I am increasingly hearing and seeing people stressing the truth that God’s ultimate purpose for us is that we be transformed more and more into the image of the Son of God – and that is good. After all, that is what God made us to be at creation. That is what was lost when the human race went into sin and that is what God is seeking to restore us to when he makes us His children. Being in the image of the Son of God is what will characterize us in eternity.
But just what does that mean and how do we get there? It may not always be what we think and it may not always be easy. It may not be glamorous and it certainly will not ever be popular. Consider what the apostle Paul had to say about it in this scripture.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).
The treasure of which Paul was speaking was the ministry of the gospel. He was inspired to preach it and to write it. But the fact that he had been chosen by God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles did not make him be puffed up with pride. He saw himself for what he was, a fragile vessel – and one that was not particularly attractive at that. He said that he was just an ordinary old “clay pot.” What was significant about him was the message he was carrying to the world.
He didn’t ever want to outshine the message of the gospel. He didn’t wish to call attention to himself when he preached the message. Perhaps this is why he referred to himself as being a “jar of clay.” Perhaps he was like the idea I used to hear when brethren would pray for a preacher, “May he hide himself behind the cross.” Paul “hid himself behind the cross.” He wanted the world to know Him from whom the message came and not him who delivered the message. He was just a messenger boy.
That clay pot that Paul described himself as being was continually being subjected to stresses and rough treatment. When you read of all the things that befell Paul as he preached the “death, burial and resurrection of Jesus,” it seems that he became a magnet for scorn and ill treatment. He described something of his experiences this way –He said he was…
“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Corinthians 1:23-27).
Yet, through all this trouble and terror, Paul remained faithful to his Lord and to his mission. Why would he endure all these things without knowing whether there would be an earthly end to it all? He was doing it all for the sake of his Lord, Jesus who is the Christ. Suffering for the Lord, he was “carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” Jesus suffered for our sake, the just for the unjust. He suffered in order that the true nature of God might be known to us – that He is willing to go to the uttermost extreme of being hated and reviled by men then to suffer and die in order that we might live. Paul was going through the same kinds of things for the very same reason. He was suffering because he was being like Jesus. He was suffering because he loved men and didn’t want to see any soul lost.
Do we ever think of suffering for the gospel, suffering for doing good, sacrificing our time, effort, abilities, money, comfort as being like Jesus? Do we think of these things as conforming to the image of the Son of God? (Romans 8:29). Being a Christian is so much more than “going to church” on Sunday (although I believe in assembling with the saints), singing (acapella, of course), dropping a few dollars in a collection plate and feeling that we are “faithful Christians” because we have “done our duty.”
Manifesting the life of Jesus or being like Jesus means loving like He loved. He didn’t just love the loveable. He didn’t just love his disciples. He didn’t just love those who loved him. He loved his enemies – and prayed for them – even the ones who crucified Him.
“And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
In doing so, He was being like His heavenly Father. He was showing His disciples – you and me – how we are to love our enemies and pray for them as He taught.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Being sons of the “Father who is in heaven” is being like Jesus. It is reflecting His image. And it isn’t easy! It requires more effort than many who profess to be Christians are willing to put out. It isn’t easy to get up out of bed to help a neighbor who is in trouble – without grumbling – especially if that neighbor hasn’t been so very neighborly toward us. But it is Christlike. It isn’t easy to sacrifice for someone who doesn’t even give us a “thank you” in appreciation of our effort. But it is being like Jesus. It isn’t easy to be patient toward someone who has lied to us or about us. But it is being like the Son of God.
How well are we portraying Jesus, the Son of God, in our own lives?