September 29, 2020

Transformation a Myth? Clarifications

The Holy Coachman, Chagall

By Chaplain Mike

A relationship with God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit will change us. A church grounded in God will be transformed, and it will likely transform its surrounding culture. If living in Christ makes no difference, we of all people are most to be pitied.

But my concern about transformation can be summed up in a simple question: Should our left hand know what our right hand is doing?

• Mark Galli, “Are We Transformed Yet?”

Thanks to all our readers who have commented and continue to weigh in on the subject of transformation. In yesterday’s post, based on recent columns by Mark Galli, we noted and critiqued the way evangelicalism overstates and oversells the notion of dramatic spiritual change—in persons, churches, and the world. I called it “the evangelical myth of transformation.”

Today, I would like to give some clarifications.

The Promenade, Chagall

First, no one is denying that the Gospel changes lives. “I once was lost, but now am found” holds true as it always has. The Gospel includes the power of God, not only for justification, but also for what Francis Schaeffer called “substantial healing” in this life. I agree, and so does Mark Galli, by the way. The article I quoted speaks clearly about how God graciously allows us glimpses of the inbreaking Kingdom as a foretaste of the new creation in its fullness.

So, we see a person like Zaccheus (mentioned by many commenters), who encounters Christ, is touched by the power of the Gospel, and exhibits a dramatic turnaround in his life, with undeniable evidence of heart and life change through love of God and his neighbors.

Second, however, the question we are dealing with here is not so much what happened to Zaccheus in his encounter with Jesus that day. What was the rest of his life like? Day in and day out, what was Zaccheus’s experience as a follower of Christ? Unfortunately, we don’t know.

However, we do know something about the ongoing Christian experience of the Apostle Paul.

Mark Galli writes about this in his article called “Are We Transformed Yet?”, noting first that whenever the Bible records Paul giving his testimony of his initial turnaround, the apostle does not stress the transformation he experienced, but the Christ he met and the grace that Jesus showed him. The focus was on Christ, and Christ alone.

Furthermore, when you read the writings of the mature Paul, he emphasizes not how far he has come, but how far he has to go, and again gives Jesus the glory for his ongoing work. In passages like 1Timothy 1:15-16, written in the final decade of his life, Paul still calls himself “the foremost of sinners” (note: present tense). And then this remarkable sentence: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”

What example does Paul’s life set for you and me when it comes to transformation? That, over the course of his life, including his Christian life, Jesus Christ was perfectly patient with him. Not exactly a catchy marketing slogan, huh?

Galli remarks:

Was Paul not in fact transformed increasingly into the image of Christ during his life? Yes! …But those who are truly being transformed into Christ find it fascinating to look not at what they’ve become (changed in this way or that) but at what they have yet to become. The so-called progress they’ve made is so paltry and so negligible compared to the surpassing worth of the vision that lies ahead of them—a vision of Jesus Christ in glory. That’s the end of the road of transformation—to look like that! So naturally, their small baby steps in this life are nothing to talk about. What’s really interesting is what they will become.

Naturally, with a clear vision of the glorious Christ, what can they say about themselves but that they are the greatest of sinners, who have hardly begun to repent? This sort of thing can be said with false piety—in fact, with as much pride as is displayed by the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. But when it is said with a clear realization of who Christ is and who we (still!) are and what we will become—that is, with deep humility and unassailable hope—that’s when we’ve met someone on the road to genuine transformation.

Thus, we are back to Damaris’s emphasis on humility as a priority in “chapter two” of a life in the Gospel. Humility is not self-loathing, but self-forgetfulness. We look away from ourselves to Christ. To live is Christ, Paul said, and the only thing he could conceive as better than walking with Christ in his vocation as an apostle was being with Christ in person (Philippians 1:21-23).

With such a focus, if we are being truly transformed, it is more than likely we will have no idea that it is happening. And we won’t care. There will be a (supernaturally) natural, organic, and at most times, imperceptible growth. If spiritual formation is really like growth, well then, we just grow! We eat, drink, exercise, go to school, live our lives. Then one day, grandma comes to visit and says, “My, look how you have grown!” And we get all red-faced and ask if we can go play with our friends.

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but I exaggerate to make a point. In the following summary, let me set forth a “daily path” that I believe would lead to genuine transformation in the lives of most ordinary believers—

  • Peasant Life, Chagall

    Transformation is not the goal of our day to day lives as Christians.

