As we stand on the cusp of a new year, this is the time when many of us will make resolutions intended to bring about positive change in our lives. The apostle Paul uses my favorite word for positive change: transformation. Paul knew wherein he spoke. He went from being a persecutor of the church to being the church’s greatest apostle. He went from inflicting suffering to enduring suffering for the sake of Christ. That is, simply put, complete transformation.
This change did not happen, however, because Paul resolved to do better. In fact, in Romans 7, Paul candidly describes the futility of his past resolutions. So what made the difference? A relationship. This is how Paul puts it in Romans 8: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God [and] have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
British actor Sean Connery has lived a life which from the world’s point of view seems very enviable: a handsome, dashing man who has traveled to some of the beautiful places in the world to make movies with some of the most famous people in the world. Yet in an interview, when asked why he continues to make movies, he said, “Because it allows me to be somebody better and more interesting than I really am.” I think all of us at some time or other have felt that urge, to be a better person than I really am. Sean Connery says acting lets him pretend to do that. Paul says, “I know what will make it happen for real: give your life to Jesus Christ and live for him, and he will transform you into something and somebody better than you’ve ever been.”
A little further into Romans 8, Paul talks about that transformation more specifically. He says in verse 29 that God causes us to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son.” We are transformed by being conformed to the image of Christ; with the result, Paul says, that we become children of God. We are not God’s children by birthright, as Jesus was; but God says to us, “Nonetheless, I want you to be my daughters and sons.”
In her book “The Whisper Test,” Mary Ann Bird writes, “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth and garbled speech. When schoolmates asked what happened to my lip, I’d tell them that I had fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me. There was, however, a teacher in the second grade that we all adored – Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy – a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test.... We students stood in the doorway and covered one ear, and Mrs. Leonard, sitting at her desk, would whisper phrases for us to repeat back to her, things like ‘The sky is blue’ or, ‘Do you have new shoes?’ I stood in the doorway with my hand over my ear, waiting for those words which God must have put into her mouth, those seven words which changed my life. In her whisper, Mrs. Leonard said, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’” In spite of our flaws and imperfections and shortcomings, God says to us, “I wish you were my daughter. I wish you were my son.”
This year, instead of a resolution, try a relationship. Who knows what might happen?
Tony Hopkins is the senior pastor of Greenwood First Baptist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.