Pastor Craig Carter
In our current sermon series and spiritual growth campaign, we are seeking to discover What on earth am I here for? We are using Rick Warren’s bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, to find the answer to this important question and we’re learning that God put us on this planet for several specific reasons.
The Bible talks about God’s purposes for our lives in terms of divine “callings.” So far, we have observed that we are called to be loved by God and to love Him back through worship and we are called to belong to His family through fellowship.
Once we realize we are loved by God and we belong to His church, we are then in a position to live out a third, and pivotal, calling on our lives – the call to become like Christ through discipleship.
The foundational scripture for this series (and this week’s memory verse) comes from the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans: We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28 NLT)
God has a plan or purpose in mind for His people. The verse that follows Romans 8:28 tells us what is: For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)
Having been loved by God and adopted into His family through our faith in Christ, we, as God’s children, are to become like God’s firstborn Son, Jesus. God wants us to grow up … like Christ in everything. (Ephesians 4:15a MSG)
In other words, we are to exhibit both godly character and conduct and be Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
That’s a pretty high calling and a lofty ambition, isn’t it?
Most of us have tried to accomplish this goal and failed miserably so it seems like an impossible task. But, as I’ve said previously, whatever God calls us to do, He also equips us to do. God gives us a plan to follow and a path to take to get our intended destination. It is found in Hebrews chapter 12 where the Christian life is likened to the running of a race. By following the principles outlined, we fulfill our divinely-appointed purpose of becoming like Christ.
We become like Christ by….
1) SIMPLIFYING our lives.
Let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up… (Hebrews 12:1a TLB)
That word, anything, is the Greek word that means “weight.” It is anything that weighs us down or burdens us.
What’s the last thing a runner does before a race? He or she takes off any excess clothing, of course.
Many of us go through life burdened by all sorts of stuff – our minds are cluttered, our schedules are filled to overflowing, our hearts are captured by other interests … It’s no wonder we end up becoming something or someone we never intended to be: irritable, short-tempered, judgmental, cynical, greedy, anxious, fearful, and the list goes on.
We need to radically simplify our lives and eliminate diversions, distractions, detours, and dead ends that get us off course. Becoming like Christ requires us to say “no” to other things that get in the way.
In particular, we must eliminate “those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up.”
According to the writer of Hebrews that issue has been settled, once and for all, by God’s Son, Jesus: “Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people …For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of Christ…” (Hebrews 9:28; 10:10 NLT)
We become who God calls us to be, holy and like Christ, by trusting in Jesus’ saving work on our behalf. It makes life much simpler when we rely on what Christ has already done rather than on what we can currently do to rid ourselves of sin
What is ONE THING in your life that is keeping you from the goal of becoming like Christ? In other words, what is that activity that interferes with your spiritual development or the sin that trips you up?
2) UNDERSTANDING it is a process.
Let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1b TLB)
You and I did not become who we are apart from Christ overnight so we probably won’t become who God wants us to be in Christ overnight either. As a matter, this journey toward Christlikeness is a marathon, not a sprint so we have to “run with patience.”
Understanding that it is a process enables us to set a proper pace. Do you know how long the average person can run at full speed? 10 seconds. For a trained athlete it’s 20-30 seconds, while for an elite athlete it’s around 50-60 seconds.
When some people start following Christ, they take off fast, then quickly run out of gas. Most Christians begin to grow spiritually at a rapid rate initially. It’s like early childhood development. Did you know that babies more than double in size their first year? It’s the same for Christian newborns.
But just as growth slows down physically, it slows down spiritually, too. God isn’t in a hurry and so we shouldn’t be either – we must allow the process to unfold according to His timing. The New Testament says we are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (e.g. love, joy, peace…)
Who does that sound like? Jesus.
How does fruit develop and ripen? Slowly.
If you try to short-circuit or speed up the process, the results aren’t favorable. God wants our lives to be flavorful and full of life and that takes time (think of “vine-ripened” produce).
Rick Warren describes another reason why God uses a process to grow us as Christians: “While we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned about how strong we grow. God views our lives from and for eternity, so he is never in a hurry.” (p. 215)
Christian maturity is spelled T-I-M-E so we must understand that we may not be there yet and we might not even make it there tomorrow. But if we are patient and trust the process, God will enable us to become like Christ.
It’s also worth noting that each of us has our own “particular race” so there is no need to compare our spiritual growth with someone else’s!
3) FOCUSING on Jesus every day.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. (Hebrews 12:2a TLB, GNT)
If we want to become like someone we need to familiarize ourselves with that person. We read about them, hear from someone who knows them personally, and watch them. Better yet, we are more likely to become like them when we spend time with them.
Spend time with Southerners, you’ll likely start speaking with a drawl and saying “y’all.” Hang around with critical people, you’ll become critical. Be around optimistic folks, you’re more apt to become optimistic yourself.
Spend time with Jesus and you’ll become like Him.
How do we keep our eyes on Jesus and spend time with Him? There are two primary ways: by reading about Him in His Word and seeking Him in prayer.
