While we remain in this world we will always fall short of God’s expectation for us as his creation. We sin or “miss the mark.” We “fall short of the glory of God.” The mark is not legal perfection, but the absolute perfection of the image of God as seen in the face of Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man. He came as the perfect representation of God to man (Heb. 1:1-3). It is God’s stated purpose for us to conform us to the image of his Son. This is how we were created. This is how we were always meant to be.
“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).
That conforming – that making us over into the image of Christ – will only be be finished at the resurrection when we are finally separated from sin and all its effects through the grace of God.
“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).
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).
While we await that moment on the day when the Lord comes again, we, as long as we are “beholding the glory of the Lord,” are becoming more and more like him, conforming more and more to his image.
“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).
We progressively are putting off the old man and putting on the new man. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians …
“… to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24).
When we manifest the likeness of Christ in our lives – when we pattern our lives after him – we will live as he lived, love as he loved, serve as he served and trust in God as he trusted the heavenly Father. We will be motivated by the same things that motivated him to heal the sick, feed the hungry, heal the lame and restore sight to the blind. We will teach and lead those who are without a shepherd as did he.
There is not one thing that will be untouched in our lives when he becomes our pattern. From how we conduct ourselves as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, neighbors, employers and employees, to our attitude and treatment of strangers and those who are different from us racially, ethnically, religiously and even our enemies, all will be modeled – patterned – after his perfection.
This will be just as true of us together as the church as with us as individuals. If we, the church, the body of Christ are not motivated out of the same love and compassion for the lost, the suffering, the sick, the weak, the young, the old, we simply do not understand what our collective mission as Christ’s image bearers in this world is.
- “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36).
- “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14).
- “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2).
- “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” (Luke 7:13).
- Jesus was deeply moved (troubled) and wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:38-44).
- The Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36).
- He loved the rich man and told him what he needed to do to have eternal life (Mark 10:17-22).
- He loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20).
- He showed mercy to the woman taken in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).
What is the point? How does this apply to the church? This doesn’t give us any authority for specific works for the church to do, does it? Oh, doesn’t it? “You go, and do likewise!” (Luke 10:37).
We would do well to consider Paul’s words regarding the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles as one new man in one body …
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The church – the called out men, women, boys and girls, old and young – we all – can find things all around us to do individually and collectively to keep us busy for a lifetime just following the pattern of his life. If we were to allow Christ to be the pattern for our lives and for the whole of his body, the church, it would put a divine face on the things we would be doing. People would see Jesus in every act that is motivated by his example. They would see the image and glory of God reflected in our lives in a way they have never seen it before.
Why don’t we see Jesus as the pattern for not only our individual lives, but the pattern for the church as well? I suggest that there are two interconnected reasons. (1) We in Churches of Christ have always been taught that we must follow the pattern constituted in the example of the first century churches. In the process of restoring(?) the New Testament church, it was assumed that if we did those things done by early churches we would be doing the will of God and only the will of God and would be the church as God always intended it to be. If a thing is not specified or inferred as “necessary” and therefore binding, it is considered unscriptural. (2) This drove us to focus on Acts and the epistles to discern the pattern. Because our focus has been on legal conformity we have neglected the rich source of knowledge, the gospels, we have failed to know the one who is the “head of the body.” Because we think only in terms of law we assign him the role of commander and fail to see that his example is just as binding on us as are his commands.
We read the gospels as flat history without ever engaging the person of Jesus. The gospels are biography – the story of a person. Not only do they tell us what he did, but why. They tell us what he was like so that we can model our lives after his. By not studying the gospels we fail to see both the divine nature and human nature as they meet in him who was both God and man. Thus we fail to see him both as the revelation of God to man and as the revelation of man as we were always intended to be. We fail to see him as the pattern for all things pertaining to our responsibilities toward God.
Jesus is not just our law-giver – he is our life. It is in him and through him and for him that we live and act and serve.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).
When we base our work and the work of the church on the life and example of Jesus, that is, we make his life authoritative, we will not be ruled by a list of laws of what we are “scripturally” permitted or not permitted to do. As an example of what I am talking about, take the patently absurd idea that the church cannot practice mercy toward an individual who is not a Christian (can’t help him out of the treasury of the church). This is an example of how we have refused to follow the example of Christ because we take the silence of the scriptures regarding churches helping anyone other than Christians as binding law. We do the very same thing Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing – worshiping him in vain because they refused to help their aged parents on the excuse that they had devoted to G0d their means by which they might have helped their parents.
“But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)” — (Mark 7:11).
Their money was “corban.” Our money is devoted to the treasury of the church. We even use the same terminology – the money devoted to the treasury is “the Lord’s money.”
The scriptures are not silent about helping those who are on the “outside.” The interesting incident found in Matthew 15:21-28 is enlightening. Jesus healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter even though she was not a Jew. To think that the church cannot do as Jesus did is ludicrous!
We need to learn the lesson Jesus tried to get across to the legalists of his day when they condemned his disciples for plucking a few heads of grain and eating it on the Sabbath.
“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7).
There has to be a better way of understanding the Bible than the way we have been reading it. There has to be a better way than just searching out “laws” which prevent us from being like Christ in compassion, mercy and love.
More tomorrow …
(Post written by Max Ray. Due to technical difficulties, the past few posts have been published under the administrator’s account.)