The first stage in spiritual formation and transformation is the recognition of how needy you are. (The Need.)
The second stage is the recognition of the magnitude of the transformation. God wants to form Christ in you. (Gal. 4:19) This is no small or ordinary thing.
I like the scene in Isaiah 6 where Isaiah, arguably the most righteous person in Israel, enters the temple and gets a glimpse of a holy God. Isaiah’s response is a prophetic one; he pronounces doom upon his own being. “Woe is me! I am undone! I am dis-integrated! I thought I was a man of integrity. Now I see I am a man with a dirty mouth.”
Isaiah sees the holiness of God. “Holiness” is not another attribute of God. To call God “holy” is to express the “otherness” of God. God, as Supreme Being, is “set apart” from all other beings. There is no one like God.
God is different. God’s difference is expressed in his all-knowingness, all-powerfulness, and all-loving nature. This is, understatedly, different from you and I. To see this is necessarily to be “undone.”
I love to play basketball. In high school I was good enough to make the team, but not good enough to start. There were a few years when I lived and breathed basketball. And, in my own little circle of basketball-playing friends, at times I thought I was pretty good. I still like to shoot around, even though at age 62 I can no longer run (what I do should never be called “running”) and have no hang time. I just “hang.”
Now imagine this. I am young again, and in my basketball-playing prime. A few people think I’m good. We’re in the gym. I am scoring points. In walks Michael Jordan, in his prime. We all stop. We’re stunned. He asks, “May I play?” We let him. He decides to guard me. I say, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean basketball-playing!” Jordan’s playing is “holy.” Different. Set apart. Not just a “cut above,” but “beyond.” His skills are transcendent. I am on earth, thou art in heaven.
The difference between Michael Jordan’s basketball skills and mine (and yours) is minor compared to the difference between us and Christ. This difference must be recognized, and should not be minimized. It is jaw-droppingly real. Jesus is different.
This often comes as an epiphany, a revelation, an illumination. The Great Realization. The ultimate “O My God!” happening. This is needed, and it is good. As this happens the prospect of spiritual metamorphosis is positive. But without it, we’re left with the variety of human will power and self-transformation strategies. It is instructive to note that one cannot self-morph into Christlikeness. To think so is to trivialize Christ.