Conversatio Divina


Joannah Sadler

Sometimes looking at the past is a helpful exercise for the present. This true in therapy rooms, and history books. It’s also true in our spiritual formation. Understanding where we came from, and how far we’ve come, helps us see that growth really is happening.

Real change is often subtle. Looking back can also help bring clarity to places where we currently feel stalled or stuck.  Reflecting on our journey with Jesus—our transformation into his likeness, is something all Believers are called toward. Are we becoming more like Jesus as a result of our life spent with him? Why does transformation seem to evade us? Why do Christ-followers struggle to be any different than those that aren’t following him? Is change really possible?

These are the questions the editors of Conversations considered as we set out to gather content for an issue on transformation. Non-transformation, or as Gary W. Moon calls it in his introduction to the issue, is the “elephant in the sanctuary.” He writes, “what if part of the problem with experiencing authentic transformation among modern Christians is the tendency to reduce the real meaning and process of atonement to absurdity? Instead of accepting the process of dying daily to any will but the will of God, we may often substitute the one-time profession of a sugar-coated magic phrase that equals transformation…instead of stepping away from our self-sufficiency and into a transforming friendship with the members of the Trinity.”

Recently I revisited issue 8.1 of Conversations on the topic of transformation, and it gave me the same reassuring feeling I get when I’ve spent time with an old friend: I’m not alone. The writers in that issue brought such a helpful perspective on the key theme of our faith; becoming like Jesus. They reminded me that change feels impossible at times, and discouragement and self-critique are common barriers to growth.

Also like a good friend, the writers brought me back to the Gospel and reminded me that I’m not under the power of sin and death anymore, and that change is happening in me because of the work of Christ, not because of my self-effort.

I was also encouraged by writers like Larry Crabb and Keith Meyer about the importance of the Bible in my becoming like Christ. In one of my all-time favorite articles by Jan Johnson, she walks the reader through what 12-Step approaches have to say about transformation (and how honesty and authenticity serve as the foundation for successful results.) It’s been ten years since this issue was published, but Dave Kinnaman’s interview discussing how the lack of transformation in the church causes a younger generation to view Christians, is still compelling.

In the defining article of the issue, Gary Moon interviewed Dallas Willard to discuss transformation, in Getting the Elephant Out of the Sanctuary: Atonement and Transformation. The two took a deeper look at three theories of atonement, and also discussed the practices and rhythms Dallas lived by to be more like Jesus. We’ve excerpted this article below, and provided a few exercises for you to engage in your journey to be more like him (Jesus, not Dallas!)

In a year that feels stalled, and wrought with social and political tension, I’ve doubted my own personal spiritual growth. I’ve had ample opportunities to act like Jesus in the trenches of virtual schooling and potty training, but I tend to reflect more on the times when I’ve failed to look like him. The invitation that this issue, “How We Change” has given me, is to extend grace to myself for the small, subtle changes that God is making in me and through me, that even I cannot see.