Seeking to be transformed into the image of Jesus

Are You Headed Where You Want To Be?

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a junction in the road that leads in different directions. She asks the Cheshire Cat, “Cheshire-Puss…would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

 “That depends a good deal on where you want to go to,” said the Cat.

 “I don’t much care where,” replied Alice.

 “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

 What is the goal or purpose of your life?  Where are you going?  What compels you to live as you do?  Do you have a verse or a vision or a calling that moves you forward toward some goal?  Or are you someone who simply responds to what happens around you?  Are you someone who feels your life is not your own?  Or you aren’t in control of your life, but there others or circumstances or situations which make you do the things you do?

 My life verse is Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  That’s a daunting goal!  I love that Paul reassures the Philippians (and us) that even he hadn’t yet reached that goal…even he was still a work in progress.  He says in verses 12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

To know Jesus, to love Jesus, to be made like him and to share in his life, death and resurrection – this is my goal.  To be made like Christ, this is our purpose.  To the Galatian church, a group of believers who had started out strongly in the faith but was in danger of turning back to the old ways of the Law, Paul says, 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you… (Galatians 4:18-19).

To the Roman church he put it this way: 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son… (Romans 8:28-29). Setting aside what Paul means about predestination, I want us to see the purpose for his working in us…that we would be conformed to the likeness of his Son

I believe the goal or purpose of my life and the goal and purpose of your life – according to the Word of God – is that we would be formed, conformed, transformed into the likeness or image of Jesus.  God wants us to take on the character of Jesus. 

How are you living to reach this goal of becoming like Christ?

I was read an article recently about an athlete who had incredible natural talent and ability.  Early in his career it was thought he was destined for greatness.  An interviewer asked him what he was doing to develop into his full potential.  He answered that “there was nothing to do; he just had to wait for it to happen.” 

For far too many followers of Jesus, that is precisely how we approach our relationship with Jesus.  We are destined to be like Jesus – that is our call – but what are we doing, how are we living, to begin to reach our full potential?  We may say that knowing and living Jesus are our priorities, but what evidence do our lives give that it’s true?

Jesus said: 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

If our time is spent seeking earthly treasure – the latest iPhone, the newest music, the fastest car, the nicest clothes, the best vacation, the nicest job, and so on – then our heart is in the wrong place.  We won’t gain Christ and ultimately we’ll lose the world too.  But if our time is spent seeking heavenly treasure – seeking to know Jesus as our highest priority, living lives of obedience as much as we can, sharing generously our time and possessions with others, showing kindness, forgiving and loving well – then we will not only gain Jesus and be transformed into his image, but we’ll store up treasures in heaven too.

Are we trying to serve two masters?  Are we giving lip service to the goal of becoming like Jesus – saying it’s our goal, our priority, but living for ourselves?  Where our treasure is – where the thing we desire most is – our heart will be too.  Our greatest treasure will determine our direction and values. 

Jesus makes clear the choice we have between two treasures and two visions.  Whom will we serve?  God and money are pictured as slave owners.  Which will we serve?  Either we will serve God with a single-eyed, whole-hearted passion or we aren’t serving him at all.  There is no half-way with Jesus.  You cannot be a part-time disciple.  When we try to live in two worlds – following Jesus and living for ourselves or something we love – we are idolaters. 

So, how are you living to reach this goal of becoming like Christ?  Are you trying to serve two masters?  Do you have one foot in the kingdom of God and one in your own kingdom where you pursue the things you want?  You cannot serve two masters.  Where the treasure of your time, your money, your thoughts are, that is where your heart is.

What can we do to cooperate with Jesus to reach the goal of knowing, loving, and becoming like Jesus?

We begin with surrender.

Becoming like Jesus is not an exercise in self-impovement.  It isn’t about self-help.  It’s about heart renovation.  The purpose of spiritual formation is not to make new and improved versions of ourselves.  It is that Christ be formed in us (Galatians 4:19). 

Our goal is not to simply sin less.  That idea focuses on us and our actions.  That’s an external goal – focused on our behavior.  I believe Jesus wants us to focus on the heart.  In Christ we are new creations.  In Christ we have been crucified to the old life.  Our lives should increasingly take on the character of Christ. We will sin less as we surrender ourselves more and more to him.  Our focus should increasingly be on Jesus – loving and knowing him.  We want to be so intimate with Jesus that when we are insulted or are cut off in traffic or are lied about or are put in a compromising situation, our natural response is not to sin, but to do what Jesus would have done. 

