Transformation is great, but it can’t happen without first confessing and rejecting our sins.
By Christopher Wolf
To be changed, we have to die to ourselves. Repentance is the first step in transformation.
Repentance is an awakening in the heart. When we are convicted that the ways we are living are deadly and we begin to reject them by embracing the Holy Spirit, then we can be truly transformed.
The ultimate model of transformation takes us from Jesus’s death to his resurrection. There is no Easter without Good Friday, and therefore there is no transformation without confronting sin. There is no workaround for transformation. Neither does just saying “transformation” over and over make it happen. Although I’m really excited about Transformed & Transforming, I’ve noticed its lack of emphasis on repentance.
In Galatians 2:19-20, Paul victoriously writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
In order for us as disciples and churches to be truly alive and transformed in Christ, we can’t just start new programs. We need to “rend our hearts” (Joel 2:13). Repentance is the difference between playing church and being the body of Christ. It’s the difference between our trying to transform ourselves and inviting the Holy Spirit to cleanse, refine, and mold us.
It’s the difference between self-improvement and sanctification.
A few years ago, here at First Reformed Church of Saddle Brook, we offered a prayer of repentance. We confessed that Jesus had not always been the center of our life together and that we had failed to love one another and the community as we are called to do. That prayer was uncomfortable—as transformation should be—but from that point on, we invited the Holy Spirit to move among us and we began to “put to death” things like pride, idolatry, and other sins. I believe it began our transformation in earnest, in a way that nothing else could.
Imagine a denomination that unites to repent of falling short of the glory of God. Imagine churches that repent and put to death our worship of tradition, our failing to love neighbors, and our division.
If you can imagine these, then you can also imagine grand possibilities of grace, salvation, healing, agape love, holiness, community, justice, and abundant living. These are evidences of the kingdom more fully revealed through us.
Christopher Wolf is pastor of First Reformed Church in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. He is the author of two books and host of Walk with Me, a weekly radio show.