Cynics think they have x-ray vision

For too many Christians the very idea or even the possibility of change, and subsequent growth in Christlikeness, seems too elusive or even too naïve to contemplate. We breathe in the cultural smog of cynicism that seeks to undermine all stories of change, goodness, honesty and joy.

Cynics keep telling us of what they can see from their superior vantage point. Their x-ray vision apparently sees through all hope as simply a naïve and sentimental dream. For them, optimists are simply shallow and cannot quite see what the cynic can see only too clearly – that change is allegedly not possible. We are damaged goods and even very modest repair is nothing more than a silly dream perpetuated by those gullible religious snake-oil salesmen.

Some Christians affirm this conclusion after years of exhausting church work. They see themselves as just as egocentric and as irritable as when they first began. Others have thrown themselves into social change. However, after years of pouring themselves out for others they seem to be as angry and as frustrated as when they started the journey.

For some the issue is more theological. They began the journey with grace and they feel frozen by that grace. Any suggestion of progress in the Christian life smacks of “works righteousness” and so they keep well away.

Cynicism about any change in a mere sinner (coupled to the fear of appearing better than others) keeps them locked in that “I’m nothing but a worm” steel-lined box. Even our media seems to support their logic. Scandals and broken lives flood our daily news but they also reinforce a general sense that humanity is wretched and any hope of improvement is simply naïve.

Into this dark picture comes a gospel of light underpinned by expectations of real change; of growth in Christlikeness amongst those people empowered by the Spirit and walking in the ways of Christ. So many of these people speak of a life vastly richer, deeper and more colourful than the grey palette used to paint our world by the media.

They have experienced the transforming walk into a new way of being human. They know of a life based on “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). They heard Paul’s call and agreed that Christ should be formed in us (Gal 4:19) and that that should be the normal Christian experience.

And the historical record of lives changed is there for all to see. Augustine, Aimee Semple McPherson, Thomas à Kempis, Florence Nightingale, Ruth Padilla-de Borst, Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman and John Stott all attest to the reality of lives that changed once they started to walk in the ways of Christ Jesus.

They followed the normal expectation of spiritual transformation not because they wanted to save their nation or even change their congregation. They did it simply because it is an expectation built into the gospel. God is in the transformation business and He expects His children to join the family business in all earnestness.

Our “actions follow our essence” is an ancient maxim well worth taking to heart. Our actions are the result of who we are and what we love and who we are becoming. And when we have been immersed into that vital union with God as his new creations and flooded by the Spirit of God things must change. A purifying journey begins that seeks to bring all of life under the spotlight of a relationship with Jesus Christ. And so we start to ask daily that God searches us and roots out every wicked way in us (Ps 139:23-24).

But God never walks into the various rooms of our lives uninvited. We need to give Him full access to every area of our being. That is the essence of the journey into Christlikeness. It’s about a daily reconstruction project that asks Jesus to be Lord of all and that includes every aspect of our humanity.

And that should change us because it is a work that only God can do – a work of purification, of transformation, and of whole life formation into the ways of Jesus.

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Christian being formed – its on the tin

Christian spiritual formation does what it says on the tin – it’s about being conformed to Christ. If we think about a similar process where a clay pot is being formed on a wheel we notice that it goes through a shaping and even a reshaping process. The potter is trying to bring out something potential and make it actual.  Truly Christian spiritual formation will inevitably take on very particular distinctives that will allow the disciple to travel in a very specific direction – in the ways of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. He is our potential that the Spirit wishes to make actual.

Whilst other spiritual traditions may give us some helpful tools on what it means to be an integrated human being none of them can express what conforming to the image of Christ actually means. It’s about the person of Jesus Christ as found in the Bible.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus becomes our source of rest as well as the One to whom we are yoked – our Teacher. That means that Christian spiritual formation will be Christ-centred. We develop a relationship with Christ; we seek to imitate His character; and listen to His Spirit and His Word. We practise the spiritual disciplines like Bible study because we want to be trained in the ways of Christ.

But we cannot oversimplify the process. Naturally, we reject sin; we bear witness to Him; we pray regularly and bathe our hearts and minds in the Words of Scripture. But we are seeking a high goal indeed – to be obedient to the Spirit-directed process of the transformation of our own spirits in order to become like Jesus. Every aspect of our humanity is on the Potter’s wheel and He wants to reshape us – every bit of us. Our hearts, minds, feelings, imaginations, and our loves as well as what we hate.

