INTRODUCTION AND WARNING
God knows I tried to make this as short and concise as possible, but unfortunately the truth I am trying to teach requires, even in an economy of words, much reading and understanding. I wish it were not so. So I understand many of my readers will not like the length of this offering. I apologize and can assure you that I did my very best. The good news is that you can probably read this in 10-15 minutes, compared to the uncountable hours I have spent digging in the Word, praying for revelation, and in the actual writing of this piece. The bad news is two-fold: 1.) It is long and will stretch you, and 2.) If you are a new or “young” Christian (spiritually speaking), the following treatise may not make sense.
I have tried to make this as compelling as possible which is simply conveying my own enthusiasm. If you take the time to truly understand this teaching, I promise you, it will change your life! How do I know that? It changed mine.
Every now and again I discover something in the Scriptures that is so mind-blowing that I have to pray and ask the Lord to confirm the discovery. Recently, the Spirit spoke to me in such a way that it warrants a record of the discovery. Now I’m sure some know of this biblical truth, but like many spiritual truths, they can go unnoticed by us or we simply superficially appreciate the truth without tasting its depth and width and length.
A ministry team and I recently took on a massive undertaking. In our fair city, there is an area decimated by poverty, crime, drugs, and prostitution. I affectionately call this area “The Ministry Graveyard”. The reason for the harsh title is that historically, when an outreach goes into this area it simply dies in short order. The streets here are hard and the folk that inhabit this destitute plot of land don’t care much for “outsiders”. The massive undertaking for our team is this: to establish a sustainable ministry in said “Ministry Graveyard”.
After assessing the situation thoroughly, we threw our hands in the air collectively and decided unanimously that we are 100% clueless as to how to start, let alone create a new model. So we decided to pray for direction from the Lord. We concluded that without a plan directly from the throne-room of the Almighty Himself, that our efforts were doomed to failure. So now we gather every week under a sycamore tree right in the middle of the community and pray for His guidance. We have done a lot of personal repentance.
In our minds, God cannot work an incredible miracle without what we call “boots on the ground”, and we want to have our hearts prepared for what God wants to pour into us. We feel inept and powerless and unworthy. We see the mountain to be moved right in front of us and realize we didn’t even bring a shovel. So we hit our knees and cry out like the desperate people we are. That is as simple as I can make it. We confess, “God, we can’t; but God, we know You can. Prepare us to be Your instruments!”
About 2 weeks into the initiative, I began to meditate on exactly how the Lord would speak a vision into us. We realize that the vision for the neighborhood absolutely, no doubt about it, has to be from the Lord. If we devise our own plan of attack, we will lose heart and join the many fallen ministries as bedfellows. So how will we know? How will God deliver the plan? Knowing how angry and alert the liar is right now, are we susceptible to confusion or worse, deception?
We know the Lord speaks to us in many ways; personally, I hear His teachings and feel His presence often. However, this is new territory and is more concrete, more practical, and involves not just myself and my spiritual walk but involves many other men and women of God and an entire neighborhood. So internal sanctification is one thing; standing before the world with God’s vision is quite another affair! So I entered deep into prayer asking my King not for “what” but rather “how”. I didn’t ask for the vision; I wanted to know how to receive it. You don’t want a baseball pitcher to spin a fastball at you unless you have a mitt!
HOW WISDOM WORKS
There is a model, or flow if you will, of how the Spirit and the mind work together. In reality, every human has this spiritual gift of connecting mind and soul. For a Christian, we know it comes from God; in an unbeliever, it is intrinsic intelligence and will power. The model is this: first comes knowledge, second comes understanding, and finally comes wisdom. Let me simplify so we are all on the same page.
Knowledge is an accumulation of facts. The object is white, the object is round, the object is soft, the object is hard, and the object fits in your hand.
Understanding is knowing how the knowledge fits together. The object is a ball. I know this from observation, experience and testing.
Wisdom is putting understanding to use. I throw the ball and catch the ball with a mitt.
I know that sounds simple, but let’s apply it to spiritual principles. The entire Book of Proverbs is set up in like manner, and distinction is made between the three stages. In this we can be confident. With this construct as a guide, let me take you on my ride with the Holy Spirit. I will do my best to reproduce this incredible revelation step by step. If you can grasp the wondrous implications for your own life, it will change the way you walk out your faith!