  • Living is. Living with Jesus. Living real life. Relating to my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. Doing my daily work. Doing whatever it is I do—fulfilling the vocations God has given me. Walking in the good works he has prepared beforehand for me to walk in.
  • So, each day I go into every situation, every encounter simply asking, “Jesus, what are you doing in this situation and how can I participate? How can I cooperate with you in what you are doing?” I simply try to walk with him throughout the day.
  • I mess up constantly, and find myself going back to the cross again and again for forgiveness and renewal.
  • If I see something happen in some situation, in another person, or in myself that strikes me as God breaking through and revealing something of his new creation, I give him thanks and praise.
  • If I see nothing, I don’t worry about it. Jesus is not bound to babysit me with constant evidences of his presence. And if I don’t discern something happening it means nothing. God is at work, whether I am aware of it or not. Doesn’t the Bible say his ways are unfathomable?
  • When I find myself in situations of conflict or persistent failures, when I need guidance for decisions, or comfort in a time of trouble (in other words, just about every week), I remember that I am part of a community called to bear one another’s burdens. I have a pastor and trusted friends with whom I can talk and pray.
  • As a member of my church and as a member of my community and world, I sometimes participate in special organized efforts to relieve the world’s suffering and help people know God’s love.
  • Above all, I join my community of faith each week to immerse myself once more in the Gospel through hearing the Word and partaking at the Table. Jesus makes our hearts burn as he teaches us and makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Transformation (growth, formation, sanctification) happens as a natural by-product of living this way in the Gospel. It is down-to-earth, daily, human, life. My problem with much of what evangelicalism hypes as “transformation” today is that it comes packaged in programs which separate us from the realities of daily life.

We’re back to “churchianity” vs. “Jesus-shaped spirituality.”

In one of the comments on yesterday’s post from “jonathan,” he expressed his disapproval of what we were saying with this criticism:

I have been greatly encouraged by the ideas that God doesn’t just save us from something, he saves us for something; that the church is to live with each other and toward the world as foretastes of the coming Kingdom; that we don’t just sit around after we come to Christ and try to stay out of big sins while we wait to be raptured, but instead we look for and try to join in how God is working to renew all things.

The commenter “” agreed. He likewise felt we were advocating a “sit back and do nothing, expect nothing” approach to Christian growth and living. To make his point, he described his Lutheran background like this:

It was a profoundly comfortable style of Christianity. Attend church for an hour a week, perhaps Bible class for another hour, and then bask in the glow of God’s grace for the rest of the week. Of course, the heroes of the faith are out there actively advancing the Kingdom of God, and we all should strive toward that, but all that really matters at the end of the day is a kind of detached intellectual assent to Christian teaching.

I hope you all realize that this is definitely not what I am saying. Nor is Mark Galli or Michael Spencer, or Luther for that matter.

But it must be said that these comments reflect a distinction (perhaps not intended) often made in evangelicalism that I find profoundly unhelpful. “Joining in what God is doing to renew the world” is usually narrowly defined in evangelicalism. The “heroes of the faith,” the ones “actively advancing the Kingdom of God” are seen as those who are involved in church activity or in some approved brand of “Christian ministry.” In order to be “transformed,” one must enlist in the system and buy into the program of moralism, activism, and “branding” that enfolds one into the evangelical “bubble,” distracts one from a focus on walking with Christ in the stuff of daily life, and keeps him or her hopping from “ministry” to “ministry” in the sub-culture.

  • The Juggler, Chagall

    With this approach, of course lives get “changed”! Suddenly, it’s all church all the time. And the more someone gets involved, the more we praise God for how they are growing. Until within a short time, they have few non-Christian friends any more, few activities in their lives without the adjective “Christian” in front of them, and few resources for living day by day outside the Christian ghetto. Their lives get cleaned up (or the bad stuff pushed underground) because they are in a new moralistic atmosphere. They feel a new sense of purpose and significance because they are in an activist environment that honors busyness. They feel part of something that is changing the world because they keep hearing this over and over again (and without a doubt some good things are actually being done).

  • However, a person who goes to worship and feeds on Christ once a week, walks with Jesus the other six days by doing his work well, taking care of his family, helping his neighbors, and living a quiet life may be viewed in contrast as a nominal Christian who is not serious about “spiritual things,” not “on fire for Christ.” Maybe not really even a Christian.

This is the main problem I have with “the evangelical myth of transformation.”

If the kingdom is more like a seed that is sown, if love means washing feet, if Jesus is about Bethlehem, Galilee, the poor in spirit, and the cross, if Paul ultimately accomplished more as a prisoner than he did as a missionary, if a seed must fall into the ground and die before it can bring forth fruit, then I fail to see how today’s American evangelical version of transformation can withstand scrutiny.


  1. Thanks for these valuable insights. Living the daily Gospel life is spiritual and transforming. Hierarchies and a continual focus on packaged programs detract from a Jesus focused spirituality and ME can subtly, yet radically become an idol in the making.

