spiritual growth

Destined for Transformation



In his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg introduces us to a cranky old guy named Hank. Judgmental and joyless, complaining and contemptuous, he’s “the man who never changed.” “But even more troubling than his lack of change,” says Ortberg, “was the fact that nobody was surprised by it.”[1] After all, Hank had spent his whole life in the church.

Some of us have grown so accustomed to the “Hanks” in the church—and our own lack of genuine transformation—that we’ve all but given up on seeing—much less experiencing—a transformed life.

But that’s a bit like enrolling in nursing school without expecting to become a nurse or securing an electrician apprenticeship without any hope of ever being an electrician. Jesus said,

“The student [disciple] is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40; italics added)

Jesus’ goal in calling you to follow him is to train you to be like him. This has been God’s plan from the start. As the apostle Paul put it, “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Now if you’re anything like me, then becoming Christlike definitely qualifies as a transformation! And this is the point.

If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you’re destined for transformation.

It’s what we signed up for when we said yes to Jesus. But we have to want this transformation if we’re going to experience it in this life. Paul explains the choice before us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Our metamorphosis depends on our refusing the prevailing mindset of this world, while renewing our minds in the ways of Christ.

While the power for transformation clearly belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18), we have a responsibility in seeing it come to fruition. There’s no auto-pilot when it comes to discipleship. If we’re going to navigate a deformed world to our destination of a transformed life, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves. We have to want it enough to make a habit of saying no to the prevailing mindset of this world and yes to what God tells us through his Word and his Spirit.

The process of becoming Christlike may seem slow, but we can draw encouragement from the small victories along the way, like the one my wife pointed out recently. It was Saturday, the day before I was to deliver a sermon at a pastor friend’s church while he was away. I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish my message when our twelve-year-old son burst into the room noisily lamenting a computer malfunction that had just ruined his Minecraft video mid-recording, which he had intended to upload to YouTube. He was devastated and wanted me to do something about it. I had no idea how to help, and frankly I was irritated by the interruption. So, with some stern words, I told him he wasn’t handling the situation very well and sent him to his room. I let out a sigh and returned to preparing my sermon on how to live a transformed life. But within a couple minutes I heard myself say to my wife (who was sitting at the same table and heard the whole thing go down), “I guess I didn’t handle that very well either.” I got up and went to my son’s room. I apologized for being impatient with him, and we had a proper conversation about his computer issue.

I sensed something significant had just happened, but it was my wife who later suggested that I had just taken a small step in my own ongoing transformation.

She was right. I'm on my way.


[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 29.

A Question for Assessing Your Spiritual Progress



By Dave Steel

There’s nothing like a long road trip to create space to reflect. Recently, somewhere between Florida and Illinois, I found myself contemplating my discipleship to Jesus while the rest of the family passed the time in open-mouthed slumber or headphone-transmitted entertainment. (As the designated driver, these options weren’t open to me.) Something about that cross-country trip got me asking an introspective version of the question, “Are we there yet?”

Usually, when someone asks the Are we there yet? question what they really mean is, “Are we making good progress?” If the goal is to be like Jesus (Luke 6:40), then I know I’m not there yet. What I need to know is, Am I making significant progress toward the goal?  

Taking this question seriously can be both difficult and disconcerting—difficult in that it can be a complicated question and disconcerting in that it inevitably strips away our self-righteousness. This should not keep us from facing the question, however. Sometimes we need to take stock of where we are.

While a careful study of Christ’s earthly ministry (such as the one undergirding the Get Discipled series) can reveal a detailed portrait of a fully trained disciple, there is one trait of a mature disciple that stands out among the rest.

When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said “if you love one another” (John 13:35).

It is love that heads the list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In fact, the apostle Paul wrote a whole chapter on the priority of love (1 Cor. 13). “If I have a faith that can move mountains,” Paul says, “but do not have love, I am nothing” (v. 2). He concludes the chapter by noting that, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (v. 13).

In light of such passages, a simple question emerges for assessing our spiritual progress: “Do I love others more now than I did a year ago?”

Am I becoming more patient and kind toward people? Am I less prone to envy and “one-up-manship” than I used to be? Am I seeking to honor others more and myself less? Am I quick to forgive? Do I bring the presence of Christ into my relationships? Am I faithful, thoughtful, hopeful, and loyal toward the people God has put in my life? Could my family vouch for this?

