The week’s first winner in our New Testament words contest is Harmony Wheeler, who asked about the word “transformation” in the New Testament:

“How do we truly know God and The Spirit are transforming us? I often get mad at myself for not caring the way the Bible tells us to care and wonder why God hasn’t transformed me to that extent yet. I wonder if I’m truly saved if I continue to sin. I wonder if I’m truly saved if I’m a loner and don’t go to church. I wonder if I’m truly saved if I’m not emotionally stirred about people and about ethical issues or about wrong doings in the world. I’m still praying for new and ongoing transformation.”

The transformation of our spirits is a process that involves both God and us. The writings of John Ortberg and Dallas Willard were invaluable to me in understanding the nature of this transformation.

But my short answer to Harmony may seem schizophrenic: don’t be so hard on yourself, but expect more. More from God, and more than just what you think everyone else wants you to be.

You say you don’t care the way the Bible tells you to care: but what would that caring look like? Which “ethical issues” do you feel guilty about not being emotionally stirred about? Maybe God wants you to make a difference in some other way than getting riled up about things you think you’re “supposed to” get up in arms about.

We often want our exterior actions to be transformed: we want to appear to other people to be transformed—so we judge our transformation by whether we show up at church, or whether we feel emotionally stirred by hot button issues.

The goal of the Christian life is not to just keep the rules or avoid mistakes. The goal is transformation: to become more and more like Jesus. A great gauge for whether we are actually becoming more like Jesus is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. Are you more patient than you were six months ago? Are you more loving, more kind? Is your heart more peaceful? (many Christians I know, despite Jesus’ direct commands not to worry, are world class worriers whose hearts are anything but peaceful. Yes, they care about issues but I would argue that they are not necessarily being transformed into the image of Christ).

This process continues throughout our life here on earth. It happens when we spend time with Jesus. When we train ourselves to imitate him in small, simple practices (like solitude, prayer and service), we will become like him. We never arrive, and yet, we will never drift into that change, either. We must live with intention and decision that allows God to change us into the kind of person for whom acting like Jesus just seems the natural thing to do.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

The Greek word translated “be transformed” is metamorphoo. The prefix meta means after, or change, the word morphe, which means form. We get our English words morph and metamorphosis (the process by which something, esp. a butterfly, is changed entirely in its form and function) from this root.

The same Greek word is used in Matthew and Mark’s descriptions of Jesus’ mountaintop transfiguration.

The same word is also used in 2 Corinthians 3:18, which describes how believers will ultimately be changed to be like Jesus:And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever‑increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Another word sometimes translated transformed or changed (or sometimes, disguised, is Metaschematizo. This word refers to the process, while metamorphoo refers to the end result of that process. Metaschematizo can carry a positive or negative connotation, depending on context. Remember, this is a change in the outer self. It is used in 2 Corinthians 11 to describe Satan and his false prophets disguising themselves or masquerading as angels of light.

Morphe is typically describing inner change, while schema, is more about outer appearance being changed.

For example, in Philippians 2, Paul describes Jesus in this way: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form (morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form (morphe) of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form (schema), he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:7,8, ESV)

Morphoo derives directly from morphe, and describes change of the inner self or character: when Paul tells the church that he longs for “Christ to be formed in” them, Galatians 4:19, the word he uses is morphoo.

John Ortberg writes: “Morphoo means “the inward and real formation of the essential nature of a person.” It was the term used to describe the formation and growth of an embryo in a mother’s body.”

He notes that “spiritual growth is a molding process: We are to be to Christ as an image is to the original.” (From The Life You’ve Always Wanted)

I’d strongly recommend Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines and also Renovation of the Heart as well.

For this excellent question, Harmony will receive a free copy of Deeper into the Word. Our other two winners who suggested words are Tara, for her word “amazed,” and Jodie, for her excellent question on belief and unbelief. I’ll post about each of these later this week. And Marites will also receive a copy of the book for posting a review on her blog!

Stay tuned for more posts on biblical words later this week!