Every animal on earth resembles its parent. A duckling looks like its parent duck, a lamb looks like a sheep, a calf looks like a cow. Even in some cases where the resemblance isn’t that close, it can be proven that the child belongs to the parent by DNA testing.
We have been studying “The Purpose Driven Life” and today we come to the section that encourages us that we also were created to look like our parent. As sons and daughters of God, we have been created to look like Christ. How close is the resemblance? What hope do we have of ever looking like our parent? Do we desire to look like our parent?
When our children were in school, they were given an assignment in an English course to write out the goals they had in life, the kind of things they would like to accomplish. They wrote down all kinds of things like fly a jet, read certain books, and so on. I remember that when I was in high school, I bet a friend that I would be a millionaire by the time I was 25. If not, I owed him 25 cents. Apparently even then, I did not have very strong aspirations in this direction. I have seen a number of these kinds of lists of hopes, dreams and goals, but in all the lists I have seen, I don’t think I have ever seen one in which someone wrote, “I want to be like Jesus.” Of all the things we could strive for in life, shouldn’t this be on the top of the list for every Christian?
It isn’t just that God desires that we become like Jesus. It is much more powerful than that. It is that God has created us for this purpose. When God first created human beings, he made them in His own image. We read in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” After God created all the animals, he created another being which was not like any of the animals, it was a being much more like Himself and that, of course, is the human being.
A part of the image of God in us as humans is the ability to choose. Animals operate mostly out of instinct, but human beings have the ability to plan and choose. God created us to make a choice and the choice we made was the choice to disobey God. As soon as Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit and as soon as Adam joined her in that disobedience, they exercised one aspect of their being in the image of God, but in that same moment, they also destroyed much of the image of God in them. The choice to sin resulted in the image of God in us being marred.
But God is not easily deterred from his purposes and so He sent Jesus to this earth. Jesus was God in the flesh. He was fully God, but He was also fully human. When we look at Jesus, we look at God. He is fully and completely the image of God. But He is also fully human and it was as a human that he obeyed God completely and so as a human fully displayed what God had originally intended every human being to be. Through His death on the cross and resurrection, he made it possible for human beings to have their rebellion forgiven and to once again enter into the newness of becoming what they had originally been created to become and that is like God. Galatians 2:20 tells us that with Christ living in us, we now have the possibility of becoming like the one who has died for us. We can become like Jesus. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This is God’s plan, His intention for us. The idea is put very clearly in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The phrase “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” indicates God’s plan for those who follow Him. He has created us and intends for us to be just like Jesus.
Warren says, “Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper; He wants to make us like himself before he takes us to heaven.”
What are the things that you hope you will yet accomplish in life? If we are honest with ourselves, our hopes often revolve around our happiness. We want to be comfortable, to have ease, to have abundance, to enjoy pleasant living, to find meaning in work, to experience some interesting and perhaps even exciting things, to have nice things and to be free from worry. We work hard to accomplish these goals and we plan activities that will achieve these things. We drive towards these things and to some measure we achieve them, but these are not the things we have been created to achieve. We have been created to be like Jesus. Does Christlikeness define how we set goals, plan the activities of our life and work towards the things that are important to us? Is God’s creative intent for you finding its central place in your life? Having been created to be like Christ, are you cooperating with God’s purpose for your life?
If someone would have told me to draw an okapi, I would not have been able to do it because I had no idea what it was. Would anyone here know how to draw one? Even now, although I know that it is a forest giraffe that lives in Congo, I still would not be able to draw a very accurate picture of it. I have never seen one or a picture of one and so I don’t know what colour it is, how tall it is, if it has a long or short tail and many other things I don’t know. Drawing is a form of imitation and if we don’t know anything about what we are to imitate, we can hardly do it. The same is true for us in Christ. We are to become like Christ, but if we don’t really know much about Christ, how can we imitate Him?