THE VERSE THAT HAUNTED ME
To say that a verse haunted me is at first glance a hyperbole, but I assure you, I mean it in the most haunting of ways! For over a year, the following verse was spoken, read, and taught. I love the verse. I cherish the nobility contained in the verse. I long to be living in that verse. But honestly, I had absolutely NO CLUE as to the true nature of this verse:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2
This verse on the surface seems straightforward enough. Here is how I interpreted this verse: “Don’t be like the world, let God change you, and you will be living in God’s will.” Nice and tidy. So the knowledge is the verse; the knowledge is the input. I have sped past this verse, I have contemplated this verse, I have looked at its context, but I have never, ever truly understood it…until now.
THE MYSTERY UNLOCKED
During prayer, the Spirit reminded me of Romans 12:2, so I went back to revisit this very familiar verse. What I discovered was life-changing.
“Do not be conformed to this world” seems simple enough, but the Greek speaks deeper. First of all, the transliterated word for conformed in Greek is syschēmatizō (Strong’s #4964) and literally means “to conform one’s self to another pattern”. This is always used in a temporal capacity, in that, the pattern being conformed to will pass away or be no more. That is an important point as we will see. So here is the first marker in our quest: to conform is to fit ourselves into a temporary system, model, or mode. When we conform, we alter our behavior to match the system, model, or expectations.
The next one still knocks me over. The transliterated word for “world” used in this verse is aiōn and means in this context, an age or period of time. More specifically, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, the use here in Romans 12:2 is to connote a way of thinking or spiritual condition present during an age or era. In other words, Paul is telling us not to allow the prevailing paradigm to rule in our minds. See, if you limit the use of the word to mean only “wicked thoughts” or “worldly notions” or just acting and thinking like the “world”, then it cuts the meaning short. The amplified meaning, and therefore what Paul is trying to say, is that conforming to the world would be the same for us today as functioning as a good member of society! We give importance to what is accepted as important, we listen to what the age has to offer, we walk and talk like everyone else, and we have our collective “values”…even as Christians! When in Rome, do as the Romans.
You see, conforming is quite natural; it is keeping the status quo, not rocking the boat so to speak, and even worse, we do it without even knowing it. Sometimes we acquiesce internally and just accept things the way they are. Paul says, “Don’t!”
It is even more insidious than I thought. We approach God most of the time out of a false paradigm. Our system of thinking is so off track, according to Paul, we don’t even know how to pray! We as a human race have forgotten for the most part how to listen to God. Our system, claiming to be different from the world, is just a rearranged version of the world system! It is our default mode. We mold the Bible to match our society, our circumstances, our lifestyles, and our present perceived reality. The Bible is meant to mold us; not the other way around. This is a huge problem. But there is a solution.
“Be transformed”. The transliterated Greek word for transformed is metamorphoō (Strong’s #3339) and means “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure”. And it goes deeper than that. There is a contrast hidden from us until we dig deeper. The contrast is this: to conform is to be changed from the outside, but to be transformed is to be changed from the inside. The methods of change are in complete opposition to one another. The root word in Greek for conform assumes that the change is coming from the outside; the root word for transform (morphe) in the Greek means to be changed from the inside. This is where we get our English word “metamorphosis”. Let me give you an example.
The caterpillar is changed from one form into a completely different form known as a butterfly. So when a caterpillar is ready to be changed, it builds a cocoon, protects itself from the outside elements, is miraculously (scientifically or otherwise!) transformed, and emerges a new kind of creature. If we take this example and pull it into the context of the verse, Paul is telling us that true transformation is found within.
Let’s say for example there were a mold out there that looks like a butterfly. We make an impression that looks like a butterfly, like a Jell-O mold. No matter how hard the caterpillar tries to fit its fat body into the mold, it will never be a butterfly! Let’s say the caterpillar effectively fits its body into the mold of what a butterfly looks like and comes out shaped like the mold; the poor contorted caterpillar is still not a butterfly although he is “shaped” like the butterfly. Only by a complete and internal transformation is the caterpillar able to be a butterfly.