    I wonder if there’s always a delicate and imperfect balance between confidence and humility in Christian spirituality. Following in the footsteps of the crucified and risen One, through the Scripture and the Spirit, will bring about transformation and in this we can be confident, yet there’s a long journey ahead towards our destiny of imaging Christ and therefore humility is essential.

    • “I wonder if there’s always a delicate and imperfect balance between confidence and humility in Christian spirituality.”

      Everything in Christianity is a delicate balance. And it all hinges on this- that Jesus is the Christ of God, and has conquered sin, death, and Satan through His Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection. It is as the Apostle Paul says- “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

      • Christiane says

        I comment on a Southern Baptist blog where the idea of ‘humility’ is not understood in biblical terms. That is sad, because ‘humility’ as Christ practiced it IS for us to embrace in our own walk with Him. And humility is regarded as the signature mark of a Christian person, as it is the opposite of the sin of pride, the ‘mother’ of all sins.

        The opposite of humility is not ‘confidence’, the opposite of Christian humility is the sin of pride.

  2. Sanctification is definitely not a myth. The Bible repeatedly tells us that progressive sanctification is a sign of new life. We could debate this all night long, but the Bible is clear that all Christians are new creations (not just forensically, but in actual practice and mindset).

    However, you do bring up a good point. I don’t like evangelical preachers who say that if you embrace Christ your messy life will be set in order. That is not the biblical gospel but the modern-day message of feel-goodism.

    • Mark, here’s my problem. How does one know if he’s progressing? How much progress is sufficient? When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I didn’t have so much a problem with progressive sanctification because I knew I had a lot of time in front of me to see results. Now that I’m in my 50’s, and still being beset by many of the sins I was beset by 20 years ago, I feel different.

      • In fact, I must confess that I now have worries and fears that I didn’t have at a younger age, which is not evidense of increasing faith, but decreasing. This thought even adds to my worries and fears! How old are you BTW?

        • St. Francis de Sales, “Introduction to the Devout Life”, typical 17th century prolixity, but I hope it helps?

          “The angels on Jacob’s ladder had wings, yet nevertheless they did not fly, but went in due order up and down the steps of the ladder. The soul which rises from out of sin to a devout life has been compared to the dawn, which does not banish darkness suddenly, but by degrees. That cure which is gradually effected is always the surest; and spiritual maladies, like those of the body, are wont to come on horseback and express, while they depart slowly and on foot. So that we must needs be brave and patient, my child, in this undertaking. It is a woeful thing to see souls beginning to chafe and grow disheartened because they find themselves still subject to imperfection after having made some attempt at leading a devout life, and well-nigh yielding to the temptation to give up in despair and fall back; but, on the other hand, there is an extreme danger surrounding those souls who, through the opposite temptation, are disposed to imagine themselves purified from all imperfection at the very outset of their purgation; who count themselves as full-grown almost before they are born, and seek to fly before they have wings. Be sure, daughter, that these are in great danger of a relapse through having left their physician too soon. “It is but lost labour to rise up early and late take rest,” unless the Lord prosper all we do.

          The work of the soul’s purification neither may nor can end save with life itself;–do not then let us be disheartened by our imperfections,–our very perfection lies in diligently contending against them, and it is impossible so to contend without seeing them, or to overcome without meeting them face toe face. Our victory does not consist in being insensible to them, but in not consenting to them. Now to be afflicted by our imperfections is certainly not to consent thereto, and for the furtherance of humility it is needful that we sometimes find ourselves worsted in this spiritual battle, wherein, however, we shall never be conquered until we lose either life or courage. Moreover, imperfections and venial sins cannot destroy our spiritual life, which is only to be lost through mortal sin; consequently we have only need to watch well that they do not imperil our courage. David continually asks the Lord to strengthen his heart against cowardice and discouragement; and it is our privilege in this war that we are certain to vanquish so long as we are willing to fight.”

      • This is the question:

        How does one know if he’s progressing?

        And this might be the answer:

        When I was in my 20′s and 30′s I didn’t have so much a problem with progressive sanctification because I knew I had a lot of time in front of me to see results. Now that I’m in my 50′s, and still being beset by many of the sins I was beset by 20 years ago, I feel different.

        If you still aspire now to be nothing less than Holy, despite years of opportunities to compromise or sell out or join movements and adopt methods, you haven’t strayed far from the straight and narrow path. If sins bother you now that you used to be willing to live with, you are making progress.

      • “Now that I’m in my 50′s, and still being beset by many of the sins I was beset by 20 years ago…”

        We all are.

        Sin is our condition, it’s not like so much doggie stuff that we step into and out of.

        It’s a part of us until the day we die.

        We have a Savior who has taken care of our ‘sin’ problem. Rest in that, and do not worry so much about the individual sins. Work on them, stop doing them, repent of them…but know you will always have them.