This is a work of the Holy Spirit, because ultimately we cannot be made into the image of Jesus apart from God.  Nevertheless, we do have a part to play in the process.  We have to be active.  We have to pray and ask God to create in us a desire for more of him.  We need to ask him to stir in us a hunger and thirst to be like Jesus.  And then we have to put ourselves in a position where that can happen.  Paul was spot on when he wrote, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work within you to will and to work according to his good purpose,” (Philippians 2:13).  We must actively seek to grow and experience more of the life God has for us, however, it is the Holy Spirit who makes it happen.

If you’ve made it this far, I want to invite you to take a moment to prayerfully ask God where your heart is right now.  Take time to be quiet before the Lord and in quietness of your heart ask God to show you where your treasure is.

Is where you are where you want it to be?  If your heart isn’t right with God, take a moment to repent of your sin and ask God for forgiveness.  If you long to be made into his likeness or if you long to long for that, surrender to him.  Tell him, “I’m yours Lord.  All I am is yours.  Take me as I am.  Form me, conform me, transform me that I might be like Jesus.”

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7 responses

  1. Paulie D

    Rick,

    I totally agree. The purpose of all believers is to conform to the image of Jesus Christ. That does not make us clones of one another, since we all constitute different parts of His body.

    While we all can always do better, I do feel that presently I am where God wants me to be, although I don’t think that the route I took to get to this point is how God would have had me to travel. The good news is that today is a new day and a new opportunity for anyone to repent and recommit his or her life to Christ.

    I have found the way to stay focused on the right path is nothing more than hard work. I recently lost enough pounds that I currently weigh the same as I did when I graduated high school (that’s getting to be a few years ago now). I have had countless people ask me how I accomplished this. The method is simple (but simple does not mean easy) consisting of calorie restriction and regular exercise.

    Similarly in the life of the believer the mainstays of a healthy spiritual condition are daily scripture reading and prayer. I think many people are dissappointed because they want some kind of secret formula. Like in weight loss, people don’t want to hear dieting and working out. They want to hear “go to the health food store and buy pomegranate pills and take three of them twice a day for a month.”

    However, at least in my case, when I see the reward of the numbers getting smaller on the bathroom scale each morning, I am jazzed to continue with the daily grind because of the reward of losing weight. Also, in my spiritual life, the daily discipline of prayer and scripture reading does not seem onerous. In fact I look forward to it because I enjoy the fruits that result in my life. There isn’t anything I feel I have had to sacrifice to enjoy a closer walk with my Savior.

    We all have a choice each morning when we get up whether or not to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. But if you decide to do so, you really do find that His burden is easy and His yoke is light.

    God bless,

    Paulie D

    October 4, 2010 at 1:07 am

    • Paul,

      I tend, personally, to shy away from the word “discipline” because I am not naturally disciplined. When I’ve tried in my own walk to be “disciplined” I usually maintain some practices for a few weeks and then they fade away.

      Ultimately, we need heart change that leads to life change. Our practices (or disciplines) must become a way of life (Mindy Caliguire calls this “Going AWOL” – A Way Of Life). When my vision of what intimacy with Jesus and transformation became so strong and such a burning desire in my heart; when I knew that was really the direction I wanted to go – not just where I said I wanted to go – and I began to walk in that direction; God changed my heart. I hungered and thirsted for more of Him. My heart really did change. For the first time in a long time I saw real transformation.

      The crazy thing was, I knew it was nothing I was doing. It was all the Holy Spirit. All I did was open myself up – create space if you will – for Him to work. I became intentional in making sure there was space in my life for the Holy Spirit.

      My practices change from time to time. Sometimes I read big chunks of Scripture; sometimes a verse or two. I try, each day, to have time for silent, centering prayer and self-examination. Prayer is woven throughout the day – more of a conversation than a set time (though that too). There’s more, but you get the picture.

      Perhaps the most significant thing for me has been community. Having individual friends and a small group that earnestly desires the same thing and is moving in the same direction does more to spur me on and encourage me than almost anything else. It’s truly life giving.

      Thanks Paul!

      ~ rick

      October 4, 2010 at 3:56 am

  2. ghalaby

    Rick,

    I like your blogs, you raise interesting topics and challenge your readers.

