There’s nothing like a church fired up for God’s mission. Nothing like individuals and families set on course for the common good of a community because of the gospel. However, there are many obstacles to spiritual transformation – God’s work in us and our receptivity in the power of the Holy Spirit. These require urgent attention.
Lessons From The Gospel of John
The life of Jesus is the model for our own ministry practise. There’s much about Jesus’ ministry that we should not merely appreciate but must aspire toward. The Gospel of John speaks volumes about the person of Jesus and his ministry. And it calls for our participation in the mission of Jesus as his disciples. The faith John inspires does not merely affirm Christ’s deity but demands obedience to his call. John beckons readers to not only observe but to participate in God’s purposes.
There’s much about Jesus’ ministry that we should not merely appreciate but must aspire toward
Please join me in a personal, reflective journey regarding select obstacles that we may encounter as we seek to serve God faithfully. You will be well prepared by reading John 4 before tackling my points below. As you do, take special note of anything that detracts and distracts from living transformed lives. What in the passage threatens to prevent others from participating in Jesus’ mission?
5 Obstacles To Spiritual Transformation
From John 4, I would like to present five obstacles to spiritual transformation.
Obstacle 1: Conformity
Conformity to culture seems a norm in churches and among Christians these days. Christians have even invented a name or popular concept for this: relevance. But cultural relevance, in many instances, compromises the gospel. For it easily makes culture the object of our affection and affirmation, instead of Christ. Love and truth inevitably play second fiddle to whatever our culture enshrines.
Cultural relevance, in many instances, compromises the gospel
Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed that he was a non-conformist. He was critical of rules and institutions that neither glorified God nor achieved his purposes. John 4 opens with a reminder that religious folk will not always be happy with the Holy Spirit’s movements. Christ upsets culture.
In John 4:1-3, Jesus decides to travel to Galilee. He avoids a confrontation with the leaders who wanted to bring him down, critical of what God was doing in and through his ministry. Our search for cultural conformity will not lead to effective ministry in the Kingdom of God. Although we’re called to live in this world, we cannot make relevance to any cultural preference the goal of ministry.
Christ upsets culture
The Jewish institutions of Jesus’ day no longer conformed to the heart of God’s Law. Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders of the day points to God’s displeasure in conformity to the law without a heartfelt obedience. Are you chasing the latest technique, or are you relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your ministry?
Obstacle 2: Culture
In what appears to be a statement of purpose or intent, we read: “Jesus had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). Truth be told, Jesus’ deliberate decision is a helpful allusion to the fact that God’s Kingdom includes those who may not fit our moulds and cultural preferences. Our culture, or the recipient culture, may be a real stumbling block to sharing the gospel and spiritual transformation.
Much can be written on this topic. In fact, much has been written on the tools to be employed in cross-cultural mission and ministry. However, a good starting point, in my mind, is the equality of all cultures at the foot of the cross and our versatility and humility in bridging the gaps between them.
A good starting point is the equality of all cultures at the foot of the cross
Jesus illustrates this point perfectly in John 4, providing a helpful point of reference for breaking the barrier of culture in sharing the gospel. John 4 builds on the theme of incarnation (see John 1:1-18), which calls us to remove every hindrance to gospel proclamation. Jesus travels through enemy territory: Samaria. He places his own reputation at risk in seeking to minister to a Samaritan woman at a well, in the middle of the day.
Church, in a post-COVID-19 world, can learn much from this encounter. For Jesus did not allow his ‘Jewishness’ or her Samaritan culture to obstruct his ministry. He led her from this well at midday, with all its negative connotations, to streams of living water. Sometimes we need to set aside our cultural preferences in order to reach people for Christ.
Obstacle 3: Comfort Zones
Leading on from the previous obstacle to spiritual transformation, each of us is socially and culturally conditioned. Whether we like it or not, our environment both shapes and becomes a safe shelter for us. Part of this stems from the insistence that our culture is right and supreme. So we’ve all become comfortable – in many ways – with our culture and its various expressions.
This can quickly become a comfort zone. These comfort zones in turn become impenetrable barriers to sharing the gospel. This is especially the case when we do not allow God’s kingdom to break down our natural proclivity towards self interest and the desire to preserve our lives, along with all its accompaniments.
Our environment both shapes and becomes a safe shelter for us
The Samaritan woman was likely used to the rhythms of her life of social isolation. She was doubtless excluded by the other members of her community. This is why she was at the well to draw water at the 6th hour (at midday). Truth is, God is not too interested in our comfort. There is a much bigger picture. This broader canvas helps us to get past the obstacle of our comfort for the sake of God’s greater good.
Obstacle 4: Concealment
Many of us live with a concealed identity. Like the Samaritan woman, perhaps our church culture even encourages this. Our lives are filled with shame and guilt that paralyse our ability to either see God at work or join in his mission purposes. This does not enable spiritual transformation. We may easily hide and mask our struggles and sin from man, but nothing is hidden from God’s sight. Just as Christ saw the Samaritan woman, God also sees us. He sees us in reality: our sin, failure and inconsistencies. Yet his love is greater than all that may separate us from him.
If God can use a sinful Samaritan woman’s testimony to spark a revival, he can certainly use you
Through true repentance and faith, we are able to find freedom! God grants us a new identity in Christ. So why have our churches become places of pretence? Why do Christians often display a false sense of security stemming from success, desperate to impress but terrified to be vulnerable?
God’s approval is the only one we need to seek. To gain this, as well as the respect of others in God’s unfolding mission, we need only eat humble pie and allow our testimony to speak to those who know the best and worst about our lives. If God can use a sinful Samaritan woman’s testimony to spark a revival, he can certainly use you.
Obstacle 5: Containment
I greatly appreciate the scene that unfolds in John 4, as the Samaritan woman abandons her jar of water and runs into the village to proclaim her encounter with the Messiah. Jesus knew her heart, secrets and failures, yet did not abandon her or push her aside. Evidently, she was delighted. This encounter set her life on a new course. But the enthusiasm she shows to share her testimony is often so lacking in my own life, and in the lives of many people that follow Jesus.
There’s a lesson in this… All we need is a valid experience of Jesus that excites us enough to share it
Containment of the good news is in effect denial of its effects. The refusal to share is a tragic and costly shame for those around us. All that the woman shares is what she had seen and experienced of Jesus. There’s a lesson in this: we’re not expected to have a perfect, air-tight theology or a vast knowledge with all the answers to witness to Christ. All we need is a valid experience of Jesus that excites us enough to share it.
In what ways have we overcomplicated the simple ways we can show and share the love of Jesus with our neighbours?
What About Your Spiritual Transformation?
Which of the obstacles above best describe you? What stood out in John 4? God desires that each of us serve him fully and do so from the vantage point of spiritual health. God’s work in us is the starting point for God’s work with and through us. Therefore spiritual transformation is an important aspect of our walk with Jesus. The Gospel of John describes all of this in relational terms rather than transactional ones.
God’s work in us is the starting point for God’s work with and through us
When we allow our own traditions and rules to hinder us from sharing the gospel, we become enemies of the cross and greatly displease God. When we allow our cultural preferences to become ultimate, we miss out on the encounters we may have with people in need. God wants us to get out of our comfort zones and into the places where there is need.
Let us not look past the many wonderful opportunities to shape the lives of those we’d least imagine. Let us not allow anything to get in the way of embracing every opportunity we get to see the gospel at work. No one is beyond salvation. Finally, wonderful growth comes from sharing our faith with those we encounter on the way.