Nothing between us and God: our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
We have now looked at the five parts of us that need renovated, our central problem which is self-worship, and the foundation of our renovation which is self-denial. Simply put, spiritual formation in Christ is the process by which we move and are moved from self-worship to self-denial.
Self-denial will progressively become a part of who we are and will have a dramatic impact on the way we live and react to life. As we have learned, we cannot do this on our own. We need the power of God to move us to change. But we do have a role in this process, which is to be willing and passionate participants as God works to change us. This is called the VIM factor.
Prayer: Father, we don't want anything to get between Your face and ours. We want to reflect You, and we want to shine brighter each day as You renovate our hearts. We are willing to change. We want to passionately participate in Your work in us.
Understanding The Power of VIM
God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. (Ephesians 6:10-11)
Vim is derived from the Latin term vis, meaning direction, strength, force, vigor, power, energy, or virtue. When you think of the word vim, think of the power that Christ has made available for us to actually experience this awesome renovation of the heart.
When you think of the word vim, also think of the acronym VIM, which stands for: 'Vision - Intention - Means.' These three words form the general pattern one will go through to experience change - any kind of change.
For example: Suppose you want to learn how to speak Japanese, which is a hard language to learn. To do this, you will need vision. You must have a strong desire to learn this language, some idea of what it would be like to speak it, why this would be a desirable thing for you to do, and what you must accomplish in order for all this to happen. Why is the cost in terms of time, energy, and money a bargain considering what you will get in the end?
Many people struggle with learning a different language if they can't see how it would make their lives better. So, if the vision is clear and strong, it will very likely pull everything else along with it.
You must not only have vision to learn Japanese, you must also have the intention to actually learn it. Personal transformation rarely, if ever, succeeds by accident. You must make the choice from the heart (the will) to take on such a difficult project. You can't sit around all day wondering if you will ever learn Japanese. You must intend the vision if it is to be realized. You must initiate those factors that will turn the vision into reality.
This takes us to the final step - means. These are the steps you must go through to actually learn the language. You will sign up for classes, listen to recordings, buy and read books, associate with people who speak Japanese, immerse yourself in the culture, and possibly spend some time in Japan. And you will practice, practice, practice.
So you can see the connection. Compared to spiritual renovation, learning Japanese is an easy example of the process of transformation. And yet, through Christ, the VIM Factor makes spiritual transformation more accessible.
We must apply vision, intention, and means if we are to be spiritually formed in Christ. Not just any path will do. If we want the things Jesus taught and did to be the natural outflow of who we really are on the inside, we will need to apply the VIM pattern to follow His way. When our vision, intention, and means don't follow His way, we are left to the battles of daily life with no more power than a nonChristian has.
Prayer: Dear God, we want Your strength to be our strength. We want to catch sight of the vision of what You want for us. We will intentionally choose to make that vision a reality in our lives. We will take the steps we need to take as You direct us. We understand the power of VIM.
The Vision To Be A Kingdom Person
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward - to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Jesus was sent for the purpose of teaching a vision for life in the kingdom of God. If we wish to pursue our spiritual formation - or help others with theirs - the vision of the kingdom is the place we must start. God's kingdom is the range of His effective will. It's the place or state of living where what God wants done is done. And He wants us to be part of that kingdom. As Peter said:
Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you - your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Planet Earth seems to be the only place in creation where God permits His kingdom will not to be done exclusively. However, as apprentices of Jesus, we long for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. While the rest of earth and the people in it may not desire God's will to be done, all followers of Christ, by their new nature, ultimately desire His will. When God's kingdom will is our first passion, we find ourselves participating in that kingdom living. If our vision is for anything other than God and His kingdom, we live divided lives.
Prayer: Lord, we will reach for You just as You have reached for us. We see that the vision You have for us is a life in Your kingdom. We desire to see Your will be done on earth and especially in our lives. Keep our eyes on that goal as we focus on Your vision.
The Intention To Be A Kingdom Person
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Once we have a vision for kingdom life, the next step is to own that life, or to get personally involved. This calls for intention. There are two things we must intend to do for kingdom life.
1. We must intend to trust Jesus. We must decide in our hearts that Jesus is God, the Anointed One who brings us the truth about how to participate in His kingdom. When you are sick and go to a doctor, you go to one who you trust. You check his credentials and talk to others that have already gone to him. In the same way, the decision to trust Christ is based on the words of people who knew Him and His own words and statements about His relationship with the Father, and His track record in healing the sick. Looking into these things proves Jesus to be entirely trustworthy.
2. We must intend to obey Jesus. We must intend to obey the example and teachings of Jesus. If the doctor gave you a prescription to help you get well, you would be foolish not to do what he says. If you went to him without an intention of doing what he said, you would remain sick. So it is with the Christian life.
In fact, if you don't do it, you really don't believe it. Knowing the "right answers" does not mean we believe them. To believe them means that we set ourelves to act as if they are true, and actually follow them when circumstances call for our action. There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Our obedience to Jesus must make this radical shift from knowledge to action. Intention is what gets us there.
Perhaps the hardest thing for sincere Christians to grasp is the level of practical unbelief in their own lives - the unacknowledged skepticism about Jesus that permeates all dimensions of their being. This unacknowledged skepticism undermines the efforts they do make toward Christlikeness. The idea that you can trust Christ for salvation and not intend to obey Him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving "Christian culture."
Intention Involves Decision
An intention is brought to actuality only by a decision of the will to fulfill or carry through on that intention. Let's continue the example of the doctor. You go to the doctor with the intent of doing what he prescribes. This is your decision even before you make the visit to the doctor as you have a vision and a passion to get well, and you trust your doctor. When we don't follow up our intentions with concrete decisions to act on them, this usually means that we had an ulterior motive in the first place.
