One could argue that the shibboleth of the American evangelical church today is the word “transform.” When I peruse church websites I see promise after promise how the gospel transforms us, transforms the culture, transforms the city, etc. Sticking with personal transformation for now, is it accurate to define the process of sanctification as transformation? When I think of transformation, I think the movie “The Transformers” where old cars transform into gigantic automatons, or those fixer upper shows where old, beat-up homes are transformed into beautiful, modern-looking houses. Let’s be real, if that is the measure of genuine sanctification, most of us fail to live up to the promise. I’m just not that different from what I was ten years ago.
I prefer the idea of pruning to describe sanctification, which is found in John 15:2 as well as other places. The process of pruning does not fundamentally change the branches of the vine, it simply and regularly cleanses the parasites, worms, etc. that would seek to destroy the plant so it can continue to receive life from the vine. This God does through the ministry of the Word, first in preaching, but also in reading, being corrected by others when our lives go against the Word, or receiving sins consequences that reveal where we have ignored the teaching of the Word.
I know pruning does not sound as glamorous as transforming, but maybe we will not tantalize but then shatter people’s expectations when the ministry of our churches fail to deliver transformation as promised. Maybe lowering expectations to match reality is one way the Lord prunes us.