When politicians promise transformation, we should be apalled. When politicians promise reformation, we should listen carefully to learn how they define reformation, what they want to reform, and how they propose to make reformations.

Consider the different meanings and origins of “transform” and “reform.”

When we transform something, the changes we make make that something different.

transform (v.)

mid-14c., “change the form of” (transitive), from Old French transformer (14c.), from Latin transformare “change in shape, metamorphose,” from trans “across, beyond” (see trans-) + formare “to form” (see form (v.)). Intransitive sense “undergo a change of form” is from 1590s. Related: Transformedtransforming.

transform | Origin and meaning of transform by Online Etymology Dictionary (

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is an example of a transformation.

A reformation is less drastic.

reform (v.)

c. 1300, “to convert into another and better form,” from Old French reformer “rebuild, reconstruct, recreate” (12c.), from Latin reformare “to form again, change, transform, alter,” from re- “again” (see re-) + formare “to form” (see form (n.)). Intransitive sense from 1580s.

Meaning “to bring (a person) away from an evil course of life” is recorded from early 15c.; of governments, institutions, etc., from early 15c. Related: ReformedreformingReformed churches (1580s) usually are Calvinist as opposed to Lutheran. Reformed Judaism (1843) is a movement initiated in Germany by Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). Reform school is attested from 1859.

reform | Origin and meaning of reform by Online Etymology Dictionary (

Reformation emphasizes restoration. In fact, as noun, that is clearly the definition of “reform.”

reform (n.)

“any proceeding which brings back a better order of things,” 1660s, from reform (v.) and in some uses from French réforme. As a branch of Judaism from 1843.

reform | Origin and meaning of reform by Online Etymology Dictionary (

Why should we be alarmed when politicians promise to transform us? When we try to use the power of government to transform other people, we risk violating their relationship with God. Consider this quote.

Religion can reform a person’s life, but it can never transform him. Only the Holy Spirit can transform!

Aiden Wilson Tozer quote: Religion can reform a person’s life, but it can never… (

When we try to use the government to transform others, we are trying to fundamentally transform what they believe and how they behave using force. That is, we are trying to use government to impose our religious beliefs. That won’t work, but the fruitless exercise of such force will hurt people.

To make the case a little clearer, here are several examples each of how the words “transform” and “reform” are used in the Bible.


Here the object is to accept the transformation of our minds by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 12:1-2 New American Standard Bible

12 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.

In fact, as Christians we should desire transformation by the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18 New American Standard Bible

18 But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Why transformation? Such transformation makes us acceptable to our Creator so He can take us to heaven.

Philippians 3:20-21 New American Standard Bible

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our lowly condition into conformity with His glorious body, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.


When Jeremiah prophesied the doom of Jerusalem, he called for the people to change their behavior. However, they needed the transformation of the Holy Spirit, and that was beyond what Jeremiah or any man could do. Even a king, if he destroyed all the pagan places of worship, executed the pagan priests, and prohibited the worship of pagan gods could not change the hearts of the people.

Jeremiah 26:12-13 New American Standard Bible

12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and to all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. 13 Now then, reform your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will relent of the disaster which He has pronounced against you.

Here a lawyer named Tertullus is buttering up the governor.

Acts 24:2-3 New American Standard Bible

2 After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began accusing him, saying to the governor,

“Since we have attained great peace through you, and since reforms are being carried out for this nation by your foresight, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.

As the following passage attests, before Christ died on the cross and the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not yet freely available to believers.

Hebrews 9:6-10 New American Standard Bible

6 Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the [a]outer [b]tabernacle, performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the [c]sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the [d]outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food, drink, and various washings, regulations for the [e]body imposed until a time of reformation.

Why does this last passage end with “reformation” instead of “transformation”? It is interesting to compare translations. Many use the word “reformation.” Some speak of a new order. Others speak of “restoration.” Some speak of the “New Covenant.” Because the sacrifices and gifts were designed to remove our sins and make us like Adam and Eve before they sinned, “restoration” might be a better word than “reformation.” However, the new order was the New Covenant, and that was quite a transformation.

Happy Easter!


  1. “When we try to use the government to transform others, we are trying to fundamentally transform what they believe and how they behave using force.”

    Exactly. That’s what the CCP does. It’s the definitive method of totalitariam dictatorships. It’s Room 101 in Orwell’s 1984.

  2. Tom,

    Interesting perspective. Brings to my mind though the idiom, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

    We need to test though to discern whether someone is being truly reformed or transformed not in their eyes of their governor on earth, but in the eyes of their beholder, heaven.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

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