        “How does one know if he’s progressing?”

        The Lord is not after you to “progress”…but rather to ‘die’. And on that cross and in your Baptism He put your sins to death…all of them…past, present, and future.

        You want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in you?

        Are you breathing? Then He is at work in you.

      • It’s not about quantity. You can’t put an exact number on yourself and say “Now I know I am saved!” Jesus told us in the Parable of the Sower that the last good soil produced different amounts of crop: some produced 100 times, some 60, and some 30 (Matt 13:23). The bottom line in that parable is that the truly saved person produced something good, unlike the first three reprobates. If your experience tells you that you look like the first three soils rather than the last one, then it is time to take a hard look at yourself spiritually. Jesus says that’s the way it goes, even if it will bring heartache and distress to those who don’t conform to the last soil.

        I also never said that true Christians will be perfect in this life. We are still burdened by the weight of sin. Our flesh is still corrupt and yet to be glorified. Having said that, the Holy Spirit – if he is truly dwelling within you – will transform your life, walk, attitude, mindset, speech-patterns, priorities, etc. so that you will be more and more conformed to the way of Christ.

        I also denounce the flimsy transformation slogan of some evangelical television preachers today (“Jesus will make your life more better and prosperous if you come to him”), but I don’t believe we should throw out the transformation card entirely. There is a type of transformation that is truly grounded in Scripture: it is the transformation of one’s heart and soul that is grounded in the work of Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit. This is not some “second blessing” or option we can just pick up one day, it is a guaranteed promise that all those who have Christ as Lord and Savior will receive this blessing. Without it, no person will ever see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

        • Tim Becker says

          OK, I think I look more like the first three soils than the last, and I have taken a hard look. I’ve had 50 years to make progress. Now what? Should I just dump the whole thing like Eagle or keep on fooling myself? I’ve repented a thousand times. I’m not sure one more go around will be any different. I still believe in Jesus, and am hoping against hope that he’ll save me, but maybe I should just drop the charade?

          • Tim,

            I am not the ultimate judge on a person’s soul. Only God knows the heart 100% and judges a man perfectly.

            On the other hand, our Lord told us that we shall know a person’s spiritual condition by their fruits (Matt 7:15-20) – which includes doctrine, life, and what they say. A person can claim Christ as Savior (and even believe it mentally in his or her head) but may found to be among the lost at the final judgment (Matt 7:21-23).

            Please do not take this response as me trying to bury you down in the muck of despair. I truly am not. I just want all of us – you, me, and everyone else who claims Christ as Savior – to examine ourselves to see if we truly belong in the faith. The biblical evidence is quite clear that a person who has a living and saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ will be transformed by the Spirit evidencing itself in a life of sanctification and perseverance.

            Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that all true Christians are still infected by the corruption that still remains within us, but the Holy Spirit who becomes our seal will heal our souls where we do not become bogged down by sin (as in our pre-converted life) but will give us the power and desire to fight against our corruption so that we be are truly prepared to live in God’s presence one day when the Kingdom comes in its fullness.

          • Tim, I recommend you read 1 John. The question is not “Are you without sin”, but rather “Is your life characterized by sin”. Are you stumbling, or diving?

            As you grow in sanctification, sin becomes that much more obvious. It doesn’t go away. You notice it more and more – and you trust that Jesus has paid the price.

            So, every day (and year!) you appreciate more and more what Jesus has done.

            I would say, no one is a rocky ground hearer (first soil), unless they have come to the point where they have rejected the faith they once claimed.

        • brian the lurker says

          “….The bottom line in that parable is that the truly saved person produced something good, unlike the first three reprobates. If your experience tells you that you look like the first three soils rather than the last one, then it is time to take a hard look at yourself spiritually. Jesus says that’s the way it goes, even if it will bring heartache and distress to those who don’t conform to the last soil.”

          OK, so now what? Ive taken a hard look at myself spiritually and realize that, hey, I dont have this measurable fruit of 30, 60, 100x. What now? What do I do? Work harder? What is it? How can I change it? I’ve been down that path. Enough is never enough. Heb 6:4-6 would kill my spirit after committing a sin I thought I’d tamped down. Drive me to despair. So, throw up my hands. I cant do this, so I’ll give up. I’m already condemned. But one day, it became perfectly clear. Hey, I *cant* do this. He does. All the scriptures began to fall into place. All the scripture began to interpret itself. He is the answer. He did,does, and will do it all. He reached into the darkness and snatched me from hell. He demonstrated his love for me: While I was still a sinner, he died for ME.

          If I do my spiritual gut check and come up short, and am a reprobate, I cant fix that myself anyway. He has to, and that leads me back to Him. So I rest in him.


