Some things in life cannot be obtained by pursuing them. In fact, the more diligently we pursue them the more distant they become. Take humility, for example. To pursue it is to drive it away. Proclaiming that we have it is proof positive that we don’t.

The same can be said of happiness. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with observing, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct.” I agree. Regardless of what our Declaration of Independence says, most people who make the pursuit of happiness the primary focus of their lives wind up achieving the opposite.

Unfortunately, many Christians conclude that because genuine transformation is so difficult there is no point in trying. We give up and settle instead for simply “going to church.”

My judgment is that we find spiritual transformation so difficult because we are seeking to attain it through incorrect (impotent) means. Christian discipleship is not a system of self-help. Jesus never commands us to “improve ourselves” in order to be worthy of following Him. Instead, Jesus demands that we deny ourselves and follow Him. The denial part falls on us and the transformation part falls on Him.

The real challenge for us is self-denial. My self may not be much in your eyes but it’s all I’ve got. I have put a lot of time, energy, and money into making it what it is. I resent people who tell me that my hard-earned self is really a false self built on and by human resources. I deeply resist the idea of exchanging it for the self offered by Jesus.

Spiritual transformation is unattainable through human effort alone. To focus on it and pursue it directly is to invite defeat. Our focus must constantly be upon the denial of the false self that we spend so much time creating. Once we have denied the false self we are ready to embrace the true self offered by Jesus. And that true self has already been transformed.

Spiritual transformation is not the goal; it is the natural byproduct of our genuine discipleship.