Conformed to Christ
(By Rob McLeod) Our motivating Scripture for this brief study is found in Romans 8:29; it says: “For whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Unfortunately we often degrade the high calling of God’s eternal purpose for men and women into something much less grand than the Lord’s original intent. T. Austin-Sparks once wrote, “So many honestly think that all that matters is that you should be saved, and if you are saved you are done forever and you can get on with saving others. It is important to be saved, but the Word of the Lord makes it quite clear that to be saved from hell, saved from sin, to be saved from judgment, is only the beginning of things and that you may have that and miss the very great purpose for which you were saved.”
One of the highest callings of believers is to become more like Christ. This process is sometimes called ‘sanctification’ and it is used to describe the lifelong, spiritually maturing journey that believers undergo. We dare not underestimate the value of this journey and the finished product that it is meant to produce! Let’s consider the phrase from Romans 8:29 which says, “…conformed to the image of His Son.” The word ‘image’ comes from a Greek word which sometimes is translated as ‘icon.’ An icon is a high-definition representation of something else. An icon assumes a prototype, from which it is drawn and intended to resemble in great detail. An icon is more than a shadow, it is a replication. Dear brothers, we are intended to grow into the image of Christ as He matures us! This is the reality and direction toward which our Father in heaven shapes and directs us. To be unaware of this will produce an inadequate vision for this brief life on earth.
Brother T. Austin-Sparks writes further on the matter of being conformed to the image of Christ: “This great dominating objective of God, to have all the sons coming to glory conformed to the image of His Son, is the explanation of all the Lord’s dealings with us here; all the conditions of our lives which He has allowed to remain; all the strange experiences through which we go; all the deep trials which form part of our life…it is to bring out the features of Christ, and until you have got that you have not got the power to go through. If you begin to say the Lord is not with us, not able to meet this, or the power of God is not manifested, you have a lesser object and you begin to circle round yourself, not Christ in the glory to Whom the Holy Spirit is trying to bring you into conformity. It is necessary to get your objective and see what the Lord is seeking to do with His children and how He does it…Don’t you become spiritually introspective and get yourself as the object in view. No! Don’t you have your spirit always before your eyes and analyzing it...We want to be occupied with the Lord Jesus.”1
Carefully consider the following Scripture as well:
Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [metamorphasized] by the renewing [complete renovation] of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
1 John 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Galatians 4:19 “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you...”
Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”
Romans 12:2 clearly teaches that to grasp the objectives of God we must have our natural thinking entirely transformed. The word ‘transformed’ is translated from the Greek, from which we also get the word ‘metamorphosis.’ In school you may have studied the remarkable transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly. It is a process that produces a creature that, to the naked eye at least, is completely different from which it began. As believers, the Holy Spirit is initiating an analogous spiritual transformation in our mind and thought processes. Without this occurring we cannot know the ways of God in any depth. That is why Paul can remark in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Our transformation into the image of Christ does not come instantaneously or without intentionality on the Lord’s part or ours. Consider Galatians 4:19 again and note that the book of Galatians was written by Paul to address the need for a proper walk according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul himself labored on behalf of the churches in Galatia so that the believers there would experience growth and maturity. This did not simply happen by Paul being a passive, older brother and neither would growth occur should the saints be indifferent as well. It is a growth process that requires commitment and vision. It does not occur overnight and it will not occur by accident. This is why Paul also writes in Philippians 3:12 that “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Again, Christ Jesus has saved us for an eternal purpose! He has “laid hold” of us so that we can be brought to maturity. What does maturity in this life look like? I believe that John 15:8 gives some insight: “By this My Father is glorified that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” The first handful of verses in John 15 clearly teaches us that to bear good fruit we must abide in Christ for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). To abide in Christ is to have our lives completely spiritually sustained through Him. It is to joyfully acknowledge our dependence upon Christ. It is to have Him as our life, our living bread. Only then can Christ’s transforming power within us produce the fruit of the Spirit such as proper love, kindness, endurance and gentleness (see Galatians 5:22-26).
In farming, the harvest always takes place in a season subsequent to the planting of seed. Indeed some fruit takes years to be fully realized. It does not come without the care of the farmer. The Lord is the farmer and in a spiritual sense we are the soil in which He plants His Seed (Christ). Are we willing to be vessels that produce lasting fruit? Scripture is replete with the teaching that not every believer will pursue all that Christ has for them. This is a sobering thought, that we could hear so much teaching yet pursue Him so little. If you have been a believer for a reasonable length of time you cannot help but notice that there is a spectrum of growth and maturation amidst the body of Christ. Quite likely some of this variability is simply due to the different lengths of time that various ones have been born again. But, significantly, there are cohorts of believers who, despite being born again for a similar length of time, have much disparity in maturity and fruitfulness. I am constantly reminded that I have a role in pressing into that which Christ has saved me — to be like Him!
Let’s revisit 1 John 3:2 again. The promise, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” definitely stands out. Obviously there is a future component to this promise that can only be completely fulfilled at the time of the Lord’s physical return. Upon the resurrection of the dead we will receive glorified bodies and truly see Christ face to face (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44) as He reigns upon the earth. What an amazing day to look forward to! But let us not fail to realize that there is a portion of Christ that we can ‘see’ even right now. When we read the Word, pray, or have genuine fellowship with one another, the Holy Spirit guides us into truth and into a deeper understanding of Christ and His ways. This ‘revealing’ of Christ occurs in our inner man, our spirit. It is what transforms us even while present in our failing human body. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “…eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” Unfortunately verse 9 is often viewed as only applying to our future state with Christ. But verse 10 clearly states that these things have been revealed to us now. There is an ever-deepening walk and daily fellowship with the Lord that is available to the believer right now. This portion is not meant to be revealed only at the end of time. Since our old mind has been replaced with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) we actually have the potential to walk in significant intimacy with Christ even in this mortal body. What truly restricts us is our lack of sight on these issues or our hesitancy to pursue Christ to the depths that He desires for us. But, dear brothers, it is our portion even in this life. May we fully come to appreciate the great truth that via the Holy Spirit a member of the Godhead has taken up residence in every child of God. This was not done to make us God in ourselves but rather to conform us to the image of Christ. The grand effect is that the Christ in glory is also now the Christ within, our hope of glory. What an amazing reality; what a gift!1
- Austin-Sparks, T., That Which is Born of the Spirit (Writings of T. Austin-Sparks reprinted by Emmanuel Church, Tulsa, OK, USA (2010)), pp. 7,14,16-17.