    The concept of predestination is a difficult one to accept. It means that even before you were born you are predestined to be saved or to perish. Your destiny is predetermined, you have no choices, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

    The concept of predestination is also accepted in Islam as well as other religions. No matter what one does in life, it will not change his destiny one single iota, because one’s destiny is already written in the BIG BOOK.

    According to Evangelical Christians, almost all Moslems, Jews, Hindus, or Budists will perish because they were unfortunate to be born into a religion where Jesus Christ is not the center of their religion or their lives.

    Even most Christians, Catholics, Orthodox, Presbyterians etc. who do not get exposed to “true Christian teachings”, will all perish. Even many Evangelicals who were not predestined to be saved, whose names do not appear in the BIG BOOK, will perish no matter how hard they try.

    The question then arises, why should anyone even try. Adam and Eve were predestined to die before they were created. Although God gave them the chance to choose, God predestined them to die. So they really had no choice.

    I struggle with that a lot, I try my best, but in the back of my mind is this nagging notion: “If I am predestined to be SAVED, why should I try HARDER? or, if I am predestined to DIE, why should I try at all??”.

    Blessings to you and your readers.

    October 4, 2010 at 2:11 am

    • Thanks Ummo for taking the time to read the post and to comment. The purpose of the post was to encourage people to consider what they say their life goal is and how they really live. Many “say” they want to be close to Jesus but then live for themselves. So it’s really intended to be an encouragement toward Christians to live out their intentions.

      In terms of predestination, we can talk more about this directly. But I will simply say this: I believe that while God is sovereign and does predestine, human beings are responsible for their choices and behavior. No one will be in heaven or hell apart from their own choices.

      Salvation is a gift of God. It is utterly and completely by his grace. But we have the responsibility to respond to that gracious offer. Am I predestined? I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus died to save sinners and I am a sinner. I do know that there is nothing I can do to earn heaven. I do know that I desperately need Jesus in my life. I believe. I long to be closer to him. I want to be made like Jesus. Does that mean I’m predestined? Maybe…probably. But I never, ever think of it that way (unless it’s to thank God for choosing me; for drawing me).

      Genuine faith transforms a person. It isn’t static. So I live my life intentionally, not because I “have to” or because it earns me points. I do it because I want to. I long to.

      In terms of who will or won’t be in heaven, that’s God’s business. I expect we’ll all be surprised by who is and isn’t there – whether evangelical Christians, Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, whatever. The Bible teaches there is one way to salvation: Jesus. May God open the eyes of many in every culture and every place that many will be saved!

      Who is “predestined” and who isn’t? Only God knows. But we, individually, have the responsibility to respond to God’s loving sacrifice of his Son.

      I think assurance comes when we wholeheartedly choose to believe and walk in the path God invites us to…the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives gives us confidence of God’s love and presence with us.

      Blessings – Rick

      October 4, 2010 at 4:18 am

      • Paulie D

        Rick wrote “I believe that while God is sovereign and does predestine, human beings are responsible for their choices and behavior. No one will be in heaven or hell apart from their own choices.”

        Rick, yours is a fascinating and very reassuring assertion. This indeed is a difficult subject to understand. In this instance I have some unique notions that are distinct from traditional reformed teaching. However, ultimately, the only way I believe to reconcile this dilemma, from the reformed viewpoint or otherwise, is to appeal to paradox. I just put the paradox in a different place than the reformers.

        One analogy that I can offer from our physical world is the example of light. On one hand it behaves like a particle, specifically a photon, and delivers a discrete amount of energy. On the other hand it behaves like a wave and demonstrates constructive and destructive interference. So is light a particle or a wave? The correct answer is “yes.”

        In fact one can perform a diffraction experiment using a single electron and determine that it traveled through both slits. What? Exactly.

        I believe that when Messiah returns, for those who excitedly await Him, He will explain all of these paradoxes we now encounter in life: predestination, theodicy, the Trinity, etc. The curse of the fall will be lifted, so our brains will not be confounded at that time as they currently are. In the meantime these matters need to be accepted, to the degree that we cannot fully explain them, in faith, and our proper response, as we occupy until He returns, is to worship Messiah as Lord and Savior.

        God bless,

        Paulie D

        October 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm

  3. challenge.. end of story. thanks 🙂

    October 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm

  4. Linda K

    Thank you for your words RIck……and for the encouragement to continue to grow in His awesome love.

    October 20, 2010 at 7:45 pm

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