      • Tim,

        I think it’s safe to say that sanctification includes a sense of urgency. After all, if getting over one’s sin is true maturity (as it is often preached in churches everywhere today) then what does that really say about us – particularly as the throngs of unchanged masses come Sunday after Sunday to fill our pews with feel-good lives that are still mired in habitual sin? Jesus said the way to eternal life is hard and conviction over sin is part of the deal. Embrace it as a motivator to trust more deeply in him and to leave it. Peace.


  3. Thanks for the clarifications, Chaplain Mike. Just to clarify my own thoughts on the matter, I wasn’t trying to imply that transformation will take any particular form, and I certainly wasn’t trying to define who’s in and who’s out. I share your concerns about the hyped-up, get-holy-quick programs and seminars you and Mark Galli are critiquing, and I am generally quite turned off by institutionalized evangelicalism.

    Mostly I was reacting to the tone of the first post, which really did remind me of my own upbringing, in which (to repeat) the main thing that seemed to matter was a detached assent to Christian teaching. I wasn’t trying to accuse anyone here of that. But it seems to me that a truly “Jesus-shaped spirituality” is going to look like Jesus. Not that we’re going to be perfect or even close to it, and not that we won’t ever fall flat on our faces. But we will be getting our hands dirty, getting out of our comfort zones by serving out in the world (if we’re finding that we have fewer and fewer non-Christian friends, we’re probably on the wrong track), and consciously striving toward God as he draws us toward him.

    Maybe this is more a semantic disagreement than anything else?

  4. Thanks for those clarifications, Chaplain Mike. They were very helpful.

  5. Well said CM, especially the last two points about the supposedly changed vs the supposedly nominal Christian. Thanks.

  6. This may be one of he best road maps to the Christian life that I’ve ever read. I especially like what you said about growing without noticing until your grandma comes. That’s a very true image!

  7. It is the abiding and remaining in Christ that is key, as seen in the vine and branches of John 15. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

  8. Coming from the horrible, choking, bondage and burden of hyper-independent fundamentalism where God will not/cannot work without my fearful working, this is so clear, so understandable, so freeing, so liberating, ….free at last, free at last….

    Thank you for this follow-up article, for IMHO, you explained the Christian life so wonderfully and so clearly. I’m going to ramble and repeat if I continue.

    Thank you.

  9. Thanks for posting this, Chaplain Mike. It definitely gives me a better idea of where you are coming from. I think the reason I had some mixed feeling about the Galli article was that it seemed to be written such absolutist terms. I think if he would have said the Evangelistic portrayal of transformation is a myth rather than the transformation itself, it would have gone a long way to clarify the article. And I did notice in the comments section, he did pretty much say that.

    If I still have one minor quibble, it’s this line – “I fail to see how today’s American Evangelical version of transformation can withstand scrutiny.” My quibble is this. With many of these concepts there is not simply one version for all American evangelicals. There might be a dominant one that is talked about on Christian TV, radio, and books, but I guess I’d like to think that there are still many American Evangelicals who don’t see they these things as their mouthpieces. It’s sort of like saying that Sarah Palin represents all Republicans. She may represent a large portion of it, but not all. I guess my fear is that when we throw huge swaths of certain movements under the bus like that, we run the risk of actually causing more alienation for people who are already feeling quite alienated. Despite all my negative experience with American Evangelicalism, I still have had some good ones. Not everyone I’ve met has bought into the pervasive myths that abound.

  10. Solus Christus. Amen.

  11. By the way, Greg Boyd gave an absolutely incredible sermon some time ago that relates very closely to this topic. He described the fraud and the evil that religiosity is (which is probably the primary issue so many here are reacting against, and rightfully so), and then he described the potential for true life in Christ that we all have, that God wants for all of us (and that I think might be missing somewhat from our current discussion).

    It’s a bit slow to start for the first 10 minutes or so, but very, very much worth the watch:

  12. Off-topic, but I had to wish you all a Happy Feast of the Presentation in the Temple (otherwise known as the Purification of the Virgin or Candlemas), the end of the season of Ephiphany.

    Best known for the Canticle of Simeon, often set and sung by Anglican choirs:

    Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
    For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
    Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
    A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

    Or, for the Latin-lovers amongst us, as sung in this piece by Palestrina 🙂

    Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
    Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
    Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
    Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

    (I missed getting in yesterday for the Feast of St. Brigid, one of the Three Patrons of Ireland, and the official first day of Spring in these parts, but I couldn’t let Candlemas go by unheralded!)

