Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
Three excerpts at a time from the new book by Brian G. Hedges

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Excerpt 2 of 22

Today, we live in the interval between the inauguration of the new creation and its consummation and completion when Jesus comes again. In this gap between what has already begun and what is yet to come, we taste the joy of living under God’s gracious reign as citizens of the new creation…even as we groan with the tension of living as residents in the world as it now is. We are truly new, but not completely new. The renovation has begun, but it is not finished. This is why Paul groaned in the anguish of childbirth until Christ was formed in his fellow believers (Gal. 4:19).

Our transformation into the image of the Lord is progressive— it happens in stages (2 Cor. 3:18). And though spiritual change is a divine work of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives, it demands our participation. We must refuse to be shaped by this present age and instead be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2) as we put sin to death and live in righteousness (Eph. 4:25-32; Col. 3:5-14). This dynamic process lies at the heart of the Christian call to holiness.

The essence of this holiness is likeness to Jesus Christwhat some theologians call “Christiformity.”[i] When we become like Jesus, our lives reflect God’s glory and we live in right relationship to God, other people, and the world. This is the goal God destined us for, the vocation he has called us to. This is why we are redeemed.

This also explains why Scripture calls us to imitate Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Ephesians 5:1-2, he writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” And in Philippians 2:5-11 he urges us to have the mind of Christ, expressed in humility and selfless service to others. The Apostle John also exhorts us to follow Christ’s example, walking as he walked (1 Jn. 2:6), practicing righteousness as he is righteous (1 Jn. 2:29, 3:7), purifying ourselves as he is pure (1 Jn. 3:3), and loving others as he loved (1 Jn. 3:16-18, 4:16-17).

Charles Wesley captured the heart of Christlikeness in these prayerful words:

O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels Thy blood
So freely shed for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.

A humble, lowly, contrite, heart,
Believing, true and clean,
Which neither life nor death can part
From Christ who dwells within.

A heart in every thought renewed
And full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good,
A copy, Lord, of Thine.

This is a book about spiritual formation, the “grace-driven developmental process in which the soul grows in conformity to the image of Christ.” [iii] The acid test of all spiritual formation is this: are you becoming more like Jesus? Are the contours of your character being shaped by his image, formed in his likeness? Do you increasingly hate sin and love righteousness, as he already does perfectly? Are you growing in humility and self-giving, which he has practiced flawlessly? Are you making progress in loving and serving others, as he has always done in perfection? 

Ongoing transformation is possible for you. You can become more and more like Jesus Christ. But only one way: through your increasing understanding and application of the gospel.

[i] “In a word, for the New Testament, sanctification or holiness, is Christlikeness or, as various theologians throughout the history of the church have described it, ‘Christiformity’. Set within the context of justification is the growth of the seed of regeneration and the outworking of union with Jesus Christ. Man was made as the image of God and bore his likeness (Gn. 1:26-27). He was called to express it in every aspect of his being. But he fell from that high estate. Salvation, and its outworking in sanctification, consequently have in view the restoration of man as the image of God.” Ferguson, 139.
[ii] Charles Wesley, “O for a Heart to Praise my God,” 1742. The final verse says, “Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart / Come quickly from above / Write Thy new name upon my heart / Thy new, best name of Love.”
[iii] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 515. Dallas Willard similarly defines spiritual formation as “the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002) 22. I’m using the term synonymously with transformation.