Becoming Like Christ by the Power of God’s Spirit
How do we become better people? How do we make a better society? Will the coming of a new year magically bring the changes we want in us and others we live with? No, nothing really changes with the changing of the calendar. If we are the same people, then there is no reason to think that society will change. We are still sinful and need God and his transforming power. But how can we change? To answer this question we need to look at Scripture, and specifically at Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s humanity, God revealed his own character and how he wants us to live. Christ is our example in life. But more than that, Christ is our Lord and provides the sustaining power to become the people we should be.
Believers have different levels of maturity. To some readers, this post will be a review of what you already know and have been practicing for years. But many of us have forgotten how to walk with God, and have not progressed much in our faith. Some of us have even regressed, and fallen back into our previous life and sins that we thought we had overcome, or even acquired some new ones. And some readers may not know God at all. Hopefully this post will provide blessing to all who read.
The attributes of God
What do godly people look like? What are the attributes that will make us pleasing to God? Before we answer, we need to discuss the different types of God’s attributes. A more complete description of them is found in my article, The Attributes of God, especially helpful for those with Buddhist or atheist backgrounds.
First, God possesses eternal or infinite attributes such as sovereignty, omnipotence and transcendence. Only God has these, and it’s obvious that humans can’t have them.
Christians believe that God has personal attributes. He is a person, as opposed to being a non-personal force. By person, we mean that God is a self-conscious, rational and moral being. And because God made humans in his image, we share his personal attributes. Humans are also self-conscious, rational, and moral beings, but on a small scale. Other personal attributes that all humans have include: speech, abstract thought, freedom to make independent decisions (volition), emotion, creativity, and ability to appreciate beauty.
Christ the Image of God
At his incarnation, Christ became fully human, being the perfect image of God in human form. He came to reveal the Father to us—the full character of God. God’s character attributes were and are intrinsic to both his human and divine natures.
If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:7,9)
Christ lived out God’s character attributes so that we could see what righteous behavior consists of. He showed us how “image bearers” should live, before God and before others. So, in addition to being our Savior and Lord, Jesus is also our example. He was the prime model of a righteous and godly life. We can’t share God’s eternal and infinite attributes, but we can share his character qualities.
As we read the gospels, we can see how Jesus lived them out fully in his earthly life and ministry.
The character attributes of God
Holiness: Jesus lived a sinless life. There was no moral or character flaw in him; he was pure and uncontaminated from sin and evil.
Goodness: Jesus demonstrated his Father’s goodness in his life and sacrificial death. He was kind and merciful to all people, blessing them and affirming their worth.
Love: Jesus willingly demonstrated the Father’s love by dying for our sins. He loved all people he met, even his persecutors, and didn’t return evil for evil.
Truthfulness: Jesus brought the truth of God to the human race. And he spoke the truth to all, even though some people hated him for it.
Grace: Christ’s sacrificial death was the ultimate demonstration of God’s grace towards an undeserving humanity. He also showed kindness toward the undeserving and gentleness toward the weak and fragile.
Mercy: Christ showed mercy to the downtrodden, the sinners, and the infirm. He healed people’s sicknesses, forgave their sins, and cast out demons. He was compassionate with all who were destitute, alienated, and oppressed.
Justice: Jesus had an intense sense of justice and fairness, especially for those who were wrongly accused or punished severely. He rebuked the religious and political leaders for their cruel and unfair treatment of people, and for using their religion to unjustly condemn or overburden people.
Faithfulness: Jesus was faithful to the mission his Father gave him—he steadfastly made his way to the cross. When he made plans he carried them out, and kept promises he made to people.
Patience: Jesus demonstrated amazing patience with those who confronted and accused him, and to those who crucified him.
Walking in the Spirit
But it’s daunting to look at all of these qualities and compare them to our own behavior. Saying that Jesus is our example doesn’t mean we can reproduce the character of God in our lives by simply imitating him. I will confess I fall short in most of these attributes. None of us can ever hope to match Christ’s level of purity and righteousness. After all, he is the Lord and we are sinful humans. We just don’t have the power in ourselves to live, think, and act as Christ did.
So how do we become the people God wants us to be? It must start with repentance, turning from the things that displease God. Then by turning to God: connecting to Christ, accepting his forgiveness, and walking in the power of his Spirit.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Galatians 5:16-17)
“The flesh” in this passage refers to the natural unredeemed human nature, whose desires are out of step with God. But the Spirit of God indwells those who have a faith-love relationship with him. They still have a fleshly nature, but now also have the presence of the living God in them.
