Most of us are familiar with the story (some call it is an urban myth and say it is without any scientific proof) that a frog placed in water with a temperature that suits it, will stay in the kettle even if the temperature is very gradually raised past the point where it can survive. Even if it’s not scientifically correct, let me suggest that the principle “slow changes over a long period of time can get us into a situation where we cannot survive” can be observed among humans.
I want to step back into my discussion of our culture and the challenges we are facing that didn’t exist or were not as prevalent, seventy years ago. In general, I want to address the reality that only a small percentage of professing evangelical Christians today have a Biblical World View—and that includes people in your church. If you think this factoid is an urban myth, let me suggest you google research by Barna and Gallup on how many professing Christians have a Biblical Worldview. If you think it’s not true of people in your church, then let me suggest you do a quick survey some Sunday morning—text or e-mail me and I will send you the basic questions from the researchers.
But let me return to the Frog in the Kettle story for just a few minutes. I’m sure you recall from grade school science that a frog is classified as an amphibian. In case you forgot the formal definition, it is “any of a class (Amphibia) of cold-blooded vertebrates (such as frogs, toads, or salamanders) that share characteristics of both fish and reptiles: they have gilled aquatic larvae and are transformed into air-breathing adults.” All of us have seen pictures of tadpoles (the gilled aquatic larvae form of a frog) and a few of us have seen them in nature. All of us have seen a frog, toad, or salamander at one time or another hopping along and breathing air. Seen separately and without the knowledge of the process of metamorphosis, none of us would be easily convinced that they are the same species.
How many of you know that the word metamorphosis can be found four times in the Bible—and it’s not used to describe the life cycle of a frog, toad, or salamander? Twice it is used to describe the visible changes that took place in Jesus’ body on the Mount of Transfiguration: Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. In both cases, most translations have chosen the English word “transfigured” to translate the original Greek word—the same Greek word that science transliterates (fancy word for spelling a word from one language in another language so it sounds the same) as metamorphosis. Peter, James, and John were awed by what they saw and heard. When was the last time you were awed by the changes that God’s grace and forgiveness had generated in the life of an individual?
The Apostle Paul uses the Greek word in two of his letters: once to the church in Corinth (II Corinthians 3:18) and once in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 12:2). In his letter to Corinth, Paul is contrasting the radiant glory that over time faded from Moses’ face that had appeared when he had been in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai with the ever-growing radiance that will be a natural part of a true believers life in Christ: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphosed) into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, the Greek word metamorphosis is used as he transitions from the theological section of his letter to the practical application section. He writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In both passages, Paul is painting a picture of what the norm should be for the life of a professing Christian.
Too many churches and professing Christians of our generation have lowered the bar on what is expected from the life of a professing Christian. The subtle changes that have taken place since the last great awakening in America have been caused by multiple issues, but let me address one today. It showed up in my morning Bible reading this week. Jesus stated:
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits, you will know them.
What I would suggest is that we have moved away from the Biblical obedience-based discipleship model of what it means to be a Christian, to a knowledge-based definition. Some knowledge is needed, but if the knowledge you are gaining doesn’t lead to changes in your life (dare I say transformations in your life) that actually make you look more like Jesus, then I’ll be bold enough to say you will end up hearing from Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Do not hear me say something I am not saying. I absolutely affirm the security of the believer—once saved always saved. However, genuinely saved individuals will always be in the process of being transformed (metamorphosed). To what extent have you bought into our culture’s assumption that “if you know, then you will do?” What have you learned lately from the Bible, or a maturing disciple of Christ, that radically changed what you thought (“by the renewing of your mind”) AND is radically changing how you act?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.