The Problem with trying to be Christlike

2 11 2016

men's ministrySince its beginning, the central theme of the Christian men’s ministry movement has been to spur men to become more like Christ. Countless curricula have been written as  guidelines for this process in which men are taught to move through sequential steps or spiritual disciplines in order to achieve this goal.

One of the primary scriptures that form the basis of this teaching is Romans 8:29 where Paul writes that God “predestined (man) to be conformed to the image of His Son..” The English Revised Version states it as to “be like Christ”. So men are challenged to demonstrate a resemblance to Christ in everything that they are and do.  Men’s accountability groups, discipleship studies and conferences are the usual  environments provided to enable this process.

But there are a couple of problems (among several) with this thinking and teaching. First of all, when we look closer at this verse we must accept the fact that it is talking about God’s plan and action, not man’s.  It is God’s pre-determined plan and has been His actions alone that have fulfilled it. God determined that before he was even created man was to resemble His Son. He would have flesh like His son and God would indwell his spirit so that he acted the same as Christ. God’s intention was to have many indwelt sons and brothers of Christ filling His universe and manifesting His nature (Rom. 8:30). This was not man’s plan or his to carry out, it is God who has fulfilled his own plan through Christ’s death and resurrection and the sending of His Spirit. Man’s only part is to receive God’s plan of Christlikeness for himself. (Jn. 1:12)

The second problem we see with this teaching is that it conflicts with what Paul teaches us in his epistles that the believing man is already Christ in his inner man by faith (1 Cor. 6:17; Col. 1:27,28; 2:6,10; 3:4; Eph. 2:5, 4:6). Peter, as well, writes that we are to partake of the “divine nature” that is in us ( 2 Pet. 1:4). Likewise, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes us as having “become partakers of Christ” (Heb.3:14). Why then, would we try to become someone that we already are?! As humans, we are not the producer of Christlikeness, we are the receivers. We are simply vessels, branches, temples, and slaves to the nature that has been implanted into our spirits. The temple or vessel doesn’t change or improve itself, it only manifests the nature of what resides inside.

But what about the scripture that says that we are to be “transformed” (Rom. 12:2)? Doesn’t that indicate that man has a part in improving his life? Even here, if we look closely, it speaks about giving ourselves over to or aligning ourselves with what we know to be the truth of who we are. As our minds are renewed or changed with the truth of who we are in the inner man our flesh actions will start to show it. As “living” vessels our bodies of flesh should live in sync with who we are in our spirits. Does the stone pot  change or does it give off the aroma of the sweet wine it contains?

I grew up with an old hymn entitled “Oh, to be like thee”. But when I sang it, it always seemed to raise up guilt in me that I was still not like my savior and I wondered why God never answered that prayer. Of course, God didn’t answer that prayer because it wasn’t correct. It should have been, “Oh, to know who I am in You, Christ”. Like Paul, I needed to pray that I may have the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him..” (Eph. 1:17,18). Instead of asking God to help me be like Christ I needed to ask Him to open my spiritual eyes so that I could see the Christ who lives in me. Like Paul, my longing now is to know Him more because He is who I am (Gal.2:20).

Is there nothing I can do to be more like Jesus? Yes, you can believe His word that He now lives in you and then let God accordingly “form” (Gal.4:9) Christ in your flesh through His loving discipline and maturing (Heb.12:5-8). God has placed His nature in your spirit so now yield your flesh to Him to allow His glory to shine through. See every circumstance and problem as opportunities to show who you really are, a man or woman, being true to your real self. You will see yourself becoming more like Jesus every day.

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