Theme: God created you to become like Christ, and He uses various influences to change you into His image. Some influences are obvious, like Bible memory and daily scripture reading. Other influences He uses are more mysterious. Discover God’s plan for your growth.
We are turning to Colossians, Chapter 3, verses 1-11, and as we read that or as you look at it on the screen, I want you to notice what theologians call “the already-not yet.” We already have what we have in Christ, but we haven’t really fully realized all of it yet. And so if you will turn with me to Colossians, Chapter 3, verses 1-11. We will look at it together. It’s a very powerful passage.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge and the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.”
Let’s pray. Gracious Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you. Bring forth your word today by your spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We are halfway through 40 Days of Purpose. Can you believe it? I think that deserves a pop quiz. Okay? So, two weeks ago, our first purpose was to get to know God and love God and the key word in that was? Worship! Good!. Last week we did a sermon by committee, you remember the four of us were up here, and we emphasized that we were formed for God’s family. Right? We are to grow and love for others and the key word there was? Fellowship! Good. What a smart congregation. Okay. Now, maybe you don’t know what the next word is because you have not been reading ahead. The really smart people, the real book worms, they probably have read the whole book. Maybe you know what’s coming up, but you can relax, it is not going to against your grade, okay? Everybody is going to get an A. Just like Harvard, okay, you are all going to get an A. Right? The third purpose in God’s great design, we are created to become like Jesus Christ and that’s called. Discipleship! That’s right there. That’s not fair! Well, even the smartest ones among us got that. Okay. A disciple, what is that? A learner. Literally, the word disciple means learner or follower. And we are learning. This is what the purpose is. We are learning to look like, be like, act like, and think like Jesus Christ. That’s the third purpose for being on this planet from God’s perspective. Toform you, to create you in the image of Jesus Christ. You know, its fitting that it coincides with Mothers Day, because any parent, any Mom wants more than anything else for the healthy development of her children.
A little girl was seated between her parents and for the first time she got a look at her parents’ wedding album. She was amazed when she saw her Mom in the bride’s dress and her Dad in his tux and she turned to her Dad and said, “Daddy, is that the day you got Mom to come and work for us?” That’s what Moms do. They work for us, to help us right? To grow, and if that growth is slow in developing then there is cause for alarm. There is cause for concern. In the same way, God wants you to mature and develop, to be shaped into a certain way.
And we can see from the New Testament lesson today that even though we are positionally in Christ, you have been raised with Christ it says. You are already there, somehow mysteriously. He says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on earthly things.” You died. You died. When you trusted in Christ, you died and you entered into His death. And now your life is hid with Him in God, and when He returns to glory you are going to be glorified with Him. What an unbelievable passage! Now, that’s true and that’s why it says, so why do you live according to the old natureinstead of the new nature? Maybe you have heard the illustration that the old nature, the old self, and the new self, two natures going on inside a Christian, like a good dog and a bad dog inside fighting each other. Whichever dog we feed the most is going to win. Okay? If we feed the old nature, that’s why we know Christians, they don’t look like Christians, because they are feeding the old nature. But, if we feed the new nature by God’s Spirit, we are going to be renewed more and more into the image of Christ and that is what verse 10 says. You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. We are growing more and more into the image of Christ as we walk with God.
So how does God do it? How does God help me to grow spiritually? How does He shape my heart into Christ’s heart? Well, there are many ways. The discipline of scripture. The discipline of prayer. Small group of discipline. Fasting. All kinds of ways that can be shaped so that we will grow more and more like Christ. But, the best way is to see that God is already working on this is in Romans 8:28. Would you turn to Romans 8, and also I think we have it up on the screen. Romans 8:28. This is one of the most powerful verses of scripture. Let’s look at it together. In fact, let’s read it together.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Notice it doesn’t say that we know that in most things God works? God says, all things work together for our purpose. If you are a Christian, this is not just 40 Days of Purpose, this is like what, did Rick Warren say, 25,550 Days of Purpose? The average life on planet earth. Your purpose as a Christian is to become like Christ. What is that purpose? Well, look at verse 29. Let’s look at verse 29 together. Let’s read it together.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”
That is the first half of verse 29. That’s the purpose. To become conformed. And, it says that we were predestined. God fore-knew before the foundation of the world, before you were born. Those who trust in Christ, their design is to become like Jesus. That is the goal of God for each of us in this life. God predestined us. What does that mean? Don’t let that word throw you. The root word of predestined is where we get our English word horizon. And the ancient Greeks saw life as though fate were propelling us toward a certain end. A set course with distinct boundaries that needed to be pursued. But here Paul takes that word and he says that is not fate at all. God has a horizon for us. We are moving to a certain purpose. What is that? To become like his son Jesus. That’s discipleship. That’s the third purpose.
