How to Spot a Transformed Christian
I do not come from a military tradition, but I have always been interested in how military people are trained. In his day St. Paul seems to have had a similar interest.
My curiosity once led me to a book by military journalist, Thomas E. Ricks, called Making the Corps, a boots-on-the-ground account of the process in which young people are transformed from recruits into Marines.
Recruits, Ricks writes, are normally bused into the training camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, late at night. There's a sign at the front gate that all of them see. It reads, "Parris Island: where the difference begins."
What difference might that be? How would one distinguish a fully-prepared Marine from anyone else? The answer might begin with the new ramrod body posture, the spotless uniform, the steely sense of focus and determination that marks conversation. Other characteristics? The obvious self-discipline, the toughness, the readiness to follow orders and to function as a member of a combat team.
A Marine is a best-practice warrior who models the highest levels of what military training can accomplish.
The Marines are by no means the only people who take such transformative experiences seriously. Colleges and seminaries talk a lot about this process, each claiming that it turns out world class leaders. There are businesses (Starbucks comes to mind) that believe that their profitability depends on turning employees into best-practice sales representatives.
How about churches and their goal of making of devoted followers of Jesus? What does the difference look like there?
We exist to see people transformed from a state of brokenness and selfishness to a state of wholeness and usefulness sometimes called Christlikeness. Paul used the word maturity when he talked about life-change. We want, he wrote, "to produce every person mature in Christ." And that "Christ be formed in you." Same idea.
If the church exists to see people transformed, shouldn't we be clear about what a transformed Christian looks like? If it's not hard to spot a Marine, how does one spot a spiritually mature Christian?
What are the core qualities that offer evidence that one is truly on a pathway toward Christlikeness?
This question first began to stir in me when, years ago, I was asked to join others in endorsing a massive, region-wide evangelistic endeavor. "This will change Boston" was the enticement. "A hundred thousand people will come to Christ" was the promise. At first hearing, those words were irresistible.
Then some of us began asking, "What would a changed Boston look like?" This simmers in my mind to this day whenever anyone talks about changing the world.
"Tell me," I want to say, "how would I know that the world had been changed. No more wars? No poverty? Everybody likes each other? Everyone competes to be more generous?" There were really no answers, and there should have been.
Now, decades later, I want to take a stab at answering my own question: What does a transformed person look like?