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TRANSFORMATION, A PERSONAL JOURNEY- GOOD MORNING

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Transformation: A Personal Journey

By John W. Schoenheit

The Balance of Doctrine and Practice
The older I get as a Christian and the more I read the New Testament, the more clearly I see that we Christians must pay serious attention to how we think and act. This is a shift in my understanding from a couple of decades ago, when I thought that the doctrine I believed was of supreme importance, and how I behaved came in a distant second in God’s eyes. I have now come to believe that we must be very concerned about both doctrine and practice.

My Changing Perspective
Over the years my beliefs about what the Bible says have changed. I had what I considered to be a very good start doctrinally and understood a lot of truth even early on in my Christian life because of my teachers. Nevertheless, I have seen my beliefs on many subjects change through the years. I believe it may be helpful to some others if I give some perspective on why my beliefs changed and also why I initially believed that knowing right doctrine was more important than living a godly life.

The Bible is a large and complicated book, and it takes a lot of effort, and not a small amount of background study, to understand it. My Hebrew professor at Reformed Theological Seminary used to say that the rise in absurd doctrines in the Church is directly proportional to the decline in the knowledge of the original languages. Although I work hard to rightly understand and interpret the text, and it is tempting to focus on the “absurd doctrines” of “other Christians” (it always seems so easy to see the mote in someone else’s eye), I have been just as aware of the continual growth in my own theology over the years. As my knowledge of history, archaeology, manners and customs, and the ancient languages has grown, my theology has changed.

In the last twenty-five years I have modified, and even occasionally completely shifted, my belief about quite a few things, including faith, the operation of the manifestations of holy spirit, my future Hope as a part of the Millennial and Eternal Kingdoms of Christ, and the importance of Christian character. I should also say that, especially in the last eleven years during which I have been involved in the translation of the Revised English Version (REV), I have grown tremendously in my understanding of hundreds of verses, often realizing that I had been misreading some of them my entire Christian life. Do I believe that I am more approved before God now than I was 25 years ago because, in my opinion, I have more truth now than I did then? No, I do not.

In fact, my shift from believing that doctrine was more important than character to believing that they are both very important was due in part to a shift in my understanding of a verse about being approved by God. Note the King James Version, quoted below:

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

As a young Christian, I read this verse and took it at face value. It seemed clear and simple. The way to be approved before God was to study. Hey, that worked for me, because I am a good student and even a self-confessed nerd. I’ll just pile up knowledge and God’s approval will be assured. Fifteen years later I read the NIV and the following translation:

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

There is a world of difference between “studying” to be approved in the sight of God and “doing my best” to be approved, which would mean doing my best in every area of my Christian life. In my “study” of why the two translations differed so much, I found that when the King James Version was written, only about ten percent of the population could read, so the word “study” was not used as much for “book learning,” which is how we usually use it today, as it was for “deliberate effort” (Oxford English Dictionary). So understanding the English versions in light of the time when those versions were made, there was really little or no difference between “doing my best” to be approved, or making a “deliberate effort” to be approved. In each case, being approved before God was not about what I knew, but the effort I put forth in my life for Him. [1]

Doing our best for God involves doing our best in both doctrine and practice. God wants us to be correct doctrinally, and doctrinal error can cause serious problems in a person’s life. Jesus said that if we continued in the truth that we would be set free. So if our Christianity is a burden, or confusing, then it is a pretty safe bet that our doctrine is not correct. We need to take the words of Jesus seriously when he said that we should seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). We should not put God on a “back burner” while we use our time on earth to please ourselves. We have an obligation to understand the doctrine by which we live. We believe certain things about God, truth, and how we should live as Christians, but why do we believe those things? God said He wants everyone to be saved and “to perceive and recognize and discern and know precisely, and correctly, the [divine] Truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 Amplified Version). If God says He wants us to know the truth, we should make a diligent effort to do that.

