“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . . It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” – C.S. Lewis
Have you ever looked at a picture of you and your family? Ever noticed which parent you look more like? Have you ever seen a picture of a friend’s family and exclaimed, “You can clearly see you are related to your mother.” Those moments are fascinating to observe. But, it does not stop there. There are more things that a child can pick up from their parents: catch phrases, handwriting style, home decorating style, interests, career choices, etc. It is where we get the phrase, “Like father like son.”
In my own family, my sister and I closely resemble my father. When you put the three of us together, you can clearly tell we are related. Some things, besides looks, have passed down. I have found myself saying some things or doing some things, and I realize it is just how my dad did it or said it. In fact there were times (while I was growing up), when my voice over the phone almost sounded identical to my dad’s and his coworkers did not realize it was me when they called.
Being in the “same image” as various members of your family isn’t just one way we have an image. As Christians, we are made after the image of Christ.
However, are we really living in the image of Christ or someone else’s image?
Called to an Unique Image
Once we are justified, the journey of sanctification begins. Sanctification has been defined by many things: “becoming more holy,” “being more submissive to God,” etc. I am sure we all have heard some varied definitions of sanctification throughout our lives.
However, how does the Bible define what happens after the moment of salvation? Romans 8:29 holds a key phrase: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” According to this verse, sanctification is the process or journey we embark on to be conformed/molded/sculpted into the image of Jesus. II Corinthians 3:18 states it similarly. We are being sculpted step by step into the image of our Lord; who is Jesus Christ.
Have you ever thought about how unique of a calling this is? The man who is considered one of history’s most influential teachers. The God who took a human body, kept it, and lived among us (John 1:14). The person who was known as a friend of sinners (Luke 5:27-32). The risen savior at whose name every person will bow t0 (Philippians 2:10-11). This is the image we are being conformed after.
Examining the Original Image
Since we are purposed to be conformed into the image of Jesus, we need to know what he is like. It is the same for an artist. As an artist begins to learn her craft, she tends to look at original masterpieces, and carefully tries to copy the details.
It is the same for us. We have the perfect representation of Jesus done by four artists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We have four different sculpture of Jesus, but all showing the same person.
So, what is Jesus like? What is the image of Jesus? We need to look at the four Gospels.
Jesus was a servant. Even though he was respected by his disciples, he washed their feet (John 13:1-20). Jesus had compassion on children, and invited them to be close (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus met the needs of people who came to him (John 6:1-15). Jesus searched out people who needed the new life he offered (John 4:1-42; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 19:1-10) Jesus taught people how to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom, and modeled it (Matthew 5-7).
There are plenty more passages we could look at. This is just a glimpse of who Jesus is. Yet, remember Romans 8:29? This is the image we are being sculpted into. This is what sanctification is all about. These characteristics are what our image should, through our walk with Jesus, begin to look like. The world around us should hold up these things, and begin to see them as defining us as well.
Renditions of the Image
Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book, and was reminded of another story? For example, did you know The Lion King is a rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? A rendition is defined as, “a performance or interpretation of something.” Usually a rendition is a creative interpretation of an original work. It may have similarities to the original, but it is not a copy of the original. It is not sculpted after the original; only inspired from and interpreted off of. Hamlet does not involve a love story that ends with a new king and queen (that wish is drowned out). However, in The Lion King Simba and Nala fall in love and become the new royals of the pride. The endings of the two stories are quite different. Similar in places with regards to plot, but The Lion King is a rendition.
Similarly, there are renditions of the image of Christ. We see this attitude in Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 3. Many people in the church at Corinth were claiming to follow Paul, Apollos, or other people. They began rendering themselves after a teacher. In fact, arguments broke out and division began splitting the church over which teacher should they be following. Paul quickly puts a stop to it. He says that our lives belong to Christ and should model our lives after Christ. The church in Corinth needed to boast in being sculpted into the image of Christ; not after Paul or Apollos.
Don’t we do the same today? Don’t we listen to teachers, pastors, Christian authors, and Christian speakers and their standards become ours? We tend to think that being conformed to the image of Christ means rendering ourselves after another person. Usually this means following a set of standards rather than developing characteristics. We think being in the image of Christ means abstaining from things, wearing certain clothing, doing one activity or avoiding another. I’m not talking about things that the Bible clearly says are sins. However, where does it say that being conformed in the image of Christ means wearing a suit and tie to church? Where does it say that Christ prefers one music style over another? Where does it say that Christ was more concerned about how we looked out the outside than what we looked like on the inside?
We may have fallen into the trap of being a rendition of someone’s interpretation or standards rather than focusing on the original image. We make standards more important than living out the characteristics of Jesus. In fact, Paul goes on in I Corinthians 12:1-27 to tell the Corinthians there will be diversity in the church. The image of Christ is not a cookie cutter that shapes the outside. It is a transforming work on the inside which blooms into the fruit and actions of our lives. We can physically look different from each other and still be faithfully following God’s Word.
Jesus got upset. However, he did not get upset with the world. He was upset and drove out of the temple those who were making a rendition of God’s image. These people took the image of God (not an actual physical image, but the worship of God) in the temple and interpreted it in their own rendition. He was upset at these people: the religious leaders. Jesus wanted them to know his house was a house of prayer to the nations; meaning it wouldn’t follow their rendition, but his.
The mark of being sculpted into the image of Christ is not by how well you follow standards, but how well you follow God’s Spirit as he guides you by his Word. This is what makes us into the image of Christ.
More Than WWJD
As we live our lives, following the Spirit as he guides us through the Word, we will begin to live as pieces of art sculpted after the original image: Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:21-32 states we are to put on our new life which is created in the likeness of God (or Jesus). We are to be walking each step of our journey looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
WWJD or What Would Jesus Do is a great saying. However, it lends itself to be easily swayed by a rendering of the image of Christ. Our lives are more than WWJD. Our lives are to be painted with, sculpted with, and written with the characteristics of Christ. The outside will change; that is why it is called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). When we follow the Spirit, the outside will change and our boasting can only be in the transforming power of Christ.
Whose image are we following? Are we following someone’s rendering of Christ’s image? Are we more concerned about our outside appearance than cultivating the characteristics of Christ? Following standards does not produce the fruit of the Spirit.
Are we truly seeking to live in the image of Christ? Are we willing to do what he did? Are we willing to interact with people the way he did?
In whose image are we being transformed into?