Jesus Himself was well-acquainted with the Scriptures. He quoted from 15 Old Testament books, for a total of 78 references. He regularly spent time with His Heavenly Father in prayer.
It’s important for you and me to have a consistent quiet time with the Lord. It doesn’t have to be long, but should be at least a little bit each day.
You and I have the opportunity and privilege to meet daily with the One we’re trying to become like! To the extent we spend time with the Lord in daily Bible reading and prayer, we fulfill this third and crucial purpose for our lives.
It’s called DISCIPLESHIP because we were created to become like Christ. Note: a disciple is a “learner” or “follower” which is what we are.
But “keeping our eyes on Jesus” means more than just knowing WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) Pastor J.D. Walt says the better question is HDJDI? (How did Jesus do it?)
The answer is simple: everything Jesus did, He did by the power of the Holy Spirit (conceived, baptized, anointed, healed, loved, walked, raised the dead – all by the power of the Holy Spirit). And here’s the best part, that same Holy Spirit is available to us, through faith in Christ:
And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)
Paul says elsewhere, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV)
What is “his good purpose?” It is for us to become like Christ. That happens through a cooperative effort between ourselves and God. We “work out” our salvation (through Bible reading, prayer, good deeds). God “works in” us (through the power of His Holy Spirit, the thought of which which brings “fear and trembling”).
Can we even begin to understand what good news this is?
You and I have access to the very power that enabled Jesus to live as He did and even raised Him from the dead.
Remember that thing you identified as the sin that trips you up… Is it more difficult to overcome than being dead and buried for three days?
By focusing on Jesus every day, by faith and by practice, the Spirit of the Lord works within us and we then fulfill our purpose of becoming more and more like Christ.
4) REFUSING to give up.
Jesus did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. (Hebrews 12:2b-3 GNT)
Given a choice, we’d prefer our lives to be nice and easy, with all smooth sailing. Unfortunately, that’s not the way life is – for Christians and non-Christians alike. Even Christ, the Creator of this world, suffered enormously during His earthly days.
And if God didn’t spare His Son from experiencing some incredibly tough stuff, why would we foolishly think He’s going to spare us? As a matter of fact, Paul goes so far as to say that suffering is inevitable:
“But if we are to share in Christ’s glory, we must also share his suffering.” (Romans 8:17b NLT)
For Christ, the only way to the glory of resurrection was through the suffering of the Cross. For us, the only way we can share Christ’s glory and be like Him is by going through trials and tribulations of our own. Please notice it is “his suffering” we share, not suffering of our own making because of our foolish or sinful choices.
When the world throws difficulties at us, let’s always remember that Christ has already faced even tougher circumstances and emerged triumphant. If we’ll rely on His strength, follow His example, and refuse to give up, we will share in His victory.
The only way to fail at the Christian life is to give up! Keep keepin’ on!
5) GATHERING with other believers.
Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith… (Hebrews 12:1a NLT)
God never intended us to live the Christian life in isolation, but in the company of others. Jesus surrounded Himself with twelve men and taught them how to live in community. In doing so, they became like Him.
From other believers, we gain strength, support, stamina, and staying power.
I love the old African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” Since becoming like Christ more closely resembles a marathon than a sprint, we must take others with us and surround ourselves with like-minded people.
It’s why the writer of Hebrews tells his audience: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but [let us] encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT)
Other believers motivate, spur us on, and encourage us, so we must never neglect to meet together. We need each other for mutual support, but we also need one another for accountability.
The founder of our denomination, John Wesley, emphasized this topic we’re addressing today more than any other. It’s why he put early Methodists into small groups, bands, and societies. He knew Christians would never fulfill their purpose apart from one another. That’s because he came to realize that the greatest deterrent to sin was accountability. If folks know they’re going to have to confess their sins to one another, they’re much less likely to commit sins in the first place. Agree?
But that’s unlikely to happen in a large group setting. It’s why I seriously doubt that any of you would be willing to shout out the sin that’s tripping you up in your Christian walk for anyone around you to hear. But in a more intimate setting, among like-minded, committed believers, it becomes doable (not necessarily easy, but doable). I know because I’m in two such groups that have probably aided me in my spiritual growth more than any other endeavor. Those guys support me, they encourage me, but they also hold my feet to the fire and make me tell the truth about my true condition. As a result, by confessing my sins, I’ve experienced God’s saving grace – which is sufficient to overcome the penalty of past sin (forgiveness) and the power of future sin (freedom).
You and I will never become like Christ until we find a way to deal with the problem of sin and, unless your experience is much different than mine, we won’t do it alone.
I urge you to come regularly to worship and to find a way to join with other believers in a smaller setting. It might be a Sunday School class, a small group, one-on-one friendship, or a discipleship band. If you need help finding a smaller community of believers to belong to, please reach out to our Adult Discipleship Director, Mindy Clemons, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What on earth are you and I here for? One of the reasons is to become like Christ and God, in His grace, has given us a plan to follow and a path to take. So let’s run the race with our eyes fixed on Jesus.