The goal of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We long to be like Jesus, and we struggle knowing that we have not yet attained what we earnestly desire. The Christian life is both our identity as image bearers of Christ, and our experience that on this side of eternity we don’t fully measure up. We know that, as followers of Christ, the resurrection life is to be experienced on this earth, and more completely through the resurrection of our bodies. Paul pondered this struggle, and was inspired to contemplate how to make progress towards the desired goal, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” [Phil. 3:10]. Here is how you can progress towards the goal of a Christian life:
- That you may know Him: To be conformed to Christ I must know Him. Paul understood that this required more than obedience to commandments. Furthermore, it is different than knowing about Him. And while it certainly contemplates knowing His words (teaching and doctrine) and works it is distinct.
When I met my wife, Karen, I marveled at her love for Christ, and the Bible. She was (and remains) the godliest woman I’ve ever met. She is also the loveliest woman I’ve ever seen. I knew some things about her, and began to get to know her. For the last twenty-five plus years, I’ve enjoyed getting to know her. I’ve enjoyed discovering her dreams, disappointments, desires, and distress. I’ve learned to anticipate how certain situations, words, and actions are likely to make her feel. I’ve become more aware of subtle nuanced non-verbal communication. We have shared emotional and spiritual intimacy and grown together towards the experience of unity. We have committed our lives in a covenant relationship to share life together. I’ve realized through the years that there are things that are important to her, like not driving too close to cars ahead of us (although we have different views regarding what is too close), and that I need to respect that boundary if I want our relationship to thrive.
Similarly, when I first met Jesus I marveled at who He is. I began to get to know Him. I discovered things that were a blessing to Him, and attitudes and behaviors that offended. I started to recognize the sound of His voice as I sensed Him speaking to me in a still small voice. His voice encouraged, directed, and even convicted me. And as I grew to know Him more, I sometimes discovered how I neglected important things that were obvious and that He kept repeating, but that I somehow failed to adjust my attitude and/or behavior. For example, I’ve recently been convicted that I have neglected Jesus’ command to love my neighbor. Until I actually do this essential and basic commandment, and love my neighbor, I won’t be conformed to His image.
- That you may know the power of His resurrection: To be conformed to Christ’s image will take power. Jesus transcended the culture around Him (the world system), His flesh, and the enemy of men’s souls. I must confess that this world and my flesh, let alone the devil, have a pull on me like gravity. Like a rocket trying to escape the earth’s gravitational force, I need thrust (power) to transcend. Knowing Jesus means knowing the power that He makes available to enable us to be conformed to His image. The Christian life is characterized by the power of the resurrection given to us now for this life, as well as the life to come.
Resurrection power produces the fruit of the Spirit, and provides victory over life-dominating sin. That power allows me to experience progress in doing the God-inspired things I desire to do, and avoiding the God-inspired things I desire not to do. It is a power that energizes spiritual life, and a thriving relationship with our Lord. That power is pure and undefiled, and has no corrupt elements. On the other hand, earthly power is seductive and often corrupt. It is frequently pursued with less than pure (impure) motives. Earthly power is rarely pursued for the purpose of being conformed to the image of Christ. Resurrection power is sought for the purpose of being conformed to His image and thereby glorifying God.
- That you may know the fellowship of His sufferings: Paul had me at, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” It is the words that follow that tend to be a stumbling block, “and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”
I generally am reluctant to volunteer to suffer, and I can’t immediately recall a time where I prayed, “Lord I just want to suffer more so that I can be like You.” Yet as I look back and reflect on my life what do I see? Certainly not a single set of footprints on a sandy beach where Jesus carried me. I see the Master Potter forming me His clay with just enough pressure to progressively conform me to His design. Suffering, has been a great tool to make me more like Jesus.
Jesus experienced the pain of betrayal, and I have known that pain too. And I had to then consider whom (or Whom) have I betrayed? That process made me a little more like Christ. Jesus knew the disappointment of followers who did not really follow, and I’ve had that experience too. And I had to consider how well do I follow Jesus or others? Again, the reflections made me a little more like Jesus. I’ve been ridiculed and wrongly accused like Jesus. And I had to consider how many times have I ridiculed and wrongly accused? After wrestling with God about those matters, I was a little more like Jesus. And in times of sorrow and anguish, I learned to cry out to my Father, as Jesus did. I discovered that I often feel closest to my God when I am suffering. And as a result of suffering I look more like Jesus than I would apart from suffering. Like the Arab proverb, “Too much sunshine makes a desert.” I need the rain of suffering to produce fruit.