Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Conformity for Jesus

Many people hate the idea of conformity.  Most of us cherish our individualism, some of us militantly so.  While it is a good thing when it comes to not conforming ourselves to the world, there is a type of conformity we are all called to.  We all called to conform to the image of Christ. 
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  Ephesians 5:1 NKJV
As a child aspires to be like his father, so should we aspire to be like our Heavenly Father. How is it we are to be like Him?  God answers that question as well.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest [your] hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, [as] in your ignorance; but as He who called you [is] holy, you also be holy in all [your] conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:13-16 NKJV
We are called to imitate God in that we are called to be holy.  Of course this also begs the question as to what it means to be holy.  We have never seen God so we have never seen what "holy" looks like.  What is our model to be imitators of God?  Again, God's word has the answer.
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" John 14:9 NKJV
And so we see that to be imitators of God, we must be imitators of Christ.  We see that we are called to be holy, as God is holy.  We see that we are to be conformists, but not to the styles and habits of the world, but to the example of our Lord.  Some like to twist this idea to mean anything they want it to be.  They say the conform to Christ, but they conform to a Christ of their own making.  Instead of becoming more like Jesus, they make Jesus more like themselves to justify their fallen lifestyle, even while claiming to be part of the church.  These arguments may hold some merit if Ephesians 5:1 existed in a vacuum.  For those who want to define Jesus in their own image, your error is exposed by merely backing up a couple of verses.  You see, Ephesians 5:1 begins with the word "Therefore."  A wise pastor once said that if you see a "therefore," you must see what it is there for.  This verse is a conclusion to what Paul has just been saying in the previous chapter.  We must remember that chapters and verses are constructs of man and have nothing to do with the intent or interpretation of Scripture.  They only exist to make things easier to find.  Ephesians 5:1 is a single verse, but not an idea independent of what was said before and after.  So let us back up a little and see what it means to be imitators of God.
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesian 4:31-32 NKJV
These two verses represent what we need to put away from our lives and what we need to exhibit in our lives in order to be more like Jesus.  These lists are not exhaustive, but they are a good start.  Any kind of bitterness, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice need to be put away from you.  They have no place in being an imitator of God.  This is not how God dealt with us and it is not how we should deal with other people.  What we do need to do is to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving.  We are to put away those things that God did not hold over us but poured out on His son in our place and we are to exhibit the grace that God has shown to us through Jesus Christ.  The first and most important trait of Jesus that we can express in our lives is His grace. 

Beyond that, we must strive to express his nature in our lives.  We are all familiar with this idea.  We all know about the "What would Jesus do?" movement.  While that is theologically incorrect, it is along the right lines.  We are not to ask what Jesus would do in any situation, but to ask if we are reflecting His nature.  For example, when taxes are due we are not to go fishing (as in asking what Jesus would do), but we are to trust that God will provide for our needs (reflecting His nature of trusting God).  That should be what we do in every situation in our lives.  We need to ask if what we are doing or how we are behaving is in the nature and character of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  And what we know about Jesus comes from the Word of God.  There is no compromise on that.  We can not make things up about Jesus with no scriptural justification and say that is how you are being like Jesus.  We can not say our life circumstances define how we relate to being like our Lord.  In fact, part of being like our Lord is maintaining the character and nature of Jesus in spite of life's circumstances.  Jesus was betrayed and crucified yet still exhibited his graceful nature when He asked from the cross that His oppressors be forgiven.  Using life's circumstances to define how you reflect Jesus is only an excuse for what is really wrong, and that is your refusal to put away those wicked desires of your flesh.  You are merely creating your own Jesus in your own image because you love yourself more than you love the Lord.  In the end, you have chosen sin over obedience and if you are content in that state, you need to question whether or not you are even saved.  We are charged with reflecting Jesus to the world.  If the world can not see Jesus in our lives, the world will not see Jesus.  If the world can not see Jesus, it can not be saved. 
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
Finally, we need to be like Jesus in our obedience to the Father.  WWJD would be correct if there was only one answer to that question.  The answer to "What would Jesus do?" should only and always be "The will of the Father."  In everything we do, we must pray and seek God's will. Even if something seems to be in the nature of Jesus, it may not be the right thing to do.  Not that it is wrong to act in the nature of Jesus, but sometimes there is more than one option.  It is not enough to just pick the first idea that conforms with Christ, but to seek God that the idea you have is in His will.  Or, even better, we need to ask God first for His plan.  Jesus lived to do the will of His Father and we must do the same.  Obedience is part of our conforming to the image of Christ.   Doing the will of the Father is who Jesus says will enter the Kingdom of God.  Those who do the will of the Father are those who Jesus calls His brothers, mothers, and sisters.  Obedience to our Father (just as in any child to any father) is expected.  Again, this is not what earns us salvation, but it is the nature of a saved person. 
I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.  John 5:30 NKJV
Conforming to the nature and character of Jesus is a tall order.  Being holy as God is holy is even taller.  To say they sound difficult is an understatement.  In fact, they are impossible.  Only Jesus lived the life that He did, only Jesus could have.  If anyone else could live that life then Jesus would not have had to come in the first place.  God is the epitome of holy and one that we can never even imagine aspiring to.  But yet there is that expectation that we embrace those ideas.  The fact is that all of this is impossible, at least in our own strength.  When we come to Jesus we are filled with the Holy Spirit and freed from the bondage of sin.  We are recreated as a new creation and all things are new, including that new nature which strives to be more like Jesus and not more like the world. We should grow more and more each day to be more like Jesus.  We should aspire each and every day to lead a holy life.  That is the nature of the new creations that we are.  Any failure on our part to do these things is a failure, once again, to deny ourselves.  We want to do what we want and so we create a Jesus of our own image.  We want people to pity our pitfalls in life and so we create some false doctrine of living Jesus through the prism of our life's circumstances.  We want to be unique and distinct from everything else and so we create this persona of some maverick loner Christian.  All of this holds us back from the great things God has for us.  I urge you, get yourself out of the way of the Holy Spirit who wants to work through our life.  Read the Bible and learn about your Lord and the example of which you need to follow.  Let people see Jesus in you and God will lead people to the Lord through you. The only thing greater than seeing God when we get to Heaven is seeing those also there because God used your testimony to reach them. 
...that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:21-24 NKJV

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