Growing In the Likeness of Christ
From the time you enter this world on the day you are born, you are growing in one form or another. From infancy through toddlerhood and eventually, to adolescence, you hear announcements like, “You are growing so fast” or “You have grown so much I didn’t recognize you.” From weight and height numbers recorded in “baby’s first book” to measurement marks on the door facing, you have evidence that you are growing.
Then from adolescence into your young adult years, you experience moments, even years, of maturing. Whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, you can look back and see how much you have matured in stature, in knowledge, and in self-reliance. Through the moments of embarrassment, you want to forget, to the experiences of self-confidence you want to capture, you have evidence that you are maturing.
Interwoven into the fabric of your living, are experiences of being at one with God and creation. At times you recognize those experiences as growing spiritually, other times you articulate them as growing in faith, and still, at other times you are at peace with God and the people around you. These experiences are evidence that you are becoming who you have been created to be.
The Human Experience
Growing and maturing is part of your human experience. Yet when it comes to becoming more who God created you to be, sometimes you live as if you have arrived at a special place where your life and the world around you does not and should not change.
You anchor your identity in special issues or beliefs and when those issues or beliefs are challenged there is no room for growth. Even to love the people who are challenging your life forming beliefs or tightly held positions is beyond open conversation and the possibility of transformation. Personal growth and emotional maturity are set aside as you draw a line in the sand, plant your stake in the ground, and refuse to interact with the people who hold different beliefs and opinions.
Becoming Like Christ
For me, most of my growing and maturing has come with pain and discomfort because I had to change to live into the likeness of Christ. As one example, when I first became a Jesus follower, it was all about me being a good Christian. It was about me being saved, doing the right things, and believing the right beliefs.
As I have encountered Jesus in and through the people I have met over the years, I am grown to understand that being a Jesus follower means I am either a Christian or I am not a Christian. It is about my relationship with others, developing a sensitivity to people, and sharing life’s joys and hurts with people.
I have grown to understand I can only be who God created me to be when I am in a relationship with the people around me and that I can only know the joy of Jesus when I know the sorrow of Jesus.
Are You Growing?
That leads me to this question: how do you know you are growing in Christ? As a Jesus follower, what evidence is there that you have your eyes on Jesus and that you are maturing into a who God created you to be?
When I stop and reflect on these questions, Paul’s letter to the Philippians comes to mind. What I remember is this:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
The characteristics of Jesus’ life were humility, obedience, and self-giving. He did not desire to dominate but to serve. Jesus did not desire his own way but God’s way. He did not desire to exalt himself but to give himself for the glory of God and the goodness of the people around him.
Love So Amazing
So, to grow into the likeness of Christ means that you will exhibit humility, obedience, and self-giving in your ordinary daily living. Here are some things to remember.
- Jesus won your heart not by blasting you with power, but by showing you a love which moved your heart. My guess is, you did not say, “I cannot resist such power,” but you did say, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” I bet you did not say, “I have been beaten to surrender.” But you did say, “I am lost in wonder, love, and praise.” It is not the might of Christ which reduces you to a defeated surrender; it is the amazing love of Christ before whom you kneel in transforming wonder.
2. Growing and maturing is part of your human experience. So, imagine yourself growing into the likeness of Christ. The one aim of Jesus was to serve others, no matter what the cost of self-giving love. Jesus focused his eyes upon glorifying God. So, as a follower of Jesus, imagine yourself, not thinking of yourself but of others, not of your own glory but of the glory of God.
Can you see yourself with the same mind that was in Christ Jesus?
Make Me Like Jesus
Let me tell you about Joe. Joe was known as a hopeless, dirty, drunk for whom there was little hope. Sleeping in the back alleys of the inner city, he was alone, known only as an alcoholic and a drug user.
One night, trying to keep dry at the Salvation Army shelter during a heavy rainstorm, Joe met Jesus. Everything changed for him that night. He became the most caring person that anyone at the shelter had ever known. He spent his days and nights doing whatever needed to be done. Whether it was cleaning up the remnants left by a sick alcoholic or scrubbing the toilets in the men’s room, or offering words of encouragement to a person in detox, there was never a task that was too low or a person he considered beneath him.
Joe greeted everyone with a soft smile. He was grateful for the chance to help. Joe could be counted on to feed the hurting and broken men who wandered in off the streets. He was known to tuck them into bed when they were too out of it to take care of themselves.
Is Jesus Like Joe?
One evening, the shelter chaplain was delivering his nightly sermon to the usual crowd. Most people present were simply waiting for the sermon to be over so that they could eat the evening meal.
At the end of the sermon, an invitation was given. One man came down the aisle to the altar. He knelt there and began crying for God to help him change. He cried out, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Please, O God, make me like Joe.”
The chaplain knelt beside him to assist him. He leaned over and said to him, “You know, I think it would be better if you prayed, “Make me like Jesus!”
The man looked up at the chaplain and said, “Why? Is Jesus like Joe?”
Who Does Jesus Look Like?
Does Jesus look like Joe? Or does Jesus look like Tim? Does Jesus look like Sara or Amy, Dennis or Greg, Karen or Bill, or does Jesus look like you? For people who don’t know Jesus or know about him, they will be looking at you. “Who does Jesus look like?” If they are going to know Jesus or anything about him, it will be through someone they already know, someone they recognize, someone who is familiar, someone who bears the likeness of Jesus, someone like you.
Can you see yourself growing into the likeness of Christ for the sake of the people around you?
Over the next week, respond to these questions with your actions.
1. How will your actions show Jesus?
Where will you show mercy? In our day, mercy seems to be rare. When people sense it, it always seems to be extraordinary. Whenever you show mercy, you show Jesus. To grow into the likeness of Jesus is to engage in acts of mercy. Where will you show mercy this week?
2. How will your words show Jesus?
What message will you share? Dorothy Day said, “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.” Take a minute to write down five things you want to say out loud about Jesus. Now, have a conversation with your spouse, your children, your parents, your best friend. Tell each of them about who Jesus is in your life. Ask each of them to help you grow into the likeness of Jesus so that when you speak, your words show Jesus. What message will you share this week?
3. How will your relationships show Jesus?
With whom will you express God’s love? The love you experience in and through Jesus keeps you in a relationship with the people around you. This Christlike love knows no bitterness and always seeks the good of others. It may reside in your heart, but it does not originate in your heart. God’s love is given to you so you have the Christlike ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. The love of God is given to you because you will need it to love those who do not love you. It is the very essence of the life of a Jesus follower. It is what makes a lasting impact on the lives of people God loves through you. With whom will you express God’s love this week?
What one step will you take to grow into the likeness of Christ? As a Jesus follower, you have this strange and wonderful authority from God to be Christ for others, to be the very presence and love of God. You will not always see it. But, God’s grace is shown and known in your acts of mercy, in your words of kindness, and in your friendships. God’s love, when fully realized, leaves a lasting impact on who you are and what you do.
What evidence in your life shows you are growing into the likeness of Christ? If you are not growing in pointing people to Jesus, then what is the point of your life?
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