Towards the end of his life John Stott, one of the great church leaders of the 20th century, said this: “I am sometimes asked whether at my age I have any ambitions left. I always now reply, “Yes, my overriding ambition is that I may become a little more like Christ.” God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). The Apostle John tells us that whoever wants to claim to live in God must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). The Apostle Paul calls the Philippians to pursue humility by having the same mindset as Jesus (Philippians 2:5). The Apostle Peter regards Jesus’ attitude in suffering as an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). Being honest, all of that slips to the back of my mind too often. If I am thinking spiritually at all my ambition can be limited to avoiding any truly disreputable sin or simply getting to heaven in one piece. But the Bible calls us to something higher. The New Testament affirms what Stott says- if we are thinking clearly we will want to become more like Jesus.
But how do you get there? Last week I spent a couple of hours teaching my way through 2 Corinthians 3-5 (some of which I am about to repeat in our series in 2 Corinthians 5-6 starting at church on Sunday). What I noticed was that buried in the detail of the text were two ways in which Christians become more like Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul talks about us being transformed into Jesus’ image and in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11 he refers to the life of Jesus being revealed in our bodies. Let’s consider those two ways in which we become like Jesus:
- As we gaze on the glory of Jesus
One of the great privileges we have as Christians under the new covenant is that we can behold the glory of Jesus. As we do that the Spirit transforms us to be like the one we are seeing. You find that link elsewhere in the New Testament. John tells us that we will be perfectly like Jesus on the day when we see him face to face (1 John 3:2).
For the moment we can’t behold Jesus physically. But we can gaze with the eyes of our hearts. We do it as we sing and adore him. Given the current pandemic limits to that perhaps we need to find ways of praising Jesus on our own? Here is a challenge. Next time you pray on your own why not consciously think about the different aspects of Jesus’ character and turn them to praise? Or work your way through the “I AM” sayings and turn them into worship. Read the Gospels- but don’t just read them with a view to being told what to do. Rather read with a view to admiring and adoring Jesus. When we look at him meeting a leper we see the glory of his compassion. When we hear him teaching the Sermon on the Mount we see the glory of his wisdom. When we read of his commanding the winds and the waves to be still we see the glory of his divine power. When we ponder him bending with towel around his waist to wash his disciples’ feet we see the glory of his humility. When we gaze on the cross we see the glory of his love. When we learn of his emergence from the tomb we see the glory of his resurrection life. We are called to behold Jesus.
All of this matters for two reasons. Firstly, we want to do this because to gaze on Jesus is to be caught up in the most beautiful sight in the universe. But secondly this is what the Spirit uses to make us like him. We probably know that from experience. When I am thrilled by Jesus I find a fresh power to love, serve and make sacrifices. When Jesus is miles from my eyes I don’t want to live like that. None of that is a surprise. Gazing on Jesus is the way to become like Jesus.
That’s why any form of Christianity that doesn’t feature warm adoration of Jesus is tragic- because it removes joy and will leave us less like him. Do whatever you can to behold the glory of Jesus.
2. As we live out death
Gazing on Jesus is not the only means to become like Christ though. In 2 Corinthians 4:10-11 Paul talks twice about carrying around the death of Jesus so that Jesus’ life might be revealed in his body. What does that mean? Paul is honest about his experiences in 2 Corinthians. He gives an extended list of suffering in chapter 11. He writes of being pressed beyond his ability to endure in chapter 1. He is a jar of clay in chapter 4. All of that amounts to a significant amount of death- to comfort, pride and self-sufficiency. And yet it is as those things are removed from Paul’s life that Jesus becomes more clearly seen in him. That’s good for him- it is also what brings life to others in v.12.
Again- that should be no surprise. After all, it is pretty hard to look like the crucified Jesus from a position of comfort. It is deeply painful though. The desire to become like Jesus is unlikely to be fulfilled through an easy road.
The great encouragement in the midst of this is that every death like experience has meaning and purpose for the Christian. If we look for it we will be able to see- this is the path that God is using to make us more like Jesus. As I think about it, all the Christians whose character I most admire have gone through multiple deaths. None of them would talk about sailing through life easily. They all carry scars. But then scars are very Christlike things to possess. The application for all of us is this- don’t resent the weaknesses and the mini-deaths you experience. I know they hurt. They are also the way you become like Jesus.
The goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus. One day that will happen perfectly if we are Christians. But in the meantime we can make progress. Behold the glory of Jesus and understand that he is doing good in you even when it feels like death.