“Do I love others more now than I did a year ago?”

I know I’ve not arrived, but I’m finding that just keeping that question in mind is helping me to be more open to the spiritual progress I seek.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).

The Secret to a Disciple's Resolve


At one point in Jesus’ ministry many of his fair-weather followers found his teaching too difficult, so they quit following him. So Jesus asked his closest disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67). That’s when Peter came up with this profound reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God?” (vv. 68-69). 

We will always have unanswered questions--sometimes big ones. But there comes a time when we know enough about Jesus to be convinced that he’s our only hope of ever sorting it all out. It’s what keeps us following him when others call it quits. We simply have nowhere else to go. 

In a culture that values having lots of options, it may seem regressive to suggest that there’s only one person to whom we can go for eternal life. On the other hand, there’s something incredibly freeing about being done with dead-end pursuits regarding life’s big questions and discovering what we’ve been looking for all along. In any case, when you’ve just seen Jesus walk on water, as Peter had (John 6:16-21), it seems a little silly to keep your options open in case a more impressive teacher comes along. 

Peter would later testify publicly that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Likewise, the apostle Paul declared that, “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). 

All this is corroborated by Jesus himself, who declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

As disciples of Jesus, we may not be able to explain everything Jesus said. We may not understand everything he’s doing even now. We’re still learning, still growing. But regardless of what we still need to learn from him and about him, we know this: Jesus holds the keys to life’s ultimate questions. 

Herein lies the secret to a disciple’s resolve. Even if we’re confounded by something Jesus says, we continue following him because of what we do understand: he has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God.

Where else would we go if not to Jesus? Then again, he’s all we need. 

A Dozen Reasons to Meditate on the Scriptures Often


From time to time, we all need to be reminded just how crucial it is to read and reflect on the Scriptures as disciples of Jesus. In case it’s been a while since you’ve thought about it, here are a dozen reasons to meditate often on the Word of God. Let these thoughts stoke your desire to live for Christ.

1.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to listen to the voice of God.

All Scripture is God-breathed . . . (2 Tim. 3:16)
Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:21)

The Bible is no ordinary book. If you’re fortunate enough to have a copy, you can read the words of God himself!

2.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to embrace what is right and true.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. (Ps. 33:4)
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

What is truth? Only by squarely facing this question can we live well. Jesus said that the Bible is truth.

3.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to reveal the true state of your heart.

The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

Don’t be surprised if you start becoming more honest with yourself when you take time to reflect on Scripture. That’s what it’s supposed to do.  

4.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to invite God’s blessing into your life. 

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Josh. 1:8)

For a Christ follower, the obedient life and the successful life our bound together. Meditating on the Scriptures in order to obey what it says is a formula for true success.  

5.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to equip yourself to resist sin.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. (Ps. 119:9)
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11)

How will you keep your heart from being stained by the evil of this world and by your own sinful desires? Scripture keeps us on the right path.

6.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to build your life on bedrock.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matt. 7:24-25)

How will you prepare for the storms of life? Meditate on the Scriptures and you’ll be shoring up your foundation to withstand whatever comes your way.

7.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to anchor your life in what’s reliable and enduring.

Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Ps. 119:89)
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt. 24:35)

Want to leave an enduring legacy? Scripture will teach you how to live for what lasts.

8.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to feed your spiritual growth.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Pet. 2:2)

When an infant’s growth is stunted due to lack of nutrition, doctors call it “failure to thrive.” Tragically, this also happens in the spiritual realm when we neglect God’s Word.

9.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to shine a light on where you’re going.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Ps. 119:105)

Have you ever felt like you were in a dark cave, confused and unable to see the way forward? That’s when the Bible becomes a headlamp.

10.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to be trained to serve God well.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Meditating on Scripture forges our character and trains us in the ways of God.

11.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to fight the good fight.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

The Bible is the one offensive weapon God gave us to fight off those unseen forces that would discourage and destroy us. We must learn to wield it skillfully.  

12.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to be a faithful conduit of God’s truth.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)

Being a faithful disciple of Jesus includes sharing with others what he’s teaching us. This requires careful listening and learning on our part, which is another reason we meditate on God’s Word.

There are a dozen reasons to meditate on the Scriptures often. Can you think of some others?