The whole point of this blog, and each of the discussions that are being posted and will be posted herein, is to propose to you that the ultimate goal for our lives is that we are to be like him. It’s that simple. Are we becoming conformed to the image of Jesus Christ? As a follower of Jesus Christ, do I want to: “BE LIKE HIM?”
You can call it what you like – out of the tradition of your church, your denomination, your Bible study group, your fellowship group, or wherever you feel at home within the Christian tradition – you can call it being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, or becoming mature in Christ, or becoming more like Jesus, or sanctification, or even spiritual transformation. Here’s the bottom line purpose of God’s working in our lives – that God is at work conforming us into the image of his son! And it’s something I welcome, because, “I want to be like Him!”
I remember some years ago when the phrase that I borrowed for the title of this blog was being used in a slightly different way. You might remember the promotion that was going on at that time. Every guy I knew wanted to be the next best basketball player in the world. And they were all saying it, “Be Like Mike! Be Like Mike!” When anybody would watch any of these friends on the basketball court, and then comment, “WOW! He plays just like Mike!” that was the best thing that was said that day. Everybody knew exactly who was being talked about and the kind of basketball that was being played.
So I borrowed the same idea for this discussion, because the bottom-line issue that started percolating in my life was a desire to be like Jesus. I wanted to be like him. That’s what I wanted to happen in my Christian life. And at first it was just all about me trying to be like Jesus, in my own strength and in my own power. But when I realized that I didn’t have what it took to become like Jesus on my own, I started looking for help. Then I started realizing that God wanted me to become more like Jesus, and that he has all the power necessary to bring about that process in my life. He wants to do it for me.
I understand that the term “spiritual transformation” has been gaining momentum in recent years, but that the truth is people have been in the process of being spiritually transformed as long as God has been in the business of redeeming lost humanity. Still, the idea of spiritual transformation – or being conformed to be like Jesus – was elusive in my pragmatic, church context. But that’s not the way it is with God. He wants to work in our lives in power to bring about our transformation as followers of Jesus.
Just consider some of the Scriptural references that speak to this process. Jesus gave the primary command regarding this process in his final instructions to his disciples. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20) It’s the great commission of Jesus, and the clear mandate is to “go make disciples.” In other words, go and contribute to the process that God wants to oversee in all of our lives – he wants us to each have a personal relationship with him through his son, Jesus, and he wants us to forever after that become more like Jesus day after day.
The Apostle Paul wrote often about this transforming work of God in our lives. He told the Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2a) Earlier he had instructed the Romans that, “he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:27-29). [And please don’t misunderstand what I’m suggesting at this point – for years I quoted Romans 8:28 to people like it was kind of an answer that all the bad suffering and stuff that they were going through would eventually work out in their lives in order for them to be successful, prosperous, accomplished, or whatever. Yet in actuality, the Apostle answers the purpose for what God is using all the stuff that happens in our lives primarily for in Verse 29 – “to conform us into the likeness of his Son.”
Paul also wrote to other gathered groups of people in different cities along the same theme: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18), and, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Gal. 4:19), and, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature (perfect) in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” Col. 1:28-29). I can’t read these verses without realizing that the Apostle was convinced that the overriding purpose of God that he is committed to regarding all of our lives is that we are becoming more and more like his son every day, moment by moment. And that it’s a never-ending process.
And please don’t think that this is just for the long-time follower of Jesus. That maybe it’s not for me because I’m such a young Christian and I have so many questions and doubts that surely God can’t do his conforming work in my life until I measure up, or get myself in a better place. Paul wrote to the young Timothy – probably a teenager – and challenged this young guy to: “train yourself to be godly. Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity . . . devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (I Timothy 4:7).
So you and I have to start by simply asking a few questions. How do I measure authentic spiritual transformation in my life? How do we pursue it ourselves, and how do we encourage it in others? How can it be both mysterious and intentional? And if we “go too far,” would we simply spin in circles while we become spiritual gadflies? You know – so spiritual that we’re no earthly good – Is that even possible?
So, I just keep wrestling with the big questions: Do I want to, BE LIKE HIM? Am I becoming more like Jesus? Do you want to, BE LIKE HIM? Are you becoming more like Jesus? In other words, what can we all do to become more like Jesus?
I think there are several things that we can start doing now that will open up our lives to the work that God wants to bring about in our lives. [These suggestions are not new, I’ve borrowed them from many pastors, teachers, and mentors of mine.]
First, I must start taking steps to learn more about what it means to love GOD as Lord of my life through Jesus Christ.
Moses pointed out that spirituality begins with intimacy with God that is recognizable – “You will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people! For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call on Him?’” (Deut. 4:6-7)
Spiritual transformation requires that we actively move to a place of deep listening to God’s Word, and a discerning response to the Spirit of God within us and among us. This means that as we practice being the community of God as believers, we allow space for God’s activity in our lives. So start by welcoming Jesus into the moments of your life every day. Welcome opportunities to love God by loving other people with actions, and welcome Jesus’ intervention and presence into your thinking and into your decision-making. As we take these steps I believe that we will experience a freedom to seek and live out God’s will in our lives, and in his church. When we abide and rest in God, he will do in our lives what he promises – bring about his transforming Christ-like makeover in you and me – and then we in turn thank him for what he’s doing.
