by Angela T. Khabeb
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Our faith calls us to lives of active discipleship marked by spiritual maturity. God’s word encourages us to resist conforming to the world around us, but to live into our baptismal identity. We are assured that through God’s mercy our minds can be renewed.
Although I’m usually not a fan of The Message, a version of the Bible written in contemporary language, I do like its wording of this passage: “God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for [God].” We are encouraged to live out our faith daily and deliberately.
So what does a life of non-conformity look like? How do we become a living sacrifice? Again, from The Message: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” For some of us this sounds like quite a challenge. Many of us are inundated with messages to be supermodel-thin or to solve all our problems through retail therapy. Or to make more money. We think then we’ll be happy.
Before we know it, we become lax and give into societal expectations. Non-conformity seems like an arduous undertaking.
Well, it is. But we find encouragement in Paul’s words because we learn that we are not expected to transform ourselves, but it is by God’s powerful mercy. The God that calls us is the same God that equips us and gives us what we need so that we can live transformed lives.
I supposed Paul knew a thing or two about radical transformation. We learn of his metamorphosis in the book of Acts chapter 9. Paul had dedicated his life to violently tormenting people who were following Jesus. In fact, while on his way to gather more disciples for persecution, he had a divine encounter that changed his life forever. From that moment, Paul became a dedicated, faithful disciple of Jesus. His drastic reversal has shaped all of Christianity. However, conversion stories like this are not the norm. For most of us, transformation is not an event but rather a journey.
Caterpillar to butterfly
When I think of radical transformation, I often think of a butterfly. I have images of a furry little caterpillar emerging from her cocoon as a brightly-colored magnificent butterfly. As a child, I thought that the chrysalis was basically a scientific dressing room of sorts where the caterpillar slept and then changed her costume. Actually, the caterpillar is not so lucky. She sheds her outer covering repeatedly each time entering the next stage of development. She essentially disintegrates. I stumbled upon this quote the other day from writer Rory Miller, “Why is a caterpillar wrapped in silk while it changes into a butterfly? So the other caterpillars can’t hear the screams. Change hurts.”
No shortcuts for the journey
There are no quick fixes or shortcuts to radical transformation. It takes time. Within the caterpillar, right from the start, are bundles of specialized cells that have a predetermined purpose. For example, these cell structures will later become part of the butterfly like the wings, legs, or antennae. But there’s a hormone present in the caterpillar that prevents these cells from maturing too soon. Likewise, there is a seed planted inside of us at the baptismal waters where we are born anew. The seed rests within us waiting to emerge, waiting to be free of the societal and cultural expectations that hinder the release.
As we continue in the faith the seed grows and takes root. And through the transformative power of God’s Spirit, it blossoms and bears fruit. The journey can be lengthy and even difficult. But God strengthens us so that we resist the urge to shrink from the process. The Holy Spirit empowers us and brings out the best in us.
I guess at the end of the day, the caterpillar really doesn’t have a choice whether to become a butterfly or not. It is her sole purpose in life, or her raison d’être. There aren’t any outside forces demanding her allegiance. There are no financial woes, no family drama, no career concerns, no grief or heartache. But this is not the case for us.
Yes, the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms us through God’s powerful mercy and grace. But we respond to God’s call by making a conscious effort to give our lives as an offering. And God does the rest.
When we connect our call to transformation with God’s promise of grace, our transformation begins to take shape even when we don’t see it, even when we don’t feel it, and even when we don’t really want it. Transformation does not mean that we become perfect people or that we become religious fanatics.
Transformation means that, like the caterpillar, we shed our former way of living so that we can embrace promised renewal. True, godly transformation comes through discipleship and discipleship is costly. So, why does radical transformation matter? It matters because God is in the business of transforming lives and transformed lives have the potential to transform the world.
1. What areas in your life are in need of transformation?
2. What does it mean to you to “not be conformed to this world?” What does it look like to live a counter-cultural life in your context?
3. If time permits, take a few moments to read all of Romans 12 especially verses 9-21 (If possible, use The Message version). What strikes you as being radically different from what our society expects?
Awesome God, thank you for your powerful mercy that transforms us so that we may live in this world as a light to others. Open our eyes to see your transforming grace. Make us bold in our faith and encourage us on our journeys. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Rev. Angela T. Khabeb is the associate pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wis. She has an amazing husband, Benhi, two spectacular sons, Konami and Khenna and a precious baby girl, Khonni.