So we avoid reducing the grand process of becoming like Jesus to merely daily Bible reading. God was not silent and then began to speak in a book and then fell silent again, to paraphrase A.W Tozer.  It is God’s nature to speak and relate and through His Spirit He is still doing so. We see the Bible as central but we also accept that God is at work in our  offices, our friends, our neighbourhoods and our families and some of that work is designed to reshape us. So we listen intently and obey whole-heartedly through the grid of a Bible shaped life.

But as we open up the horizon of our gaze we need to avoid the opposite pit-fall. As we permit experience to speak we may fall into the trap of fostering experiences. Remember, the goal remains radical transformation, a shaping and reshaping process that is about forming Christ in us. And an invitation to look and learn is not the same as being transformed. Experiences do not come to us with a ready-made and easily accessed interpretation. We must constantly return to the Bible and our Bible-shaped communities in order to carefully filter them.

Conformity to the ways of Christ still comes through the long hard process of daily obedience to the Christ we meet in the Bible as well as in life. It’s about a lifetime of permitting the grace of the Spirit to reshape us. When we become more enamoured by the experience than by pursuing the God of the experience we are no longer walking in the ways of truly Christian spiritual formation.

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Don’t get bogged-down

It’s not uncommon to hear Christians talk of their own sense of imperfection and the subsequent shame caused by dark tendencies that seem to create pot-holes in the road of life. It’s not an uncommon reality but it is one that we should avoid spending too long wallowing in. To do so will only slow down the more important Spirit-directed journey into Christlikeness.

When we became new creations (2 Cor 5) we naturally raised our expectations for the journey ahead. We want to become like Jesus and that is a high goal indeed. But perfection should never be one of those expectations.

We have the Spirit at work within us but the reshaping process takes time – a lifetime. And He is more patient than we are. Paul used the same passage to remind his readers that they are not to look at each other from a worldly point of view (2 Cor 5:16). We may mistakenly see ourselves as someone God has to grudgingly tolerate in the family whilst He enthusiastically celebrates all the great saints around us.

There seem to be so many other Christians who do so much and achieve such great levels of Christlikeness. However, that is an incredibly debilitating thought and one that will slow us down and weaken us. But more importantly it’s simply not true. That is a worldly point of view – the belief that we are insignificant to God and others are the real apple of His eye. But that thought comes to many of us as a nasty little voice that explodes in our heads like a destructive piñata.

But these are thoughts that should be defused by more accurate self-images constructively spoken to us in the Bible. “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Rom 12:2 NLT). In a celebrity culture like ours where the rich, the beautiful and the famous are glamourised and the rest of us are merely also-rans (who are slipping further behind each day) the thought that we are insignificant is not hard to imagine. But it’s just not true. Well, certainly not according to the only perspective that matters and from the only One who sees reality as it really is, God.

God treasures His people and He is reshaping us to look and sound more like His Son because He loves us with a love deeper than we have ever experienced before. That is a view of reality given to us by God in His Word. And because the journey into Christlikeness needs our full cooperation and our unparalleled commitment we must drown out that “nasty little voice”. It has a draining effect that will weaken us and its subsequent ability to distract us will only slow us down.

Like drowning out a neighbour’s screaming lawnmower by turning up the volume on your garden radio, so we also need to spend more time in Scripture in order to “change the way we think” and drown out that “nasty little voice”. And who knows, one day it may even have a long sulk and then shut-up permanently?

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The temptation of the church

It has always been the temptation of the church in every age to simply baptise the passions of the wider culture in order to reduce the tension. To imitate what is outside the church in order to make the differences less obvious and allow Christians to feel less awkward. We have entered the 21st century at high speed and the pace is getting even faster. Now as never before we are tempted to speed-up things that were designed to take time; to cheat a process that was designed to slowly percolate into the crevices of our souls in order to ensure lasting change. And the Spirit-directed journey into Christlikeness is one of
those deep processes that just takes time.

Eugene Peterson, in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, homes in on the problem of our modern world: “One aspect of the world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can
be done quickly and efficiently”.

