This is the seventh of eight Sunday School lessons I taught last fall. In this session, we explore the radical and irreversible transformation that happens internally and externally to every genuine follower of Jesus Christ. It is a transformation initiated by God, by grace through faith in Christ, and brought about by the Holy Spirit in the process we call sanctification. It is a divine partnership, which involves our cooperation, by faith and obedience.
Here is a definition of the new birth: “The new birth is a creative life-giving operation of the Holy Spirit upon a lost human soul, whereby in response to faith in Christ crucified (John 3:14-15; Gal. 3:24), the believing one, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), is quickened into spiritual life, and made a partaker of the divine nature and of the life of Christ Himself (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:20; Col. 1:27; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:4). The complete necessity of this spiritual transaction is the result of fallen man’s state of spiritual death, his alienation from God and his consequent utter inability to “see” (John 3:3) or “to enter” into “the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). No matter how moral, refined, talented, or religious the natural or unregenerate man may be, he is blind to spiritual truth and unable to save himself (John 3:6; Psa. 51:5; 1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7-8). It is patent, therefore, that the new birth is not the reformation of the old nature but the reception of a new Nature.” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, 1977, page 152.)
I love this definition. It emphasizes its absolute necessity, based on John 3:3 and 5. We are born “blind to spiritual truth”, as is every non-believer. We must be regenerated, not just reformed.
Last week we looked at the process of our radical transformation. As Unger emphasized above, this was required because we could not see nor enter in the Kingdom by ourselves. All true believers in Jesus Christ (i.e., followers/disciples) were born again, regenerated, converted, and transformed at the very moment of salvation. When the Holy Spirit indwells us, we are changed.
So, what actually changed? Your DNA? Probably not. (Although, with advances in genetic studies, scientists keep finding genes for various tendencies, so it is not outside the realm of the possible that God does change us at the molecular level.) What about your appearance? Perhaps; especially to those who knew you before and after your conversion. Your thoughts and mind? Definitely! Your feelings, desires, attitudes, abilities, and relationships as well, were dramatically altered the hour you first believed. We have new resources we did not have before, and need now.
a) Read Rom. 12:2. Be transformed. Is this active or passive, or both? What is involved?
(Teacher notes: I think it is clear from this verse that we are to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds. This in itself is passive. This ongoing process of sanctification begins when we accept Christ. God initiates, but we have an active role. This transformation happens “by the renewing of our minds”. Our minds get renewed first of all when we recognize that the world’s value system is bankrupt, counter to God’s truth in many ways. We are to actively choose to not be conformed, but to be transformed in our minds by soaking in God’s word whenever we can. It can be augmented with sermons, Christian music, and other means, but the main thing that each of us have to do is to take time to read, study, and meditate on the Bible.)
b) Read 1 Cor. 2: 6-16. What is one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit? How is Jesus involved?
(Teacher notes: Paul describes the spiritual wisdom that the Holy Spirit reveals to His followers. It is not “of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing” (v. 6). It is described as “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden” (v. 7). Verse 12 tells us that each of us who follow Jesus receive God’s Holy Spirit “that we may understand what God has freely given us.” Paul concludes, “we have the mind of Christ” (v. 16). This spiritual wisdom increases over time as mature in consistent faith and obedience to God’s Word.
c) Read 2 Peter 1:3-9. What have we been given to live out the Christian life? What is our part? (Teacher notes: Peter states boldly that we have been given “everything we need for a godly life” (v. 3). It starts with knowledge of “his very great and precious promises” (v. 3). This leads to faith, which is our acceptance of the basic truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we pursue that faith with continued trust and obedience resulting in spiritual growth/fruit (i.e., goodness, knowledge, self-control), these things become effective and productive in helping us to know Jesus more.)
a) Read Rom. 7:22; 8:9. How does Paul describe how he has changed? Who is in control?
(Teacher notes: I did not fully comprehend Romans 7 until fairly recently. I knew it described Paul’s struggle between flesh and Spirit, which is obviously ours as well. But I missed a critical detail. He states in 7:22 that in his inner being” he delights in God’s law. This stands in stark contrast to what Paul has taught in the previous seven chapters of Romans, that both Jew and Gentile stand condemned as sinners. We understand from a previous lesson that Paul has made it quite clear in Eph. 2:1-3 and other places that we were dead, separated from God – His enemies. There was nothing good in us. We were sinners by nature. But now, in Rom. 7:22, we see that he somehow “delights in God’s law.” This indicates that a supernatural internal transformation has taken place at the core of Paul’s will, his feelings, attitudes, and desires. He is not merely flesh; by God’s Holy Spirit he now has a new Master. The flesh is not in control of his inner being – the Holy Spirit is. He has moved from one sphere to another, and that changes everything about him. Those of us who follow Christ have had that same transfer from darkness to light.)
b) Read 2 Cor. 4:16-18. Paul presents another contrast. What is happening to us inwardly?
