10 Characteristics of Transformed Lives

In the past week, two very different people sent me two very different thank-you letters. Both men wrote to thank me for something that God alone is responsible for. Rather than argue theology with these two guys, I simply rejoiced with them that their lives were solidly on the road to recovery from a lifetime of besetting sin and affirmed my willingness to continue walking with them…as long as it takes, over as many bumps in the road as will undoubtedly occur.

The road to recovery and transformation is long and hard, no matter the details of your particular mess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is deceived. That said, God is rich in mercy, and He sometimes “breaks in” and gives people who are sincerely seeking Him “a leg up” on the recovery process, a rapid boost intended to allow His people to get a glimpse of His power in their lives. He did this for me in July of 1997 when He “all-at-once” removed the desire to drink alcohol and/or take illegal drugs.

Since that epic moment in my own life, I have continued to watch for signs of His mercy in my life and in the lives of others (Psalm 130:6). There have been countless reasons to rejoice, just as there have also been countless times to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11). More on that some other time. For now, here are some mind-blowing excerpts from last week:

“Bob,” who is going through a divorce, had this to say: I wanted to share a good moment with you that I could not have ever thought I could have made it through, let alone consider it “good,” before God and [His church] came into my life. My sister in law called me today. She was upset…when [she] told me [the news that had upset her], I responded with, “I am having a great day. I asked God to help me forgive [my wife] and He is. It is a beautiful day out. My [child] is with two people who I may not be pleased with, but I am positive that they love him.” I could not believe those words and this feeling of calm are part of me. My sister in law was shocked but happy for me. She said she wishes she could be as strong as I am. I told her it is not me, it is God.

Two days later, “Joe” shared this with me (after several years of minimal progress/frequent relapses): I do not want to continue to be a slave to these desires that can never be filled…I want to know how to truly love. I realize how much damage I’ve done to myself; [I have a] warped view of women and I want that to change. I want to be able to treat them with respect and to see them as humans created in the image of God and His daughters. I do not want to take the chance of passing this on to [my kids], to learn that I disrespect women. I want God to heal my heart and mind. I want to be able to have a wife one day and to be wholly hers and my eyes and thoughts only for her. To learn what true intimacy in marriage is all about…

As I said, the two guys who reached out to me this past week could not be more different in terms of background, education, temperament or even appearance. It’s fair to say that these two might not meet or spend time with each other anywhere apart from the advancing Kingdom of God. They have very different problems, lifestyles and understandings of Who God is and how He works. In short, they are both “in process,” and far from complete in their recovery.

But these two men do have some things in common; please note that the list below is not intended to be comprehensive. I’m sure many of you could add your own nuances to this list of common qualities among people whose hearts are genuinely seeking the healing that only God can provide. Whenever I see one or more of these qualities in the life of someone I know, I get excited, because I know God is powerfully at work transforming them.

People who make astonishing, rapid changes/recovery:

  1. Accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Much could be said here, but for now what I mean to highlight is that accepting Jesus as one’s Savior necessarily means that you are also willing to receive Him as Lord of your life. You can’t have Him one way without the other, though countless millions have tried and deceived themselves into thinking they are Christians (Matthew 7:21-23).
  2. Accept the Bible as God’s Word, inerrant and infallible. To make the point clearly, let’s say it this way: People who progress rapidly do not elevate themselves to the realm of “scholarly Bible critic,” picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they wish to believe and leaving the rest to the trash can of “Outdated rubbish!” Humbled hearts are not interested in arguing about what Scripture makes plain.
  3. Stop trusting themselves and their decision-making ability. Our human pride is such that we feel as though we must occupy the Chair of Judgment, incessantly deciding what “pieces” of the Christian faith we will accept “as-is,” which pieces need to be modified or updated, and (significantly) how we will live out our lives in response. The heart of the Christian, on the other hand, has learned that he or she is often the worst person to test and apply the Word of God to their ability to make wise choices. They will much prefer to wrap themselves in a cord of three (or more) strands (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  4. Submit themselves to wise, God-honoring counsel and resist worldly advice. Again, another slap in the face to our pride. God has established His people precisely for the purpose of advising and assisting each other. The “self-made man” is a contradiction in terms. We all need to be made by God and reshaped by His Word, and we need others far wiser than us to help us interpret how we should live out our faith in the day-to-day. Show me someone who bows to no one and I will show you a fool.
  5. Stop trying to “feel good” and turn their gaze toward “doing good.” Let’s face it, serving others can often be a huge pain in the butt. People are trouble. They have crises at inconvenient times of day. They need stuff. We like to relax, and serving others often means putting our desire to feel good on hold for another’s benefit. Those who set down their beer, turn off the TV and drive out to meet with a friend are often astonished to find that by putting themselves out there for another, they actually reaped what they were trying to harvest in another field. They actually do “feel good,” far better in fact, even though they missed The Big Game.
  6. Speak openly about their struggles. You can always tell when the gospel finally takes hold in someone’s heart: They stop being ashamed of themselves. They speak openly about pornography, heroin, spouse abuse, anger, meth, fornication and so on. They do not attempt to hide or minimize their mistakes, and their certainty of God’s love emboldens them to set aside “fear of man” issues. Show me someone unwilling to share their burdens and I will show you a flat denial of God’s unconditional love.
  7. Accept the suffering and consequences that come to them as a result of their poor choices. People who understand the gospel at a heart level have an enhanced understanding of their own sin, and can therefore positively link much (perhaps all) of the suffering/difficulty in their lives to an outworking of their own rebellion or foolishness. Accepting unpleasant, often-lifelong realities as just one of the consequences of sin is usually tied to a solid belief in Point #8:
  8. Believe that their biggest problem has already been solved. Trusting the completed work of Christ on the cross, those Christians who move rapidly in their recovery accept the words of Jesus: “It is finished.” (John 19:30) There is so much that could be said about this statement, delivered from the mouth of a bloodied and dying Savior, but for now it’s best to simply say that believers make rapid progress when they finally grasp that Christ has done absolutely everything needed to reconcile the individual to a holy, just God.
  9. Begin seeing all of life with an eternal perspective. So many of the points above become easier to live out as we realize that life this side of heaven is just a blip on the radar compared to eternity, and knowing that Christ has saved us from our biggest problem helps us to accept all the in-your-face realities of life now with peace and serenity. We may not like much of what goes on under the sun, but we trust that one day it will all make sense.
  10. Stop living for themselves. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus assured His followers that all good things would be added to them if they would simply focus on pursuing the Kingdom of God. Being focused on Christ’s Kingdom necessarily entails a willingness to stop focusing on yourself, your needs and your desires. When we face forward to a sincere pursuit of the Kingdom, we trust that Jesus is standing behind us, “breaking bread” and amply providing for our needs. If we make the mistake of turning around to watch Him as He does His work for us, we lose sight of the more important work He has given us for others.

Every story is different, just as every individual is different. We are all on a unique race, one that cannot be duplicated by another. God alone can change our hearts, and yet He requires us to do our part as well. Rather than argue about the seeming contradiction of Philippians 2:12, I simply see that God has graciously given us a part to do, even as He does His part. As He changes your heart, you still have some “stuff you can do” while you co-labor in the struggle. Grace and peace to you in your own battles.

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