The Transformational nature of grace

There is a tree on one of my running paths that I just love. A large branch covers the boardwalk and every year it gets just a little lower, a little heavier, and a little broader. I have dozens of pictures as the tree transforms through all four seasons. It is a little different every time I see it, but it its essence, it is the same branch.

Grace is transformational. God created each of us with an essential self, but He didn’t intend for us to stay the same throughout the seasons of life. He wants us to grow in knowledge and wisdom and Christ-like living. He empowers us through the Holy Spirit to put on a new self, renewed to becoming conformed to the image of Jesus (Colossians 3:10-11). Transformation is a life-long process, one that requires intentional measures of grace and love poured over others. Even the disciples, who walked with Jesus for three years couldn’t transform themselves immediately.

 In Matthew 18, the disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest, literally the one of highest rank, the one singular person who was most eminent for ability, virtue, authority, and power. After they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, however, the disciples no longer considered themselves first, but rather focused attention on Jesus. Peter once considered himself the spokesman of the disciples and the most influential of them all (except maybe John, whom Jesus loved), but he was transformed by grace so that he no longer sought to elevate himself above the other disciples, but also considered the fathers of the Jewish nature to be of more importance that he. His personality stayed the same, and he bickered with Paul over how the early Church should evolve and how Paul received his instruction in the gospel (Acts 9 and Galatians 2). Paul was especially passionate about transformation. His own story, in Acts 8 and 9 is that of a dramatic conversion so complete that even the disciples were skeptical (Acts 9:26). Paul went on to write about a quarter of the New Testament; 13 of his letters to churches around the Middle East are part of the accepted canon of Scripture. Many (if not most) of the letters were written from prison. Across the letters, Paul’s theme could be described as how to live a transformed life, yet he himself recognized that he was far from fully transformed (Romans 7:14-25; Philippians 3:13-16).

 In Matthew 18, the disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest, literally the one of highest rank, the one singular person who was most eminent for ability, virtue, authority, and power. After they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, however, the disciples no longer considered themselves first, but rather focused attention on Jesus. Peter once considered himself the spokesman of the disciples and the most influential of them all (except maybe John, whom Jesus loved), but he was transformed by grace so that he no longer sought to elevate himself above the other disciples, but also considered the fathers of the Jewish nature to be of more importance that he. His personality stayed the same, and he bickered with Paul over how the early Church should evolve and how Paul received his instruction in the gospel (Acts 9 and Galatians 2). Paul was especially passionate about transformation. His own story, in Acts 8 and 9 is that of a dramatic conversion so complete that even the disciples were skeptical (Acts 9:26). Paul went on to write about a quarter of the New Testament; 13 of his letters to churches around the Middle East are part of the accepted canon of Scripture. Many (if not most) of the letters were written from prison. Across the letters, Paul’s theme could be described as how to live a transformed life, yet he himself recognized that he was far from fully transformed (Romans 7:14-25; Philippians 3:13-16).

Transformation is a testimony to a redeemed heart and mind. If the disciples could become powerful preachers, leaders, and ultimately martyrs, certainly we in the West can work toward overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21). If Saul, a persecutor of the early church could become Paul, arguably the most influential apostle in the Bible, then surely we can practice grace toward one another, putting away judgment, bitterness, wrath, slander, and gossip in the name of Jesus.

It is grace, bestowed on us by the Father through Jesus, that helps us love each other well through the transformational power of the Holy Spirit.

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