And this harmful habit may well have entered the church already. Perhaps that is why we read one-minute self-help books; try to develop our knowledge of Scripture from five minute morning devotionals; celebrate shorter sermons and longer choruses; tweet daily bible one-liners; nibble on excerpts from psalms large enough to fit a key-ring medallion; and then get irritated when corporate prayers drag-on for more than the expected two minutes.

In James 1:2-4 we read words not designed for 21st century living, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete (Christlike), not lacking anything”. Clearly the journey into Christlikeness requires perseverance and that, unfortunately, comes to none of us as an easily accessible download.

Could it be that we have simply acquired characteristically 21st century impatience with the way that God has designed life? Lawns can now be turfed for instant beauty and maturity without the inconvenience and time consuming problems of seeding; hair extensions permit the instant length we long for without the hassle of months of cultivation; and even clouds can be seeded in order to provide instant rain rather than having to wait for unpredictable nature to take its course.

For Christians interested in taking the journey into maturity or Christlikeness its worth remembering that we are pilgrims in a culture that cultivates tourists. We’re people who have our eyes on the distant future (a restored creation inhabited by people who are like Christ). As pilgrims we are being trained to take time and to take notes on the journey as we stay alert to what God is doing during each and every step of the adventure.

In fact, the journey may actually be a crucial part of the destination. If we short-cut the journey we will miss those Spirit-directed moments in a conversation, a meal, a sermon, a book, a hospital visit, all of which have been designed to transform us. They reshape us to look and be more like the Jesus we will meet “face-to-face” at the end of the journey.

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Christlikeness and marginalising maturity

If you are a subscriber to Mars Hill Audio the below insights will not be new to you. But if you are an avid imbiber of the wisdom of those who can see what is happening to western culture it is an invaluable resource that can be commended to all Christians who can see a disturbing juvenilisation of western Christianity.

The recent edition (number 115) gave an insight well worth passing on. The below is an abbreviated summary of part of a fascinating interview with Thomas Burgler.

It is perhaps self-evident that not many Christians believe that we will revert to being children in our resurrected bodies. However, today there is a disabling preoccupation with youth and a suspicion of, or indifference to, maturity.

Growing in Christ is the big issue for 21st century western churches.  Eugene Peterson once noted in  Practising Resurrection, that “Americans, in general, have very little tolerance for a centering way of life that is submissive to the conditions in which growth takes place: quiet, obscure, patient and not subject to human control and management”.

He goes on to note that the American church is uneasy in these conditions. Typically in the name of relevance it adapts itself to the prevailing American culture and is soon indistinguishable from that culture: talkative, noisy, busy, controlling and image conscious. We could say exactly the same for the church in the UK as well.

But we cannot follow our spiritual heroes in a healthy pursuit of Christlikeness and marginalise maturity even if the culture around us finds the goal of maturity boring and irrelevant. Even in civic and secular settings dozens of social critics, philosophers and pundits periodically lament the absence of grown-ups in our public life.

But in our churches there are powerful theological and pastoral reasons to resist this cultural shift; however, by-in-large the church has acquiesced. So we now see the Juvenilisation of Western Christianity.

Thomas Burgler defines this religious juvenilisation as, “The process by which religious beliefs, practices and developmental characteristics of adolescence become appropriate for Christians of all ages”. Neil Postman in Amusing ourselves to death calls this the preoccupation with “fun” that deters the pursuit of maturity.

Thomas Burgler had an experience some years ago that set alarm bells going off in his head when he discovered that maturity was no longer a “cool” issue for modern Christians. The bells started ringing the day he asked a class of young adult Christians to define what a spiritually mature Christian looks like.

But the class was very resistant to answering that question. They started avoiding the direction of the enquiry by saying things like, “Nobody is perfect”, “We cannot be holy in this life” and identifying traits of maturity with being judgemental.

Burgler concluded that Hebrews 5:11 – 6:2 was no longer being taught and so the fact that spiritual maturity should happen in every believer’s life after a reasonable period of growth was now being ignored.

He went on to identify a cultural trend that no longer associates adulthood with certain characteristics of maturity like sacrificially caring for others; being responsible for people other than yourself; and being others centred. Instead there is a cultural push to promote and be yourself as an avid pursuer of your own dreams.

