Part 1: Learning to be like Christ
God has created us “in his own image,” and that this image is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible God, and God is in the process of conforming us to be more like Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 3:18). We will never be exactly like Jesus (he existed even before the beginning of time as part of the Godhead, and we’ll never do that!), but God offers us something as close as possible. We will be like Jesus.
We can’t be like Jesus by ourselves—God does the work within us. How does he do it? In this article, we will look at how the change begins: in our relationship with God.
No greater love
God offers us a relationship so close that he calls us friends, family—and even a bride. He uses these figures of speech to describe how much he loves us. “I no longer call you servants,” Jesus told his disciples. “Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15). We can be like Abraham, “God’s friend” (James 2:23).
We are also called God’s children, and “Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers” (Hebrews 2:11). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Maybe it isn’t obvious right now, but it will be evident when Christ returns. “When he appears, we shall be like him” (verse 2).
God calls us his children, he gives us an eternal inheritance, he invites us into the throne room as often as we want, and he loves us with a love that will never fail. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:15-17).
God loves us and accepts the responsibility of providing our needs, protecting us, and helping us grow toward maturity. And in the end, we get a fabulous inheritance from the wealthiest Dad in the universe!
Paul used a marriage analogy when he wrote that he had “promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Revelation uses a similar figure of speech when it predicts the “wedding of the Lamb,” when Jesus (the Lamb) and his people (the bride) are joined forever and ever (Revelation 19:7; John 1:29).
What more could we say of his love for us? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
In Jesus, God has shown us how much he loves us. He did this while we were sinners, so there is nothing we can do that will ever take his love away. He loves us even when we are sinners. We are assured of his constant love. And if he did this when we were sinners, we can be confident that he will complete our salvation (verse 10). His love will never fail. This is the rock-solid basis for our fellowship with God.
Just like Jesus
We are to be like Jesus, and Jesus set an example for us. We can look to Jesus to learn more about our relationship with God the Father.
For some people, “Father” (or “Parent”) brings only negative memories. But when God reveals himself as a Father, he does not want to cause fear or resentment. Rather, he wants to remind us of protection, of giving us our needs, of a love that is secure. Human parents ought to have these qualities, but everyone falls short of the ideal, and some are even evil. But God the Father is perfect, and we should let the Bible describe him; we should not pre-judge him by our experiences with defective parents. We should imagine the best father possible, and be assured that God is even better than that.
Jesus was confident that the Father loved him (John 3:35; 5:20). He was also confident that God, as a perfect Father, would provide his needs. Don’t worry about your life, he told his disciples, or your food and clothing. God takes care of the birds and the flowers; he will take care of you, too (Matthew 6:28-34). Jesus depended on his Father, relied on him. He prayed not as a formality, but because he needed help from God. We do, too.
Jesus respected the Father, honored him, was loyal to him and obedient to him. Shortly before Jesus was crucified, he prayed for a way to escape: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” But he also added, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus trusted his Father to take care of him, even after death.
God is a Father to us, too. He loves us, provides for us, and cares about us. Granted, there are times in our lives when we do not understand why he is allowing us to suffer, but even then, God asks us to trust him. By sending Jesus to die and be raised for us, he has already shown himself to be trustworthy.
We aren’t all-wise, and we can’t expect to understand everything. It should not be too surprising that we don’t understand all suffering, even though we’d like to understand it. But understanding it doesn’t necessarily make it go away. Jesus knew why he had to suffer and die, and he still had to do it.
If God allowed Jesus to suffer, we can be sure that suffering is for some reason a necessary part of God’s plan; we can also be sure that Jesus understands what we are going through. If God loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us, we can be sure that he won’t stop loving us now.
But what choice do we have? Christians have trials; unbelievers have trials, too. Our choice is not whether to suffer, but whether to trust God. We need to be like Jesus.
Love and loyalty
God wants us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30). He loves us and has given us life; we are to love him and be thankful for the good things he gives. He is loyal to us; we are to be loyal to him. We are to depend on him, rather than money or government or any other unreliable authorities.
Why does God want our loyalty? Not for his own benefit—he doesn’t need us. Rather, he wants our loyalty for our benefit. God wants the best for us, and he knows that when we are disloyal to him, we are going to get hurt. When we trust in something that’s not trustworthy, we are going to suffer, and God doesn’t want us to do that.
God tells us to not murder, steal or commit adultery. These are not arbitrary rules, but instructions on how to avoid potentially painful problems. In effect, God tells us not to play with poison—not to restrict our freedom, but so that we can avoid danger. We can either trust him, or we can take matters into our own hands and suffer. God knows what works best, and he cares enough about us to tell us what we should avoid. If we disobey, God still loves us, but we suffer the results.
When we realize that God loves us, we accept that his commands are for our own good, and we trust that he knows more about life than we do. It is simply a wise policy to learn to do what he says, and foolish to disobey. That is a practical application of trusting God, of being loyal to him.
Our love and loyalty to God should be so great that we worship him—praise him, adore him, want to be like him, and desire to do whatever he says. Peter writes that we are chosen for this purpose: “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Our purpose is praise
God does not assign us this job because he likes to hear flattery. He assigns us this because we are the ones who benefit from it. It is good for us to be reminded of God’s power, grace, promises and faithfulness. The better we know God, the more we will see that he is worthy of praise. God has designed us in such a way that we will find life most enjoyable, and most satisfying, when we are doing what he created us to do.
We worship God in church, but worship is much more than that. We worship him throughout the week—whenever we pray, whenever we obey him rather than acting selfishly, whenever we trust in him. We do not trust in our works, but we can use them as a form of worship: “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
Our goal is to let God change us so that we are more like Christ. Worship is the first step. As we acknowledge his power and wisdom, as we are reminded of his faithfulness, we surrender ourselves to him, to let him do what he wants in us. In worship, we are already imitating Christ—doing the will of the Father, trusting in him, honoring him, loving him with all our strength.
If we want to enjoy eternal life in the presence of God, we need to begin to enjoy his presence even now. Our transformation into Christlike people begins with our relationship with God. In the next article, we’ll look at how it affects our relationship with others. God puts us into a family, and there we learn more about being like Jesus.
This article is part of a series titled The Purpose for Human Life. You may download a PDF of that series here.
Author: Michael Morrison