Let's say a guy who doesn't really follow Christ likes a girl who does. He quickly understands that he will not get anywhere with this girl unless he plays along with the whole "Jesus" or "church" thing. So he states his intention to go to church, to read his Bible, to pray before meals, and so forth. He actually follows through on these decisions until the girl tells him that she is not interested in pursuing a relationship with him as a boyfriend. Immediately, he stops going to church, reading his Bible and so on. Why? His vision was never to be a follower of Christ in His kingdom, but rather to get the girl. That is why this whole business of renovation begins with having a real vision for the Christian life. Our decisions ultimately expose our real vision.
Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in India in 1869 and raised Hindu, looked closely at Christianity as it was practiced around him in Great Britain. He remarked that if only Christians would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, "we all would become Christians." We know what he meant, and he was right in that. But the dismaying truth is that the Christians were living according to their "belief" in the teachings of Jesus. They didn't believe them! They didn't put their full trust in Jesus, and so they didn't have the intention of actually following His teachings.
Prayer: God, it is our desire to be kingdom people. We have trusted Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We intend to obey His teachings. We have decided to follow through with our intention so that our vision will become reality. We will live what we believe.
The Means To Be A Kingdom Person
I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
If we have definite vision of life in the kingdom of Christ and the solid intention to obey Him, we will naturally be led to seek out and apply the means to that obedience. So what are the action steps and resources that Jesus has laid out for us that will help us achieve the vision of our spiritual transformation?
Let's go back to part 3 - The Case of the Betrayed Friendship. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. However, pure will - with gritted teeth - will not be enough to enable us to do this. By what means, then, can we become the kind of people who would do this as Jesus Himself would do it? To live like Christ in situations like this, we must start by discovering and identifying the habits of will, thoughts, feelings, social relations, bodily inclinations, and soul responses that prevent us from being generous to this kind of person. In other words, we need to think through how the five parts of our human nature prevent us from thinking, acting, and becoming like Jesus. With Christ's help, we can take steps to experience an internal renovation that results in a genuine Christlike response on the outside. Consider the following list of negative means that would possibly produce an unChristlike end toward the person who has offended you and now wants your help.
My Heart's Habits of Will: Maybe you grew up in a family that doesn't forgive but holds grudges. It feels awkward and unnatural to forgive this person and then help her.
My Mind's Thought: What this person did was wrong. If I help her she will never learn that she can't do this to others.
My Mind's Feelings: I am feeling anger and resentment toward her for what she did to me. I didn't deserve it, and she doesn't deserve my help.
My Social Relations: All my friends agree that I shouldn't help this person. They think I'm crazy for even considering it. If I do forgive her and help her, how many more times will she do this to me in the future?
My Bodily Inclinations: What was done to me makes me feel sad and depressed. I don't want these kinds of feelings.
My Soul's Response: Considering all the points above, I just can't bring myself to forgive and help the person who betrayed me.
So here's the picture: My "neighbor" who betrayed me now stands before me with a problem I can remedy. But I can't do the right thing on the spot because my inner being is filled with all the thoughts, feelings, and habits that characterize the ruined soul and its world. My only hope, if I intend to obey Jesus, is to decide to become the kind of person who would obey. I must find the means of changing my inner being until it is substantially like Christ's, fully characterized by His thoughts, feelings, habits, and relationship with God the Father.
If I do nothing to help myself grow up in Christ, it's unrealistic to think I will be able to respond like Christ on the spot in a difficult situation. Therefore, I am called to give my life to "off-the-spot" training - that is, becoming like Christ every day so that when a situation arises, my character will be prepared to make the right decision. Here are some things I can do: I can retrain my thinking through study of and meditation on the teachings of Scripture about God and the words and acts of Jesus. I can practice self-sacrificial actions in other less demanding situations, beginning with little steps. I can become a person for whom looking out for number one is not in the conscious assumption of life.
I can meditate on the lives of well-known saints who have practiced continuously Jesus' way with adversaries and those in need. I can take a close and thorough look at the bitter world of broken relationships - how hate takes a hold - to see if I want to be a part of that. I can pray that God will work in my inner being to change what's there so I will enthusiastically obey His Son.
There are many means of spiritual formation available and in the spiritual life "where there is a will, there is a way" is actually ttue. This is because God is involved, and He makes His help available to those who seek to do His will. However, the opposite is true as well. "Where there is no will (VIM), there is no way." People who do not intend to be inwardly transformed will not be - no matter what means they employ.
So the problem of spiritual transformation for those of us who identify ourselves as Christians today is not that we have no effective means. The problem is the seriousness of our intentions. We do not decide to do the things Jesus did and said.
Each of the elements in VIM feeds off the others. We begin with vision. Vision leads to the intention to follow Christ, which leads to actual obedience by applying the means to accomplish that vision. As we experience a little taste of what it is like to live like Christ, our vision is strengthened, and the cycle continues.
In the parts that follow, we will turn to some of the things we can do with God's assistance in each of the five dimensions of our lives. We will begin to experience the renovation of our hearts. As we work on the things that progressively form our inner, hidden world, we will find the radical goodness of Christ taking shape in our lives.
Prayer: Father, we will run to finish the race to be Your kingdom people. We will give it our all by identifying the things we need to change and by taking intentional steps to make those internal changes. We will use the means You have given us to train to top condition. We will experience Your radical goodness.
Let's review the principles we have learned in this part:
Vision - We must have the vision to be kingdom poeple.
Intention - We must intend to be kingdom people.
Means - We must apply the means Christ makes available to accomplish the vision we intend.
Prayer: God, we have the vision to be kingdom people. We intend to do all it takes to be kingdom people. We will apply the means available to us in Christ so we can be kingdom people. We will be Your kingdom people.
Next week: Transforming My Mind's Thoughts