Political campaigns and slogans in some countries are mostly centred around reforms; health care reforms, education reform, tax reform and so on. This is because the culture, structures and infrastructures that can enable reforms and make things work well are already in place. Perhaps, that’s why they are called developed. So contenders for political offices, on most issues, hardly border about starting things from scratch, rather they think of how best the existing structures can be utilized in order to do things better.
Not so with the underdeveloped or developing world. What is needed is transformation. Many things need a total overhauling. The culture, structures and infrastructures are hardly positioned for reform, though there are a few exceptions. There is a need for cultural transformation or structural transformation or infrastructural transformation.
With Nigeria as a case study, the cultures of impunity, indiscipline, political godfatherism, lack of independence of the legislature, judiciary and the police coupled with corruption; these all hamper growth, hence, the need for transformation.
With confusing structures characterized by duplicity of roles of government parastatals and inadequate funding for important ones, to mention a few; a structural transformation is needed in order for a reform to take place in governance. And in terms of infrastructure, for the most part, it is obvious that a transformation is needed.
So, when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was elected as Nigerian president in 2011, he tagged his program for the next 4 years “A Transformation Agenda”. Having been Vice president at a time when their programs and plan was tagged “7-point Agenda”, he decided to be creative and give his programs a different name. The Transformation Agenda is a 5-year plan, expected to run from 2011-2015[i]. If accomplished, it will transform Nigeria. A transformation which is expected to be evident in the economy, the social life, the political life and every sphere of the Nigerian life.
He desires to transform Nigeria by getting the structures and infrastructures right. One hopes that in the end, getting those right will result in a transformed culture as well.
Employing the terms of a favourite politician, Patrick Obahiagbon, “a microscopic few” Nigerians enjoy affluence because they have helped themselves with moneys put in their care by virtue of a governmental appointment. But the everyday business life in Nigeria attests to the fact that not just a microscopic few practice corruption, indeed, corruption is a culture deeply entrenched in the system, because the system permits it.
Many civil servants display a culture of nonchalance at their work or ask for a handout from whoever needs their services which the government pays them salary for. Shortcuts to success as aided by malpractices in business as well as education is not a strange thing to a Nigerian. Indiscipline, impatience and a poor maintenance culture, to mention a few, are some of the cultural norms in Nigeria.
I agree with President Jonathan that Nigeria needs transformation; a cultural transformation at that. Any structure built on such culture is bound to crumble, whoever the president is. The people, from top to bottom, must be accountable for the duties they are assigned. The rule of law must be respected. Malpractices in any form must be strictly punished. Corruption must be discouraged. If the people cannot be transformed, they should at least conform to the system.
Conformity to the system by the people is the best that can be achieved by any earthly government. Because the government has no power to transform the human nature except it’ll make robots. The structures and the infrastructures can be transformed, but the people can only be made to conform to the prescribed culture.
In the 1st Century AD, the Roman Empire was the world power. Every nation was subordinate to them including Israel. But Israel had a higher view of herself, being a nation which God called His own special people. So, they looked forward to a deliverer whom God would send to deliver them from the hands of the Roman oppressors. They called this deliverer the Messiah whom their prophets have spoken of before time. Because of their circumstance at the time, the meaning which they read into the prophecies was that of a Messiah that would upturn the order of things, do a structural transformation and wrest power from the Romans and give it into the hands of Israel.
Their prophet, Isaiah had said that the “government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6). Therefore, anyone who would fit the representation of the deliverer in their mind, must establish an earthly government which will rescue them from the Romans.
And so, a man named Jesus Christ came on the scene. He had supernatural powers and those who followed Him thought that He was that deliverer. They followed Him, waiting for the time when He will establish that kingdom. And so they were lobbying for positions in His cabinet. A mother of two among His twelve followers personally came to ask for the choicest spots for her sons. To Jesus “She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ (Matt. 20:21), they had no idea that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (cf. John 18:36).
They couldn’t believed their eyes when He was tortured and crucified on the cross, even though He had told them of it before hand (cf. Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22; 24:7), and even when He rose the third day and they couldn’t find Him, that dashed their hopes even more, they said “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”. The transition which they expected did not happen and their hope had been cut short. And even when all these was done and He would ascend back to heaven forty days later, after He promised them that the Holy Spirit will descend upon them in a few days, they still inquired “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
The religious leaders of His day also did not accept Him because they thought His teaching would cause a structural or hierarchical transformation that wouldn’t favour them. White aptly captures this in the following statement:
“In Christ’s day the religious leaders had so long presented human ideas before the people, that the teaching of Christ was in every way opposed to their theories and practice. His sermon on the mount virtually contradicted the doctrines of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees. They had so misrepresented God that He was looked upon as a stern judge, incapable of compassion, mercy, and love. They presented to the people endless maxims and traditions as proceeding from God, when they had no “Thus saith the Lord” for their authority. Though they professed to know and to worship the true and living God, they wholly misrepresented Him; and the character of God, as represented by His Son, was as an original subject, a new gift to the world. Christ made every effort so to sweep away the misrepresentations of Satan, that the confidence of man in the love of God might be restored. He taught man to address the Supreme Ruler of the universe by the new name — “Our Father.” This name signifies His true relation to us, and when spoken in sincerity by human lips, it is music in the ears of God. Christ leads us to the throne of God by a new and living way, to present Him to us in His paternal love.” [ii]
Jesus clearly was targeting the minds of the people and turning it away from conformity to man’s maxims and dogmas to a personal spiritual relationship with God. He says “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23). The religious leaders were so concerned with their physical infrastructure that they employed His statement concerning the temple as evidence against Him before Pilate, “Roman military governor, or procurator, of the imperial province of Judea from 26 to 36”[iii] (AD); they said: We heard Him say, ‘ I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands. (Mark 14:58); they did not understand that He was speaking of the temple of His body. (cf. John 2:21).