You know people say those who live together start to look like each other. People that have been together for a long time, people who have been married for a long time they start to look like each other. They also say that about people and their dogs, that you start to look like your dog, but I am not sure about that. But people who live together for a long time look like each other. Listen to this quote from Pastor Smoot. Pastor Smoot wrote a book, “Predestined in Love”. I think we have the quote. Here it is:
“Actually there is no change talking about people who live together for a long time. There is no change in physiognomy, but there is a developing similarity in expression and reaction so that the onlooker begins to think of both in tandem associated together so much as to be conformed to each other.”
Murray is the only person I know that can put that word in a sentence and get away with it. That’s the way it is with those who walk with God. What a great quote. “All things work together for good to those who love Him.” Now, what does that include? It includes all things. All things. Bad things, yes. The mistakes that I make even, yes. Painful stuff, yes. God allows all this stuff to shape us, to sand us so that we will become like Jesus. You know even some Moms; the most loving Moms in the world can make a mistake. They can over-protect us. They can keep us from things that we need in order to grow.
It reminds me of a situation in the northeast in the codfish industry of all places. Codfish is a big business, did you know that? And one of the things about codfish is that you have to ship them elsewhere because the market is huge, and when codfish were first being shipped, they froze them and sent them out west or whatever. and What they noticed was that the flavor was lost because of the shipping. The freezing didn’t do it. So, somebody said, we have an idea, let’s ship them in actual seawater, and we will put them in tanks, and we will transport them that way. Well, even with that, the codfish would arrive at the market 3 or 4 days later, and they not only had lost a little of their flavor, but they had a kind of mushy texture. Finally, somebody got creative. And they took and put another fish in the codfish tank. It was a catfish. Because the catfish is the natural enemy of codfish, and so during shipping the catfish would chase the codfish all around the tank the whole time, and when they got to the place where they were going, the codfish tasted like you just pulled them out of the sea. Their texture was great; their taste was even better than before. See God knows that we are codfish in a catfish world. God allows all things, even catfish type things to help us grow strong and if He kept us from those things, we wouldn’t grow into the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “In this world you are going to have struggles. You are going to have troubles, tribulations, but be of good courage. I have overcome the world and I am going to take those troubles and I am going to transform you more and more in to my likeness.” Everything that happens to you and I as Christians, everything is designed by God to conform us to the image of his son. Trials are situations designed by God to draw us closer to him. Look at this passage from Romans 5:3 and 4.
“Trouble produces patience and patience produces character and character produces hope.”
Maybe you remember Rick Warren saying it at the simulcast, that God is far more interested in your life and what you are than in what you do. God is always more interested in what you are in your character than he is in what you do, like your career. Why? He said, because you are not going to take your career with you in heaven. You are going to take your character with you to heaven. Life is not about career and life is not about comfort. Life is about building character in Jesus Christ and until we understand this, life is not going to make sense. All kinds of problems are going to come into our life. We are going to struggle, but they are not empty. They are purposeful. Comfort is not the goal; character building is the goal in the image of Jesus.
Now, every problem for a Christian has a purpose. To make us like our Lord. Now, the question is, how do we know that we are being shaped in the image of our Lord? How do we know we are developing Christ likeness? Again, there are many, many ways, but I will tell you the chief way. Okay? The chief way is that the older we get in Christ, the more loving we become. The more our relationships are marked by love. See, some people grow older but they don’t grow up in the Lord. The mark of Christ-likeness is the quality and strength of love in our relationships. That’s the indicator. The great commandments, “Love God, love each other.”