This is one of the many reasons why Langham Partnership has launched the 9aday  campaign. Join us in reversing an unhealthy 21st century cultural trend that has entered our churches in the UK as well.

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Transformation is part of the gospel

The Bible shows us lives of disciples who have been remarkably transformed by the indwelling power of God’s Spirit. And throughout church history millions of Christians have claimed that the same transformative dynamism has been experienced on every continent of our globe. Whilst the truth of Christianity cannot stand or fall on the validity of changed lives, the evidence of so many Christlike lives in our world is yet another crucial implement in the apologist’s toolbox.

The Bible is full of promises to Christians that after repentance and new birth comes a journey of transformation that will make them more like the Jesus they love. They will have their humanity returned to them, their servanthood refined and their usefulness in God’s mission into the world increased. But at the heart of that transformative process lies a mystery – we allow the Spirit to refine us whilst we also purposefully move through the twists and turns of the process of becoming like Jesus.

Jesus captured this mystery so well when He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest”. A clear call to stay connected so that the Spirit of God can remould us into the image of our Lord. But then Jesus adds an unexpected footnote to that initial call: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me” (Matthew 11:28). In other words we also need to obey and walk in His ways if the journey of transformation is to take hold.

Of course none of this should surprise us. The Bible predicts that the Christian will experience abundance of life after an initial conversion (John 10:10). And the evidence of changed lives around the globe seems to highlight a series of well known milestones along this well worn ancient path into Christlikeness.

Christians start to experience a new moral sensitivity in the lives of fellow travellers as well as in themselves (Hebrews 5:11-14). They sense a growth in wisdom and preparation for service that comes from accumulated time in Bible study (2 Timothy 3:15-17) as well as investment in the lives of other people (Psalm 133). And that key milestone of knowing that we now belong to God as one of His children will also start to settle into the deepest recesses of our souls (John 1:12).

And so transformation becomes a necessary part of the gospel message. If changed lives were not a reality in the church then an essential part of the gospel message is missing. The Bible claims that those who choose to walk with God will experience a new way of being human (Matthew 5:1-13).  And people who repent or turn away from the old ways of rebellion should start to look and sound more like people who are walking along a new path.

That is what makes the truths of Christianity stand out. They ring true because we see them in 3D-Technicolour before our very eyes. Because we see them being lived out by the followers of Jesus who are walking in the transformative ways of His Spirit.

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Reshaping: Formed, conformed & transformed

When we speak of the difference between our goal and our destination we speak of the difference between having “Christ formed in us” and the new heaven and new earth. We distinguish between the past, present and future journey of becoming like Jesus from the place where we will ultimately live out that completely transformed life.

Paul spoke about his longing to see “Christ formed in you” (Gal 4:19) based on the knowledge that the past work of election was for that very purpose. “Those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). And to the Corinthians he speaks of that process as a current reality, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit  (2 Cor 3:18)”. And to cap it all we are assured of the future completion of that process for we will one day “be like Him” (1 Jn 3:2).

So the breath-taking goal of the Christian life can be summarised as follows: We are being formed, conformed and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. How is that possible? Because He agrees to be yoked to us (Matt 11:29), a training process that transforms us.

Of course, this cannot be sustained on our own. We need that community life of loving, nurturing and mutual accountability. Transformation happens in the matrix of a loving fellowship. We need to “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18), and that knowledge has always been found in relationships.

But we need to participate in the God created “means of grace” that become our cat’s-eyes marking out the journey into Christlikeness. Daily life is designed to shape our character. Work places us in the flow of Divine action. Luther called the work of the ploughboy and the milkmaid priestly work but he also reminded us that ploughing and milking are priestly jobs. It is one of the arenas in which God is reshaping us. Jesus spent most of His lifetime experiencing the shaping work of carpentry. He learnt the power of “doing everything to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Trials are also designed to produce endurance which James told us to allow them to have their full effect, “so that you may be mature and complete (Christlike), lacking in nothing. (Jam 1:4). Through this less sought after means of grace we learn something of the cosmic patience of God as we see His timing is always good. Of course the Spirit has also been given to us as the ultimate shaper of our character. We feel the weight of Divine communication confirmed to us through His Word. The same Spirit that inspired Scripture is also at work reshaping us.