I John 3:2 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” What an amazing verse. It tells us that we will be like Jesus when we see Him. That tells us that seeing Jesus allows us to become like Jesus. Of course, it speaks about seeing Jesus when He returns and indicates that at that time, when our eyes are perfectly open to see Him as He really is, then we will become what God has created us to become - like Jesus.
But the truth indicated here also gives us a great hint about how we must now become like Christ and that is to observe Jesus. It is as we come to know Jesus, as we see Him as He truly is that we will be able to become like Him. Knowing what we are to imitate will allow us to imitate it. Knowing Christ will help us become like Christ. Therefore, if we want to become what we have been created to become, it is imperative that we spend much time looking at the image of Christ. What is Jesus like? I won’t draw a comprehensive picture this morning, but let us look at a few Scriptures which give us the beginning of an image of what Jesus is like so that we can know what we must imitate.
Matthew 20:28 says, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus is a servant. His whole life was a life of service to God and service to people. Repeatedly we seen Him talking about obedience to His Father and we also see Him making Himself available to all kinds of people in their need - healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the sorrowing. The ultimate picture of servanthood is the image of Jesus hanging on the cross. When we remember his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in which he prayed, “not my will but yours be done,” and when we realize that he went to the cross not for his own sake, but for ours, we know that Jesus truly came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
If we want to imitate Jesus, we must imitate Him in his servant attitude and His servant lifestyle.
Jesus is also clearly a man of compassion. One passage which demonstrates this is Matthew 9:36 which says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He saw not only the surface needs of people, but saw the deep hurt in their hearts. He knew that they were utterly lost. More than that, he cared deeply. He looked at those lost people and didn’t dismiss them. He didn’t look at them and think, “they should know better.” He loved them. Once again, it is his love as demonstrated on the cross that most clearly shows how much he loves.
If we are to imitate Christ, we will need to learn to imitate him in his compassion.
We are also presented with a picture of the graciousness of Jesus. One of the incidents which powerfully depicts this is the story of the woman caught in adultery. Those who brought this sinful woman to Jesus wanted from Him what they knew the Old Testament law demanded. They wanted the sentence of stoning death carried out on her. But Jesus did not respond as they expected. He was gracious in extending hope of forgiveness and the hope of a new life to her. He caught them in their hypocritically judgemental attitude when he said to them, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Then when everyone had left, he extended grace to her in offering her forgiveness and the possibility of a new life apart from sin. He was not quick to judge those who were caught in sin, but was quick to offer a hope of change.
If we are to imitate Christ, we will need to learn to imitate Him in His grace, a grace, which we have also received from Him.
And yet in spite of such a compassionate graciousness, we also know that it was not because of an accommodation to sin that he was like this. He is the only one who has never sinned. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” He is sympathetic, but that never caused him to accommodate to sin. His life was a picture of the life apart from sin which is so difficult for us, but was lived by Him as a human being. It was not a life without temptation, but it was a life of obedience to all of God’s will.
Jesus was holy and if we want to imitate Jesus, we will need to learn to imitate Him in His holiness.
Another picture we have of Jesus is the picture of his relationship to the Father. Although sensitive to the needs of the lost masses, he did not let that distract him from his primary relationship. John 8:29 says, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” In his connection with the Father, we see a passion for God, a living relationship with the Father, a deep love for the Lord of all, a willing obedience to the one who rules over all and a great concern to please Him.
If we are going to become like Jesus, we will need to imitate his passionate relationship with the Father in heaven.
God’s intention at creation was that we become like Jesus. As we come to know Jesus, we will become more and more like Him because we will know what to imitate. But it is still a difficult challenge. What can we do, what do we need to know that will help us agree with and live according to this purpose of becoming like Christ? If you have read chapters 22-28 of “The Purpose Driven Life,” you have already seen a lot of great ideas and thoughts to help in the lifetime goal of imitating Jesus. Let us pick up on a few of these for our encouragement and strengthening.
