More on Reformation vs. Transformation



2 Corinthians 3:17–18 (ESV)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.


Yesterday I wrote,

“We are not reforming ourselves with God’s help. God is transforming us with our participation.” 

Let me expand this just a bit. Here’s how I would say it today upon further reflection on this “lifer” text before us:

We are not reforming ourselves with God’s help. God the Father is transforming us by the Holy Spirit into the image (the inner personal essence) of the Son. 

Reforming ourselves with God’s help is a behaviorally-managed, activity-based, self-driven approach to change. I like the way Steve put it on the Daily Text FaceBook Group in response to yesterday’s post:

“Reformation changes ‘form’ (behavior, structure, appearance, and/or organization). Transformation goes beyond ‘form’ to presence (“with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord”). It changes the heart–the inner essence.”

Over the centuries, the response to the Law (the 613 Commands from the Old Testament), became a highly structured, behaviorally-managed, rigorously-disciplined set of activities more or less enforced by and on the Jewish people. It was believed to a greater or lesser degree if these laws were kept perfectly, God would make his presence known, answer their prayers, and restore the kingdom to Israel. And for every transgression there was a transactional remedy—ritual sacrifice. 

Though the Law was given through a highly transcendent encounter with God, over time it became a super functional and transactional exercise in behaviorally-managed religious compliance. In other words, it was a massive burden on people. Here’s the ethos and essence of it all: If you do these right things then God will bless. Note also the corollary: If you do not do these right things, then God will not bless. Keep going—If God is not apparently blessing, then you are apparently not doing the right things. Keep going—If you are not doing the right things, then you are doing the wrong things (i.e. sinning) and doing the wrong things leads to being cursed by God. It leads to the insane scenario whereby people see a person born blind and immediately want to know, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” This is where a system of reform invariably leads. This system is ever in need of more and more re-formation. This is a brand of righteousness derived from re-formation, which quickly devolves into self-righteousness. 

Contrast that with this (another lifer text):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:16–17).

Do not underestimate the stunning significance of the apostle Paul writing these words. No one was more bought in to the religious reformation program than Paul. And with a few strokes of the pen, he decimated it all. It was Romans 1:17 that upended Martin Luther and evoked his own great awakening and all that would follow. 

Romans 1:16–17, and the rest of the New Testament is about transcendent faith. If we are to understand Jesus and appropriate the gospel of God, we must progressively grasp the deep meaning of transcendent—For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—. And we must progressively grasp the deep meaning of faith—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” 

I am convinced that though we may grasp this at a basic level of propositional truth and in a highly transactional way (i.e. if you believe this truth you will go to Heaven when you die), we hardly get it at all. It is time for a massive re-approaching of the gospel—not the gospel itself, as though it were a series of truth claims we must subscribe to—but the gospel himself—Jesus Messiah, beholding him in all his revealed-yet-hidden, spectacular glory, even becoming transformed into his very likeness and essence. 

Now, I know today’s post may be frustrating some of you. Remember, we have let go of the rope. We are now moving with Jesus toward the deep end of the ocean. It will be disorienting at times and disconcerting at others. Why? We are in the process of letting go of ourselves. Everything in us says hold on. Everything in Jesus says let go. This is the way of transcendent faith. 

This is the way of glory—from glory to glory. 


Abba Father, I want this to be simple and this all seems kind of complicated. I confess I have lived in a way of thinking that says if I can’t control it I can’t understand it. Faith seems to be whispering that I will never understand it until I let go of my need to control it. And once I let go of my need to control, then I suppose I will have to let go of control itself. Here is my simple prayer: Jesus, I belong to you. Jesus, I belong to you. Jesus, I belong to you. I will just keep saying it until I am praying it and praying it until I am meaning it and meaning it until I am beholding you and beholding you until I finally realize I am being held by you. Bring this freedom that is who you are, Holy Spirit. Praying in Jesus’ name, amen. 


Is today’s post more helpful or more frustrating for you? How so? Are you beginning to see the difference between transactional religion and transcendent faith? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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  1. This series of posts is continuing to confirm thoughts that I’ve had for some time now. Looking back at the merger of the Church and empire under the rule of Constantine reveals how we’ve come to depend on a “Christianized” culture to exist as a religion. Do to this conflation of two kingdoms, our ideas of how the Church would function came to be formed. As a result of several movements which occurred in the sixties, this cozy relationship between Church and State has been ruptured. Our repeated attempts to revive this dead relationship are the cause of the “culture wars” being fought in both the Church and political realms. The simple truth is that we true followers of Christ will be forced to let go of the rope. The institutional church in its current manifestations will be forced to embrace, demonstrate and proclaim values reflective of the kingdom of God , independent of majority cultural support, or else it will die. It will be the way of the cross verses the ways of the world. It’s our choice.