There are also more formal means of grace like prayer, Bible study, fasting, solitude, simplicity and others. But they have all been given to us because without well informed intentional action we will never grow in Christlikeness.  They help us with that “training in godliness” (1 Tim 4:7) so essential to the normal process of transformation.

Of course, these means of grace have no merit in themselves. They don’t make us right with God nor do they improve our standing with Him, but they do place us before Him. He uses them to reshape our character as He transforms us into the image of Christ.

That is why Paul’s picture of the athlete in the games is so crucial (2 Tim 2:5). We learn to distinguish between trying and training. Without training I may try to win a marathon race but I will only fail. That is because without training there will be no ingrained habits that have restructured my body for the marathon. Training builds holy habits.

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Living out the future now

In the movie “Master and Commander” there is a heart-wrenching bitter-sweet scene of loss and gain for which a high price must be paid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeERYS-0Tnw. The captain boldly takes on the agonising job of cutting off a broken mast that is dragging in the water (which he knows is acting as a life-raft for a man lost over-board) in order to obtain the more valuable goal of saving the ship and its crew.

Paul seems to be making a similar powerful and blunt statement about our need to drop what holds us back as we strain to become more like Christ. “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me… Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12,13). And some of the letting go may well be painful.

Words like “pressure”, “press-on”, “intensify” and “straining” all seem to colour Paul’s picture of this journey into Christlikeness. And Paul is not uncomfortable with this pressure since he quite clearly is not willing to lie back and passively let things happen. Of course, we know that he is not trying to attain salvation so this act of straining is not motivated by fear. It’s an internal drive in order to reach a Spirit-directed goal.

Just before this picture of intense effort Paul notes that he wants to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection… and so, if possible, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (10,11). “If possible”, has he lost his old assurance? It cannot be that he doubts his own resurrection when Christ returns. Rather he wants to live now as if he is has already been raised from the dead. He wants to live so Christlike that it will be like living in the future – an incredible desire for a future state even now. In other words maturity is about being reorientated towards the future and living out that reality now.

He is, of course, aiming for a very high goal indeed – to attain now what is promised in the future. But he says he has not yet made it (12) and in Romans 7 he notes that he is nowhere near it. So this is not the naïve call of a perfectionist but rather a passionate desire to see high levels of transformation amongst God’s people in our lifetime.

Perhaps Paul has seen Christians who settle for less. They give up straining and settle for mediocre fumbling, or even worse they despair of real change and lose heart all together. We can so easily marinade in our own failures, so well seasoned with self-pity, and then passively accept the ugly label of “past your sell-by-date”. But there are other dangers that can drag us back into the past – our achievements.

Two examples of this kind of spiritual-drag are easy to spot. There is the well-known smug Christian who rests on past accolades and then basks in their fading glory. But there is also the rebellious Christian who looks back at her pre-Christian days and relishes all the fun she had back then. Paul wants us to cut it off and strain into the future.

Maturity happens in the mind first as our mindset changes (Rom 12:2). Maturity requires an understanding of the gospel that saves us by grace alone. It was God’s initiative and He works to complete it. But even though He accepts us just the way we are He has no intention of leaving us “just the way we are”. We must grow towards the goal of being Christlike. In other words, the mature person is always in motion, always in flux.

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Beware: God has high expectations

Do some people in our churches not change simply because we don’t expect them to? They “came in from the cold”; they got their “get out of hell free card”; they were marked with that heavenly bar-code – so what more can we really expect of them? They attend, they tithe, they sing and, of course, they avoid certain scandalous behaviour that may bring that heavenly bar-code into question. But since we did not expect any ongoing transformation so they live at the low levels of change that we suggest by our silence.

In Galatians 4:19 Paul seems to be waiting on tenterhooks for the expected change of his readers. Some may even call this sort of language very high expectations indeed: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” He seems to be suggesting that morphing into ever greater degrees of Christlikeness is normal. It seems to be an expectation of all of God’s people and any delay or stalling of the process should become the real shock in our churches.

Do you remember those Power Rangers so much a part of children’s TV in the 1990s? They popularised the famous shout, “It’s morphin’ time”. That well known call meant that they received unusual power to change and do extraordinary things.

