For born-again Christians, Paul is very clear on God’s stated goals for us. In Romans 8:29 he tells that “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the First-born among many brothers.” It is very clear here: we are obliged to conform and grow in conformity, to the likeness of Jesus. It is not optional: it has been mandated of us before we were born.
Paul was an apostle, an evangelist and a teacher and in all his works he sought for conformity to the likeness of Christ, not only for himself, but also for all Christians. Galatians 4:19-20 shows how seriously he took this imperative as he says: “My children, for whom I again travail until Christ should be formed in you, even now I desired to be present with you, and to change my voice; for I am in doubt as to you.” Paul is struggling here, because some Christians whom he knows, are failing in their duty.
However, we are not to think ourselves alone in this process of conformity. As Paul tells us in Second Corinthians 3:17-18 “And the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord Spirit.” This change in us is an ongoing process facilitated the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Without this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, such change is impossible. Paul gives us practical advice on one means of working-out this transformation in us when tell us in Romans 12:2 “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God.” Our model for this way of life is Jesus Himself. We ourselves, can work toward renewing our minds through the study of the Word; for as Second Timothy 3:16 assures us “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.”
Our position here cannot be one of laid-back ease, but instead, we require a fervent searching and desire for improvement and education, which, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will renew us from the inside out. When Jesus instructed the Great Commission, he required the “discipling” of nations saying “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The beginning of this passage may also be translated “discipling the nations.” This “discipling” here may be better stated as “discipling and being discipled.” This is an ongoing process – not a one-time deal. We are to both teach, and be taught. This view also aligns with the teachings of Paul elsewhere.
What does this required of us? Jesus told us in Luke 12:29-31 in reply to the question as to which Commandment was the most important: “and Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second is like this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these”. We are to be more like Christ; we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and our neighbours as ourselves. But without the Holy Spirit’s help, this is not possible. We cannot do this, or achieve this, in our unrepentant flesh.
In this imperative to be more Christlike, we are being asked to strive for and attain spiritual maturity. As Ephesians 4:11-14 explains to us, the Lord has specific plans for each of us as “truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. And this until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we no longer may be infants, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, in the dishonesty of men, in cunning craftiness, to the wiles of deceit” Or as Ephesians 4:11-14 in the NIV says: “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” (Emphasis added).
We need to educate ourselves and one solution does not fit all. We need to move from feeding on the milk of the Gospel to the meat of the Gospel, that we may grow as Christ requires of us. To do this, we need help: help from the Holy Spirit and help from the body of Christ, the congregation which we attend. Our relationships with other Christians are vitally important in this process, for as Ephesians 5;19 says we are to speak to other beleivers “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” What we sow, we also reap.
But most of all, we need a willing heart and mind open for the Lord to use for His glory and the benefit of His Kingdom.
Amen and Amen.