Every Christian should be seeking to understand what he or she believes and why, and to understand God. Sadly, some forms of Christianity keep people in ignorance, teaching and re-teaching that God is unknowable and His ways are mysterious. God says otherwise. He says we can know Him and calls us fools when we do not: “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding” (Jer. 4:22). God says He wants us to know Him, and He says He wants us to know truth. Let’s give God the effort He deserves and make a diligent effort to do that. [2]

What About Our Old Nature?
In my journey in recognizing the importance of godly character and behavior, I came face to face with another reason that I had not placed much emphasis on godly character. I have been taught that “the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63 KJV), in other words, there was not much you could do in the physical body to please God. That seemed to make sense from what I understood about the New Birth.

Early in my Christian life I was taught about the New Birth and becoming a new creation in Christ. The great news about the New Birth is that the Christian literally acquires a new, holy nature, a righteous standing in the sight of God, and is guaranteed everlasting life. [3] What God has done for Christians is so great, so magnificent, and so glorious that He tells us that what He did for Israel under the Law is not glorious in comparison.

2 Corinthians 3:7-10 (abridged)
(7) Now if the ministry that brought death [the Law], came with glory,
(8) will not the ministry of the Spirit [the Administration of Grace] be even more glorious?
(9) If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!
(10) For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.

Praise God for His magnificent gifts! How thankful and awed we should be. There is no way that the Church deserves a glory that is so great it makes the glory of Israel “no glory,” but God gave us that “surpassing glory” for His reasons and to fulfill His purposes. God deserves all of our thanks and praise, and what God has done in us and for us should be the subject of great focus in our lives. However, even though we are now “holy” children of God, we still have a body of flesh. What do we do about that?

In light of the New Birth and guaranteed salvation, what we did in the flesh did not seem to matter much. For example, in the book, The Two Natures in the Child of God (by E. W. Bullinger), I had read lines such as: “If the flesh of itself ‘profiteth nothing,’ then it is clear that we cannot worship God with any of the senses (which all pertain to the flesh).” Bullinger pointed out the names of the old nature as “the flesh,” “the natural man,” “the old man,” the outward man,” “the heart,” “the carnal mind,” and “sin,” and stated: “The first thing we learn is: It cannot be changed…Men are never weary in their efforts to improve it; but they are constantly receiving bitter disappointments…” Concerning the heart, Bullinger asserted that the old, fleshly heart “cannot be cleansed,” while the new spiritual heart “needs no cleansing.”

Bullinger went on to say: “All efforts to improve the flesh, all provision made for the flesh, all ordinances connected with the flesh, all end in corruption and death: all ‘perish with the using’ (Col. 2:22 KJV). …If we believe His [Jesus’] estimate of it [the flesh], we shall never seek to make it, or force it, to do anything for God, either in the way of worship or service; we shall never try to get it to do anything by way of meeting God’s demand for righteousness.” “All the so-called ‘good’ works done by the old nature are ‘dead works.’” [4]

Teachings such as that, which I received early on as a Christian (both doctrinally and as a part of the general absorption of the Christian culture I participated in) colored my understanding of how to please God more than I realized. Often a person who is taught that one pair of each kind of animal got on Noah’s Ark is then almost never able to see that Genesis actually says that seven pairs of clean animals and birds got on (Gen. 7:2 and 3). In that same way, the teaching that what I did in the flesh did not matter caused me to not “see,” and give proper attention to, the many verses on subduing my flesh and forcing my body and mind to obey God.

Rewards in the Kingdom
I had been a Christian for more than twenty years before I clearly understood that the Bible said Jesus Christ would ride down from heaven with his armies, conquer it, restore it to a wonderful condition for living, and rule it from Jerusalem. [5] Once again I found that, as with the Noah’s Ark example I gave earlier, the preconceived picture that I held in my mind (a fuzzy picture at that) about living in heaven forever obscured the many clear verses showing saved people would actually be on earth forever. There are literally dozens and dozens of verses in both the Old and New Testaments that made it clear that saved people would not be “in heaven” but on earth. Jesus will come from heaven, fight the Battle of Armageddon and conquer the earth (Rev. 19:11-21), set up his palace in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem, and for 1,000 years reign over all the earth with a “rod of iron” (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15 KJV). [6] This 1,000 year kingdom is called “the Millennial Kingdom.” After which there will be a great war (Rev. 20:7-10), the second resurrection, and the Eternal City will come from heaven to earth, in which the saved will live forever (Rev. 21:1-4).

