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To Be Changed . . . μεταμορφουσθε (Monday with Mounce 34)
I have been thinking a lot lately about my personal mission statement.
In past years, I never liked mission statements. They seemed to be unnecessary wastes of time when I could actually be doing something.
But when I went into the pulpit and a thousand different needs and many people presented their pet projects and needs, I realized that if there was not a focus in ministry there would be nothing accomplished. I was opposed to "church programs" as a general rule because so often they detracted from the most important things, but what were those "most important things"?
So I worked hard to try and focus on a Biblical mission statement — what was at the core of Jesus’ expectations for his children? I came up with this: "We exist to worship God; by proclaiming the glory of God, the supremacy of Christ, and the power of the Spirit; in the making of new and fully devoted disciples." Pretty good, but too long for people to remember and it did not contain the Greatest Commandment, to love God and one another.
As I kept working on the statement, I came to realize two things. As the leader of the church, the mission of the organization had to be wrapped up in my personal mission, since it was my understanding of who I was and what Christ had called me to do that was controlling what I preached about. Secondly, there were two ideas that kept coming to my mind. (a) All things exist for the glory of God. (b) My life is to be changed: transformation.
There are so many things that can cause a church to turn into a spiritual mall, a place that exists for the ungodly trinity of me, myself, and I. Many cloak it in religious language, showing their true fathers to be the Pharisees, but God knows the heart. The highest good is my comfort, my kind of music, my kind of preaching, my kind of programs, my human traditions that so often set aside the will of God.
After all, I drop a few dollars into the plate as it comes by every Sunday so certainly I have a right to control of the mall. And everyone knows that American democracy is the highest biblical principle (can you hear my sarcasm?). How hard it is to focus on God, to seek not the things of God (the perks like love, joy, and peace), but to seek God himself, to love him.
But how do you do this? Thankfully, the Bible tells us. "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:8). The word I keep coming back to is "transformation,"
μεταμορφοω. When I see dead or dying spiritual malls known to the community as churches (which of course does not apply to all “churches”), their lack of spiritual vitality is often due to this one central truth — they have forgotten their mission. They have forgotten that they are to be changed, individually and corporately, from one degree of glory to the next, and this change is seen in their love for God and one another, in the doing of good works as proof of their true conversion.
So where’s the Greek! Check out a Greek word study of μεταμορφοω.
The progression of thought through the verses is wonderful. The word occurs four times.
1. We have a picture of what transformation looks like in Jesus “transfiguration” (μεταμορφωθη; Matt 17:2; Mark 9:2). It is to be changed. It is not that Jesus’ true self shined through; that would be docetism. It is that the shades of human sin and frailty were pulled back and the disciples saw who the incarnate Jesus fully was. In a sense, that is the goal of our lives. To so seek the glory of God that our sinful self fades into the distance, to die to ourselves and live as one crucified to all that would detract us from God.
2. Likewise, we who are followers of Jesus are “not [to] be conformed to this world, but be transformed (c) by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2; ESV). After all, we have been born again, made into a new creation. Our heart of stone was replaced with a heart of flesh. How can we who have died to sin still live it? μη γενοιτο.
3. But how does this transformation happen? There are two clues (outside of Rom 12:2). Paul tells the Corinthians, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (μεταμορφοθμεθα) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
The change happens incrementally. We are changed slowly, periodically, from one degree to the next. Walking on the path of discipleship is not a sprint but a marathon.
But notice what these four uses of μεταμορφοω all have in common: they are all passives. The power to change does not naturally well up from within us but is the gift and the work of God’s Spirit. As we work out the implications of our salvation with fear and trembling, we at the same time acknowledge that the ability and in fact the very desire to change comes from the Spirit.
Why do I exist? What is my personal mission statement? “I exist to glorify God by being transformed.” Why do you exist? Why does your church exist?
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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