(Teacher notes: The contrast is clear. Outwardly, we are falling apart. This could be seen as physically, due to Paul’s advancing age and after years of suffering for Christ, or externally, due to the trials of life. Life wears us down as we mature in Christ. And yet, there is a greater thing happening inwardly. We are “being renewed day by day” (v. 16). I cannot help but think about the memorable song “Day by Day” from the musical Godspell, which God used to draw me to Himself in the mid-70’s. I made the chorus my own prayer, one that I still pray occasionally to this day over 40 years later: “Day by day; day by day. Lord, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” He is renewing us; we do well to assist in that renewal by welcoming it and seeking after it by grace through faith and obedience.)
c) Read Phil. 1:6. Personally, this is one of most powerful promises in the Bible. What does God do?
(Teacher notes: This profound promise has stuck with me my entire Christian life. He began the good work in me. He called; I had to respond. He transformed. He continues to transform. When I veer from the path of spiritual growth, He disciplines me according to Heb. 12:5-11. This process, which seems to be irreversible, will continue until Jesus comes back or He calls me home.)
a) Read 1 Cor. 10:13. What does God provide with respect to temptation?
(Teacher notes: The answer is simple. God provides a way out – every single time we are tempted to sin. We can never say, “The Devil made me do it.” We always have a choice to make, but more importantly, we have a new supernatural source of strength as Christians that empowers us to flee the flesh, have faith to overcome the world, and fight Satan directly when necessary with the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18).)
b) Read 2 Cor. 10:3-5. What does God provide with respect to fighting spiritual battles in the mind?
(Teacher notes: In addition to the power of the Spirit to fight temptation, we also have access to new resources to wrestle our thought life before it leads to sinful actions. Paul says that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (v. 4). These offensive weapons that complement the mostly defensive weapons described in Eph. 6, have “divine power”. They enable us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (v. 5). I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with my thought life daily. My imagination is my greatest strength, which can also become my greatest weakness. I definitely need to use these weapons that are available to me.)
c) Read Col. 3:9-10. What does God provide with respect to our becoming more Christ-like?
(Teacher notes: Paul uses an illustration with which we can all identify. Every day, and for those who exercise regularly, sometimes two or three times in a day, we remove old sweaty clothing, and put on new clothing. When we become Christians, we are given a new nature, which we have explored in-depth over the past few weeks. Paul says that this new nature is being renewed, which sounds like a contradiction – Why is something that is new need to be renewed? The process of sanctification, becoming more Christlike in thoughts, attitudes, and actions, does not happen overnight. It happens a little bit more every day that we intentionally walk with God, abide in Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit.)
a) Read John 1:12-13. Who are we in Christ? What are the implications of this new relationship?
(Teacher notes: John says that all of us who have received Jesus and believed in His name are declared to be “children of God”. We understand this to mean those who have repented of our sin, submitted to the Lordship of Christ, and accepted Jesus by faith. It is not true that “all people are God’s children”, which many in the world falsely believe. What is implied is that we have a relationship with the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we did not have before. This new relationship carries with it both privilege and responsibility from now until eternity.)
b) Read Eph. 2:19-22. Who are we in Christ? What are the implications of this new relationship?
(Teacher notes: In this passage, Paul explains that our new relationship with the Godhead is not merely vertical (up and down), but horizontal (left to right) as well. We are “fellow citizens with God’s people” (v. 19), who come from every race, tongue, and tribe; Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white. All who are in Christ are our brothers and sisters by faith. This relationship supersedes all other divisions and labels. We are going to spend eternity with this diverse group of Christ-followers, so we had better learn to experience unity here and now.)
c) Read 1 Peter 2:9-10. Who are we in Christ? What are the implications of this new relationship?
(Teacher notes: This passage is the icing on the cake in describing who we really are in Christ. We are part of something way bigger than ourselves. Whether we can fathom it or not, we are called priests, who represent God before the world. This priesthood of which we are a part is said to be “royal”. As God’s children, we are princes and princesses. Peter states that we are part of a holy nation, one that has no geographical borders, but cuts across all boundaries. We the recipients of God’s blessing to the world, which was promised to Abram in Gen. 12:2-3.)
As you reflect on these different aspects of the supernatural transformation you have experienced in your own life, and the resources you have, what are you most thankful for? What do you struggle with?
Your transformation into Christlikeness, a true partnership between you and God, is more about resting in what He has done than working for Him. However, by design, it is a cooperative partnership, one that hinges upon our dependence on God and continuing to pursue Him by grace, through faith and obedience.