardships and gone through stuff many of us couldn’t even imagine – but the common theme through all of their stories is that they have decided that no matter what the cost, it is 100% worth it to follow Christ!