We often practice the Christian life as though it is all about transferring information. Forgetting that the information is meant to transform our lives. Whether in our own personal practice of faith, in one-to-one relationships, group settings or when entire congregations gather, we must remember that we are after life transformation, not simply information transfer. The Bible often talks about the new life we have in Christ. We have been made new, and with that comes a new way of thinking and a new set of behaviors. We are called to live in a way that is consistent with our new life.
Are the relationships you have and groups you are part of supporting the transformation God wants for you? Are you helping to steer them in a direction that will bring about the transformation God wants?
Create systems, structures and models that support transformative experiences
One of the reasons we often focus on simply transferring information is because it is easy. It is clear and not muddy. It is simple and not complicated. We have seen it happen in our academic institutions and we have seen it modeled to us by others. It often takes the shape of sitting across the table from someone, sipping coffee and relaying information. This is not all bad. In fact, I have seen this setting contribute to changing the lives of people around me. It contributed to my life being changed. The problem is when it ends there.
Consider other settings in which people learn a trade or a new profession. Nearly all of them will include the transfer of information, but most of them will also include opportunities for that information to be put into practice. An electrician spends years as an apprentice before logging enough hours to take their test to become a journeyman electrician themselves. Someone trained in architecture will spend years logging hours before they can take their tests to become an actual licensed architect. As we invest in discipling relationships, we must not only create environments in which information is shared, but also put into practice.
This might simply mean that we talk about life when we meet. When I was working through some of my own areas of sin and struggle during college, I had an older man who was mentoring me cry in my dorm room over the sin that I could not seem to shake. He was not just sharing information, he was in my life. He cared about how I was doing, he asked questions, gave suggestions and followed-up with me. He was so invested in my life being changed, that he was moved to tears. This also might mean that we engage in living out our faith together. Serving together in our communities, spending time together over a meal or helping to create an environment in which we can invite our friends to experience the gospel.
This can mean so many different things. The important thing to ask is whether we are creating environments that support transformed lives? Or are just the transfer of information.
Engage and participate, don't just attend
If we want to see our lives changed, then we must be engaged and participate in the communities we form. It can be easy to just show up, but never actually engage. If this is the case, we will likely hear the information, we can even nod our heads in agreement, but we never actually process the information or relationships enough to change us. Being fully engaged will require something from us. It will make us uncomfortable at times. It will mean that we give up control of our own schedules or expectations. It can even get messy. It means that we ask hard questions. It means that we are vulnerable enough to share difficult things. It means that we are patient enough to listen to others. It means that we are open enough to hear what others have to say. It means that we are teachable enough to allow the Scriptures to inform how we live and what we believe - even when we don't understand it all. Life transformation requires us to participate, not just attend.
Ask yourself how this new information impacts how you live your life
In Paul's Letter to the Romans, he exhorts us, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rm 12:2)." There is an important connection between the information we learn and the transformation it brings. I hope you have not heard me saying that information is not important. When I read "renewal of the mind" in Romans, I think about cognitive things and about information. It is by the "renewal of your mind" that God wants to bring about transformation. It is through information and learning that we are often changed. Further, the word gospel means "good news." The message about Jesus is news. It is information. It must be communicated and heard and analyzed and processed and believed. Information is extremely important. I am not minimizing the sharing of information or deep intellectual study. Some of my most transformative moments have come through deep intellectual study of the Scriptures. But what I am saying, and what I believe Paul is saying in Romans 12:2, is that the renewing of our minds should also bring about life change.
Therefore, when you learn something new or are reminded of a piece of information from the Scriptures, I would encourage you to ask yourself, "How does this new information impact the way that I live as a follower of Jesus?" It cannot be just information, it must also change our lives.
Always remember where the change comes from
Finally, we must always remember where our new life and the transformation it brings comes from. While reading this post, you may have experienced some guilt over not doing well enough at seeing transformation in your own life or in the lives of others. Before you dig your heels in, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and work tirelessly at the things above, I want to encourage you to remember where it all begins. Our new life has come through Jesus. Our desire to see changed lives flows from our love for Jesus. The power we have to see lives changed comes through the Holy Spirit. It is important that we ground ourselves in the gospel of Jesus first. We have been made new. Jesus makes people new (2 Cor 5:17). Our desire for transformed lives is because we want to see ourselves and others live in such a way that it is consistent with our love for Jesus, because he first loved us and gave us new life.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these [the Scriptures] that testify about me (Jn 5:39)." First and foremost, Jesus says that the Scriptures testify about him. If we miss Jesus in the Bible, no amount of life change will matter. The first bit of information that transforms is the gospel of Jesus - that God loved us enough to rescue us from darkness and give us new life.. We cannot miss this. We must remember where it all begins, and then pursue a transformed life in response to the love Jesus has for us in the gospel.
What are your thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below with your own reflections. How have you seen your own life transformed as a follower of Jesus? And what particular experiences, habits, life rhythms, communities, etc. have supported that transformation?