The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
The Barrel - Home Page | Resources | Illustrations

Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2003-2004

Botox Spirituality
Year C - Transfiguration Sunday 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Extreme makeovers have moved from the TV screen into real life. People are rushing to find a skillful plastic surgeon who will transform them into a younger looking more beautiful person.

Julie wanted a total makeover-hair and skin. She visited a "one-stop shop" that had a "makeover dream team" of doctors, dentists, hair stylists, colorists and other practitioners. The staff begins by mapping Julie's face to outline the areas that will require improvement. Julie will not need dramatic surgery for a few years so the doctors use Botox treatments to smooth the lines on her forehead and around her eyes. Stylists then color, cut and highlight her hair. A few days later, she returns to have the creases around her mouth filled with a newly approved drug and a foot massage. Then she strolls over to the dentist chair for a brighter smile. Finally, a makeup artist put the finishing touches on her and Julie's transformation is complete, well, almost.

She will have to return to the 'one-stop shop' in a few months to receive additional Botox treatments. She does not hesitate injecting into her skin one of the world's most poisonous substances to prevent her wrinkles from returning. The Botox will eventually stop removing the wrinkles and she will require surgery to maintain her youthful appearance. But Julie is not thinking about the future. Her thoughts are captivated by her rejuvenated youthful appearance.1

Manufactured beauty is a trend of the times. People hope to transform themselves from a dull, unattractive person into a glowing beauty whose radiance attracts everyone's attention. They believe that a physical makeover will translate into a better job, an improved self-image and a happier life.

Ironically, this makeover rage is limited to the physical features of the person. Few practitioners require or even include, counseling to treat the related emotional or spiritual issues. Character development is buried by the glittering images of seductive lips, smoother skin, thinner hips and larger breasts.

The apostle Paul was very familiar with makeovers but he preferred spiritual transformations to the physical ones. In his letter to the Corinthians, he indicates his awareness of two previous transformations. The apostle's first reference is to the story of the giving of the Law to the nation of Israel (Exodus 34:33). Having spent time with God, on the mountain, Moses' appearance is transformed and he radiates the glory of God. After delivering the Law to the people, he covers his face, the way performers move to the back stage to remove their makeup. Witnessing the glow slowly, fade would shatter the original image.

In his reference to "the Lord's glory," Paul displays a faint reference to another mountain top event when Jesus was transfigured and stood with Moses and Elijah before Peter, James and John. With these two references, Paul reminds the church in Corinth that their faith was not based upon a stale religion but a living experience that transforms.

Dallas Willard observes that "What we see around us today of the "usual" Christian life could easily make us think that spiritual transformation is simple impossible. Social scientists tell us that surveys indicate little difference between Christians and non-Christians in the areas of morality and ethics. The public failure of Christian leaders raises significant questions about the possibility of genuine transformation for real human beings. This has caused many to accept the low level of spirituality among Christians as the norm. They believe that the most Christ-like attitude will offer acceptance and affirmation. Anything less than mutual tolerance and forbearance is considered judgmental legalism.

Paul had different vision of the Christian life. He would never reduce the faith to an external array of do's and don'ts but he also would not accept a faith that justified the status quo. When God works in the life of a person, change happens. The old person dies and a new person is born. Human frailty succumbs to divine strength. The weakness of the flesh surrenders to the power of the Spirit. The inner person, once plagued by envy, greed, lust and doubt is change to reflect the character of Christ. Someone once said, "In Christ mankind is allowed to see not only the radiance of God's glory but also the true image of man."2 Calvin stated in his commentary, "that the image of God, which had been effaced [defaced] by sin, may be stamped anew upon us...."3

Jesus is not just God in human form. Jesus is not just the Son of God. All that Jesus was, his character and quality of being, is who we will become, not just in the next life but, in the here and the now. For Paul, spiritual transformation into the likeness of Christ is a present reality.

Another factor that has limited genuine spiritual transformation is the spectator approach we take to life. Few of us have the gifts, skills or abilities to obtain superstar status. We could practice dribbling, shooting and passing a basketball religiously for years without ever reaching the level required to wear a Pistons uniform. Even if we could pass the most grueling courses in finance and management to earn an MBA, we still would not survive round one of Donald Trump's apprentice program. To compensate for our limitations, we take a spectator's approach to life. We watch others perform. We applaud those who excel and regulate our aspirations to wishful dreams and fantasies. This carries over into our spiritual lives.

We will read books about Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Henry Nouwen and Billy Graham and admire their accomplishments and spirituality from the comfort of our living room. We will admire the prayer life of the super saints but struggle to even say a perfunctory prayer before a meal. We are very much like Peter who after seeing Jesus transformed on the mountain wanted to build a sanctuary to preserve the moment. Returning to the hard reality of the valley was not even a consideration.

Spiritual transformation requires a healthy balance of the active and passive. Paul employs the passive, "we are being..." to remind us that God's intended-vision for our lives will be accomplished with or without our assistance. God will set events, guide us through experiences and even force us into situations to bring about our transformation.

Next week we will consider how the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to begin his temptation experience. The action of the Spirit excludes the possibility of choice. Jesus did not voluntarily follow. The Spirit drove him. God wanted him to share our struggle for power, loyalty and obedience. Jesus needed to experience the inner turmoil of the soul before beginning his ministry. He had to prepare himself to face the conflict that would only conclude in his death. Jesus may have passively followed the Spirit's leading but he actively resisted the tempting offers of Satan.

Spiritual transformation is possible, it requires both an active and passive posture and it also presents a formidable challenge. It ain't easy. Transformation is difficult and demanding. It requires us to endure hardships and make personal sacrifices. We would not voluntarily choose the experiences that God takes us through. And we would most certainly prefer not to repeat them but repeat them we must until God's intended qualities are grafted unto our soul.

The challenge of spiritual transformation stems from its intend goal-the makeover of an inner core of the person. Liposuction, botox treatments, hair coloring and teeth whitening really only alter the external trappings. The soul remains untouched. Spiritual transformation seeks to beautify the inner person. That is perhaps the most difficult transform of all.

Since the first man and woman stumbled in defiant disobedience humanity has been plagued by a contrarian disposition. Theologians call it depravity. It does not refer to the inability to act properly and obey. Depravity describes the stubborn unwillingness to act according and an inability to earn God's favor. It is that inner core of human nature that God is seeking to transform into the likeness of Christ. Once the inner begin radiates with the glory of God, believers will express that reality through acts of righteousness.

She appeared on Good Morning America with journalist Diane Sawyer to show off her dazzling new look.

The surgeons had lifted her face, given her breast implants, Botoxed away her wrinkles, resculptered her lips and peeled away her skin with chemicals. The treatments required over seven hours in surgery, at a cost in excess of $25,000.

When Diane Sawyer asked Phyllis Porter about the wisdom of having all this work done at the age of 82, the youthful looking Grandma replied "What difference does it make if you're 2 or 82? There was no point in waiting until I got any older - and I'm not getting any younger!"

It does not make any difference when we begin our first Botox treatment or our the process of spiritual transformation. God is ready to take us in whatever condition and at whatever age. It's a process requiring our surrender and participation. We can grind our teeth and endure or we can open our hearts to the power of the Spirit to transform us into a reflection of God's radiant glory.

1 "One-Stop Makeovers", Airdate: Feb. 12, 2004, NBC 6 News Team, Online:, February 20, 2004.
2 A. M. Ramsey, The Glory of God, 151 cited by Phillip Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1962), 119.
3 Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries: 2 Corinthians. electronic ed. Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries, 2 Co 3:18. Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998.

Send a note to the Pastor

Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390