What is the deepest, most fundamental way the Gospel changes us? What is the essence of gospel transformation? Our spiritual growth and discipleship is directly proportionate to how we answer this question.
However you look at it, the answer to this question must begin with an obscure Latin phrase, incurvatus in se.
The phrase itself may be alien to many of us in India but we are all familiar with what the phrase really means. Incurvatus in se simply translates to “curved inward on oneself.”
The essence of our sin is each of us are curved inward on ourselves. We take all of God’s gifts, even God himself, and make it all about us. Because we are incurvatus in se or curved inward on ourselves we use everything, but serve nothing.
The theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo first coined this telling phrase in the fourth or fifth century. His thesis was this is the most fundamental way in which the original sin of Adam has corrupted every human being.
Around 1200 years later Martin Luther further argued that despite our best intentions and efforts to love and serve others, human beings find it impossible to pull away from the black hole of self-interest.
This ancient description of the most basic essence of human sinfulness was remarkably well illustrated in a 2015 cover story illustration on The New Yorker magazine—a man bent over and curved inward, deep into a mobile phone he is clenching with both hands.
All of us are incurvatus in se. Some of us camouflage this quite well. Others do not. Some of us are more aware of it. Others are not. This is the curse of original sin playing out today.
If the essence of our old nature is incurvatus in se, then the essence of our new nature, renewed by the gospel is excurvatus ex se.
Excurvatus ex se is a life lived outward—for the glory of God and for the good of our neighbours.
Christ himself is the best and the only true example of a life that is wholly excurvatus ex se. He lived all of his life—every single moment of it—for the glory of his Father and the good of every person with whom he came in touch.
Now I can answer the question I began with. The deepest and most fundamental way the gospel transforms us is by taking incurvatus in se beings and making us more and more excurvatus ex se beings like Christ.
We will be in a good space if we keep this as the goal and the measure of our discipleship. But how does this really happen in our lives?
The answer is as simple a growing plant. A plant will always grow towards light. No power of darkness can stop a plant from growing toward the light.
Inside every plant is the Auxin gene. This gene gives every plant the unfailing power to grow towards the light.
The plant does not strive hard to grow towards the light. Its nature is to grow towards the light. That is what plants do. They grow towards the light.
When the Holy Spirit regenerated us and birthed faith in Christ Jesus in our hearts, he implanted the very gene or nature of Christ as a seed within us (1 John 3:9). In doing this, the Holy Spirit has ensured that no power of darkness can ever hold us back from growing toward the light of Christ.
It may take time—a few weeks, a few months, a few years or even a life time—for a plant to grow toward the light. But the eventual outcome is never in doubt.
Every time the Holy Spirit takes hold of an incurvatus in se sinner and regenerates him, the outcome is inevitable. He will one day be transformed into the very glorious and excurvatus ex se image and likeness of Christ himself.