When our kids were small, they sometimes wanted to help me work. We had a lawn mower which had a bar at about their level and so sometimes I would push the mower and they would walk in front of me and push on the lower level. They were working hard to push the mower, but I was being much more effective in pushing the mower.
What should encourage us is that in the matter of becoming like Christ, God is powerfully at work in us. Even though we may be working hard at becoming like Christ, He is working in us in a much more effective way. A lot of places in the Bible talk about this, for example, we read in II Corinthians 3:18, “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.” There are a number of ideas in this passage which are wonderful, but let me just point out two which relate to our transformation. First of all, please note that God is working in us. The verb tense is present passive continuous. That means that it is something that is being done in us by God in a continuing and constant process. It does not say we have been changed, which we have or that we will be changed, which we will be, rather that we are being changed. God is at work in us now!
The further thing to note is that this change happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is at work in us. I think this comes to the heart of what it means to be born again. Many people talk about the necessity of being born again, but don’t really know what that means. It means that we have been spiritually born. It means that God’s Spirit lives within us. If God’s Spirit is living within us, then He is also at work in our lives, changing our hearts. How does God’s Spirit work in us? Sometimes through trial, sometimes through testing, sometimes through the influence of God’s Word and sometimes through a gentle nudging within.
We need to be convinced that God is at work in us, but we also know that we need to participate in His work. This puzzles us. Is it our work or is it God’s work that will make us into the image of Christ? The answer is both. Look at what we find in Philippians 2:12,13, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” This verse puts God’s work and ours together - it must be both.
How do we fulfill our responsibility? The Bible has much to say about this and Warren has some great chapters on how we can cooperate with God’s work in our lives.
One summary is found in Ephesians 4:22, 24. In this passage, the imagery of clothing is used. If we are getting ready for a wedding or a special event, the first thing we do is remove our old clothes and wash the dirt off. Then the next step is the put on the clothing that will be appropriate for the special occasion.
So, we need to get rid of the old clothes of sin, the habits that no longer fit with the new us. In Ephesians 4:22 we read, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires…” Then, in Ephesians 4:24 we see the other side when we are encouraged, “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” God has created us to be like Christ. This will happen as we take up our responsibility which is to put off the old and put on the new.
But where is the power to put off the old and put on the new? Jesus gives us the answer in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
Becoming like Christ requires abiding in Christ. It will not happen in any other way.
It is evident that such a project takes time. We seem to have a hard time learning these lessons. There is much that we have to unlearn. I can’t imagine what it must be like to learn to drive on the left side of the road. There are so many things we do automatically when we drive. If we were to have to let go of all those automatic habits, it would take a long time first of all to unlearn and then to learn. The same is true in becoming like Christ. On top of that, we are proud and pride makes it hard to admit that we need to change. I, at least, don’t like finding out that I have not been doing something well. With children we talk about growing pains. Well with our spiritual growth there are also growing pains. All of these factors make it hard but let us be encouraged that God knows that it will take time.
Philippians 1:6 encourages us in that process. It says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Jesus has begun a work in us and it is ongoing until the completion of that work when Jesus returns. In other words, it is a lifetime project.
This realization has two elements of encouragement about them. First of all, we are not failures, we are people on the way, we are on a journey. The corollary is that we need to be patient with ourselves and each other because it does take time.
The wonderful thing is that we will get there. The Bible promises over and again that when Jesus comes back, we will be like Him. In eternity, everyone of us will look like Jesus. I Corinthians 15:49 promises “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” Philippians 3:20,21 also promises, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Is it our purpose to become what God has created us for?
A number of years ago I set a goal of achieving a higher education degree in Biblical studies. After I took several courses, I realized that this purpose was not God’s will for me and so I dropped my goal. Sometimes we are tempted to drop the goal of becoming like Christ. Let us be encouraged that Christlikeness is God’s goal for us. Remember Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Warren says, “We become what we are committed to.” God has created us to be like Jesus. I want to encourage us to remember this goal and commit to it. Are we in tune with God’s purpose for us?