When Christ sets up his Millennial Kingdom and rules from Jerusalem, it will be a “kingdom” in the true sense of the word, with all kinds of activities and needs, and every kind of job that is done in any country or kingdom. Thus, for one thing, there will be people assigned to rule and administer with Christ (Isa. 1:26, 32:1; Jer. 3:15, 23:4; Ezek. 44:24; Matt. 19:28; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26). James and John understood this, and asked Jesus if one of them could sit on his right side, and one on his left, in his kingdom. They wanted to be Jesus’ second and third in command, a bold request and one that made the other apostles angry, no doubt at the possibility of them getting a lesser position in the Kingdom. Jesus told them that the positions of authority would be given by God (Mark 10:35-41).

The Bible specifically mentions many jobs in Christ’s world-kingdom, some having more honor, some having less. These include:
• builders (Isa. 54:12, 60:10, 61:4; Jer. 30:18; Ezek. 36:10, 33; Amos 9:14).
• farmers (Isa. 30:23 and 24, 32:20, 61:5, 62:9; Ezek. 36:9 and 34, 48:19; Amos 9:13).
• herdsmen (Isa. 30:23 and 24, 60:6 and 7, 61:5; Jer. 31:12).
• vinedressers and vintners (Isa. 25:6, 62:8; Jer. 31:5; Amos 9:13).
• metalworkers (Isa. 2:4, 60:17; Mic. 4:3).
• fishermen (Ezek. 47:10).
• landscapers (Isa. 60:13).
• servants (Isa. 14:2).
• cleanup duties and gravediggers (Isa. 9:5; Ezek. 39:14 and 15). [7]

It should go without saying that the Bible does not, indeed cannot, name every job that will have to be done in the future kingdom of Christ, and some of the jobs that clearly seem to be implied include things like cooks, butchers, and bakers, because meals and feasts are clearly mentioned in Scripture; musicians, because although it is likely that everyone will sing and make merry, it seems there will be a need for specialists as there always has been (cp. Isa. 35:10, 65:14; Jer. 30:19, 31:4); and weavers, tailors and seamstresses, because clothes will be worn in the Kingdom (cp. Ezek. 44:17–19; Rev. 19:13,14).

What We Do In the Flesh Matters
As my understanding of the future kingdom of Christ grew, so did my understanding of how important it was to live for Jesus now, in this life. I came to realize that what I did in my flesh mattered; in fact, it mattered a lot. Verses that had been “cloudy” to me in years past now took on a new, and very important meaning. One of those verses is in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Before understanding the Millennial Kingdom, and the rewards and jobs that were associated with it, I could not really fit this verse into my theology. Oh, I was happy to know that I would somehow receive for the “good” I did even if I did not know exactly how that would happen, but I could not figure out how I would receive for the “bad” I did. As I began to study that subject in more depth, I began to pay attention to the fact that there are a lot of verses about receiving good or bad for what we have done in this life. Colossians 3:25 says people will receive for the wrong they have done. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 says the Lord will punish people for sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 says if we build on Christ in our lives we will be rewarded, but if we do not, we will enter the kingdom like someone who has gone through a fire—with nothing. 2 Timothy 2:12 says that if we deny him he will deny us. 2 John 1:8 says we can lose what we have worked for. 1 John 2:28 shows we could be “ashamed” when Christ comes.

I was now looking at my flesh in a totally new light. While I could not earn salvation by my flesh, God expected me to use my body and mind to serve Him in ways I had not understood before. I came to realize that it was my choice to serve God wholeheartedly, halfheartedly, or not at all, and thus it was ultimately my choice whether I would rule with Christ or be a laborer in the Kingdom.
Changing the Mind and Body By this time in my life-journey as a Christian I found myself paying great attention to verses about what our minds and bodies were supposed to do, and there are loads of them. One thing that became obvious was that even the best Christians needed to be diligent to control their bodies. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 9:27
No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Paul made his body his slave so he could win the prize; not salvation, but rewards in the Kingdom. Our bodies are to be our slaves, not run our lives. We are not ever to be satisfied with thinking, “Well, that is just the way I am,” which loosely interpreted, just means, “This is the way my flesh has always been and I do not feel like making the effort to change.” Scripture was clear that I was not my own anymore; I had been bought and paid for by Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:20). Now I was to live for him. Here’s the cool part. I was dead in sin so he bought me with his blood. Now while it seems I should just serve him because of that, Christ goes above and beyond and says the eternal life was a “free gift,” (Rom. 6:23 ESV), and if I give my life in service for him, I get paid for it in rewards. Amazing.

