Sunday, February 08, 2009

transformation and the atonement

“A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings on.” So commented the worship leader today after I had preached on Romans 12:1-2. The Greek root word, for the English “be transformed” in Romans 12:2 is “metamorphosis”. So I concluded my sermon with a video clip of a metamorphosis, a monarch butterfly hatching. No music, just some space to reflect and wonder.

And then up popped our worship leader with his insight: “A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings on.” He continued, “While that was my early impression of Christianity, I was wrong.”

It was a comment which I have continued to ponder in terms of the impact of the atonement, of how we speak of the death of Jesus and it’s effect on our images of Christianity.

The substitutionary doctrine of the atonement has been the dominant way (recently) that Christians have explained Jesus. I often hear Christianity offered as the blood of Jesus washing my sins away. This means that being a Christian means being washed by saying sorry for sin. This is then followed by a set of behaviours needing to be adopted – not smoking or swearing, instead coming to church and sharing our faith. It doesn’t take much for that to be heard as a caterpillar, washed a bit, and some pretty behaviour wings attached.

In working with the text in Romans over last few weeks, I have been struck not by the blood language, but by the “in Christ” language. In Romans 6 we are “alive to God in Jesus Christ.” In Romans 8 the “Spirit lives in you.” This is not an external washing, but an inward transformation. This is not a new set of behaviours, but a new heart. Through entry into faith and through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we are metamorphosised.

“In reality, a caterpillar actually has to return to their cellular level in order to remerge as something new” concluded our worship leader. That’s metamorphosis. That’s being “in Christ.” That’s a much more profound way of imaging Christ than a washing of hands before dinner.

I know it’s not either/or. But since one (the blood) has been dominant, surely it’s now worth seeking a more enriched diet, one that so beautifully explains the metamorphosis of Romans 12:2?

Posted by steve at 05:39 PM


  1. G’day Steve,

    Yes, I agree. The “in Christ” concept (and reality) is a much fuller way of understanding what Christians experience and are to experience.

    Interestingly, I read a while ago a traditionally Reformed Pastor (maybe Presbyterian) answering a question about what he found encouraging about the “new Reformed”. He said he was encouraged by the emphasis on the atonement and the “doctrines of grace” but felt that there was a need for these younger Christians to move onto the central concept of being “in Christ”. Got to say, I was suprised…but pleasantly.

    Comment by Ali — February 9, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  2. Steve, didn’t know how to contact you and thank you for your talk last Wed @ Oxford Tce Baptist.
    You have encouraged me to see a bit of God in everything. We have minimized the influence (for good) of those doing great things (Like that Guy who brought his coffee cart up from Melbourne to give out free coffee for those affected by the “Evil” fires), unless it had the name “Christian” on it.
    Incidentally we label any thing terrible Evil, but not any thing great “of God”
    So from the homeless to the Business man all are worthy of kindness and Love.
    I am reading A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, and I have hope again in what a group of those following could do…
    I could go on about what you said and what I’m thinking , but I think we think the same, I think
    Rob Wilks (Ex Greymouth)

    Comment by Rob Wilks — February 9, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

  3. thanks Rob. it was fun and i enjoyed it. good group, good question, good people. I think you’re right about evil, but I also know people who do IMHO use the word “good” too loosely in relation to God eg God helped me find a carpark. please!


    Comment by steve — February 10, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

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