January is the month of change, isn’t it? After all the American holiday gluttony, many people decide it’s time to make a change and to transform their sedentary, undisciplined, sugar-filled lives into active, disciplined, health-conscious machines. And we all know what too often happens by February, just in time to receive chocolates from a sweetheart. (Please don’t buy me chocolates this year, babe. I just joined a gym and I’m trying to eat healthy!) Those well-meaning, gung-ho people find themselves in the same boat they were in back in December. They couldn’t sustain the drastic, all-or-nothing transformation they strived for on January 1st.
When we talk about Gospel transformation in the church, we’re not talking about conversion. When someone is converted, they understand that they are dead in their sins, and through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection they have been given new life, free from the bondage of sin. It’s a transaction. His life for their life. It is the ultimate gift of love, given by a great God of mercy and grace.
Sometimes people confuse conversion with transformation. They think that when they put their faith in Jesus, there should be immediate change in their lives. Presto chango! No more struggle with lust, gluttony, anger, anxiety–you name it. But after the January of conversion comes the February of reality. Though our affections can change and love and gratitude can rise up within us, we can’t expect to be completely changed overnight, just like we can’t expect months or years of inactivity to morph into a committed active lifestyle in one day.
Lately I’ve been battling panic attacks. I had the privilege to hear the gospel as a little girl and was converted. I have known God’s great love for me pretty much my whole life. I spent three years studying at Bible college. Over the years I have grown in my understanding of the gospel and my love for Christ. I am a part of our church ministry team, and I’m married to a pastor. Why am I suffering from panic attacks? Certainly I should be more spiritual than that! With these sudden, out of the blue bursts of panic and anxiety that make my heart pound and my breath shorten, comes guilt and shame. I know what God’s word says about worry and anxiety. Someone like me should not be battling such a thing.
Well, someone like me is a work in progress. I may struggle, but I know where to go to find hope, peace and change. I find it in the Bible, God’s word. Philippians 4:4-8 says:
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Reading these verses has helped me see Gospel transformation in a fresh new way.
Rejoice! We are encouraged to be full of joy, because Jesus is coming soon! Our battles in this sinful world will not endure forever. He has won the war! Our sins are forgiven, and our life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). One day we will see Jesus face-to-face and be set free from these mortal bodies. We will battle our sin no longer.
Pray! When anxiety strikes, for reasons we may or may not realize, we are encouraged to pray instead. “Tell him what you need and thank Him for all he has done,” Paul says. When I’m not sure of what I need to ease my anxiety, I tell God I need Him! He is the answer to all my worries and fears, and I thank Him that He is with me and always will be. I thank Him that He doesn’t judge me, but instead shows me kindness and grace, and gives me His peace, which is beyond anything I can muster up or fathom.
Keep working at it! Paul tells us to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
The January gym goers that give up by February typically have an all or nothing attitude. They will either be there every day working every muscle until they can work them no more, or they’ll descend back into bad habits. Yet Paul says to keep practicing. In order to see Gospel transformation in our lives, we need to keep our minds fixed on what is true–what Christ has done to bring us from death to life–and we need to put into practice what we’ve learned about who God is and who we are.
It’s not a one shot deal. Sometimes I really wish that I could pray one time, and every anxious thought would disappear so that I never have to deal with this nonsense again! But here’s the reward of going through the struggle: “Then the God of peace will be with you.” That is a glorious reassurance. I would rather walk through the battle of panic and anxiety with the God of peace, than be struggle free and not know His goodness and His presence in my life.
So Gospel transformation means to be changed by the truth of the gospel, but it’s a gradual change. My pastor said a while back, “Growth is a supernatural process.” In the same book of Philippians, Paul writes in chapter 2:13 “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” This verse gives me such hope. It is God working in us! It’s supernatural! I can’t will myself out of a panic attack, but God by His grace is gradually transforming me, giving me the power to rejoice, pray and keep practicing, for His glory and my good.
Whatever your struggle is, remember that God is at work in you. Continue to rejoice in Him and what He has done. Pray, telling God what you need and thanking Him! Spend time fixing your mind on what is true by reading God’s word and putting it to memory. And keep working at it! Don’t get discouraged when you struggle, because the God of peace is with you!
Friends, you are dearly loved by God and His church. Anxiety and panic disorders can be serious mental health issues. No matter the severity, if you struggle with anxiety, tell someone! Enlist a friend to walk through these steps with you. Speak to a ministry leader in your church. Talk to a mental health care professional. You are not alone. Let this year be a year of Gospel transformation in your heart and mind, because the God of peace is at work in you and He is with you.