As followers of Jesus, each of us is meant to be a “becomer” (i.e. we are always supposed to be believers in the process of becoming the persons God had in mind when he first thought of us, the persons we were created and re-created to become in Christ, his “workmanship”). Ephesians 2:9-10 says “…this is not our own doing…so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us”, and is still making us, for this is a life-long process. I have emphasized in previous blogs that Christians are not “self-made” individuals. We are Christ-made men and women who are meant to always be in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus.
God has a faith-vision of each of us as those who belong to Jesus. God never only sees us just as we are but as we are uniquely capable of becoming. Furthermore, God sees us at our highest and best. He knows our potentialities and possibilities and he deals with each of us in a unique and original way. Our Christian experiences are different, but the purpose of God’s redeeming and reconciling work, the intended result of Christ’s making and molding of us (i.e. as the potter molds the clay), is always the same: to make you and me into “earthen vessels” into which he can pour himself, so we can then be poured out in service to others. Just as Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (the Greek word is “doulos”, more literally “a slave” – Philippians 2:7), we too, by an act of our own free will are called to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), nailing self down to die (i.e. the claims of self, the old life, living for the things our human instincts crave) and becoming servants of our Servant Lord. Not seeking to be served but following Jesus all the way to the cross. Not seeking to save our lives but to give ourselves away, taking up the cross, bearing the burdens of others, loving as Jesus loves, sacrificially, redemptively, offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), which is the extreme limit of self-denial. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, but those who hate their life in this world (i.e. deny self, the claims of self, a self-centered life) will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Jesus also said “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who seek to find their life (i.e. to save their life) will lose it, and those who are willing to lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
Where did we ever get the idea that the Christian life should be easy and comfortable, rather than hard and costly? Jesus never promised his followers that his way would be easy, but rather used the words “narrow” and “hard” to describe the way that “leads to life” (Matthew 7:13-14). He also warned his disciples that his road would be costly, and they should consider the high cost of discipleship before accepting his invitation to follow him: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:27-30).
Suffice it to say, it is not enough to have a good beginning in the Christian life. We must be able to go all the way with Jesus – even all the way to the cross – and finish well! Christ is always seeking to complete what he started in each of our lives when we first answered his call to follow him. This process is often called “sanctification” as we “pursue righteousness” and become more and more “disciplined toward godliness” (i.e. toward Christ like-ness – see 1 Timothy 4:7-8 and 2 Timothy 2:22, 3:14-17). This process will never end in this lifetime, as Christ continues shaping us and repairing us as “earthen vessels,” like ordinary and imperfect “…clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power (i.e. the power that is forming and transforming us into the likeness of Jesus) comes from God, and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We don’t fully understand how it is possible for us to “…become participants in the divine nature” but the Apostle Peter assures us that we will as we continue growing in “godliness” and “…becom[ing] all the more eager to confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:4-10) until we finally see Jesus “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). At this point “We know we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Our countenance will no longer be marred by sin, for the perfect image of God in which we were created will be restored to the identity God intended for us in the beginning, and our lost spiritual inheritance which was forfeited in the Garden of Eden – perfect intimate fellowship with our Creator – will also be restored.
The Apostle Paul had kept this goal in mind from the hour of his conversion until the day of his martyrdom. He had one sustaining passion: to finish well and to win the prize. When the hour of his departure had come as a prisoner of Rome, he wrote his final letter, which was addressed to young Timothy, his beloved spiritual son in Christ’s service, saying: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). He did not say, “I have enjoyed the ride.” He also wrote, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (vs. 7-8). Earlier in his ministry, in his letter to his brothers and sisters in Christ in the church at Philippi, Paul had given this great testimony, speaking out of his own experience: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain…I regard everything else as loss (i.e. everything he had considered of any value before his conversion) for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I now regard them as rubbish (the Greek word is skabala, which is sometimes translated “dung”) in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own ( i.e. a righteousness “gained“ from keeping the moral law), but the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (i.e. a righteousness “given” by grace alone through faith alone). I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the sharing of his sufferings, by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-11).
It is in this same passage of Philippians that the greatest of the apostles also shares with us the secret of making the most of our lives as followers of Jesus: “Not that I have already obtained this, or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those among you who are mature (i.e. spiritually mature, no longer babes in Christ) be of the same mind” (3:12-15). So, forgetting past things that need to be forgotten, living for Jesus in the present and looking forward to our future with Christ in the glory of his kingdom, confident that in Christ we are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37-39) and ultimately we will be found in his likeness, clothed in his righteousness…this is the secret of living a joy-full and victorious Christian life. Not only being “becomers” but also “overcomers,” for Paul says in the conclusion of his Letter to the Philippians that “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:12-13).