The Butterfly Effect

Transformation in the Christian Life

By Jim Allen

The apostle Paul says we are works in progress and that our transformation from the old to the new is a struggle. Why is following Jesus to live out the truth of the Gospel a struggle?

There is more than one answer to this question. One way to answer this question is to look at nature. In fact, all of creation is overflowing with living attributes paralleling the divine principles of life and struggle. Look at the transformation of a monarch from larva to butterfly, a supreme work of nature* no less. I've used the butterfly analogy before and like how it simplifies the process of change and struggle that is as wondrous as it is mysterious.

The marvel of metamorphosis was not understood until the twentieth century. Life for the monarch butterfly begins as a tiny egg. In a few days the larva emerges from its soft shell and crawls about eating its way through nearby leaves. The tiny larva grows quickly, reemerging a little changed each time its outer skin sheds. And then one day before its last shedding the toddler monarch attaches to the underside of a branch, encases itself within a protective substance, and waits for the "real" change to begin (Psalm 46:10).

Watching a larva wrap itself in a cocoon is pretty amazing in itself. But what happens next in the suspended cocoon is profound. Within its tightly wrapped sheath the worm-like monarch begins to change. Its cells turn off, one-by-one. The larva slowly dissolves from its former worm-like state into an unrecognizable, gooey substance and dies. But, within the goo is the promise of life and change and struggle. Sleeping cells within the goo (present from birth) turn on and begin to build a new creature unlike the former. The change from an earthbound worm to a heaven-bound butterfly is nothing less than the creation of a new creature. Nothing from the old is part of the new.

This picture of a monarch during metamorphosis is a loose comparison to the change a believer undergoes in the cocoon of divine grace. We know this change to be sanctification (John 17:17), a daily and growing separation from the old life to the new life in Christ (1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14). This change can take a lifetime.

Within our individual cocoons the power of sin begins to dissolve away as we learn to shed impure thoughts, unkind words, and all manner of wrong doing. The cells of sin turn off, one by one, and dissolve. What was once appealing and necessary to crawl about in the world is now no longer desirable or well-suited for our new life. We have new desires, new hope, and a future. We learn to give up what belongs to the old to take what is part of the new (Ephesians 4:21-24).

While an earthbound worm can never know the heights of a soaring butterfly, an unbeliever can never know the beauty and wonder of God's truth sown in the heart. Change is God's work in us from beginning to end (Hebrews 12:2). God inspires us to read the Bible, pray, and walk in His holy ways with the understanding there will be struggle (Ephesians 6:12).

Just as the monarch is not a passive player in its transformation, neither are we, and herein the hard part about living the Gospel. Though we struggle daily to live the life of Christ, the monarch struggles too but in a different way.

According to biologists, the struggle put forth by the monarch in its cocoon is necessary to strengthen the flight muscles. Several years ago a biologist, who thought he could help a struggling butterfly, cut open its cocoon. After observing the butterfly emerge, the scientist discovered he had inadvertently crippled the small creature. The wings of the butterfly were deformed and the butterfly unable to fly. The creature was still a butterfly but now earthbound.

After some research, the biologist learned that during the "struggling phase" the circulatory system carries essential nutrients to the developing wings as they flex (struggle) against the wrapping of the cocoon. Whenever the struggling phase for the butterfly is disrupted (or made easy), the wings develop abnormally or not at all.

During the struggling phase for the believer, the Holy Spirit carries essential nutrients (of truth) to our developing "wings of faith." Truth, when digested, is nutrient to struggle against sin, the devil, and the cares of this world (1 John 2:16). The end result is we learn to live the Gospel one truth at a time over time.

The good news is we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8). The more sobering news is the need to grow strong in faith and this is the necessary struggle. Struggle is real and it is part of living the Gospel. In fact, Paul reminds everyone to press on (struggle) towards the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:1214).

In closing, God is at work in our transformation of struggle. God will keep watch over our change, a work He began and will finish to ensure His new creations soar in the heavenlies (2 Corinthians 5:17).

* In the context of this article, the "work of nature" is a reference to the genetic code in cells that are the principle agent for transforming the larva into a butterfly. The genetic code is a work of God.

Note: This article is based on a previous work by Jim Allen entitled, "Crippled Wings"

Image Credit: Johnmccombs; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  |  Hardships

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Published 4-21-14