Changed into His Likeness: A Biblical Theology of Personal Transformation by J. Gary Millar IVP Academic. 288.pgs.
Do you ever ask yourself the following questions: “If the Gospel is true and I have come into a relationship with God, why do I still struggle with the same sins?” or, “Why do I struggle with the same attitudes and addictions?” J. Garry Millar has given us a resource that faces the discusses the issue of transformation. He opens with some of the reasons why we see the need for a change. For example: Generally, people ‘change’ because one or more of the following produces a desire and a determination to act:
A major life transition (parenthood, midlife crisis, etc.).
A sense of boredom or dissatisfaction with life.
A recognition that something is broken and needs to be fixed.
A desire for the ‘rewards’ that come with change.
A crisis/shock produces impetus for action.
Some of the primary reasons why changes do not last:
Our willpower is limited
Our goals may be unrealistic (or ill-judged).
Our beliefs may be dysfunctional, inhibiting change.
We may slip into blaming others/circumstances rather than taking responsibility.
The benefits of remaining stuck may outweigh the perceived advantages of change.
We may have a lack of support from family or community.
Our personality traits and moods may work against change.
We may manage the change process badly, demonstrating poor skills or preparation pgs. 5-7.
Millar then proceeds to discuss the biblical view of change. In many cases we have In an over- or under-realized eschatology that neither promises too much nor too little. For, example, the holiness movement promises perfection now or the charismatic movement, ecstasy and the prosperity movement try to provide a pain-free profit promise and all the kingdom blessings are for here and now. They do not place much emphasis on the future at all. But those that put too much emphasis on an overly futuristic eschatology place too much weight in the future- pgs. 12-13. What we need is a balance because as of today we are “in the middle.”
Millar thinks inaugurated eschatology makes the most sense (I agree). Inaugurated eschatology is a certain scheme of eschatology—the study of the latter days or the end times. Inaugurated eschatology basically says that the kingdom of God began at the first coming of Jesus and is now here, although it will not be fully consummated until His second coming. In other words, already but not yet” holds that believers are actively taking part in the kingdom of God, although the kingdom will not reach its full expression until sometime in the future. We have to learn how to live in the present while still looking to the future when there will be a permanent change. In the meantime, Millar reminds us that we come to faith in the Lord, there are several texts that speak to us as people who have already been changed. Of course, we are new creations in the Lord (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul reminds his audience at Corinth that they were once immoral, idolaters, greedy, etc, but they have now “been washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Cor. 6:9–11). We were “dead in trespasses and sins” and now “made alive” (regenerated) by the Messiah (see Ep. 2. 4-6). It also seems obvious that Paul sees life as dramatically different for the Christian when he says:
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:19–20).
But as Millar notes, not only have we been changed, we will be changed. Glorification is deliverance of the body from its unredeemed state [Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:43; Phil. 3:21]. The glorified body is immortal, imperishable, powerful, and spiritual. The author notes that we will not be permanently transformed until we receive our resurrection bodies, which are patterned on that of the Lord Jesus.
The author goes on to note several Christian authors who have spoken on transformation such as John Owen, Calvin, Wesley, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, and contemporary authors such as James K. Smith. Probably one of the most valuable contributions of the book is the chapter on how we experience change today. Millar says:
“As God works in us through the gospel, it is reasonable for us to expect ‘growth’. This growth may be described in terms of our relationship with, knowledge of or love for God. It may also be traced in terms of ‘character’ – or, to put it slightly differently, in terms of our likeness or conformity to the Lord Jesus himself.”- Pg 229.
The author notes what we should be taking exegetical preaching seriously. If we are active listeners (and not passive listeners), 2 Timothy 3: 16 should be doing a work in each of us on a regular basis. God uses the Word of God to convict, encourage, and train us in righteousness. If we are open to it, God will use the Word of God to change us on a regular basis. As Millar says,
“We often come at Paul’s statement from the perspective of what the preacher should do – but we must also be cognizant of the fact that Paul clearly expects that people will be changed – humbled, corrected and trained – through the preaching of the word, which leads to completeness. This is how God works.” –pg 232.
Millar also says that God uses our conscience. He says:
“The New Testament makes clear that God uses our conscience in the process of change. Our conscience pokes and prods us into listening, and a response. The problem is that our conscience is unpredictable and is thus unreliable – it has been badly damaged in our arrival into this world and by our subsequent behaviour; for example, ‘However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled’ (1 Cor. 8:7). Paul says our conscience can be ‘seared’ (1 Tim. 4:2) by our refusal to listen and respond, ‘defiled’ (Titus 1:15) by our own sinful behavior (so if we sin today, sinning will be easier tomorrow) and simply ‘weak’ (1 Cor. 8:7); that is, it is a poor guide to how we should live. But the fact remains that the Spirit works on our fragile and unreliable consciences, gradually repairing our ‘spiritual antenna’, so that we become increasingly sensitive to the need for and possibilities of change through the Lord. “- pg 234-235.
It should also come as no surprise that Millar mentions that God changes us through community. He says:
“We are changed or transformed in community. God has designed the local church to be the network of relationships in which we are forced to learn to love, forgive, repent, mourn, build up, rebuke and encourage. This undergirds the extended metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many . . . But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ . . . But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:14, 18–21).
Finally, he notes that if we want to see lasting change, we have to persevere in that faith. He notes the following proof texts:
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”- (Rom. 5:3–5). James also exhorts us to persevere “under trials” because those who do will be blessed and will receive the “crown of life” which God has promised (James 1:12).
God does transform us through suffering and trial. But we must be willing to keep going forward. It involves our daily surrender to God in our lives.
As I finished this book, I thought about all the books and conferences that are constantly available to Christians. We are infatuated with fads and quick fixes. We have seen The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, and other books come and go. I am not saying God can’t use a conference to help us. But Millar makes a good point when he says “personal transformation is an incredibly complex issue. Also, any philosophy of ministry that is overly simplistic or formulaic, promising or demanding particular kinds of change, is almost bound to fail to reach its objectives!” – pg. 215.
Many of us like a quick formula or method to provide change. But it doesn’t work that way. This book provides a balanced and biblical perspective on how God transforms us. I highly recommend it.