Romans 8:28-29. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Yesterday we looked at the ultimate purpose of God in creating for himself a family – in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Today we will keep moving backwards into one of the clearest statements of our union with Christ in scripture – those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
Image. This word should evoke thoughts of Genesis 1. We were made in God’s image and likeness. A human is an image bearer, a likeness revealer. When we shattered the image and likeness of God at the Fall (Gen.3), God put into place a plan in foreknowledge and predestination to restore his image and likeness to mankind. How? By becoming a human himself. By taking on flesh. By living as one of us in all of the designed perfection of humanity and taking the punishment deserved by us due to all of the destructive rebellion of humanity.
Romans 8:3. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh.
Not since the Garden had a human lived in the full image and likeness of God. But now, in Christ, it was happening again. Jesus became the mold for humanity. He came to restore us to our original design. Now God just had to get the rest of humanity to be melted down and repoured into that mold – the Jesus mold.
Broken, melted, poured, shaped… just like us.
But how? How are we actually conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
First, we know that this goes way beyond Jesus simply setting for us an example of how to live. “Do what I do,” or “be holy as I am holy” is not the final answer. Sadly, this is how most people see Jesus – a good teacher and moral guide. This is how most religions presents him. In fact, this is how most Christians try to live the Christian life; with Jesus as their example and not their Savior. The problem is that this is just another form of law. A standard to attain to by works, not grace.
So how IS it done? How are we conformed to the image of Christ?
God, the Spirit.
First, it is an act of the indwelling Spirit. We are conformed by the indwelling life of Christ. By the indwelling power of God. It is poured into us in the form of the power of his love (Romans 5:1-5). We are conformed by God’s spiritual DNA. We now share his heart. His desires. His communicable attributes like love, holiness, and righteousness are now ours. We aren’t gods. But we are God’s. His possession. His family. Our transformation into Christ-likeness is perfect, progressive, and inevitable. Nothing can stop it.
Grace, Sin and Suffering.
Yes, we are conformed positionally and perfectly when we receive the indwelling Spirit. But then we also undergo God’s process of being conformed into Christ through the experience of grace that comes through our sin and suffering.
Ironically, I can only be like Christ when I stop trying to be like Christ. Being conformed to the image of Christ is a sheer act of grace that I receive. We “work” at receiving Christ’s gracious work on our behalf (faith), not being like Jesus. And this receiving is what then makes us like Christ. Receiving grace is what made Jesus the Christ. This reality is the same for us.
What draws the resurrection power out of us? What grows the fruit of the Spirit in us? What allows us to behold the glory of the Lord? It is the experiencing of God’s grace and forgiveness. It is the receiving of his grace in the midst of our sin and suffering. It is knowing that we are united to Christ by our co-crucifixion with him. But also considering that we are united to Christ, and are, by grace, ALIVE TO GOD by our co-resurrection with him.
Yes, we have the complete and perfect indwelling life of Christ by the Spirit. Yes, the life of Christ is transforming us progressively into Christ’s image. But the reality is that this transformation into Christ’s likeness will not be complete until we see him in glory. Not until our bodies are glorified and our eyes behold him face to face, in his presence, will we finally be perfectly conformed to him.
This is actually the best of news. Our transformation is simply not going to be accomplished fully in this life, on this side of heaven and earth. We will ALWAYS be growing and changing. But also, always failing. Always slipping up. Always having new dark corners of our heart revealed to us. Your depression and anxiety might never go away until you see Jesus. You might be addicted to pornography until you see Jesus. You will struggle with boldness until you see Jesus. You will still be irritable and obnoxious until your new glorified brain and body are resurrected to meet Jesus. And at the same time, you are full of hope, faith, and love. You are full of grace and truth. You have everything you need for life and godliness. This great paradox of conformity to Christ is “to live is Christ.”
Please mend my soul, my frame, my life
A contrite heart, Thou won’t despise
Take now this pain and misery
And let me find my all in Thee