And God will use all things; God will even use a dishwasher to conform you to the image of Jesus. You are like what, a dishwasher, what does that mean? Well, let me put it this way. Some of you think that I am pretty spiritual. I know you do. I come up every sermons, I baptize kids, I do communion. You think I am spiritual. Let me tell you how spiritual I was last Tuesday, okay? I mean I am a little embarrassed to say it; confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation. So here goes. And this is right before our 40 Days of Purpose small group too. Our daughter Andrea was over for dinner. It was a Tuesday night last, and Ellen was hurriedly doing the after dinner dishes, putting them into the dishwasher, but she wasn’t doing it properly. Does anybody else live with a compulsive person like me, like with the dishwasher? I was telling this before and somebody came up after the 8:15 service and they said, “You know what our first fight was about in our marriage?” And I said, “No what?” “How to properly fill an ice cube tray.” I said, “Wow that beats me.” But anyway, my cross in life is that I live with somebody who does not care about the proper way to fill a dishwasher and so how should I put it? My compulsive part, I am going to put the best spin possible, allowed a verbal expression that was critical rather than Christ-like. And, I embarrassed my wife and I hurt her deeply. I really did. I wounded her. A few days later in my small group that meets in Timonium, a few of us gather for our journaling,and we had been using in 40 days, we had been using the book, we read out of the chapter and then we journal out of a passage of scripture that we are led to in that chapter. And these were the words two days later that hit me like a 2 x 4, thoughtless words leave lasting wounds. Do you remember that phrase? Cultivating community takes courtesy. Wham.
We often equate Christ-likeness, unfortunately, with certain types of forbidden behaviors. If I do this list, I am Christ-like. If I stay away from this list, I am Christ-like. Did you catch the William Bennett scandal thing on the radio this past week? You know, he wrote a book about moral virtues, and then it is discovered that he lost millions in gambling. And, all the critics and all the defenders are arguing on talk radio about, well look at this hypocrite. You know he said we are supposed to be people of virtue, and he loses all this money gambling. Not once did anybody call in and say, let me tell you what the real test of moral virtue is. How we love one another. That’s the real test. How deeply we express our love for God and for one another. Because if you are expressing your love for God and one another properly, then you are going to be a shining light the Bible says. Jesus said to his followers, “Take my yoke upon you.” What was his yoke? His yoke, back then the rabbi’s they would say, “here’s the yoke. It’s the rules that you have to follow to be part of my rabbi school.” And there would be a ton of lists and a huge amount of rules. And the most holiest, the most important people, they had the most rules. Well, Jesus comes along and he says, “Take my yoke upon you.” And then He said, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” What did He mean? He says, “I don’t have a long list of rules. I just have one commandment.” Actually it is two in one. “Love God and love each other.” That’s it. And if we do that commandment, everything else is fulfilled.
Paul picks this up in Romans Chapter 13. He says, “Don’t owe anybody anything except love.” And then he lists a bunch of commandments. He says, “Do not murder, do not kill, do not steal,” and any other commandment he goes on to say is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Jesus is saying, “You want to be a part of my school? Take my yoke and learn from me.” Why? Because when we take his yoke upon, it’s we are submitting to him. We are submitting to his ways. You know often we look at the word submit and we think of it as a dirty word. But, when we take his yoke upon us, we submit and it makes us powerful. The Greek would use a word submit and they would apply it to the training of a powerful stallion under its master control. The Preakness is going to run pretty soon and those horses are going to come around home stretch and you see the power of those horses. Why? Because they are under the control of the rider. And when Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you” it’s just that we are submitting to him, and does that mean that we become meek or weak? No. It means we become powerful in him because he says, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me. I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” You become like Christ as you become more loving. So practical morality can best be evaluated by our meekness, by how we related to each other in love, which brings us full circle to Colossians, chapter 3. And there we see it. Since you died in your head with Christ in God, put to death these kinds of behaviors. Sexual immorality. Why? Because you are using somebody. It’s not just about the sex; it’s about your using somebody in the way that they were not designed to be used. How about impurity or lust or evil desires, greed, all these things. He said they are idolatry. And then He says that’s just the beginning. In verse 8, He says, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these:” and he goes on and he says, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, don’t lie, don’t pretend with each other. Other things are in this list like dishwasher compulsivity that leads to disharmony. Well, it’s not on the list but he says now you must rid yourselves of all such things. All such things that cause us not to be yoked with Jesus Christ. It’s not the stuff of glory. See love is the fulfillment of the law, a sign of renewal in Christ’s image.