  13. good clarification. I have been looking at Jesus going to 2 communities in his ministry for a sermon.
    In Matt. 4:12-17 Jesus goes to the communities of Nazareth (his hometown) & Capernaum to fulfill the words of Isaiah.
    In Nazareth he is ‘amazed’ by unbelief – Mark6:5
    “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
    This passage gives me the impression (as scary as it is) that our faith can bring miracles in our lives & in our communities. & our unbelief becomes an interuption to God power.

    In Capernaum Jesus was ‘amazed’ by the faith of the roman officer – miracles happened! Luke 7
    thought it seemed relevant. Thank Chap. Mike for your post. peace.

  14. For those interested in Galli, he’ll be the keynote speaker at Mockingbird Ministries’ (check out their blog by clicking the link on the right) Annual Conference in New York City, March 31-Apr 2. I’ve been to the last two Mockingbird Conferences, and they’ve always been a highlight of my year. A lot of fun, deeply thought-provoking, and ministry-shaping–and a breath of fresh Gospel air! You can register for the conference here:

  15. “I mess up constantly, and find myself going back to the cross again and again for forgiveness and renewal.”

    Wouldn’t transformations be best defined by doing this with greater speed and brokenness?

    Good article. Both of them.

  16. Mike, great job clarifying and balancing the previous essay. Very well written.

  17. As I wrote in a comment on the other thread, I was in a self-loathing depression once, and I asked in Sunday School what it means when you repent of a sin, but keep committing it (in my case, saying rude things and hurting people’s feelings). I was told that this meant you weren’t truly saved. Just about went out and shot myself.

    • “I was told that this meant you weren’t truly saved.”

      What a horrible thing to hear when all you needed to hear was that ‘all your sin is forgiven for Jesus’ sake’.

      So sorry that happened to you.

      To one committing the same sins over and over again (we all do), I’d say, ‘thanks be to God we have a Savior!’

    • When I was in Crusade that’s how people who backslid or were having problems were described. “They are not true Christians and not saved…” I said that myself..this was when I was brainwashed as an evangelical. Today I look back and think..”What was I thinking?” I and others were playing jury/judge and executioner.

      What a horrible thing to say…I’m sorry Cunnudda that I perpetuated a fraud and hurt people like yourself. It did come around to get me. But I’m sorry for leveling that type of accusation.


      • Ease up there, Eagle. I appreciate the apology, but God was good and spoke to me through my pastor, who pointed out that hell was redundant if I was going to punish myself here. He suggested that what counted was not where you were on the road, but which direction you were pointed.

        • I like that about hell being redundant.

          I was doing a search on Judy Collins yesterday and discovered that Stephen Stills wrote the song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for her. And one of the lines goes,

          “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.”

          Funny how we can have flashbacks that go back more than 40 years–and suddenly make sense.

        • “He suggested that what counted was not where you were on the road, but which direction you were pointed.”
          That cuts out judging others and ourselves.
          I like that.

    • Cunnudda, if the Sunday school teacher had convinced Paul that he “wasn’t truly saved” after writing Romans 7, we never would have had Romans 8.

  18. As for me I don’t know what to believe. When I was a “fundgelical” I was led to believe that I would have conquest over my sin and that sin would die. The issues I dealt with wouldn’t be issues. When I had difficulties I was hammered by several Pharises. Then the unthinkable happened, I had conquest over sin through secular means. I was stunned and reeled over what happened. The thoughts in my mind were this…”Jesus let me down…you don’t need Jesus Eagle.” I had to reconcile this new reality with 8 years of evangelical teaching. It really turned my world on its head. Then the Christians who knew me celebrated this conquest over sin. It was at a bar here in DC with a couple of close guys. They assummed and celebrated that this growth was due to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was talked as much, and one friend of mine over in Africa as a missionary emailed me 1 Peter and reminded me of how Satan was waiting to devour me like a lion. The only problem was that while they thought that, and the culture reinforced that…Jesus had nothing to do with my conquest of sin.

    I couldn’t stomach it. The truth, would have been treated as blasphemy because what worked would not have been accepted. I also realized that the path in front of me would have been to live a lie. Tell the few people who know what happened, and tell them what they wanted to hear. I felt sick to my stomach at the prospect of living a double life and lieing through my ass on a regular basis. I couldn’t do it. It was about a year later (2008) that I discovered that my accountability partner led a double life. I was enraged, I couldn’t even begin to tell you the anger I felt, especially after being open in confidential channels in an evangelical culture about my short comings. My accountability partner heard so much from me from 2001 to 2008.

    Now some practical application…here’s what I leanred….

    From the perspective of this agnostic…in order to be a “good Christian” it means you have to be deceitful and lie your ass off. The company I keep today is healthier. I’m amazed actually how secular non relgious people are more open to talking about their problems and being open about them. Is that because they know they will not be judged? I think that could play a factor. But in closing “fundegelicals” place undue and unneeded preassure on themselves and each other. AND many Pharises refuse to subject themself to the same scrutinty they subject others to.

