So who needs personal transformation? We all do, each one of us. There is none too smart, educated, good, sweet, powerful, noble, well-intended, or gifted that is spared. Even a would-be saint. ♦
Of course, I too have become convinced that there are no real perfect men or women, only those that are good and broken and in need of an overhaul. A transformation or sorts. Not physically, but spiritually. A transformation at the root level of who we are, what we think and believe, and how we behave and respond to all that is around us and all that we encounter.
Honestly, most of us don’t think we’re that bad. We do acknowledge that we’ve got rough edges, that we’re “not perfect” and possess some flaws, but overall we’re alright and certainly not as bad as many others we know out there. We’ll point to behavior and words of public figures or terribly evil and cruel acts demonstrated right before us or seen around the world. We may be unfortunate ourselves to have been victims of man’s corruption, deceit, and treachery. But in our heart of hearts, we do know that we too are imperfect, flawed, and in need of a personal transformation.
A transformation fit for anyone. Even a would-be saint. Consider two parallel stories.
A Contemporary Tale
Julius Anders (Jules) was born in 1980 and raised in Chicago by parents of nominal religious faith. At least for awhile until his mother converted from her non-religious roots to a vital faith in Christianity. While her husband remained secular and sought culture and education for his son, she prayed diligently for young Jules, even during many years of teenage rebellion and promiscuity. Young Jules even fathered a son at the age of seventeen. In spite of an immoral lifestyle, Jules excelled in his studies of classical philosophers and writers at a renowned university. He moved to New York City and began a successful career as a college professor.
Religiously, Jules was attracted to secular humanism which put more faith in the goodness of man versus any God who would allow the evil, despair, poverty, and corruption he saw all around him in the world. In spite of his secular bent, he had close Christian friends with whom he loved to verbally jostle and debate.
Yet Jules quietly carried the weight of his own inner frustrations and guilt. He struggled with a pornography addiction and recognized his own secret depravity. One day he sat alone, sad and depressed on the back balcony of his small New York apartment. He literally teared up as he thought of the emptiness and hypocrisy of his life. As he sat there, he heard a young child in a upper floor apartment singing an old hymn his mother used to sing, Nearer My God to Thee.
To Jules the words came as if God was right there with him. He rose, went into his apartment, phoned his mother and told her that her prayers had been answered. A changed man, Jules went on to become a professor of ethics and comparative religions and have a large ministry impact in the vibrant Christian community across New York City.
The True Story
Aurelius Augustinus (St. Augustine) was born in 354 AD and raised as a Roman pagan in North Africa. His mother became a Christian and longed for her son to come to faith in Christ. Her husband would eventually convert to Christianity on his deathbed. As mentioned in his autobiography, Confessions, Augustine’s very nature was flawed. “It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error – not that for which I erred, but the error itself.” He entered school at age 12 in Madiera and then Carthage. During adolescent years of sexual promiscuity, he fathered a child at age 17. He excelled academically, became an accomplished Latin scholar and went on to study rhetoric and philosophy, eventually becoming a teacher of rhetoric. He eventually taught in Rome and Milan, Italy.1
Religiously, Augustine was attracted to Manicheism, the chief rival to Christianity and the leading replacement of classical paganism. This belief believed in the eternal coexistence of two kingdoms – light and darkness – which were in an eternal struggle. He spent many hours debating his Christians friends, most notably, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, who intellectually challenged him in faith and philosophy.
In 386 AD, while talking to friends at a villa where a copy of the Epistles of Paul lay on a table, the conversation shifted to a friend sharing of his own conversion to Christianity and that of two others who also recently put their faith in Christ. After they left, Augustine was greatly convicted of his own depraved addiction to lust and sex. How would be ever extricate himself from his life of sin? In despair he flung himself on the ground underneath a fig tree.
I…gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes [saying] to God, not in these very words but in this strain: “Lord, will you never be content? Must you always taste your vengeance?…How long shall I go on saying, ‘tomorrow, tomorrow? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment.?’2
Suddenly Augustine heard the plaintive voice of an unknown little girl singing a song with the simple words “Take up and read.” As if God was directing him, Augustine, jumped up and got the book containing Paul’s epistles. Opening it’s pages, his eyes fell on Romans 13:13:14 (see below).
Augustine later wrote “Instantly as I reached the end of this sentence, it was as if the light of peace was poured into my heart, and all the shades of doubt faded away.” He immediately went into the house and told his mother that her prayers had been answered. Augustine went on to become the bishop of Hippo in North Africa and what some consider to be one of the greatest theologians between the apostle Paul and John Calvin.
Have you had a real personal spiritual transformation?
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.- Romans 13:13-14
1 The One Year Book of Christian History, E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, p. 636.
2 Confessions, Saint Augustine, Penguin Books, p. 177.