ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH March 31, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
CREATED TO BE LIKE CHRIST
Jeremiah 18: 1 – 5; Ephesians 4: 11 – 16; John 15: 1 – 11

Today begins the 4th week of looking at God’s purposes for our lives. First, we’re created to be loved by and to love God. Our second purpose is to worship God in all we do, to make God smile. Last week we learned we’re formed to be an active member of God’s family. This week: We are created to be like Christ. In Ephesians 4:14 & 15, Paul wrote that God desires us to “come to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must not be like children, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” What does that mean? Well, to be clear, it doesn’t mean you’re meant to be God. A young man approached his girlfriend’s father to ask for her hand in marriage. “So, what are your plans?” the father asked. “I’m a Biblical scholar,” the young man replied. “A Biblical scholar? Hmmm,” the father said, “Admirable, but not much money in that. What will you do to provide for my daughter?” “I will study, and God will provide for us.” “Will you honour my daughter by buying an engagement ring?” asked the father. “I will study, and God will provide.” “Will you be able to buy a house?” “I will study, and God will provide”. And children?” asked the father, “How will you support my grand-children?” “Don’t worry, sir, God will provide,” replied the young man. Later, the girl’s mother asked her husband, “How did it go?” He answered, “The bad-news is, he has no job, no money and no prospects. The good news is, he thinks I’m God.” True, your son-in-law, mother or spouse might think you’re God. You might even think you’re God – which is just sad. But you’re not and that’s okay. God doesn’t want us to be gods, but he does want us to be godly. He wants us to be Christ-like in our character; to bear the image of Christ to the world. Think about that. What’s your picture of Christ?

A famous monk, John the Short, had this picture, “He would be self- disciplined and earnest in practice. He would live in great patience, and in the awe and love of God; with a firm purpose of soul and body, and a strong mind. He would pray often and fast with true penitence, keeping his speech pure and his eyes controlled. He would endure injury without anger, remaining peaceful and not rendering evil for evil. In humility he would hold others as better than himself and not look for their faults. Renouncing material property and everything of the flesh, he would work with his hands. He would fight against evil, be wise and discreet in judgement and uncorrupted in mind. He would live as though buried in a tomb and already dead, everyday feeling death to be near him.” I would add that he would also be joyful and hopeful, giving and playful, fully alive, engaged in and enthused about everyone and everything around him. He would live as though the stone was rolled away and he’d already risen, everyday feeling eternal life to be near. Is there something there that matches your image of Christ? To be like Christ is a tall order. Looking at ourselves, we know the raw material is pretty discouraging. In fact, its proof God is worthy of worship. Who else but God could think it possible to take an average mortal and make him or her into the image of Christ? Who else but God could actually do it?

“Discipleship” is the word used to describe the process by which we’re transformed into the image of Christ. Just as a baby goes through a process of development to become an adult, so we go through a process to become mature Christians. And, just as a baby takes a lifetime to mature, so our maturing takes a lifetime. While we’re on this earth, we’ll always be “becoming like Christ”. How does discipleship work? How does God perform this miracle of maturity? Our development as Christians, like much of life, comes through the work of the Holy Spirit merged with our participation. We’re more often stunted by our lack of effort then by the Spirit’s lack of movement. Let’s take a look at how lazy we can be when it comes to our spiritual maturity: SKIT.

Clearly a “quick fix” won’t achieve the maturity God desires. Becoming Christ-like is a process that takes a lifetime. Not only does it require time, it also requires your life. God uses the events of our lives to build godly character in us. The life we live, here and now is the arena God has chosen to bring this maturity about. This life is the only way the Spirit can touch us. Life is the hotbed for spiritual maturity. Life is God’s program of discipleship. Every day life is where God meets us and where we need to meet God. If we want to be disciples, we need to become aware of where and how God is working in our lives. Where is God in your life? What’s God doing? What’s God asking of you? What’s God calling you to?