    I learned in a difficult way that Christianity is a fraud.

    • Eagle,

      I get it. I really do! I can’t say I’ve ever gone out and proclaimed that I didn’t need Jesus or that Christianity was a fraud, but……I bailed none the less. Why?

      My dad, a preacher, was asked to leave the church. They frown on married pastors having affairs with women in the church. I was something like……5 or 6 at the time. It was major TABOO!!! I’m tellin’ ya! Don’t ask, don’t tell kind of thing. But, please, by all means, be perfect. Don’t do anything wrong. Don’t make God angry. Don’t dance. Don’t listen to rock and roll music. Don’t watch movies. Don’t wear pants. Follow all of those meaningless rules, don’t get any closer to Jesus, and still be a complete liar and jerk. Right? Yeah, Eagle, I get it!

      The fundamental church my mom ended up taking her and us kids too was horrible! In my perception and my opinion. Nothing like getting kicked when you’re down. Not too many people appreciated a divorced woman in their midst. ESPECIALLY a pastors wife! As if being loving, gracious and welcome they would “catch” the divorce bug too.

      By age 12 or 13, I told my mom under no uncertain terms that I WAS DONE! And she couldn’t make me go to church anymore! I’m out! Forget it! What a complete and total farce!! For real!

      Pastors cheating on their wives? Church members gossiping and judging EVERYONE else but themselves! Yeah, count me out!

      I found that non-religious and unbelievers lives to be quite the contrary to my totally messed up “Christian” family. And I liked it! ALOT! They didn’t have the rules and they didn’t have broken families. Count me in.

      But, Eagle…..can I tell you something?? All those non-religious and unbelieving people still judge you and all your problems. They just aren’t tacking God’s name and some verse onto it. Which was a huge issue for me! All I wanted to be able to do is vent, get something off my chest or ask for help and off they’d go with their holier than thou attitudes and some Bible verse, taken out of context, to back it up. Ugh!

      If I don’t round this up, I’ll write forever……..

      I re-committed my life to Jesus Christ at the end of 2007. Jesus. Not a church. Or a pastor. Or an accountability partner. But, Jesus Christ. Lord and Savior. I’ve witnessed first hand what religious people are like and what they can do. I’m still not a fan. A hard balance to live when I’m in love with this Jesus fellow and He’s totally rocked the entire foundation of my world…..seriously! And I want to shout it from the mountain tops how amazing He actually is. But then I remember…….those nearly 30 years I lived angry. At God. At Christians. At my family. And don’t even get me started on pastors. And how those “Bible thumpers” made me feel. And of course, I know that there are people like you (and me). Whom my heart goes out to in a big way and I don’t want to throw Jesus’ name at you, when you are dealing with the real and raw pain of your experience.

      Aw shucks…..I don’t know what to say Eagle…..I get it. Thanks for sharing your guts! Hang in there!

      • “Whom my heart goes out to in a big way and I don’t want to throw Jesus’ name at you, when you are dealing with the real and raw pain of your experience.”

        I should have added that your pain of this experience is surrounding Jesus and all that entails. I’m not implying that His Name does not have any healing power for those of us who have been hurt by His people. And even those who claim to be His but are not.

        Hope that clarifies what I was trying to express in that sentence.

        • Rebekah Grace (great name) & Eagle:

          i told my sons at one time that people will let you down. they know the story of their mother’s long term adultery with her boss while living the good Christian (TM) life before her family & my family & our closest friends…

          people will let us down. yeah. confessing/acting/practicing Christians will be contrary to their claims. and being the one that is deceived when we do want to believe the better of the individuals closest to us is quite the shocking wake-up call once disclosure is fully realized…

          i think of Jesus & how he interacted with Judas up until the end. yeah. crazy stuff…

          my default reaction of self-preservation would have had me act much differently if i had known earlier. not sure i would have gone thru the intense maelstrom of reevaluation & genuine attempts at reconciliation…

          i will not claim to be able to know exactly what it was you have experienced. i only know my own journey & how my humanity reacts to like situations. i know my pain. my disappointment. my frustration. my embarrassment. my failure. my susceptibility to feel intense emotions i am not proud to admit…

          i do not like my weakness & the concept of identifying with the sufferings of Jesus. i do not like this world of brokenness i must navigate thru. i would have avoided the situations if i knew in advance. i recoil at thinking about going thru that stuff again… 🙁