In this journey of change, I realized I had placed too much emphasis on the “grace” that I had been given as a Christian. Many times I ignored God’s rules or gave in to the desires of my flesh rather than diligently fighting against them, because I felt I could live by grace. Or, sometimes I did not take my obligation to obey God as seriously as I now realize I should have, because I felt that God’s grace would cover me. I now realize I was misunderstanding grace, and that while salvation is by grace, our rewards in the Kingdom are not. No wonder Paul wrote: “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:13).

I can see why God takes the time to tell us, quite a few times actually, that we will be repaid for our efforts in the flesh, because there is a lot to work on. Our flesh is ungodly and relentless, so we have to be decisive and steadfast to “win,” so to speak. Just in the Church Epistles of Paul, a very partial list of the things of the flesh we are to get rid of includes: bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, every form of malice, and filthy language. We are not to be proud or conceited, and not to repay anyone evil for evil. We are to have no involvement with sexual immorality. We are not to be envious, boastful, rude, or self-seeking. We are not to act in secret and shameful ways, deceive people, or distort the Word of God. We are not to be involved in impurity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, or drunkenness. We are not to lie or steal, or use language that does not benefit others. We should not use obscenity or tell coarse jokes. [8]

Along with the things we are not to do, there are many things we are to do. We must have sincere love, hate what is evil; cling to what is good, be devoted to one another and honor one another above ourselves. We must always have zeal, be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. We are to share with God’s people who are in need, practice hospitality, bless those who persecute us, and have equal care for every Christian. We are to be patient, kind, keep no record of wrongs done to us, be zealous in building up the Church, and should share of our finances. We are to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates our bodies and spirits. We should be joyful, peaceful, longsuffering, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled, forgiving and thankful. The kinds of things we are to hold in our minds and think about are to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. We are to ask for God’s forgiveness when we fall short. [9]

Wow, how are we going to do all that? How are we going to be that good? The answer is, we need to be transformed. Thankfully the Bible tells us how to do that.

Transformation Romans contains a very clear verse about the “how” of transformation.

Romans 12:2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

A major key to experiencing transformation is that we must renew our minds. Unfortunately, the English phrase “renewing of your mind” is not very helpful. It does not communicate the meaning of the Greek text, which tells us to bring our minds up to a new quality. We do that by what we allow ourselves to think, because what we allow ourselves to think, and the thoughts we allow ourselves to act on, profoundly affect us and slowly form our character. Also, what we hold in our minds gradually seeps into our hearts, and becomes part of the belief system that orients our lives. The Bible has many verses about people who thought and acted in such a way that their hearts became dark. For example, Romans 1:21 speaks of people who became futile in their thinking and their hearts became dark as a result. Ephesians 4:18 speaks of people whose hearts became hard. Matthew 13:15 speaks of people whose hearts became calloused, and 1 Timothy 4:2 speaks of people whose consciences have been seared as if with a hot iron. In contrast to the downward spiral we experience if we indulge our flesh, David prayed for a clean heart (Ps. 51:10), and we are told to purify our hearts (James 4:8). It can be done.

The Bible promises that transformation will occur, perhaps more slowly than we would like, but it will occur if we will bring our minds up to a new quality and act on our godly thoughts. That is not easy to do. Satan has made sure that our society is packed with ungodliness, and thus our senses are bombarded with images and sounds that work to short-circuit any transformation process. Furthermore, our sin nature is constantly trying to pull us down into the muck of life. But complaining about the difficulty of the battle will not change things, it is what it is, and it is why God will give wonderful rewards and crowns to those people who work to strive for godliness, good character and obedience. Let’s make up our minds to be knowledgeable in our doctrine and sterling in our character. The world needs that, and God deserves it.

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