Becoming like Jesus cannot be accomplished through human effort.
Developing A Christlike Character
Made In His Image
If you were stranded on a deserted island and had the choice of a human or an animal as a companion, which would you choose? I would prefer human companionship over that of any animal, even man’s best friend, a dog. You can only have a one-way conversation with a dog, but relationships between humans are far deeper. God created the world in which we live and richly endowed it with all types of vegetation and life forms. While the diversity of creation was perfect in every way, He could never enjoy an intimate relationship with any part of it, because it lacked the intellectual and emotional characteristics that correspond to God.
God wanted someone like Him, so He could enjoy a relationship that was meaningful and reciprocal: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27 niv). God enjoyed fellowship with Adam and Eve as He walked with them in the garden, but this ideal situation did not last. Satan deceived Eve; then Adam disobeyed and the intimate relationship with God was lost. They were cast out of the garden, and found themselves distant from God.
Adam and Eve’s children were born with their parents’ fallen sinful natures. “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son … in his own image; and he named him Seth” (Gen. 5:3). Sin became an inherent part of man’s nature and all humanity remained at a distance from God.
However, God’s desire for intimate fellowship with man did not end with the fall in Eden. He later found a man called Enoch, who, sensing his need for fellowship with the Creator, walked with God for 300 years. God enjoyed this fellowship so much that He took Enoch directly to heaven without passing through death (Gen. 5:21-24).
God also found another man with whom He could fellowship. Abraham, while not perfect, pleased God because of his trust and faith in God. God accepted Abraham’s faith as a basis for reconciliation and he became known as God’s friend: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend” (Jas. 2:23).
The full extent of God’s desire for fellowship was manifested when He sent His Son into the world to make the supreme sacrifice which would be the basis for man’s forgiveness and reconciliation. When Jesus came into the world as the perfect man, He revealed that God had truly made man in His own image. As they looked on Jesus, they saw not only a perfect man, but One who demonstrated the character of God in all He did: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15).
Down through the ages, Satan has tried to destroy God’s plan to rebuild a relationship with man. Satan’s efforts intensified when he saw the image of God in the Son who came. Since then, Satan has turned his unrelenting efforts towards blinding people as to who Jesus really is, and also doing what he can to hinder believers from displaying the image of Christ in their lives. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan knows that every believer will display something of the image of Christ in his life, and that God will be able to enjoy the communion He desires with the reconciled sinner (Jn. 4:23). Therefore, Satan will do all in his power to divert man’s attention from the Son, and to hinder man’s reconciliation to God.
Reconciliation Begins Renewal
When the gospel is proclaimed, a series of events take place. The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come; God’s Word is applied and repentance follows; Christ is invited into the person’s life, he is “born again” as a child of God, and the new life begins. “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (Jn. 1:12-13). The new believer has new life and has begun being renewed in the image of God. He has “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10).
As Jesus is the “exact representation” of God, we have a perfect example to follow and a model upon which our renewed lives can be fashioned. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3).
The Spirit’s Work
Becoming like Jesus cannot be accomplished through human effort; man has shown his inability to do so again and again. He can’t keep even the most basic laws. Transforming our lives into the image of Christ can only come about through a power outside ourselves – the power of the Holy Spirit within us. “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” (2 Cor. 3:18).
As we submit to God, obey His Word, and give the Spirit liberty to change, direct, and transform us, the power will be there to complete the work begun in us. “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit … For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom. 8:8-11, 29).
God wants us to be like His Son, and His power enables us to display the character of Christ in our lives. Becoming like Christ will take faith, commitment, and sacrifice. It will mean opposition from Satan and the world he rules. (Eph. 2:1-2). He will do all he can to stumble the believer as he presses toward the goal. God’s side of the bargain is to provide all the power necessary for our transformation into the image of Christ.
Unleashing Resurrection Power
Our Lord’s death and resurrection was the basis for victory over Satan (Col. 2:15), and Paul wanted to tap into that power as he grew in his knowledge of Christ: “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” (Phil. 3:10). The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11) will be our resurrection power. It is the Spirit’s work to form Christ in us (2 Cor. 3:18). Becoming like Jesus will mean more than just displaying His character. It will also mean rejection by the world and possibly even persecution and death.
When Paul wrote about “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,” he was not talking about Christ’s death on the cross, but rather His being scorned, opposed, vilified, disbelieved, mistreated, and rejected by His own people. Paul experienced these things. The Lord was so badly treated because He bore the image of God in His person and character. This convicted men, particularly the religious parties, of their own shortcomings and evil. As we reflect the character of Christ in our lives, we too will be opposed by those who reject the Savior.
We can expect scorn, ridicule, and even persecution because man’s heart is evil, and Satan opposes all that is of Christ in this world. Should this deter us from becoming more and more like Christ? No! It should drive us closer to Him, to bear His yoke and learn of Him (Mt. 11:28-30). Jesus was rejected and became an outcast among His own people (Jn.1:10-11). Are we ready to stand with Him? “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore” (Heb 13:12-13).
When the Lord Jesus challenged His followers to count the cost and be ready to take up their crosses and follow Him (Lk. 14:26-30), He knew that forming His disciples into His image would be difficult and costly. However, they did accept the challenge and later, when the persecutions began, it was said of them, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). The character of Christ was already imprinted in their attitudes, speech, and behavior, and their accusers had to acknowledge this.
Are we ready to be like Christ in His death? The focus of His life was to do the will of His Father even though this meant the cross. The cross was ever before Him and He often said things like, “My time has not yet come.” His ever-present focus was His death on the cross; and when the time came He said, “The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mt. 14:41). Have we reached the point where we can say to the Lord, “Here is my life. Use it. I will take up my cross and follow You”? Paul said: “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” (Gal. 2:20).
If we are to show the image of Christ in our lives, we need to put off all the grave clothes of this world and put on the robes of purity, love and consecration: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry … put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature” (Col. 1:5-9). As we get these things out of our lives we are then able to clothe ourselves with Christ and begin to show forth His image. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col. 1:12-15). The virtues we are to “put on” in our lives, are really the moral distinctives that characterize Christ. In the same way, the fruit of the Spirit, which we are also to show, is the essence of His character and can only be shown in us as the Spirit produces this fruit.
Love, the principal fruit of the Spirit, is emphasized as the standard for testing the validity of the new life (Col. 3:14). Love among believers is proof of Christ’s character in us. “In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him” (1 Jn. 4:17). “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).
More Like Him Every Day
We cannot develop a Christlike character by ourselves. But as we are occupied with Him there will be a steady growth. As we seek to please Him, read His Word and walk with Him, we will find ourselves enjoying the intimate fellowship that will become a way of life. Without realizing it, we will become like the company we keep: “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” (Eph 4:13).
We will never be perfect on earth, but we press on like Paul: “I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). Christ will complete the work, and when He comes for His Church we will be transformed: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there … 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” (Phil. 3:20-21).
The proof of the transforming process that has been going on in our lives will be more fully appreciated when we see Him, for then we will be like Him – the process complete. “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” (1 Jn. 3:2).
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.