How to Turn Personal Application into Personal Transformation

Your life is the result of your “inside decisions.” Inside decisions define your habits—whether good or bad. What happens on the inside manifests itself by your habits on the outside. In Colossians 1:9, the Apostle Paul writes,

“…we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

This verse reveals a natural progression in the growth process: It begins first with knowledge, then moves toward spiritual wisdom and understanding.

The word Paul used for knowledge is epignōsis (eh-PIG-noh-sis). Author and professor Dr. William Yount (1996) describes epignōsis as “a knowledge that reaches out and grasps its object and is in turn grasped by its object.” What you learn becomes more than knowledge—it changes how you live. You grasp the knowledge, and the knowledge grasps you. It forms a new habit. Yount further observes,

“Epignōsis moves beyond mere head knowledge to what we might call ‘heart’ knowledge: a knowledge that affects the way we live. To be filled with the epignōsis of His will means to take hold of God’s Word, and allow God’s Word to take hold of us.” 

As this knowledge becomes understanding, it finds application—what Jesus calls “wisdom.” He says in Matthew 7:24, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (emphasis mine). Learning allows you to gain knowledge. Thinking allows you to understand that knowledge. Living is where you finally see it translated into wisdom—through application.

When you decide to apply what you’ve been learning, you walk right into new habits. You begin actually doing what you’ve been learning and thinking about. You leap from possibles to actuals. A debate rages inside you at the Thinking Level of personal growth? The Living Level silences it once and for all. The rubber meets the road. You’re committed. President John F. Kennedy once said:

“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

You just passed the last exit for comfortable inaction. The risks of action are straight ahead.

When you adopt a new habit, there is evidence of a transformed life. Everything’s actually happening. You’re doing more than accumulating knowledge; now you’re applying its lessons to your everyday life. The things you decide aren’t just idealistic; they’re realistic. You’re practicing, implementing, and completely applying. Your knowing has become your growing. You’re no longer pointing to how you want to grow; now you’re pointing to the evidence that you are growing. Your learning feeds new habits (habits of the head, hands, and heart), which demonstrate a transformed life.

Personal transformation is difficult. Human beings resist change, and the process of forming new habits isn’t easy. And while we work hard to form new habits of the head (how we think) and new habits of the hands (what we do), changing habits of the heart is entirely different.

Your heart represents the very core of who you are, which is why it’s the hardest thing to change in your life. The best way—in fact, the only way—to reach true, honest, heart transformation is to allow the Spirit of Christ to do the transforming. If you try to just “do” the right behaviors without God’s Spirit changing you on the inside, you’ll find yourself with little more than two legalistic lists: Do’s and Don’ts. Don’t do that to yourself.

Your Work (the discipline) x God’s Work (the transformation) = Exponential Life Change

The writer of Hebrews chastised the Hebrew Christians for being “slow to learn.” (Hebrews 5:11) He wasn’t criticizing their mental abilities. It was their spiritual laziness that was the problem. They were resisting the path to maturity by staying on “milk” instead of moving up to “solid food.” Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” To get that maturity, you have to fully trust Christ and practice personal application through disciplined intentionality.

Notice that both “constant use” and “training yourself” are required. In fact, Jesus said,

“If you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards” (Matthew 7:26–27, MSG).

Did you catch that? You have to “work” God’s word into your life. New habits don’t form by themselves. Learning without applying what you have learned is just plain laziness. Lazy Learning = Lukewarm Living.

We must do what we can do (the discipline), and let God do what only He can do (the transformation). The Apostle Paul described God’s transforming work when he challenged the church at Ephesus to abandon their old way of life, inviting them instead to “take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”

What an amazing picture. Take a moment to imagine what it might look like for God to “reproduce his character in you.” No matter how much you have your act together, you’ll never be able to take the place of God. Reproducing His character inside of us is God’s job, not yours or mine. Our job is simply to trust Him and cooperate with His Spirit.

If you consider yourself a follower of Christ, but you’re not willing to allow Him to transform you, then you’re what Craig Groeschel calls a “Christian atheist”: you believe in God, but you live as if He doesn’t exist. And if you’ve never surrendered your heart to Christ, are you willing to take that step? Are you willing to say “yes” to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit when He comes to live inside of you? A fully devoted “yes” to Christ’s transforming work will turn your personal growth efforts into a powerful makeover of the soul.

Question: What needs to happen to move beyond good intentions and actually see transformation take place in your life?

This post was adapted from my book, GO! Starting a Personal Growth Revolution. You can order a copy in my store here or on Amazon or KindleGO! is also available from Barnes & Noble. For bulk orders, email me here.