Are you letting God conform you to the image of Christ?
In Romans 8:29 we read these words from the Apostle Paul: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In many ways that is the be all and end all of the Christian life.
Yes, as we more and more reflect the image and likeness of Christ in our lives, we will be better placed to win the lost as well. But that almost might be a secondary aim, or a byproduct, of the real aim to be conformed to the image of Christ. Other passages speak to this great truth as well, such as:
Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Galatians 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,
Ephesians 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Yet if you are like me, you often think more about what you are doing for Christ than what you are becoming in Christ. We tend to be more concerned about the breadth of our ministry while God is more concerned about the depth of our character.
We want to see a lot of great things being done for Christ. We want to be busy in the work of the Kingdom. Those are noble aims. But sometimes we seek to do this at the expense of letting Christ have his way in our life, moulding and making us into the very image of Christ.
As I say, I often wonder about how effective I am being for Christ. But perhaps I should concentrate more on simply being like Christ, and let the rest follow from that. In a recent social media post I said this: “The other day I was wondering (as I sometimes do) just how worthwhile I am being in the work of the Kingdom. Then the thought instantly popped into my mind that if my main ministry will be to look after an ailing wife, that is sufficient – that is vitally important.”
My good and long-standing friend Ed said this in response:
Amen Bill. In an important sense I don’t think we are called to judge our own work. I think of when Jesus told his disciples to say that when they have done everything, they should say of themselves, “I am only an unworthy servant.” Paul said that he did not even judge himself.
Ultimately our own opinion of our work doesn’t matter, nor what anyone else thinks of it. What matters is that if we ARE faithful, as far as we know to be, we have the hope of hearing from the lips of the only one whose opinion counts “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” That’s what we wait for.
And caring for an ailing wife is indeed a sufficient calling.
But it is so often the case that we DO wonder about the work we are doing for the Lord. But as long as we allow God to work in our life, we will see fruit being borne for the Kingdom. And that is enough. In addition to what the biblical writers have said about this, all the great saints over the centuries have said much the same. Consider some quotes from some of the more recent champions of the faith:
“I am coming to believe more and more as I get older that I am not so much on this earth to do great deeds of ministry. But I am on this earth to overcome that which is lacking with regard to conformity to Jesus Christ.” Paul Washer
“If I were to look at the church of Jesus Christ in America today, I would say our greatest problem is not that we lack the resources to do things, not that we lack the models, the programs, and the plans, but that we lack conformity to the image of Jesus Christ.” Paul Washer
“The man who is deeply discontented with himself is probably growing fast into the full likeness of Christ.” Charles Spurgeon
“Saving faith and real converting grace will always produce some conformity to the image of Jesus.” J. C. Ryle
“It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likenesses to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” Robert Murray McCheyne
“Free and warm reception into the divine favor is the strongest of all motives in leading a man to seek conformity to Him who has thus freely forgiven him all trespasses.” Horatius Bonar
“True faith always produces real conformity to Christ.” R. C. Sproul
“God’s ultimate goal for us, however, is that we be truly conformed to the likeness of His Son in our person as well as in our standing… Jesus did not die just to save us from the penalty of sin, nor even just to make us holy in our standing before God. He died to purify for Himself a people eager to obey Him, a people eager to be transformed into His likeness… This process of gradually conforming us to the likeness of Christ begins at the very moment of our salvation when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us and to actually give us a new life in Christ. We call this gradual process progressive sanctification, or growing in holiness, because it truly is a growth process.” Jerry Bridges
“None can know their election but by their conformity to Christ; for all who are chosen are chosen to sanctification.” Matthew Henry
“The Son takes shape in those who abandon themselves to Him. Christ forms Himself in the lives of those who will let go of all the forms of life in which they have shaped on their own. Christ takes shape in a life that is willing to become putty in God’s hands. Christ presses the shape of His own face into the clay of our soul when we cease to be hard and resistant, and when we take our own amateur hands off and admit that we are not such good artists as He is.” John Piper
And lastly, one of my favourites:
“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’ Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life — the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child — he will take endless trouble — and would, doubtless, thereby, give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” C. S. Lewis