I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
St. Paul calls the Christians in Rome (as he would Christians everywhere) to the essential Christian life – “be transformed.” For many modern Christians, this admonition of the great Apostle is understood as a moral transformation. The mind leaves behind the immoral thoughts of a sinful culture, and switches its allegiance to the moral world of Christianity.
As an interpretation of the Scriptures, such a reading is extremely “thin.” The changing of our allegiance to a new set of ideals renders the verse as a mere exhortation to self-improvement. Such moralistic treatments of the Scriptures remove the depth and mystery to which the great Apostle refers. To be transformed is not the same thing as adopting a new set of moral standards: it describes a deep transformation in which we become somehow different than we are at present – at the deepest level of our existence.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
This transformation is both a gift of the Holy Spirit and our steady cooperation with that gift. Throughout the centuries there have various efforts to reduce Christianity to nothing more than a moral system. Thomas Jefferson, one of the early American presidents, produced an edited version of the Bible in which he eliminated miracles and retained only the so-called “moral” or “ethical” teachings. Such efforts have largely grown from a mistaken understanding of the Christian faith and a rejection of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Today, many Christians acknowledge the divinity of Christ and believe that He died for their sins – but having accepted this much they then consider the rest of their Christian life to consist of efforts to live correctly. No one should discourage someone from trying to do good – but efforts to live a moral life which are not efforts united to the transforming work of Christ within us are misguided, and, in some cases, positively harmful.
We begin our life in Christ by being united with Him in Holy Baptism. Having begun our life through union with Christ, we should continue our life through union with Christ.
Christ within you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).
Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved – St. Seraphim of Sarov
It is possible for someone to be “moral” or to live “ethically” without wonder, without joy. But it is not possible to live a life united to Christ without wonder and joy. St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the 4th century, said that “Man is mud, whom God has commanded to become god.” The moral life, lived apart from union with Christ, will never rise to the level of God’s true commandment. Only the transforming grace of God can do such a work in us.
God is looking for something more than a few good men.