  2. Grace, not pressure. Works become behavioral striving when rules and demands determine if we are loved. Love is grace without pressure. Most have the Santa Clause mentality of being accepted by God. Do good, and you’ll be rewarded. When our works determine how wide, long, deep, and high the love of God is, how can we ever work enough? It would be like climbing a mountain, knowing the reward is at the top, then discovering the mountain never ends. God accepted us while we were still sinners. All we need to do is accept Him while we are still sinners. Then we’ll learn that the reward we wanted all along is Jesus.
    Everyone wants (needs) love. Love is the watermark of God. Experiencing true love comes from loving the source of love, Jesus.

  3. Transactional religion is mind-based analysis built on human logic and reasoning. It tends to be cold, calculated, and contained. Analytical theology (the study of God and His revelation in the past–scholasticism) is transactional. (Our study, or sermon-hearing, is exchanged for the idea that we understand God.)

    Transcendent faith is living, heart-felt interaction with the risen Jesus. It is passionate, life-changing, and ongoing. Direct, personal, revelation from God is transcendent. It goes infinitely beyond mere human perception into experiencing God and being changed “from glory to glory.”

    St. Thomas Acquinas was the leading proponent of scholasticism in the medieval period of church history and shaped much of Roman Catholic theology. He spent most of his life attempting to explain everything theologically in a massive book he called “Summa Theologica.” Towards the end of his life, Acquinas went on a retreat in a monastery. When he emerged, he said something like (the quotes vary): “All I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

    Revelation matters! Transcendence transcends transactional theology and makes it “like straw.” Open our eyes, Lord!

  4. We used to have a book called “TA for Tots” written by a psychologist to introduce children to the psychological theory of Transactional Analysis. TA is a mentality of giving and getting. The author used the idea of warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. If you want warm fuzzies but only give cold pricklies, you’ll only get cold pricklies. Give warm fuzzies to get warm fuzzies. Human nature keeps trying to make faith into some form of cosmic transactional analysis, when God says that has nothing to do with anything.

    JD, this is NOT a frustrating post; it’s a FREEING one! Thank you for helping us recognize our merry-go-round of religion that is not really merry at all. We can get off the thing that just spins and spins without destination, and turn our eyes on Jesus, beholding the author and perfecter of our faith, and by the Spirit become ever more like Jesus to the glory of our Heavenly Father! Hallelujah!!

  5. Yup, I feel like my whole system of belief is being up-ended by all this teaching on reformation vs. transformation. Still to this day when something in my life is going wrong or if I get hurt somehow, I can still hear my mother say, “God must be punishing you.” It is so hard to break free from those chains! Thank you for teaching me the truth of God’s word! Still day One!

  6. This year’s Daily Text has been so eye opening for me as you have taught about beholding instead of behaving and abiding instead of striving. I grew up in the Reformed Church and have struggled with all of the laws of behaving (mind you I was a pretty good kid as I desire to please people and do the right thing – quite the rule follower) however, it was also very confusing and caused a lot of anger in me during my childhood and to the present.
    My mom yelled at me for washing my car on a Sunday afternoon – I was confused – why didn’t I feel it was wrong to wash the car? I felt a little guilty for not thinking it was wrong and then I wondered what the Lord thought of me washing my car on Sunday afternoon – did I love him less for doing so? And if this is wrong, then why is it OK for the men to stand outside our church doors and smoke cigarettes before the service on Sunday morning? That’s not even good for you – at least washing the car was a cleansing act! So hard for a teen to understand.
    I saw a lot of hypocrisy growing up – I was told to obey, obey, obey – but then saw quite a bit of selfish/hypocritical action on the part of those telling me to obey. As I’ve grown and have learned to trust God as my loving Father, I see how little my church relayed the importance of a relationship with Jesus – it was always obeying and doing the right thing to please God – to receive blessings.
    Long story short – J.D., I have been so blessed to read/listen to your writings over the years and especially lately regarding Jesus – only Jesus! It is such a burden lifted – to just be held and behold. Actually, today’s text was as clear as any could be! Not to reform but be transformed – Amen!!!!