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The "Twelve Steps" Of
Spiritual Transformation

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div, M.S.A.

Number 146

    1. God Graciously Calls The Undeserving and Unsuspecting.
    2. One Experiences Great Loss Because Of The Call.
    3. During The Grief, God Renews His Promise.
    4. The Called One Follows In Obedience.
    5. God Renews His Promise Again.
    6. Obedience Is Tested Through Insurmountable Trial.
    7. Increased Testing Leads To Increased Weakness.
    8. Weakness And Panic Gives Birth To Self-Reliance.
    9. Self-Reliance Fails Miserably And Painfully.
    10. The Fallen One Seeks Forgiveness.
    11. The Fallen One Learns What Amazing Grace Really Is.
    12. God Strengthens And Transforms The Called One For The Next Test (cf. Step #1).

Abraham And The Twelve Steps

Perhaps one of the most vivid Biblical examples of this twelve-step paradigm is Abraham. The Genesis 12 account of his call and early ministry as Patriarch of Israel provides an exemplary application of these twelve steps.
 
1. God Graciously Calls The Undeserving and Unsuspecting.
 
God in Genesis 12:1 called Abraham. The call was probably unexpected. Nevertheless, the call was certain. It was, as Genesis 12:1 notes, "the Lord" who had spoken to him.
 
2. One Experiences Great Loss Because Of The Call.
 
God's calling never comes without a price, great price. There are no exceptions. Not even for His Divine Son, Jesus. God's calling to Abraham began quickly, decisively and unconditionally.

"Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you" (Genesis 12:1 NIV)

Jesus never accepted one He called to discipleship who wasn't willing to give up everything and follow Him. He didn't need "wanna-be's." He didn't need "deciders." He didn't need the "well-intended." Discipleship is more than intent. It is nothing less than giving up ones life, taking up His cross, and following Him.
3. During The Grief, God Renews His Promise.
 
Loss nearly always brings grief. To give up everything is painful. However, it is the grief of sorrow and suffering through which God begins the real transformation. St. Paul in Romans 5 indicated the stages of becoming rooted in hope.
* First, start with suffering;
* Second, persevere through the suffering. Don't give up!
* Third, do the painful work of building Christian character; and
* Fourth, rejoice in the hope given in Christ.
A disciple is one who, through God's leading in this painful four-stage process, finally and graciously "arrives" at a true understanding of faith and hope in Christ. This rock-solid foundation is that which underscores the spirituality and character of every disciple of Christ.
 
4. The Called One Follows In Obedience.
 
Regardless of one's age or physical conditions or life circumstances, God's calling seeks the faithful response of obedience. Abraham was seventy-five years of age when God called Him to blessing.
 
God is not a respecter of persons, age, physical condition, wealth, poverty, et al (cf. Acts 10:34). Neither is His calling. When He calls--and whoever He calls--is irrelevant. There's no such thing as God calling "at the wrong time." If obedience can't be given it's not His fault. It's ours. God's calling is always to immediate and full obedience. It's a call to a total and radical "newness of life" in the Kingdom of Grace.
5. God Renews His Promise Again.
 
Sometime after having made the radical response of obedience, God repeats and re-affirms His promise to the faithful disciple. This promise is needed consolation after having made such drastic and disruptive life changes. After packing up his wife and family, God consoled and strengthened Abraham with the same blessing God gave at his calling.
"To your offspring I will give this land. So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him." (Genesis 12:7 NIV)
 
6. Obedience Is Tested Through Insurmountable Trial.
The pathway of discipleship is never smooth sailing. It is plagued with the "lions, tigers and bears" of fear, fickleness and often severe trial. Verse 10 speaks of a famine in the land.
This must have been severe trial for Abraham in his nomadic wanderings. He was out of his element and starving. Spiritually he may have wrestled with the question, "Why God? I've always remembered You! I've always loved and sacrificed generously to You! God, what are You doing?!" From Abraham's human perspective it probably couldn't have seemed any worse.
7. Increased Testing Leads To Increased Weakness.
 
The testing of famine and seemingly insurmountable pressures of family, friends, and physical well-being weakened Abraham. In Genesis 12:9 ff Abraham set out into the barren wasteland. He is weak. He is starving. He wants bread and water. But all he sees around him are stones and sand. His faith weakens to a level perhaps never before experienced. He is about to give up on God.
 
8. Weakness And Panic Gives Birth To Sinful Self-Reliance.
 
In weakness and doubt Abraham moves away from God. Instead of offering sacrifices to God on the altar as in the past, he takes matters into his own hands. Violating God's Law he urges his wife to pretend she is his sister so that the King will give him food.
 
Genesis 12 describes the extent of sinful self-reliance. It shows how in Abraham's pain he threw out the guidance of Christian conscience. He repudiated what was right. He shunned godly character.
 
Unless God had intervened, Abraham would have continued down his destructive path. He would have made his wife an adulteress, himself a shameless manipulator, his religion a sham, and his God a faithless liar. Worst yet, this was done in the presence of the most powerful ruler of his age. In every sense of the word, Abraham had truly committed a "royal" faux pax!
 
