Have you ever watched a caterpillar transform into a butterfly? It is a miraculous sight. The plain, ordinary caterpillar becomes something spectacular. A transformation, a metamorphosis, has occurred when it emerges from the cocoon. The Christian life is one of transformation, one of metamorphosis, and of regular renewal thereafter.
Paul wrote to the church in Rome about transformation: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:1–2). The root word for “transformed” here is where we get the word for “metamorphosis.” Unlike the butterfly, however, the transformation described here is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime emergence from a dark cocoon.
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Jesus must save you multiple times. Not at all. His sacrifice and our confession of our need for this forgiveness are enough (see Rom 10:9, for example). Paul is writing to the church gathered in Rome—whom, he says, “are called to be saints” and whose “faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Rom 1:7–8). This group of early Christians is living in a place and time when it is not always easy to be a follower of Jesus. Despite these difficulties, their faith is an example to be heeded by other Christ-followers.
If things are going so well, why would he still tell them to be “transformed,” to offer themselves as “sacrifices,” to be “renewed”? Paul knows that the Christian life can be hard. Trials and temptations abound, and there are many distractions. He also knows that regular attention to the means of grace—like worship, prayer, Scripture reading, small group discipleship, celebration of the sacraments, and others—is vital to growing more in the image of Christ. Relying only on the first experience is not enough.
John Wesley stressed this important principle to the people called Methodists. Wesley saw many Christians who were relying on a weak and static faith. He warned them to “not lean on the broken reed of their baptism” (See his sermon, “Marks of the New Birth”). Wesley was adamant that God had raised up the Methodist movement to reform the church, which was full of people who would already consider themselves Christ-followers. Yes, transformation was still required. This ongoing movement of encouraging people to actively pursue a life that seeks renewal remains vital today. One of the richest lessons of the Methodist movement is that we don’t have to do this on our own. Rather than merely preach to them once and then leave them to their own devices, Wesley organized classes, bands, and societies to help people experience the continuing transformation offered through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we refer to the transformation Romans commands and Wesley taught as “discipleship.” True discipleship is personal, but it is not private. Each of us must take personal responsibility for response to Christ’s offer of salvation and growth in Christ is done in community. Notice how many of those means of grace that we mentioned above are done in community, things like worship, small groups, and Holy Communion.
When it comes to faith-sharing, we need to practice the personal-not-private posture. Part of evangelism is to tell someone else the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time. It is also sharing faith with others while walking in Christian fellowship with them and telling them the good news of Jesus Christ when they need to hear it again. And again. And again. For example, later in Romans 7, Paul laments that he does not always do the things he should be doing. Yet, he can celebrate that God rescues us from this dilemma through Jesus. We all need to be reminded of the ongoing transformation that God offers in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. Simply put, sometimes faith-sharing requires sharing faith again.