I bet there are many out there trying to fit the “mold” of what a Christian looks like, talks like, and acts like. I would venture to say that we look around at other believers and try to “conform” to what the popular opinion dictates as “Christian”. I will go out on a limb here and say that most of us try to conform ourselves into the person God wants us to be. Guess what? We can never, ever, ever, under any circumstance, conform ourselves into a new creation, no matter how hard we try! The reason I can say this in confidence is the blatantly obvious fact that we are using the wrong process. We are trying to conform ourselves (even in our best intentions) to what we think God expects instead of allowing ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
The other thing to note as we progress is that we are talking about a whole new creature, something that has never existed before. It would be the difference between a “new” car and a “new” mode of transportation. We don’t exchange an old version for a new version; it is not “me” Version 2.0! We are transformed into something completely different. Just as a caterpillar looks nothing like a butterfly and functions completely different than a butterfly, so is our process of transformation. If we don’t get this part of the understanding, then what follows will make no sense. We simply must understand that transformation happens from within. Now, let us get to the business of comprehending what that entails, how it happens, what we do, and how it changes us.
“The renewing of your mind” is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. Since we cannot affect change on our own effort, we must be renewed by God. The transliterated Greek word for “renewing” is anakainōsis (Strong’s #342) and means “a renewal, renovation, complete change for the better”.
Notice what is recorded in Vine’s Expository: “a renewal,” is used in Rom 12:2, “the renewing (of your mind),” i.e., the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; in Titus 3:5, where “the renewing of the Holy Spirit” is not a fresh bestowment of the Spirit, but a revival of His power, developing the Christian life; this passage stresses the continual operation of the indwelling Spirit of God; the Romans passage stresses the willing response on the part of the believer.”
To understand the deep implications of this process, let us go quickly over to Titus 3:5, which says: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,”. Notice there are two processes at work here; one is regeneration and the other is our process found in Romans 12:2, mainly, renewing. The first point that is paramount is that it is by the Holy Spirit that both processes are even possible! You don’t change “you”; the Spirit changes you. If you disagree, you need to take it up with Paul when you have the chance.
The beauty here is that inside change happens by the Spirit with our cooperation; the only change we can do is superficially conforming. Repeat: no matter how holy you try to be, no matter how diligent your efforts, no matter how many times you ask God for change, you can never, ever conform into His image!
I will spare you the time and get to the meat here; however, I do invite you to do the research yourself to confirm what I’m about to teach. The word “regenerate” points to the new birth, what Christ speaks of as being “born again.” This is a one-time event at conversion; your spiritual person is born when your eyes are opened by the Spirit and see Christ as He is. The Bible teaches us that this new birth in the Spirit is best described as a new creature or new creation. In essence, you go from a caterpillar to a butterfly! But what about the renewing? It sounds like the same thing! Here is where it gets juicy.
Renewing is an ongoing process of the Holy Spirit; renewing is very much like being born again, except that it happens (if we let it) over and over again! Paul tells us we are transformed glory to glory, and the end product is being transformed into the image of Jesus. You see, if we allow ourselves to be transformed, then we are going higher and higher into His likeness! There is never a “good enough” or finished product on this side of eternity. The magnificence of this truth is that there is always more. I don’t know about you, but that is a huge dose of grace for this man. The walk of faith necessarily requires our submitting to the tutelage and workings of the Spirit of God. As we allow ourselves to be transformed, we begin to see the kingdom of God in more clarity. God is in the creation business. We have to ask ourselves, “What does God want to birth in me?” Again, we must remind ourselves that God wants to create something never before seen, something that has never been, and something that will inevitably always take us by surprise. But why?
So “that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God”!
Who in a million years would look at a caterpillar and think to themselves, “That fat worm will one day be a colorful, dainty, flying creature”? The butterfly looks absolutely nothing like the caterpillar. So is our spiritual rebirth! You will never see it coming, never come close to imagining what it will be like. Many will testify that what God births in us is, without exception, a complete surprise. God answers prayers for transformation in the most creative of ways. The reason is simple: His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. But the end-game in a practical way is to prove the will of God. If we want to know what God’s will or plan or design is then we must follow the directions, and then we can “prove” it.
Let us pause for a moment and take a breath.