9. Self-Reliance Fails Miserably And Painfully.
 
Abraham's failure also resulted in severe illness on Pharaoh and his household. Having finally discovered that Abraham was the cause, Pharaoh reprimanded Abraham severely.

"What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you
tell me she was your wife?" (Genesis 12:18 NIV)

 
Pharaoh could have had Abraham's head. But in spite of Abraham's miserable, blatant failure, God spared his life. Pharaoh, however, kicked Abraham and his family out of his presence in disgrace...still hungry, despised by his family, and in great spiritual pain and weakness. It would have been a tempting time, perhaps, for Abraham to "end it all" then and there.
 
10. The Fallen One Seeks Forgiveness.
 
There appears to be some time between Abraham's extraction from Pharaoh's presence and the events of Genesis 13. It may have been months. But, given the wealth that Abraham accumulated, it was likely years. Perhaps during that time Abraham forgot about God's promises. Perhaps he thought the "discipleship thing" was too difficult. Perhaps he thought he wasn't cut out for it. Perhaps he thought that God could never use him again.
 
After a period of time, however, he started making his way back to his original roots. He went, Scripture records,
 
"to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD" (Genesis 13:4 NIV).
 
Though speculative, it appears that Abraham had finally reached a point in his transformation that he knew he couldn't go on living in guilt, self-blame and depression. He couldn't go on without going back to where God first found him. Going back was the results of a strong, heart-felt spiritual drive to go back to the beginning and see if God would--or could--forgive him. Would God remember and restore His initial promise to Abraham? Abraham could only hope.
 
11. The Fallen One Learns What "Amazing Grace" Really Is.
Abraham's hope was realized. Though totally undeserving, though he blew his calling, though he embarrassed and caused countless and harm to others, though he even promoted his wife's immorality, He was forgiven. He didn't deserve it. But God's grace never is deserved. It's just given.
 
This forgiveness and total restoration in God's promises are seen in God's words to Abraham,

"Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am
giving it to you" (Genesis 14:17 NIV)

Abraham was truly restored. Though He forsook and made a mockery of God, God forgave and renewed His covenant and love. Abraham truly experienced God's amazing grace.
12. God Strengthens And Transforms The Called One For The Next Test (Preparation for Step #1). 12. God Strengthens And Transforms The Called One For The Next Test (Preparation for Step #1).
 
That Abraham was strengthened and transformed is apparent by Abraham's treatment of Lot. Abraham had more than his share of deprivation, starvation and hardship. But, when forced to part ways to sustain their flocks, Abraham gave Lot first choice of the fields (Genesis 13:1ff).
 
This is not the Abraham who used his wife, manipulated Pharaohs, and threw away both God's promises and his God. It is a transformed, strengthened Abraham. God used his weakness and failures to mature his faith and transform his Christian character.
 
The Abraham of Genesis 13 is a different Abraham. But he is an Abraham ready for the next and perhaps more intense experience of the "Twelve Steps" of Spiritual Transformation."

Abraham's Experience Is Yours, Too!

Every Christian goes through this "Twelve Step" process. Though the circumstances and specifics may be much different, the process is identical. It includes the calling to the promise of God's blessings, the affirmation of that faith by renunciation, the trial of the commitment, and the renewal of faith through God's unlimited restorative grace.
 
During your journeys through the "twelve steps"...

1. What do you do in testing? How do you react?

2. What are your expectations of yourself, of your church, of others, of God? Are they godly? Are they driven by faith or faithlessness?

3. What things make God's testing most difficult?

4. What Is God’s ultimate purpose for the testing?

Our responses can be many. Our response can be of fear or faith, weakness or trust, disobedience or obedience, impatience or patience.
 
God's Desired Response: Be Transformed!
 
Whatever our response might be, God’s desired response for us is continued commitment and spiritual transformation in Christ. Such commitment is founded in and motivated by the covenant which God made with us in Christ's unmerited suffering, death and resurrection for us.

Having a salvation made sure for us by His grace alone, we gain a contentment of which a transformed man named "Paul" wrote in a letter written from a prison. Undoubtedly experiencing another of his many "twelve step" spiritual transformations of faith, he shared his secret for staying strong in God's promises and confident in God's service.

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. [But no matter what happens] I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)

What About You?

Have you failed somewhere in your "twelve step" process of spiritual transformation? Do you feel as if God can't use you anymore? Do you feel as if God is somehow withholding His promises from you?
 
If so, do as Abraham did. Go back to where God first called you. He's still there, waiting. After all, it wasn't Him that moved, was it! It was you. Now that you're back where you began and back in God's presence where you belong, rejoice in the forgiveness, renewal and strengthening that only He can give.
 
Hurry up! You're already forgiven...and your next step in your "twelve step" process is about to begin!!!
 
Thomas F. Fischer
 
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him."         Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV)

Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:34 PM