If you have no firm relationship with God, then that is your most important need right now. You can start a relationship with God by: repenting of your sins, trusting in Christ as your Savior, and letting God forgive, remake, and transform you. Don’t postpone this important step in your life.
The Fruit of the Spirit
God gives the Holy Spirit as a gift to those who are united to Christ by faith in him. In our everyday lives, we need to connect with God through prayer, worship, and Scripture. When we do, he will meet with us and fill us with his Spirit. And there will be evidence of that filling, what we call the fruit (or fruits) of the Spirit. They are the very qualities of God himself, and trademarks of the follower of Christ.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
The apostle Paul also wrote about the power of God’s Spirit living in us and its power to transform us:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)
My personal experience
I can remember the time when as a young Christian I first experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit. My friends and I would spend some of our spare time studying the Bible, singing worship songs, and talking to others about the Lord at the local park. On Friday nights we would attend fellowship where up to a hundred young believers would worship and listen to Bible teaching. There was a joy and a peace that I had never known before. And it was obvious it was because of God’s very life in us—there was no other explanation. And after knowing God for almost 50 years I can say that God’s Spirit is still present and working in my life. His power is just as real and available to me when I walk with him in the light.
Putting on Christ as our new clothing
To become like Christ, we must be willing for God to fill us and remake us. This is not just a passive experience—we have a part to play. In his letters to the churches, Paul exhorted the believers:
… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:14)
… put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
Paul likens the new life in Christ to putting on a new set of clean clothes. This new wardrobe is our new self, united with Christ. It comes to us in the form of his Spirit, and is God’s provision for living a righteous life. It is the life of Christ in us, and Christ living his life through us. We must wear our new clothes on all occasions, so our lives display God to everyone.
The spiritual fruit produced by knowing God
It’s a great privilege to have the very life of God living in us as believers in Christ. When we walk with Christ we are filled with God’s Spirit, and our desires become the desires of God. When we learn to walk with God, we get to know him more, and gain spiritual discernment—into what things are true, good, and worth pursuing, and those that are not. Paul prayed for the Philippian believers:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ… (Philippians 1:9-11)
The Apostle Peter also affirmed that God’s power is available to all who know him:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Christ gives us the power to live a life that is pleasing to God.
The character of God produced in those who believe
A life of devotion to Christ will eventually bear fruit. Over time, the character qualities of God will be produced in our lives, and we will become more like Christ. As we continue to walk with Christ, our personal character will become more like God’s. In his letters to the churches, the Apostle Peter used the human maturing process as a metaphor for Christian growth:
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation… (1 Peter 2:2-3)
What newborn babies need most is nourishment from their mothers. Likewise, newborn Christians need God’s Word to sustain them—without it they will not thrive.
Progress toward Maturity
But as we mature we add godly qualities to our lives:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Faith is the first essential ingredient to a love relationship with God. Just as a baby first only recognizes their parents and places total faith in them, the new Christian only knows the Father and has a simple faith relationship and not much else. With time, a baby grows into a child and gains knowledge about the world around them. Likewise, as the believer grows, they gain knowledge about God, the Scripture, and right from wrong. Later, a child learns self-control through discipline for bad actions and rewards for good behavior. The spiritual parallel is when our knowledge starts to affect our daily habits and lifestyle. This is a large step in Christian maturity.
Over time, trusting God through adversity then produces perseverance, or ability to withstand hardship. And as we mature, we become more like God in character, called godliness. A big step is when the believer learns mutual affection, or love for other Christian believers. And finally, the last and greatest (though most difficult to learn) is love. This is God’s type of love, given without condition to all people. When we learn to love like God loves, we are more like him than in any other way. But without a doubt, this is the most difficult one for me.
Letting our light shine
Of course, the order of these steps is not set in stone. But with each step of maturity, we look more and more like Christ. And as we grow in Christ, God’s light will become evident to those around. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to:
… become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. (Philippians 2:15-16)
And just as Christ did not conceal the character attributes of God in him, neither are we to conceal God’s light, but shine it out to all the world. Many people of this world continue to move away from God and his commands. But God’s people will move toward him, providing the light that lights the path that leads back to him.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
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