If you are an avid reader of mine, then you know quite a bit about the difference between your soul and your spirit. To briefly give an overview or review, whichever the case may be, let me lay the groundwork. You are comprised, according to the Bible, of three parts: the body, the soul, and the spirit. The body is obviously the tangible rental car we are each issued; the soul is comprised of your mind, your will, and your emotions; and the eternal breath of God is known as the spirit. We are changed from the inside-out. The three parts of a human can be easily understood by seeing the parts as layers. Inside the layer of body, is the soul, and under that layer is the spirit. True, sustainable change happens from the spirit. The deepest part of us is where the Spirit speaks, where the Spirit communes with our spirit, and where the Spirit sheds the love of God into us. From that deepest part comes what the Bible refers to as “living waters”, as “wind”, and as “a fire”. The energy or light that emanates from an active walk with the Spirit causes the layer “above” it to change. In other words, the heat from a quickened spirit of intimacy with the Holy Spirit, begins to affect the subsequent layers. So with that in mind, let me go back to the original conundrum.
I stated previously that this ministry in the inner-city was destined to fail if we did not completely depend on God for the vision thereof. My soul has mostly been transformed in this endeavor. What do I mean? Remember, the soul is the mind, will, and emotion. The work of the Spirit in my life has caused me to have the emotion of love for the community; God has not only laid the endeavor on my heart but also caused me to fall in love with the people. So I honestly love these people. Also, the Spirit has birthed in me the will to step up and talk to this mountain. So I have two out of three going for me; I have the emotion and the will, but still lack the mind! That is why this is so important: we must have all three.
For example, if I have the vision but lack the emotion, then I will grow weary in doing good. If I have the vision but lack the will, then I will not have the right heart and will easily move on to something else. And consequently, if I have the will and the emotion, but lack the mind, then my good intentions are doomed to failure because I will use a faulty “conforming” paradigm. Can we see how brilliant the design here?
All that to say, I must get to the bottom of this if we want to see God show up in a big way in this inner-city ministry.
I continued my research. I realized that the gift of a vision will be God’s will, His good and acceptable and perfect will. But I must prove it.
The transliterated Greek word for “prove” is dokimazō and literally means “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals” and “to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy.” But there is a problem I ran into. Mainly, if the Spirit is transforming me and breathing a vision into me, why do I have to prove it?!
Here is where my journey into the Scriptures took on a crazy turn. And maybe I’m just ignorant or just not paying attention, but this notion was foreign to me. After much research, I found a sparkling diamond, a treasure, and a gift of understanding that simply knocked me over.
Read the following verses concerning “proving” something:
“Do you have faith? Have it (prove it) to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” Romans 14:22 (parenthetical mine)
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” 2 Corinthians 13:5
“But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” Galatians 6:4
“that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested (proved) by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 1:7 (parenthetical mine)
If you dive deeply into these above verses, there is a pattern. We are to test our faith. But not only that, we are to test it with God! That may sound simple, but think about it. God delivers a vision, we then test the vision in front of God. The word “prove” in the Greek is compared to examining a metal to make sure it is authentic; similar to a gemologist examining a diamond to find inclusions and thus assessing its purity. But we do not do the examining alone.
The Spirit examines it with us, burns up any impurities we have inadvertently added to the vision, and what eventually becomes the end product is something magnificent! It is very much like a general giving a soldier an order. The order is very specific and detailed. The general tells the soldier exactly what to do; however, if the soldier quickly leaves the general, the soldier may forget some details or fill in the blanks with his best guess as to what he forgot. This process is essentially repeating back to God (the general) His own orders! We will never get it right the first time. Because the orders are so important, the general wants to make sure we know it perfectly. Like the general demanding of the soldier, “Ok, sergeant-major Bob, repeat back to me the orders word-for-word.” The soldier may get most of it right, but the general insists that the order is perfectly repeated so the words are a reflection of his intent and design. Not until the soldier “proves” that he understands the order, does the general release him to share the orders to others. Can we begin to see the truth here?
The same truth the Spirit births in us, must be “proven” before God with His direction. Paul tells us not to worry about proving our faith to anyone other than God! This is astounding. But once we have received the vision or “word” or mandate from God, God then wants to burn it into our soul by having us work it out with Him until it is good and perfect. Then and only then can the vision be shared as an act of faith and submission.
The real awesome part here is that once this process is complete, God will back the vision. It is plain throughout Scripture that God’s word never returns void! If God really said it and you have proved it back to God, then God will prove it to everyone else! You don’t have to “sell” a vision from God; the Lord will back His own vision with miraculous precision and creativity.
