What Is Transformation in the Bible?

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

We all have things we’d like to change about ourselves. The vast quantities of books on self-improvement available today target our desire to be different or improve in some way.

And when we read verses in the New Testament concerning how believers should live and conduct themselves, we want to live that way. But when we compare our daily life to those passages, we can’t help but notice our shortcomings. For example, our lack of love for people, our impatience, or our reaction in certain situations all highlight our need to have a change. But how can we?

God also wants us to change, but not the way we might think. In fact, the Bible speaks of something called transformation. In this post, we’ll look at what transformation is according to the Word of God.

The dictionary definition of transformation

First, let’s look at how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines transformation: “A complete or major change in someone or something’s appearance, form.” 

People use the word transformation to talk about the remodeling of a house, or when someone gets a makeover. The house or person undergoes a major change and ends up looking different.

It’s understandable to think that transformation for Christians means we improve ourselves or our behavior so we appear more “Christ-like.” 

But the biblical meaning of transformation has nothing to do with our outward behavior or self-improvement. Simply trying to conform to the words we read in the Bible is like a monkey imitating the actions of a human being. What you see is mere learned behavior, not a genuine expression of a human. That’s because the monkey doesn’t have the life of a human. 

God knows that we can’t meet the standard in His Word on our own. Then how can we live a life that expresses God? God’s way is to give us His divine life, and for us to undergo an organic change by His life operating in us. Let’s see what that means and how it happens.

We are being transformed

Let’s read 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting like a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord Spirit.” 

This verse doesn’t say we “are being transformed by improving our behavior.” Here, being transformed is connected to our beholding the glory of the Lord. When we behold the Lord in our fellowship with Him, something wonderful happens. Note 7 on this verse in the New Testament Recovery Version explains:

“When we with unveiled face are beholding and reflecting the glory of the Lord, He infuses us with the elements of what He is and what He has done. Thus we are being transformed metabolically to have His life shape by His life power with His life essence; that is, we are being transfigured, mainly by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2), into His image. Being transformed indicates that we are in the process of transformation.”

This note says that when we behold the Lord, He infuses us with all He is and has done. To infuse means to fill, pervade, and soak. So how do we behold the Lord? 

Beholding the Lord in our spirit

Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “The Lord is the Spirit.” When we were saved, the Lord as the Spirit came to live in our spirit. So we can behold Him in our spirit by fellowshipping with Him in prayer and in the Word. As we behold the Lord, He soaks us with all He is. 

This soaking results in us being transformed metabolically. This is God’s way of changing us: by an inward, spiritual metabolic process of His life operating in us.

Physical metabolism is the process that maintains the life of an organism. Through metabolism, an organism lives, grows, and develops. Lifeless things like rocks don’t undergo metabolism.

We, God’s children, aren’t lifeless. We received the divine life of God in our spirit when we were born again. Now God wants His life to spread from our spirit into every part of our being, especially our soul. This is how we’re inwardly transformed, and God is actually expressed in our living outwardly. 

Metabolism is a good picture of this transforming work in us. Physical metabolism consists of two actions: the breaking down and discharging of old elements and the building up of new ones. As we behold the Lord, more of Christ is infused into us and spreads in our soul, replacing our old, natural element. Spontaneously, we begin to live a different way than we did before.

The illustration of a caterpillar

A good illustration of being metabolically transformed is the change a caterpillar undergoes. At birth, a caterpillar has the life that will transform it into a butterfly. It doesn’t put on a butterfly costume or try to act like a butterfly.

The caterpillar simply eats. As it eats the needed nutrients, it grows. And then it makes a cocoon where it remains as little by little, changes take place in its body. Eventually, the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly. The dramatic change of a crawling, wormlike creature into a graceful, beautiful butterfly is the result of an organic process.

At our spiritual birth, we received the life of God, which can transform us. Now like the caterpillar, our need is to eat. We need to eat spiritual food so we can grow and develop in the Lord’s life. As we grow, we’re gradually changed inside.

The Lord wants us to take Him in as our real food and drink. In John 6:35, Jesus said: 

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall by no means hunger, and he who believes into Me shall by no means ever thirst.” 

In the Gospel of John, we see that the Lord is living bread for us to eat and living water for us to drink. He’s the spiritual nourishment we need to take in every day so we can grow in His life and be transformed.

Transformed into the same image

So what are we transformed into? Second Corinthians 3:18 tells us we’re “being transformed into the same image.” 

Note 8 on this verse says:

“To be transformed into the same image is to be conformed to the resurrected and glorified Christ, to be made the same as He is (Rom. 8:29).”

When we read the four Gospels, we can see the glorious image of the Lord. What a life Jesus lived as a man on earth! It was a life without any defect, failure, or imperfection of any kind. His behavior, attitude, and care for people are all too wonderful for words. He’s the only man who ever lived a life that fully expressed God.

And today, Jesus is living in us as the Spirit. As we contact Him and behold Him in our spirit, He soaks us with who He is and all He’s done, conforming us to His image to make us the same as He is!  

This transformation far exceeds any goal we might have to improve ourselves or to live the way we think we should. As we undergo this process, we’re not merely becoming a better person. The way we think and view things, our attitude and feelings about people, and the decisions we make gradually change to match the Lord. This is because bit by bit, we’re being conformed to His image and being made the same as He is. 

Beholding, eating, and drinking daily

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lifelong process, so we shouldn’t be discouraged or impatient. God is very happy to let this genuine change transpire in us by the gradual spreading of His life. The main thing is that we need to spend time to behold the Lord and continually eat and drink Him.

One way we can eat spiritual food is by praying with the words of the Bible to receive the nourishing supply of life from God’s Word. A person who is physically undernourished can’t grow. Similarly, in order to grow spiritually, we need to consistently take in the nourishment found in God’s Word. It’s good to start the day with a healthy “spiritual breakfast.” Then throughout the day, we can take a break to “rechew” a verse or phrase we prayed with in the morning, or “eat” another verse in the Bible.

Calling on the name of the Lord is a great way to drink of the Lord. At any time, we can say, “Oh, Lord Jesus,” or “Lord Jesus, I love You.” We can call on Him to begin our day, even before we get out of bed. Whenever we feel spiritually thirsty, we can simply call upon the name of the Lord Jesus to take another drink of Him. 

Transformation is a part of God’s complete salvation for us. We’ve only discussed this marvelous process briefly in this post. If you live in the United States, we recommend that you order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version here so you can read the verses from this post with all their notes to learn more.

We also highly recommend reading chapter 12, “What is the Growth of Life?” in The Knowledge of Life, which can be downloaded for free from anywhere in the world.

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