Everyone’s life is a blend of happy and tragic events. We all face temptations, trials, trespasses and tribulations. Jesus did too. Jesus faced temptation when the Spirit led him into the desert and allowed Satan to try to entice him to sin. Jesus faced trials as he struggled with God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. He faced the trespasses or sinfulness of others when they spat at him and mocked him. He faced tribulation on the cross. Jesus used these things to build his character and define himself. Likewise, God uses the situations in our lives to refine us. God is not the source of our hardships. We live in a broken world and we reap the consequences. Still, regardless of its source, every problem has a purpose. It’s to make us like Jesus Christ. Within this fallen world, within our lives, through our trials, God is at work redeeming us and maturing us. God uses difficult circumstances to bring about good. In Romans 8:28 Paul reminded the church that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV); “every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (MSG).

If we’re going to become Christ-like, we need to trust that God knows what he’s doing and is working to bring about his good purposes. As Jeremiah watched the potter at his wheel, he realized we’re in the hands of God. God said, “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hand” (Jer. 18: 6). God is working with us, shaping us, folding us in and beginning again to mold us to fit his will. Trust allows us to make ourselves malleable in the hands of God. For human beings, being folded in is a discouraging and painful process; it’s where we face the temptations, trials, trespasses and tribulations of this life. We can’t stop troubles from occurring, but we can decide how we’ll respond to them. This is an important thing for us to grasp. God says the goal of our lives isn’t to avoid pain, it’s to become like Christ – to be godly, to develop character. Far from protecting our egos or insulating us from suffering, God is willing to use the troubles of life to fold us in and reshape us. Paul wrote, “trouble produces patience, and patience produces character” (Romans 5: 3 & 4); “Patience forges the tempered steel of virtue.” As we go through tough times its important to remember we’re not just being folded in. God isn’t out to destroy us; we’re being re-formed into the image of Christ. We need to trust that God is at work in us; when we do, we can be hopeful even in our despair. “Trouble produces patience, and patience produces character and character produces hope” (Romans 5: 3 – 4). We can have hope because we’re in God’s hands and God is crafting us for his use.

If life is the hotbed for spiritual maturity, how do we work with God to become like Christ? Working with God certainly includes the disciplines of worship, personal devotions, bible study, journaling, volunteering our time and giving our offerings. Yet sometimes there can be a real disconnect between those actions and “the rest of” our lives. Notice how we think. There’s no such thing as “the rest of” or some other part of your life. We only have one life, and this is it! Working with God involves the integration of our lives with the Holy Spirit; the two need to blend together. In John’s Gospel, Jesus spoke to his disciples about the relationship between himself, his Father and them. The image is one of a vine. God is the gardener, Jesus is the vine and his disciples are the branches. The branches live connected with the vine or they die. Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (John 15:4). Plants bear the fruit that is genetically programmed at the core of the vine. If we want to be like Christ, we need to live in him. If we want to bear fruit like him, we need his life, his Spirit, surging through us. How well do you abide in Christ? What are you doing to stay connected?

Living in Christ begins when we receive Christ’s forgiveness and the gift of his Spirit within us. What is grafted into the vine can whither, die and become yard waste. Living in Christ requires us to hand our lives to God. When we receive God’s grace through Christ, we’re completely saved. From then on, we chose Christ each day and our salvation is lived out moment by moment. Every day we either choose to live in Christ or not. How do you deal with temptation? Do you compartmentalize some sins because God is in the forgiveness business? Temptation always tests whether we love God more than the thing that’s tempting us. Every temptation is an opportunity to love God, do good, make the right choices, and be like Christ. How do you deal with trials? Do you fight for your will, or surrender to God? How do you deal with trespasses? Who are you when someone hurts or betrays you? How do you face tribulation? Do you bear the wound or fall into self-pity and retaliate? Do you become bitter or forgiving? The more often we choose to be like Christ, the more like him we become.

Becoming like Christ takes a lifetime and it takes your life. Somewhere in the world there may be a Fast Church Express, but there’s no shortcut to Christian maturity. If you want to know if you’re spiritually mature, ask yourself: how much am I like Christ? If you want to know how you’re doing at living in Christ, ask yourself: how am I living? What fruit am I producing? Paul wrote, “We must no longer be children; we must grow up in every way into Christ” (Ephesians 4: 14 & 15) Is it time for you to put away childish things? Is it time to grow up? The Divine Potter is sitting at the wheel, ready to fulfill his purpose by molding you into the image of Christ. What will he make out of you? Who will you become?