By leading the people to follow what God says in contrast to what any man, no matter his religious affiliation or hierarchy, says, the religious leaders of his day were afraid of losing their influence over the people and so they sought to kill Jesus.
Jesus came not for a structural transformation or an infrastructural transformation, Jesus rather came for a cultural transformation—a heart renewal—which would eventually upturn all the structures and render the infrastructures useless. As the writer of Hebrews records: “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:11-14 emphasis supplied). Christ’s desire was to move the people from the earthly temple services which could not cleanse their heart to a heart cleansing by the Spirit of God in their hearts.
The Apostle Paul under divine inspiration makes this clearer in saying “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Outward conformity without inward conformity or transformation is what the world preaches; Christ’s message is that of transformation, a mind renewal. All that the religious leaders in Christ’s day were concerned about was to see the people conform to their standards even though it was a burden on them, they didn’t like it and it made them worse. As aptly captured in Christ’s words to them: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matt. 23:15).
Jesus came to reveal a God who is interested in a love relationship as opposed to the one revealed by the Pharisees who only cares about rules and laws without being in love with God. Obedience to the law which God requires, is only possible in a life in which the Spirit dwells. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Spirituality is the love relationship which results in doing what pleases God. Spirituality is not an ecstatic feeling, neither is it a somber appearance, it rather is a love relationship with God which produces the fruit of the Spirit as highlighted by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, chapter five verses twenty-two and twenty-three a stark contrast to the disobedient life whose characteristics are highlighted in verses nineteen to twenty-one.
The Spirit works with truth in transforming the human life, because only truth cleanses, error stains. That’s why Jesus pleaded with God for humanity saying “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Jesus sought to cleanse them from the errors which their culture had taught them while they attributed the source of those teachings to God; and only truth, which is the Word of God, can do that work. And the Spirit which inspired the Word is the same Spirit which can cause transformation through the Word. White writes:
“A healthy Christian is one who has Christ formed within, the hope of glory. He loves truth, purity, and holiness, and will manifest spiritual vitality, having love for the Word of God, and seeking communion with those who are acquainted with the Word, in order that he may catch every ray of light that God has communicated to them, which reveals Christ and makes Him more precious to the soul. He who has sound faith finds that Christ is the life of the soul, that He is in him as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, and he delights to conform every power of the soul to the obedience of his Lord. The Holy Spirit with its vivifying influence ever keeps such a soul in the love of God.” [iv]
The gospel of Jesus Christ does not end with confession and forgiveness. Christ does not desire that a forgiven person goes back into sin; He desires that we walk away from sin and condemnation to sin no more. God in Christ has a transformation agenda. Beyond forgiveness of sin which theologians call justification; there is the cleansing from sin which some theologians call sanctification as Jesus called it in John 17:17, and in simpler terms, Jesus called it being born again in John 3:3-8. So, the idea that a Christian cannot be bound by God’s moral law—the ten commandments—when born again is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ who said “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19). Because the ever existent grace of Christ does not lead people to sin; that which Christ came to save them from. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1, 2), and “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31), because “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20)
God’s transformation agenda is about building our character by the power of His Spirit. God is more interested in the character we build than He is in the infrastructures we put up for Him. He is more interested in our body temples which are His dwelling place (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19), than He is in the physical temples which even an untransformed mind can build for self glorification. All the church structure we build for effective church administration cannot wrought any revival without a thorough mind transformation of those holding these structures.
God has a transformation agenda which He carries out in every willing heart through the agency of the Holy Spirit and His Word. Him only, who created us in the first instance, can recreate us and transform us in the second instance. He says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Eze. 36:26, 27).
The goal of God’s transformation agenda is to transform us into the image of His Son, by beholding Him, the living Word, through His Spirit and the written Word “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18).
God has a transformation agenda, and He wants you to be a part of it.
[i] Gyong, John Emmanuel, A SOCIAL ANALYSIS OF THE TRANSFORMATION AGENDA OF PRESIDENT GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN
[ii] Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, pg 301
[iii] “Pontius Pilate.” Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2008
[iv] Ellen G. White, You Shall Receive Power, pg 43