God calls us all to become like Jesus. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”* We experience this abundance of life – here and now – as our passions, character, understanding, and relationships are increasingly aligned with those of Christ. This lifelong transformation within and among us is the continual gift of God’s Spirit. We are called to be renewed into the likeness of Jesus – but we do not always fully embrace this calling. Sometimes we seem content to be known as “Christians” without intentionally engaging with this work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Other times we desperately long for a new way of life, wanting to grow in our walk with Jesus, but needing help and encouragement. We, therefore, commit to pursue passionately and to receive joyfully God’s grace to be more fully transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
This paragraph highlights what Richard Lovelace in 1973 identified as the “sanctification gap.” By the “sanctification gap”, Lovelace meant the huge gap that exist between what Christians know about God, profess about God, what God expects them to do, and how these Christians live out their daily lives. Often cognitive knowledge of God is not automatically translated into Godly characters. Numerous surveys have shown that there are not much difference between lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians. This is what exists in churches despite huge amount of effort and money being spent on Christian education, discipleship programs and teaching seminars. This is the key challenge facing Christian spiritual formation.
This paragraph contains the call of God (to become like Jesus) and our response (pursue passionately and to receive joyfully God’s grace). We all carry the sin-distorted image of God. It is God’s intention to restore his image in us. Anthony Hoekema (1986, 89) notes that “because Christ is the perfect image of God, becoming more like God also means becoming more like Christ.” This is God’s call to us (Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Our response is to intentionally “pursue” and “receive.” There are a few points to note here. Firstly, evangelicals have this morbid fear of “work righteousness.” They have been so taken up by the image of the potter and the clay that they perceive themselves as inanimate lumps of clay – to be passively formed by the potter. Any effort by ourselves to draw closer to God is considered work righteousness and earning merits. Somehow, we confuse justification and sanctification. Justification is purely by grace and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a process and needs work – not to earn righteousness but to become righteousness.
Secondly, it is possible to be a Christian and not grow spiritually (become more like Christ). Paul’s constant exhortation in his epistles to learn, pray and mature in the faith means that there are Christians who are not growing. They do not grow because they choose not to.
Thirdly, there are some Christians who are so triumphant in their beliefs that they believe they are already perfect now and do not need to grow. We need to only look at ourselves in the mirror to know that we are not there yet.
Finally, our response will not bear fruit without the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Our response is to work with the Holy Spirit, allow him to work in us so that we may appropriate God’s grace that is so freely given to us.
In summary, the paragraph is important because shows what the call of God to us is – to become like his Son. It also highlights how vital our responses are. It boils down to a matter of personal choice.