I spend my life trying to follow Jesus and teach others how to follow Him also. I love to hear how unique each person’s story of transformation in Christ becomes. There are no instant formulas to transformation and Christlikeness. I stopped looking for the formula long ago. There is a pattern of transformation. Christians for centuries have been talking about spiritual growth using three stages—purgative, illuminative and unitive. I have recognized these patterns in my own transformation and in the lives of others. I find them helpful to understand what is really happening to our souls.
I am astounded when I find myself at peace in a storm or not fuming at someone who has acted against me. That is not me! I know that it is Christ living in me. How does that happen? How do we open ourselves to the kind of transformation that makes us better than we are? I see the pattern in Luke 9:23. It is the instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples that birthed their transformation.
Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
The first stage of transformation is coming to Jesus. You have to have a want to follow Him. This usually happens after you have followed all the multitude of directions the world promises for happiness and satisfaction. Once you have explored all those categories and found them lacking, you begin to want Jesus.
The next phase is harder still; you begin to be willing to deny yourself and obey Him. Obedience to Jesus is not easy on a soul. Though we want Him on some levels, we soon recognize that we don’t really want the sacrifice part that is necessary to have him. Obedience isn’t easy, that’s for sure. It doesn’t get easier, but it helps when you experience the rewards of obedience to push your soul forward. I wrestle with God to give over the obstacles in my mind to follow His seeming irrational urging to move in a certain direction. When He asks me to love my enemy, for example, it might take a time of wrestling before I’m willing to do the opposite of what my mind tells me to do. Denying yourself is a conversion of your mind.
It’s only after coming to Jesus—wanting to follow Him and not the world, hearing from Him then denying myself and picking up my cross that I get to the real fruit of the spiritual life—following Jesus. When you are close enough to follow Jesus, your spirit is united with His.
Come, deny, follow—it is a pattern, not a formula. I have found this rhythm producing fruit in my life. When I stop coming to Jesus and denying myself, I realize after a time that I am not one with Him. That’s when I come again and tell Him once more that I want what He wants for me in this life. He shows me how I am not obeying, not denying myself. I struggle until I obey—the good thing is that I don’t have to like it; I just have to do it. All of the sudden I feel the joy and peace and pleasure of His good and pleasing and perfect will!
I hope you can see your spiritual life in this pattern too.