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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?

I fully ...

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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

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Why Men Still Hate Going to Church

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The Big Reveal

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One church's challenge to engage the Bible led to spiritual florescence in the lives of its members.

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Displaying 6–10 of 25 comments

Dave C.

September 03, 2012  12:22pm

As long as American Christianity is numbers oriented in terms of defining what successful ministries look like, I doubt that long-term discipleship and growing in one's respective faith tradition will have much credence. Essentially, many forms of Christainity today are a simple "Get Out of Hell Free" card sort of faith that one pulls out of their wallet when they smell the grim reaper knocking at the door.

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August 27, 2012  9:05am

Dr. MacDonald, thank you for this article! This is the kind of devotion and transformation I long for. Praise God for His grace and faithfulness that the work He starts in us He will be faithful to complete.

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Rita K

August 24, 2012  7:07pm

I further suggest the heading and first 2 paragraphs be amended as "4. Worships, with a spirit of continuous thankfulness of Christ' complete redemptive work on the cross. As in all other personal relationships, there is an appropriate rhythm in routines in order to refresh one's relationship to God. Worship is an appropriate description for this. The transforming believer recognizes that these are the moments to elevate life to an eternal perspective, to experience the interior eternal cleansing by Christ' death on the cross, to rekindle a satisfying joy and hope in life. Like Isaiah, he gains a sense of his own true size, his need to acknowledge his unique forms of brokenness and understands it is only through Christ that he has been completely forgiven of his past, present and future sins, elevated to true righteousness and seated on the right hand of Christ. In other words, he understands, acknowledges and appropriates Christ' complete redemptive work on the cross for our sins."

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Linda C.

August 24, 2012  2:18pm

As a Christian of 32 yrs I am pretty well grounded in God's Word, I really enjoyed reading this article. I am not a educated person but I do know what imperative means, and I can also say that my marriage of 30 yrs is not where I want it to be because my husband is not a believer either(yet),but I do make it a point to love him where he's at with his relationship to God. I can honestly say I had to look up the word "Vitriol" but could not relate the meaning to marriage at all. Maybe I'm from a different planet also, but I can say I am truly not of this world....God Bless you Chris D....hope you find a deeper walk with the Lord.

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August 24, 2012  12:13pm

Someone counted the article as very lacking, right down to "remarrying" the wife. Seems they missed the whole point of the article, as they're response came as a glowing example of the point of the article. Trouble, or whatever we call will be here, but if no one is willing to trust the WORD and direction of the Holy Spirit to facilitate the changes in the individual spoken of here, then, no, there will be no change for that individual.

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