God designed nature to tell a story. I love the stories that it can unfold. In inspiring people to write the Bible God drew heavily upon creation to communicate his intention and purpose behind it all.
His purpose, most succinctly, is to enter into mankind in order to live within him and remake and remodel his creation from within. There are a lot of details that accompany this purpose, the scope of what I can say is limited to the particulars of God’s inward operation within mankind.
In Romans 12:2 Paul exhorts the believers in Rome to be ‘transformed by the renewing of the mind.’ The Greek word used for transformation is metamorphosis. One definition for the English transliteration of this word is as follows:
“A profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly.”
I don’t believe that the apostle Paul was a botanist, but embedded in his choice of words is a beautiful window into God’s operation within man. You could say that created man is like a caterpillar. After being regenerated through believing into the Lord Jesus and receiving His divine, uncreated life, man enters into a stage of transformation or metamorphosis.
The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is a splendid illustration of the progression of the Christian life. There are certain biological details in the process that resonate with the truth in the word of God concerning the transformation of God’s children. Let’s consider a few:
- Metamorphosis progresses in stages. A caterpillar becomes a pupa, which becomes a butterfly. 2 Corinthians 3:18 indicates that believers are “transformed from glory to glory, even as from the Lord Spirit.” The Christian life progresses from one stage of glory to another. Just as no form of life is mature at birth, the Christian life takes a long time to mature.
- Most of the change is unseen. 1 John 3:2 says “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been manifested what we will be. We know that if He is manifested, we will be like Him because we will see Him even as He is.” A caterpillar’s changes are not made known until the final stage of its maturation. Likewise, the Christian life is largely mysterious and unseen. There, of course, will be and should be impact on the way we live our lives, but the unfortunate fact is that we carry with us a shroud of the flesh. It is quite necessary in navigating the temporal world, but perpetually is a drag on our spiritual condition and largely blunts the changes taking place within. The apostle Paul said that he longed to be freed from the slavery of the flesh of sin (2 Cor. 5:1–5; Phil 1:21–23; Rom. 8:23). While on earth in this age, the transformation of man is mostly unnoticeable. It may even seem at times that nothing is taking place, but within the ‘skin’ of the caterpillar, like within us, a lot is taking place.
- There is a marvelous inward remaking and remodeling of life that takes place within the chrysalis (the technical term for the pupa’s cocoon state). Once inside its shelter, the pupa begins to basically disintegrate into something like a ‘caterpillar stew.’ Some of its organs and appendages are preserved while others become like stem cells, available for reassignment. Here is a paragraph from an interesting article by National Geographic:
“But what goes on inside a pupa? We know that a larva releases enzymes that break down many of its tissues into their constituent proteins. Textbooks will commonly talk about the insect dissolving into a kind of “soup”, but that’s not entirely accurate. Some organs stay intact. Others, like muscles, break down into clumps of cells that can be re-used, like a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks. And some cells create imaginal discs — structures that produce adult body parts. There’s a pair for the antennae, a pair for the eyes, one for each leg and wing, and so on. So if the pupa contains a soup, it’s an organised broth full of chunky bits.”
In the Christian life it sometimes seems as though we are being reduced or melted down to some kind of ‘Christian stew.’ For the Lord to do some inward rearranging, it is necessary to reduce who and what we are. When the Lord Himself was on the cross His own inward parts were melted like wax (Psa. 22:14). God’s judgment of Christ on the cross reached to the point of judging His inward parts. Although there was no sin in Him, He was nevertheless inwardly touched and judged as God took Him as our replacement for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When a couple of disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus the Lord came alongside them and walked with them (Luke 24). After speaking with them in a covert way, revealing Himself to them, then departing, they confessed that their heart was burning within them. It seems as though the Lord began to melt them as they realized who the Lord was.
To the Philippian believers the apostle Paul was able to say that he ‘longed after them in the inward parts of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 1:8). The Lord not only had melted him down, but reformed and reorganized the apostle’s constitution to properly represent Him in His inward parts. His care and service to the church was in the inward parts of Christ Jesus.
Within us the Lord is accomplishing the same thing. We possess certain created faculties that are profitable and useful to the Lord. Others are in need of elimination. The melting brings us to a place where He can operate in an unhindered way within, bringing out the precious from the worthless. Job, although not fully understanding the process (Job 10:13), certainly underwent something of the transformation process even before the New Testament age began.
4. Temperature affects the rate of metamorphosis. According to some studies, the warmer the ambient temperature, the faster the metamorphosis of the pupa progresses. In our Christian life, the Lord often will accelerate the our transformation by turning up the heat. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says that “For our momentary lightness of affliction works out for us, more and more surpassingly, an eternal weight of glory.”
Eventually, the emerging of a butterfly is a beautiful and wonderful sight. The concealed process has issued in a profound change in form and in expression. How much more sublime is God’s operation in bringing forth His new creation through His work within His called and chosen people. It certainly commands attention and awe.
“So then if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; BEHOLD they have become new.” — 2 Corinthians 5:17