          God preserved me. i cannot tell you why. i cannot say He is ‘using’ me. i don’t feel that way. i cannot claim He has some ‘grand’ plan/destiny for my life. i cannot say great things in store for me as some sort of testimony to my x-wife or the now outlaws…


          weakness, brokenness, bruises, scars, dislocated joints (ala Jacob/Israel) is what i have after wrestling with God (what i term: a Jacob’s Embrace). He preserved me thru the whirlwind of severe nervous breakdown. He kept me in the midst of suicidal thoughts & the presence of the evil one. He did not have to. but yet He did…

          at specific junctures in our lives we will indeed face the gauntlet of The Valley of the Shadow of Death. we all will be led there as Jesus was in the wilderness. it will not be something we can ever be objective about. we will be there. it will be more than we think we can bear. how i kept my sanity only He knows. i should not have survived that episode. i had become undone…

          you are not alone in your experiences. no platitudes here. i simply acknowledge your pain. i have little to offer in terms of explanation or clarification. but yes, i do know the struggle. i just want you to know you are not alone in the hurting…

          blessings on your journey…


    • Hi Eagle,

      What you’re describing is a very real problem of the church’s, and as I continue to follow these two posts by Chaplain Mike as well as the related comments, I think this hypocrisy is what he and Mark Galli are speaking against (although I do still think an important element of this conversation is somewhat missing). In any event, not to throw Jesus at you (as Rebekah Grace put it well), but the Greg Boyd sermon I linked to above (and will do so again here below) might really speak to you. It certainly spoke to me:


    • The truth of the matter is this, in order to be a good Christian you don’t have to do…anything.

      And more than that, it’s either Christian, or not. No category of “good”.

      One either believes, or does not.

      And there is nothing anyone can do to become a Christian. God calls, and chooses His own through His Word.

      Many, if not most, Christians do not understand or agree with that, but that is what Scripture tells us, and I just happen to believe it.

    • “When I was a “fundgelical” I was led to believe that I would have conquest over my sin and that sin would die.”

      Eagle, that’s rather like the old joke about the woman who went to Confession and, on her way out of the church, met another woman who was an enemy of hers.

      The second woman started in on a slanging match, to which the first woman was sorely tempted to reply in like manner, but had to bite her tongue.

      However, she contented herself by saying “Just like you, Maggie O’Brien, to attack me when you know I’m in a state of grace and can’t answer you back. But just you wait – I won’t be in a state of grace long!”

      We keep falling down. We keep asking for a hand to help us up. That’s how it goes.

  19. ■However, a person who goes to worship and feeds on Christ once a week, walks with Jesus the other six days by doing his work well, taking care of his family, helping his neighbors, and living a quiet life may be viewed in contrast as a nominal Christian who is not serious about “spiritual things,” not “on fire for Christ.” Maybe not really even a Christian.

    I read a book a few years ago about Therese of Lisieux. In her convent she was not considered to be a very spiritual or extraordinary nun. As she lay dying, one of her fellow nuns commented that there was nothing much that could be said about Therese once she was gone. She was here, she was a nun, she died. That’s it.

    But that’s the way Therese wanted it. Early on she determined to be as ordinary as possible. To not draw attention to herself. To not take part in the “flashier” displays of public spirituality so common to nuns at that time. (Mortifying one’s flesh through severe means, for example). She wanted her life to be centered in God, not in being consumed about what others thought of her. She knew that was the way of insanity, by constantly having to put on a show for the approval of others.

  20. I used to get into debates whether sanctification was a crisis experience or a process. A crisis is a life-changing event, where your life suddenly and dramatically turns around 180 degrees. In some circles it’s called the moment of “entire sanctification”. John Wesley wrote about this, but left room to assume that entire sanctification doesn’t happen in a split second, in a crisis experience, or an altar-call moment.

    For me, this is yet another item which falls in the category of “both-and”. Sanctification is a process which will not end until the trumpet sounds and the dead rise at Christ’s return. But along the way, there are crisis moments, call them “ah ha” moments, where suddenly the light goes on or the gears click. After years of struggling, sometimes the answer comes and things suddenly and dramatically change. I think this happens over and over in ones life. It’s part of the process. In between crisis moments is a lot of day-to-day, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. Then sometimes the light burns out and the gears slip. That’s part of the process, too.

  21. I appreciate the subtle distinction between living a true Christian relationship and engaging inthe approved brands of ministry. The mouse on the wheel enjoys more creativity than we do when following the approved course.

  22. Thanks, people….
    Something in this installment may have rattled loose a long-standing paradigm/prejudice in my views. I think it was the discussion of who the ‘heroes of the faith’ are. I’ve struggled with feeling some how prejudiced toward my friends in “non-ministry” vocations. Envious, really– most of them are loaded compared to me. A defense mechanism.

    I’ll pay more attention to their examples of quiet faith and Jesus-following in the future.