Now imagine a church liturgy that began with the call, “It’s time to change” to which the congregation responds with an enthusiastic “It’s time to change indeed”. Now before you roll your eyes and join the call to move churches allow this curious liturgy to play with your imaginations for a while.

When Jesus told us that the Kingdom  of God has arrived He was not talking about a distant event that happens after death. He meant now and he meant His people to be the signposts to that new reality through their changed lives.  In Matthew 21:43 Jesus says,  “Therefore I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”

And what are those fruit of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace… the sort of fruit that should be expected in growing measures from people living in His Kingdom or under His reign. If you like, we are becoming “free samples of Jesus” to a world in rebellion against Him.

So why do we settle for less? Perhaps it’s because we hear that the church in the UK is shrinking and so we panic and assume that all of church life should be about getting more bums on seats. But that response only ensures that the miracle of conversion will continue to eclipse the miracle of transformation.

Instead of raising the bar of our expectations of transformed lives living under the power of the Kingdom  of God (a very powerful evangelistic tool in itself) we have lowered it and settled for the minimum requirements for getting out of hell. But the call of the gospel was never meant to be just a means of escape; it is a call to join the mission of God. And God’s mission into this world is a transformative mission that needs people who are starting to look and sound more like the Jesus they proclaim.

Its time to change indeed – all day and every day.

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More than just getting out of hell

For most evangelicals knowing what we are saved from seems easier to articulate than knowing what we are saved for. In typically modern language we talk about the rescue plan for the individual who needs to reconnect with God and be saved from an unpleasant end. But could this modern individualistic orientation to the purpose of salvation be missing a much more important bigger picture? We were saved for a purpose and that purpose is much more interesting than just knowing where we get to spend all eternity.

Athanasius is considered to be a renowned Christian theologian, the chief defender of Trinitarian Christianity against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century. But his view of salvation opens up a surprising insight for most of us in the
church today. “God became man so that man might become god” an idea he picked up from another great Church Father, Irenaeus. This renowned 2nd century theologian wrote, “Through His transcendent love, our Lord Jesus Christ became what we are, so that He might make us to be what He is”.

C.S Lewis seems to have been playing with the same idea when he wrote in Mere Christianity, “God said that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good on his word”. Now perhaps none of this heady language (apparently teetering on the very precipice of heresy) should surprise us. It was actually Peter who boldly suggested the idea of transformation for mere mortals when he wrote, “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate (or partake) in the divine nature…” (2 Pet 1:4)

Now before we lose our balance, permit a brief theological reorientation lesson just to ensure that we don’t slip over the edge. For evangelicals pondering the various phases of salvation we like to distinguish between: conversion, justification (two issues we major on), sanctification and glorification (two issues we tend to give less time to). But it is the bad habit of downplaying the last two that has made us so unbalanced.

If we take more seriously the biblical reality that Christ is being formed in us (Gal 4:19), which is based on God’s past choice to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). Then we know that this must be a present reality since we are being transformed into his image even now (2 Cor 3:18). And we have an assurance of the future completion of that process for we will one day “be like Him” (1 Jn 3:2). If that is all true then conforming, transforming and becoming like Jesus is the big issue for all Christians in every age.

If we go back to the beginning we read, “Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1:26). And if Adam and Eve had remained in communion with God they would have become ever more like God in holiness and love. So God’s salvation plan rescues us from our enemies and returns us to the path of becoming like Him.

Eastern Orthodox theologians speak of that transformative process as a process of divinisation or theosis. Becoming like God and yet distinct from Him. Having our humanity returned to us as we start to appear ever more like our Lord, the perfect human being. We can experience His “energies” whilst not sharing in His “essence”. We can become by grace what God is by nature.

But as evangelicals we have a revivalist streak that makes everything beyond that crucial first step of conversion seem entirely optional. But the bigger picture is far more interesting as it speaks as much about returning as about rescuing.

It’s about a daily call to a deeper more abundant life – a return to the path so sadly lost by our forefathers. It’s a call to grow in godliness as we strive to be more like our Saviour. So basic growth in Christlikeness is actually what the Christian life is all about – a chance to get back on the path we wandered away from all those years ago.

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