I want transformation to happen fast. But quicker isn’t always better. It takes time to be transformed by God into the likeness of Jesus. That’s how God works – slowly and eternally. Transformation into Christlikeness takes time. It’s a process. I think for most of us, sanctification is a long battle with many defeats and uphill victories – stops and starts. The beauty is in the process of God working, and then we look back and marvel at what he has accomplished in our lives. The Lord seems content to work in our lives in terms of years; some spiritual revivals have taken decades to play out. God seems to enjoy the journey of what he is doing in history to bring about his purposes and plans.
God works to put things together concurrently: We as participating members of God’s Church must never give up the effort of developing progressive commitments to people. As we do, God works in and through us to bring a balance to our spiritual lives that produces unity in His Church. If we’re a spiritual family, we’re in each others living space – that’s hospitality! Right?
Secondly, I must learn to love and accept OTHERS where they are.
A friend of mine used to say that, “Community is the matrix of mission.” And I think what he meant by that is that a group of believers without community cannot fulfil its evangelistic mission, whatever else is done to worship, teach, exhort or train. Conversely, when a congregation is spiritually healthy – that is, committed to Jesus Christ and to each other and constrained by love to selfless concern of all men – evangelism will happen spontaneously, naturally, and many times effortlessly.
That’s actually what happened in the beginning days of the New Testament church. Stop for a moment and read through Acts 2:42-47. There you will see all the wonderful activities of a gathering of believers (that’s the church, right?), and the results of obeying and doing what God was calling them to obey and do. “And God added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
If it’s not happening like this in our churches today, maybe we need to dump all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years in our institutional approach and get back to the simple activities of the early church described in the Acts of the Apostles.
Thirdly, as we learn to love and accept others, I think we’ll be well on the way to attracting others to the love of Jesus.
This is really part of the previous suggestion, and flows to the fourth suggestion. I’ve been learning recently that as we brothers and sisters learn to love others like this in our lives, not only will the life of our community attract the alienated and lonely to its accepting, reconciling warmth, but in dispersion we begin to radiate a redemptive love infectiously to the world. All of a sudden we begin discovering that there is a higher purpose for our getting out there in the streets where people live, work, and gather. I and my friends have been part of churches planted in parks, coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants, business conference rooms, and living rooms.
In reality, the ladder of success is a barrier to community! The church must work on the basis of love, acceptance, and forgiveness – including not excluding anyone – but it can’t work on the basis of the culture! Let’s bring the church back to the model Jesus suggests for community in Matthew 18, “Where two or three of you are gathering, I will be with you.” Am I being crazy here, or does it sound like Jesus’s promise here was simply giving us the place to start a church, and the number of people necessary to experience his presence as a church?
Do you want this? Do you desire personal revival, spiritual renewal – the transforming work of God’s power in your life? Do you want to become more like Jesus?
This is different then wanting to become a good church person as defined by the churches we’ve been part of in the past. If you want God’s transforming power to be at work in your life, here are some suggestions to consider and personalize (adapted from Matt Mitchell’s, “Slow And Steady”):
1. Start Today – If transformation takes a lot of time, it’s even more important to work on it right away. For you and me, that means not waiting for transformation to come over us like some kind of magic spiritual experience or trick, but to pray for, exhort, listen to, love and spur one another on right now. Start today; don’t wait until tomorrow. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
2. Join Hands – John Piper has said that “sanctification is a community project.” I can’t do it alone. When I need encouragement in the uphill battle, I turn to my wife, my small group, and my accountability partners. They aren’t afraid to tell me the bad news about myself, but they never fail to tell me the good news about Jesus, either. I need them, and I need to hear both the good, the bad, and the ugly about my walk with Jesus so that I’ll know as early as possible what I need to do to get out of the way of the transforming work that God is trying to bring about in my life.
We really do need each other, because it’s important for the church to stick with people who haven’t changed as quickly as we would like. We must continue to say and believe – “The last chapter of this story isn’t written yet.” We need to hold out hope to each other and for each other.
3. Go Forward – At its best, spiritual victory looks like a Road Runner speeding along a desert trail. But most times it looks like the turtle overtaking the rabbit. That’s what we want! We want God’s timing to work out our becoming more like Jesus every day. So often for me, spiritual victory has been like the turtle plodding along an inch at a time – one foot in front of the other. And sometimes, the only spiritual victory I may be experiencing at any given time is just resolutely facing forward even if I can’t seem to go forward.
We have to be careful that in our following Jesus we start repeatedly looking for the new, the bombastic, the explosive, when most likely what following Jesus is all about is repeating the same steps faithfully as we just go forward – so that we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
4. Rejoice, and again I say Rejoice! – We need to celebrate together at even the smallest victories, especially as a body of believers. So let’s begin to throw “short parties” for anyone who makes strides in Christlikeness.”
• You forgave someone? Hooray!
• You were gracious with that person who gets on your nerves? Way to go!
• You sacrificed your time and money for that ministry? Three cheers!
• You reached out with kindness to a visitor in the worship service? Praise God!
We’re getting somewhere!
5. Look Up – Don’t get discouraged if you and the people around you are changing slowly. That’s normal. Be encouraged that you and the people around you “are changing.” Jesus has promised to build His church (Matt. 16:16). We are His church. He’s in charge. No matter how long it takes, He will not fail.
Remember, God’s purpose for you is to conform you into the image of his son, Jesus, every step of the way. So right now, I pray for anyone who will read through this blog entry, that “You will know that God loves you, that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, that God is working in your life by the power of his Spirit to make you more like Jesus.
“Be Like Him!”
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