For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
-1 Corinthians 4:20
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
God's economy of personal growth and transformation is not like the world's. The world's system is about speed and efficiency and minimal discomfort. God's way is often quite slow, terribly inefficient, and almost certainly involves pain of some kind. No wonder so few in the church today are experiencing any real transformation.
But there is good news! God will not abandon you -- if you are in Christ, He is committed to you forever, and will complete what He began in you. Hallelujah!
If you want to experience the fullness of the life of Jesus in you as a Christian, what will that process look like? And how can you surrender more completely to it? And what will be the worldly obstacles that will try to prevent you from such transformation?
I want to share with you 4 key differences between God's "slow growth" model and the world's "quick fix" model when it comes to life change. And why God's model is exponentially more powerful (and beautiful) than the world's.
1. God's Way is Organic -- the world's way is man-made
The language Jesus often used to describe the transformative process in the believer's life is organic; seeds, yeast, fruit, etc. But each of these organic elements need to be mixed with something for their "power" to be unleashed. A seed needs soil. Yeast needs (no pun intended) dough. For growth to happen a combination of sorts is necessary.
When one places their faith in Jesus Christ as their only hope of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, the Spirit of God is joined with their spirit and new life is created.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. -2 Cor. 5:17
It is important to note that the transformative power in the believer's life is external to them. In other words, we do not possess the power within ourselves to change our sinful patterns. We need a different "seed" planted in us for that kind of transformation. That seed is Christ and His Spirit.
The world, however, says that you have everything you need within yourself to change your life. But the more one tries to change their life by relying on their own power, the more futile and fruitless their life becomes. A man-made solution cannot solve a God-sized problem (i.e. sin).
2. God's Way Takes Time -- the world's way says NOW!
The new life in Christ is implanted in seed form, so when the Bible speaks of sanctification (i.e. spiritual growth) it is communicating that the transforming effect of Christ's new life in the believer is not instantaneous; seeds don't instantly become trees or bushes or flowers. Organic, gospel-powered growth and change, takes time.
Sometimes it is easy to get discouraged when the changes we hope for and want don't come quickly. We might doubt God's power or goodness or even His presence. We are so accustomed to the world's way of instant this and instant that, so when God's way is taking awhile, we grow impatient.
But imagine the foolishness of expecting a tree or piece of fruit to grow at the same rate of expectation we have for personal character or emotional and spiritual maturity. We would never expect to plant an acorn today and have a mature, mighty oak tomorrow. We know such growth takes time! Yet, so often we expect godly, Christlike maturity to sprout in milliseconds.
I believe we expect this unrealistic speed of change because we are daily conditioned in our world to expect everything NOW. Instant coffee, instant news, instant entertainment, instant pain relief, instant everything!
The world's way of change is "3 easy steps" to your "best life now." And, sadly, millions of us buy this lie wholeheartedly. And when the latest fad or "diet" to transform our lives ends up not working, we immediately take the bait of the next instant solution. Then 10 years goes by and you wake up (maybe) to the realization that you are fundamentally stuck at the same point you were ten years ago.
The world's method of "now" never produces a better "later."
3. God's Way is Dependent -- the world's way says "You can do it!"
Remember, it is Christ's life in us that produces the change we need. We are not the source of our own transformation. Jesus said it plainly: "Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5b) Just before this statement, He gave us a vivid picture of the relationship between vines and branches when it comes to producing fruit:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. -John 15:4-5
Did you catch that? "The branch cannot bear fruit by itself." This isn't optional. It's not like the branch can "choose" to bear fruit without the vine. It is impossible for the branch to bear fruit by itself!
God's way of total life change is total dependence on Him. There is no other option. It isn't some kind of formula, such as "give me a pinch of Jesus, a dash of Oprah, and a scoop of me." No, that's the world's way. God's way is 100% dependence on Jesus, otherwise there is no fruit.
This idea of total dependence is repulsive to the world. Humility and dependence are not celebrated. Instead, the world lifts up self-reliance and self-importance. The drumbeat of the world's way of change is "You can do it!" But the cry of the Christian is, "Lord, you must do it, for I cannot."
We abide, Christ produces the fruit.
4. God's Way Reproduces -- the world's way is selfish
The beauty of God's way of life change is that it always leads the believer to reproduce the fruit of God's Spirit in others. For what God produces is nothing short of spectacular -- how could a person experiencing the transforming power of God not pass along such life-giving fruit to others?
The stark contrast between God's way of change leading to reproduction and the world's way leading to selfishness is seen in Galatians 5:19-23,
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The world's way says live for yourself, indulge every urge, pursue every whim and craving. But God's way produces His fruit in His time for His glory. And there is no limitation to the reproductive effect of such fruit.
The Power of the Seed
Let me close with an illustration to highlight the power of God's way of transformation versus the world's way, and how it is counterintuitive to man's wisdom.
I selected the picture for this blog post very carefully. It's a "delicate" flower sprouting through cold, hard concrete. This picture is an image of what I've been trying to convey in this article.
A flower seed versus concrete seems like no contest in favor of the concrete, right? But if that seed is planted in fertile soil below the concrete, then given enough time the power of the seed will break through the seemingly impenetrable concrete and blossom in an unexpected, yet vibrant display of stunning beauty.
God's "slow growth" model of transformation works similarly in our lives. He has planted the life of Christ within us. Over time, as we abide in the Vine, there is power flowing through us and breaking beyond the seemingly impenetrable forces of selfishness and pride and envy and greed and lust. As the life of Christ grows in us, a sprout forms and eventually we blossom in unexpected and beautiful ways that previously might have seemed impossible. (Eph. 3:20)
And when your life blossoms with the beauty of Jesus Christ, you will be compelled by love to freely share the fruit He produces through you with others. The world cannot offer such hope and joy. This kind of life and power is only found in Jesus.
Will you press in to this "slow growth" process of total transformation? The results are worth it...