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Transformation (part 2)
Acts 9:15

 

The first thing I think of when I hear the word "transformation" is the sudden, radical change that happened in Saul of Tarsus' life when he met the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus. Perhaps it is the stark contrast resulting from the encounter or maybe it is the relatively short time the change took that grabs my attention, I'm not sure. But one thing I'm sure of, not all transformations are like that.

Some are slow, tedious and gradual. Sometimes they are so slow, the contrast is camouflaged by the repetitive tick of the clock. Have you ever seen time-lapsed photography of a seed's germination process? With the clock sped up, the roots extend, the small shoot emerges and a plant begins to grow. But who would have the patience to watch the process without the benefit of time lapse photography? The change is so gradual it will go unnoticed to the naked eye.

But even when the change happens instantaneously, there is a process involved. We often don't notice the process and only focus on "the moment of change." It is all a matter of perspective. If you take a pencil and hold it in front of your face, with the eraser on the left and the lead to the right, you will see an object, about seven inches in length. But you can rotate the pencil 90 degrees until all you can see is the eraser. So, is the pencil a yellow object seven inches in length or is it a pink object, about a quarter of an inch in diameter? From one perspective, it appears as a pink object a quarter of an inch in diameter, but when it is rotated to give a third dimension, it is easy to see that it is a yellow object about seven inches in length.

Is the perceptive that Salvation is only a point in time inadequate? Was Saul's salvation instantaneous? Well, yes. The encounter on the Road to Damascus was a defining moment. But before you miss the pencil for the eraser, consider the Lord's words to Ananias in Acts 9:15. "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. (NIV)

What time frame does the phrase "chosen instrument" suggest? Did God's act of "choosing" and the blinding light happen at the same time? The Apostle Paul didn't view it that way. In Ephesians 1:4, he wrote, "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." (NIV)

Before God created the world, He looked through eternity into time and chose Saul of Tarsus to become a witness to the Gentiles, and their kings and the people of Israel. There is a sense in which Saul's transformation began before he was even born. It began in the heart of God in eternity.

But another pertinent question is, did Saul's transformation end on the Road to Damascus? Or did it continue the rest of his life?

Saul followed the Lord's instructions and went to see Ananias and Ananias followed the Lord's instructions and met with Saul. Both actions were an exercise of faith. Saul blindly following the word of the Lord, literally. And Ananias following the word of the Lord with his eyes wide open.

I'm not sure which is harder.

Imagine how you would react if the Lord asked you to go and speak to someone who had a reputation for killing Christians? Would you be excited about that visitation assignment? 

I'm not sure how excited he was, but Ananias was obedient.

"Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' [18] Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, [19] and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus." (Acts 9:17-19 NIV)

After meeting with Ananias, Saul was baptized. That act was an act of obedience, but it was also the way Saul entered into the church. And in doing so, he was submitting his soul to the care of the disciples, who spent several days with Saul, teaching him the ways of the Lord.

So in a sense, Saul was saved, Saul is saved, and Saul will be saved. Transformation has past, present and future ramifications.

Theologians often explain the three tenses of salvation with the words justified, sanctified and glorified. They use the word "justification" to explain "the point in time" someone is saved, "sanctification" as the process of growing in the Christian faith, and "glorification" to describe the future state of the believer as they enter into the presence of God in heaven.

Another way to put this process is to say that in "justification" we are freed from the penalty of sin, in "sanctification" we are freed from the power of sin and in "glorification" we are freed from the presence of sin.

These are helpful distinctions, and make for a neat theological package, but they do not fully explain the three tenses of transformation as the Apostle Paul saw them. Did you know that in the Book of Romans, Paul uses the word "justify" to refer to all three tenses of Salvation?

In Romans 8:30, justification is something that occurred in the past. He wrote, "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (KJV) Also notice that glorification, a word we use theologically in the future tense is also in the past tense in this text.

Paul used justification in the present tense in Romans 5:1 when he wrote, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (KJV) and in Romans 3:24 when he wrote: " Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (KJV)

But Paul didn't limit justification to what happens in the past and present tense, he also saw it as something God does in the future. In Romans 3:30, Paul wrote, "Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith."

How can that be? How can transformation be rooted in the past, active in the present and secure in the future?

I like the way Frances Havergal, the rector at St Nicholas, in Worcester put it in his 19th Century hymn, "Like a River Glorious." He wrote, "Perfect, yet if floweth fuller every day; Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way."

I have a feeling the Apostle Paul would approve of Havergal's theology. At the "point in time" of our conversion, we are perfectly transformed, yet every day our faith and our transformation is fuller and grows deeper.

Like every relationship, our relationship with the Lord grows as we walk with him. And we become more like he wants us to be.

Not only is transformation a process once it begins, sometimes the beginning point is a process. At least it was for Roy.

Roy regularly attended church as a child, but was raised in a bazaar, legalistic church family. At church, his dad was a pillar, active in the church and even served as a deacon, but at home he was an abusive monster.

As soon as he could, Roy bolted from the church and wanted nothing to do with it. He was a crude, rude man who looked out for number one. He didn't pretend to be one thing at church, while he was something else at home, he didn't pretend at all. Roy was a scoundrel and a cheat, and he didn't care who knew it.

When he turned 60, Roy started coming to church again. He'd walk in late, sit on the back row and listen for a while, but would always leave before the service ended. Bro. Scott would try to witness to Roy, but he wouldn't have anything to do with the gospel or those hypocrites down at the church.

But he kept coming to church. Listening and watching, but mostly watching the people. Within a couple of years, God got a hold of him, and changed Roy's life. "The people loved him to Christ." Bro. Scott said, "today he is a sweet loving man."
(Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)
Roy's transformation took sixty years. It doesn't always happen in an instant, sometimes it takes time. 

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