Jump directly to the content

Already a subscriber?

Home > Issues > 2012 > Summer > 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?

PreviousFirstPage 1 of 6NextLast

Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

From Issue:Transformation, Summer 2012 | Posted: August 20, 2012

Also in this Issue: Summer 2012

Coming Down the Mountain

Coming Down the MountainSubscriber Access Only

Spiritual highs are only temporary.
Prophet in the Pulpit

Prophet in the PulpitSubscriber Access Only

A Leadership Journal review
The New Monk Warriors

The New Monk Warriors

A ministry emerged out of the Texas desert to redirect the lives of college students.

Not a Subscriber?

Subscribe Today!

  • Monthly issues on web and iPad
  • Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net
  • Quarterly print issues

Print subscriber? Activate your online account for complete access.

Join the Conversation

Average User Rating:

Displaying 1–5 of 25 comments


January 21, 2013  6:55pm

I believe Gordon did not pretend that his list or views were unique, exclusive or exhaustive. They are reflective of his perspective. Some of the comments made in response to his write-up are guilty of the 'crime' they accused him of - presenting their views as the one and only right one. To me, it is not 'either this OR that' but 'both this AND that'. Paul said, we know in part and prophesy in part. None of us has or could ever present the whole gospel. What each of us has is a part. Prayer is not everything; neither is holiness nor prosperity, etc. It is the totality of these and many more truths of the Word of God that constitute the gospel. While you major in that area of ministry committed to your trust make room for others to fulfill theirs.

Report Abuse

Daniel from Argentina

January 15, 2013  7:01am

Another list of what a Christian should be, and a very good one. I have followed MacDonald through most of his books and in a conference. Good contribution. Only something to mention, in times as we live the less use of current army/war terminology (specially coming from the US) is the better.

Report Abuse

Mart Griesel

January 02, 2013  11:34am

We will only be able to spot a transformed Christian if we have removed the wood out of our own eye, and have swept before our own door. The closer we are ourselves to Jesus, the better we will know His qualities and the easier it will be to recognize them in others.

Report Abuse

Noel Anderson

December 05, 2012  11:38am

While I love this kind of article, the list still runs the risk of spiritual self-absorption--all about "me and my healthy Christianity"--resulting in what could be a systematized discipleship still prone to one-upsman Pharisaism. Wouldn't a better system for identifying a Christian simply focus on the eternal virtues and gifts of the Spirit: faith, hope, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control,etc.? A redeemed life is not a super-soldier Christian, but a self uninterested in self eager only to channel Christ. The list is a good one, and some of the items are certainly indispensable, but I can still imagine self-interested and self-important Christian narcissists coming off the assembly line.

Report Abuse

David Grant

September 03, 2012  11:53pm

I was really attracted to the title of this Topic, but nearly turned away with the comments of #1 regarding the word "devotion" rather than "love." I teach on the subject of God's Agape Love and it is hard for people to distinguish between Bod's Love and human love and God's Agape Love is the unique ingredient of the Christian faith. Let me say what I thnk needs to be said by quoting from a song that I have made into a prayer. 'SHOW ME HOW TO LOVE" 'SHOW ME HOW TO LOVE IN THE TRUE MEANING OF THE WORD. TEACH ME TO SACRIFICE, EXPECTING NOTHING IN RETURN. I WANT TO GIVE MY LIFE AWAY, BECOMING MORE LIKE YOU EACH AND EVERY DAY. MY WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH--SHOW ME HOW TO LOVE. I SAW A BRUISED AND BATTERED WOMAN WITH HER HUNGRY CHILDREN ON THE STREET. THEN I HEARD YOU ASK IN THAT STILL SMALL VOICE,"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR THE OF THESE?" LORD CONSUME WIYH AN A BURNING FIRE THAT MELTS AWAY MY COMPLACENCY. lET ME BE MOVED WIH LOVE AND COMPASSION, THEN SOMEONE WILL FIND THE WAY IN ME.

Report Abuse
Use your Leadership Journal login to easily comment and rate this article.
Not part of the community? Subscribe, or on public pages, register for a free account.
Reader's Pick
Missional Living in a Fraternity

Missional Living in a Fraternity

What it takes to go with Jesus into unlikely parts of the world.
Sister Sites
Women Leaders in the BibleBuilding Church Leaders

Women Leaders in the Bible