Before adaptation into a famous movie franchise, one of my favourite toys when I was young were Transformers (Alien robots that transform from a robot to a vehicle/animal and back!).
Like many my age, I thrust myself into their battle between good and evil. I was fascinated with the process of “transforming,” memorizing the steps quickly. When sets of characters transformed individually and together transformed into a larger sum of their parts, well, let’s just say I was all in! My dad kept a box labelled “Sean’s Transformers,” and to my surprise, my boys loved playing with them almost as much as I did.
Maybe it’s this world of Autobots and Decepticons that’s drawn my attention to a favourite verse in the Bible with a theme of being “transformed”:
“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.” (Romans 12:2)
There are limitations to how perfectly an analogy can demonstrate something about God. These alien robots are good examples of transformation, but their ability to “be transformed” has only two states.
The verb tense in the original Greek gets lost in our English reading of Paul’s words, which indicate both actions in this verse – not be conformed and be transformed – represent a continuous, ongoing set of actions and not a one-time process that occurred in a past specific instant.
Now, this might seem like the kind of insignificant detail that preachers throw out to prove how smart they are – and full transparency, I am not trained in biblical Greek, so I rely on the interpretation of others for this kind of detail. But in this case, understanding whether the actions Paul is calling us to are past, present, or future is critical to understanding the point Paul makes here.
See, especially as evangelical Christians we are trained that the non-conforming, life transforming element of our discipleship revolves around making “the decision” to follow Jesus – believing in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and in His role in our restoring our relationship with God. There is no doubting this is critically important. But according to the original Greek, Paul is not referring here to a backwards-looking, singular event kind of non-conformity and transformation, but rather the kind of discipleship that involves us continuing to not conform and to be transformed all the days of our lives.
This requires a balancing act between confident convictions about what is true with a humility acknowledging I’ve never arrived at “the right” understanding of faith or complete knowledge of God. Paul in other writings says that he has not fully attained Christ but presses on nonetheless. I must acknowledge that God is never done (re)creating me in the image of Jesus. May we embrace the idea of lifelong transformation, and discerning God’s continuous call to move towards God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.
Sean East is co-pastor of Listowel Mennonite Church.