As Christians, we are guilty of receiving revelation and then immediately spouting off the revelation. In our excitement, we run off like the soldier in our example and go to the front lines to give God’s orders, but along the way we forgot a lot of it, or miss some details, or fill in the blanks thinking we are getting the gist of the message. In reality, we can do more harm than good! God is a very thorough, detailed, and specific God. One detail left out, one perversion of the plan, or one modified part can open the door for the enemy. Like Paul teaches, we must not only be transformed and allow the Spirit to birth a vision, but we must also understand the rest of the process of proving it back to God.
This begs the question: “How does this work?”
We invite the process by inviting specifically the Holy Spirit to do what He does. We pray for the good gifts. James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask, and he also tells us that our prayers go unanswered because we ask for the wrong things. So what are the correct things to ask for?
Notice an incredible truth found in two separate verses; the parallel is astonishing:
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:7-11
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Luke 11:9-13
These verses are almost word-for-word identical except that “good gifts” and the “Holy Spirit” are interchangeable! So if we want to know a prayer that God always answers, then we should stick with this one! In fact, Jesus is so intent on making His point, that He raises His voice in excitement. Both recorded teachings of Christ have an exclamation point added to the end of the sentence. Jesus also makes the point that if an earthly father gives good things to his children, “how much more” will the Father give?! If we can’t believe this part of the Bible, then we need to convert to a religion like Islam or Buddhism, because this door swings on the hinges of an incredible promise. And if we don’t believe God’s Promise, then why are we professing to be a Christian?
So the process works by first asking in prayer, seeking in His Word, and knocking on the door of revelation. But we should not be asking for “things”, but rather the “person” of the Holy Spirit. This is absolutely crucial. Everything we want is tied up in everything we need. Paul tells us that we are crucified with Christ, that we have the mind of Christ, and that we are His righteousness; the problem is that we have to understand that in order to put on the “new man”, we must be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, changed by the Holy Spirit (sanctification), and the love of God must be poured into us by the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are dead in the water! Everything WE try to do is conforming to a broken model; everything the Spirit does is transforming us into God’s model (His will). Our contribution is minimal! All we can offer to God is our brokenness. We stand before Him in grace with unveiled faces, being transformed glory to glory by simply beholding the Christ with the eyes of the Spirit!
Of course this is a process, but it can start now. It starts by entering into the kingdom as a child. We come to God with nothing to offer but our willingness to be changed by His Holy Spirit, and we have to ask for His Spirit. We are not asking to be “born again” again; we are asking Him for more of the living waters so we can be washed and become the instrument God fashioned us to be. He wants to give you a vision: a vision of who you really are in Christ, a vision for your family, a vision for His Church, a personal vision of the work He has for you. But it won’t just land at your doorstep by chance or be read aloud by an angel; it will be born out of your spirit by intimacy with the Holy Spirit. Then we prove it back to the Father again by the same Spirit. And then we can expect miracles!
So I write this teaching in the throes of seeking His vision for our inner-city ministry. In fact, He has already begun to speak specific mandates into each of us on the team, but we cannot rush into action. We are now praying for the Spirit’s refining fire to burn off any impurities and to burn the vision into our souls. We will then be one step closer. Remember, first comes knowledge, then understanding, then wisdom. We are squarely residing in the understanding stage; when we understand His vision and He has purified it by our proving it back to Him, then we will have to continue to lean completely on Him again as we put it into motion by exercising wisdom. Once we understand, then wisdom is walking the vision out in a godly manner. The process from beginning to end requires complete submission to the Holy Spirit. If we do this then the Bible tells us that we are judged by no one…no one!
One thing to note: the Spirit breathes the same truth to all in fellowship with Him! So one of the tests will be that we are all “of one accord” or in modern terms “on the same page”. We may not be able to pull this off just yet as a Church in its entirety, but we can focus on our little motley crews knit together in ministry fellowships. If we can get this right on a small scale (in God’s eyes), then we might just get it right on a larger scale.
So we continue to repent of being so profoundly human; so we continue to not look at ourselves but rather look to Jesus; so we continue to allow the Spirit to refine us; and we continue to walk by faith in anticipation for His glory to be revealed.
I challenge each person reading this to completely toss to the curb any notion of figuring things out by yourself and to seek the Holy Spirit. I challenge each person to test their faith before God and stop trying to “find” proof in another’s approval. We seek God’s approval, not man’s approval.
God wants to give you a vision.
Are you ready to receive it?