Yesterday we gave some thought to the idea that our salvation was not just a matter of having our sins remitted and getting started on the “gloryland way.” We pointed out that God’s purpose for us is that we be restored to His original purpose for us – to be transformed into the image of Himself. We suggested that this is not only plainly stated, but that a correct understanding of many passages lead us to this same conclusion.
Today we want to look at some ways we have been provided by which we may reach that objective. Our loving heavenly Father does not just tell us to go out and achieve this lofty goal on our own. He provides the means and the power by which we may become like Him. While urging the Philippian Christians to “work out their own salvation,” Paul lets them know that it was through their working that God was working to accomplish His “good pleasure” or His purpose for our lives.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Thus, we are working in cooperation with God to become the kind of people He designs us to be. What is it that good pleasure of God? It is obvious from numerous scriptures – other than the original statement in Genesis 1:26-27 that God’s will for us is to be like Him.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29).
“…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24).
The new self or new man is “created after the likeness of God.” This is an individual who has been forgiven of sin, whose faith is accounted as righteousness in the sight of God (Romans 4:5). Paul urges the Ephesian Christians to “put on” the new self. They were to leave the old manner of life and eagerly embrace a new way of living. The image is that of exchanging worn, fraying clothes and putting on new ones. But how does one do this? Paul tells the Colossian people how…
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-11).
The new self is always in the process of becoming – of becoming increasingly shaped and formed – or renewed – into the likeness of its creator. That is done through knowledge. This is not academic knowledge. It is not traditional lore. This is not general Bible knowledge, but a specific kind of knowledge. It is knowledge of the creator.
That knowledge comes to us through the written record of His works among men through time. Through that record we come to know who He is and what He is like. Through His law we come to know something of His character. Through the psalms of praise used in worship to Him we know of His love and protection for His people.
When we really come to know God – know Him as a trusted friend, one who is vitally interested in us and in all His creation – we will come to worship Him. The reason for worshiping God is not to placate Him, but that we might become like Him. It is a recognized that people become like whatever god they worship. If we reverence and adore a loving, caring Father in heaven, we will become like Him.
The same is true of Jesus, the Son of God. He came into the world as the ultimate revelation of God’s character and nature.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
If we want to know as much as we can know about God we must look at Jesus, the Son of God.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).
Jesus said to His disciple, Philip, who had asked Him to show the Father to His disciples…
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).
His desire is that people come to know Him completely and intimately. Paul wrote to the Corinthians…
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
To “behold the glory of the Lord” with an unveiled face is to see him without anything to obscure our vision of Him and His excellencies. How are we to do this? How can we who live 2,000 years after He lived on earth “see” him clearly enough to understand His life this intimately? There are four different accounts of His life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written by either people who knew Him or by people who carefully investigated their reports of His life. The accounts of His life are far more complete than for any other person of the same period in which He lived.
When we read these accounts of His life we should be careful to look at what is said about His person. While His teaching is important and a part of the story of his life, it is not all the revelation of God. He is, Himself, the full and final revelation of God to man. If we want to know God – and more importantly – if we want to be transformed into the image of God, we must read and meditate on the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. It is in these accounts that we come to know Him as He seeks to be known.
Notice Paul’s language in the above text. He says that “we all…beholding.” He does not say we have beheld. This beholding is to be an ongoing process. We continue to look at Him. We continue to see the beauty and perfection of His life. And as we do so we are “being transformed” into His image. This does not refer to the initial obedience of a person when his sins are forgiven. This is an ongoing process. One that continues for as long as we live. As long as we continue to look at Him we will continue to be transformed.
God has also provided the church as an agency of transformation. He has given “gifts” to men – people with divinely given abilities to help us in this process of transformation into the image of God’s Son.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
One of the things we have generally identified as a “work of the church” is edification. We have not, however, seen this in terms of the spiritual transformation of people into the image of God. Much of the teaching done in Bible classes arranged by the church has been of a general nature with no specific end in view other than the imparting of Bible knowledge. Very little has been specifically designed to teach about the character of God or about the life of Jesus the Son of God. Therefore the teaching is not as effective as it should be toward the end of transformation of the members.
Finally, our hope should help to bring about our transformation.
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
Before becoming a Christian we have, as Paul writes here, borne the image of the man of dust. That is, we were like Adam. But in the resurrection, when our bodies are transformed into spiritual bodies, suited to eternal life, we WILL at that time bear the image of “the man from heaven.” We will all be like the Son of God. This is what the whole idea of transformation into the image of God is leading to. People who, being transformed little by little while living on earth, wonderfully, gloriously and completely transformed into His image when the Lord comes again. What a wonderful, gloriously happy day that will be!