Pastor Craig Carter
What do you want to be?
Ask that question of children and you’d expect them to say things like, “I want to be a firefighter or an astronaut or a baseball player or a dancer.”
Ask that same question to the kids’ parents and you’ll probably get a radically different response: “I want my child to be kind, honest, hard-working, fair, compassionate, loving…”
Parents are more concerned about who their children become as a person than they are about what they do as a profession. That sentiment is shared by our Heavenly Father. God is more interested in our character than in our career.
That’s why He created us to be human beings rather than human doings.
Who does He want us to be? What kind of character does He want us to develop?
The Old Testament states it this say, “You are to be holy as I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
That’s a pretty lofty ambition, huh? This idea makes its way into the New Testament as well when we are told repeatedly to “become like Christ.”
“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
You and I were made to be “chips off the old block” – like Father, like son; like Father, like daughter.
That does not mean that we are to be little “mini-me” gods, but it does mean we are to become godly – in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Most of us have tried to accomplish this goal and failed miserably at the task. We always will, left to our own devices. That’s why we need the final “essential” benefit provided by the church.
Over the past few weeks we’ve observed that the church gives us a sense of belonging because it makes us part of God’s family and Christ’s body. The church also is the environment that enables us to start believing in Jesus and learning God’s will and ways.
When those two things happen, we are well on our way to becoming like Christ. It is essential for us to belong to a community of faith, so that we might believe in Jesus, and become who God wants us to be.
In Hebrews chapter 12, we are given a plan to follow and a path to take. There the Christian life is described as the running of a race, a common New Testament analogy.
By taking the essential steps outlined, we get to where God wants us to be – 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.
Many of us go through life burdened by all sorts of stuff – our minds are cluttered, our schedules are filled to over-flowing, 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, to name a few. So we need to radically simplify our lives and eliminate diversions, distractions, detours, and dead ends that get us off course.
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 taken of, 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 what Jesus has done 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.
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 of fact, this journey toward Christlikeness is a marathon, not a sprint. So we have to “run with patience.”
Understanding it is a process enables us to set a proper pace. When we first start following Christ, we take off fast and begin to grow at a rapid rate. But just as growth slows down physically, it slows down spiritually as well. God isn’t in a hurry and so we shouldn’t be either – we must allow the process to unfold according His timing.
When God wants to make a mushroom it takes Him about six hours, but when He grows an oak tree it takes Him more than 60 years. Which would you rather be? Solid as a mighty oak or fragile as a mushroom?
I don’t about you but I’d rather have my life deeply rooted so I can be stable and secure when the strong winds of life begin to blow and storms batter me.
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 is worth noting that each of us has our own “particular race,” so there is no need to compare ourselves to others. Just as children grow at different rates, so do Christians. But the church is essential in providing us good and Godly examples of what the process looks like.
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, or 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 speak with a drawl and say “y’all.” Hang around with critical people, you’ll become critical. Be around optimistic folks, you’re more apt to become optimistic. Spend time with Jesus and you’ll become like Him.
How do we keep our eyes on Jesus and spend time with Him? How did Jesus focus on His Heavenly Father and become like Him?
For one, He was well-acquainted with the Scriptures. He quoted 15 Old Testament books, for a total of 78 references, during his ministry and Jesus prayed consistently and often. He “went out to pray…as was his custom” (Luke 22:39).
So how do we become like Christ? There are two primary ways: by reading about Him in His Word and seeking Him in prayer.
It’s important that you and I do that individually but the church (this one in particular) helps us focus our attention on Jesus through discipleship experiences. For instance, at Lynn Haven UMC we regularly provide Bible reading plans and discussion groups. In 2020 we’ve read Genesis, Mark and Psalms, and this Fall we’re going to explore the New Testament letter of James.
To join the reading plan, visit our Grow in Christ page. There you can download a printable copy of the 12-week plan, sign up for a weekly email, or join the Facebook discussion group.
In addition to your personal time with God, you’re invited to pray with fellow believers every Monday – Thursday at 8 am on Zoom.
Like Jesus did in His relationship with His Heavenly Father, it is essential that we make focusing on Christ a regular habit through daily reading and prayer. To the extent we do that, we become more and more like Him.
Remember after Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments, when he arrived to the valley below, his face glowed (Deuteronomy 34:29). As a matter of fact, he was so radiant he had to wear a veil to cover his face. Listen to what Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:
“All of us have that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. 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)
Notice two things from that passage:
First of all, we become “more and more like Him” gradually and systematically. As we observed previously, becoming like Christ is a process and doesn’t happen overnight. There is no “Christlike” pill to take.
Second, Paul says we become like “mirrors” and begin to “reflect [God’s] glory.” When we spend time with God, we start to take on His qualities and attributes.
Focusing on Jesus and spending time with Him causes us to reflect God’s glorious characteristics and we become 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.
So we must remember, whatever life throws at us, no matter how hard it is, Christ has already endured it all and emerged victorious over it. And if we’ll rely on His strength, follow His example, and refuse to give up, we will share in His victory. Think of what he went through…do not become discouraged!
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. It’s why Jesus surrounded Himself with twelve men and taught them how to live in community. 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 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.
Do you see why the church is essential if you and I are going to fulfill our God-given destiny? I need you, you need me, we all need each other…to become like Christ.
God has given us a pretty tall order, hasn’t He? We are to be holy as He is holy and that happens as we become like Christ. But we’re not left to fend for ourselves, the Lord has provided us with the Church. So it’s essential that by belonging to a community of faith and believing in Jesus, we are becoming all that God wants us