John Todd was a famous minister of the 1800’s and he grew up in Vermont, but he lost both of his parents when he was six years old. And, since there were so many kids in the family, they didn’t know what to do with all the children and so they found an aunt who said, “I will be happy to take John in.” And so she became like a second mother or a surrogate mother. You know, let me just say this, parenthetically on Mother’s Day. You know Mother’s Day, I have learned through the course of my ministry can be a blessing or a curse. And, sometimes when pastors will preach long sermons about Mother’s Day it can really make some people feel very much left out besides men. Okay? Women who have lost a child,women who don’t have children or can’t have children,women whose children are going in a direction that they don’t want them to go. Mother’s Day can be tough, and maybe it’s tough for you, I don’t know. But here’s the thing. You can be a surrogate to somebody. You can be Christ to somebody. And that’s what John Todd’s aunt was to him.
She sent a slave whose name was Caesar, it’s the early 1800’s to pick John up and the slave came and got the little six-year-old guy, threw him on the back of the horse, and as they are going along this conversation takes place. John says, “Will she be there?” “Oh yes” said Caesar. “She will be they’re waiting up for you.” “Will I like living with her?” “My son, you have fallen into good hands.” “Will she love me?” “She has a big heart.” “Will I have my own room?” “Will I get a puppy?” “She’s got everything set son. I think she has some surprises too.” “Do you think she will go to bed before we get there?” “Oh, no. She will wait up for you. You will see when we get out of these woods. You will see her candle shining in the window.” And that is exactly what happened. They got into the clearing and saw the candle. They saw his aunt standing in the doorway, welcomed him, brought him in, fed him, put him to bed in his own room. She welcomed him. John Todd became a minister of the gospel; a great minister of the gospel in the 1800’s, but he grew up there in his surrogate Mom’s home, his aunt’s home, and all through his life it was always a matter of enchantment to him how much she did for him, how much she cared for him, how she just took him in the way she did. Well, later in her life her health was failing and he had moved away, and she wrote him a letter telling him of her failing health and impending death. He wanted to come and visit her, but in those days he had to send a letter ahead because he wanted to make sure that some communication got to her and this is what he wrote. He said,
“My dear aunt, years ago I left the house of death not knowing where I was to go, whether I was even going to make it or not, whether it was the end of me, whether anybody cared. The ride was long but Caesar encouraged me and finally he pointed out your candle to me and there we were in the yard and you embraced me, and you took me into my own room that you had made up. After all these years, I still can’t believe it, how you did all that for me? I was expected. I felt safe. You gave me my place, my space. It was my room. And now he is using the analogy. He says, “Now, it is your turn to go. Believe me Auntie, as somebody who has experienced this, I am writing to let you know that your room is ready, the light is on, the door is open and as you ride into the yard, don’t worry you are expected. I know. How do I know? Listen to what he said, “I once saw God standing in your doorway a long time ago.”
You know, I don’t know what troubles or trials or situations you are going through these days, there are so many people here that I don’t know. But, I do know how God wants you to respond to it, what you are going through and I am confident that if you will, God will take whatever you are going through and use it as another step in conformity to the image of Jesus. How do you respond to it? Paul said it to the Philippians. “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Although he existed in the form of God, he didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he laid aside his rights and he took on the form of a servant.” And then he goes on to say that He loved us to death. He loved us to death. If you will yoke with Him, and live in Christ like that, in your life people are going to look at you, see you standing the doorway and think, that doesn’t really look like, that really looks more like God in the doorways of your life. Trust Him and He will make you more into his image. That is what discipleship is.
Let’s pray. Dear Father, life makes so much more sense when we realize that it’s not about our careers, it’s not about our comfort. It’s all about character and becoming like Jesus. Help us to use life for the reason that you gave it to us. Now, I want you to pray. If you would just pray this silently in your own mind and heart. Dear God, I want to grow in character. I want to become who you made me to be. Thank you for Jesus and his model. I want to become more like Him in the way I think, and the way I feel and the way I act. If that means taking me through troubles, then I say, I want your will for my life. And, if you have never opened your life to Jesus Christ, pray this prayer silently in your heart. Jesus, I cant’ live like you unless I know you. So I want to get to know you today. As much as I know how, I want to ask you to come into my life and heart. In your name I pray. Amen.