Discipleship: Our Goal: Christ Formed in Us
It is always helpful to look at our goal. Just what is it that we are working toward? What is the focus of our labor? The apostle Paul described his work in this way: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Gal. 4:19). Paul’s work in the church at Galatia was to help Christ be formed in them. He worked so that Christ would live in them (Gal. 2:20), so that they would be more like Christ.
Our goal, as a church, is to help Christ be formed in our congregations, in our brothers and sisters. It begins with the leaders, so people can imitate them, just as they imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). They lead not just in words, but also in the example they set.
We are all to be transformed by the renewing of our minds — conformed not to this world, but to the pattern of Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:2). This is spiritual formation — being shaped by the Spirit of Christ into what he wants us to be, using the gifts he has given each of us, doing the work he has given us, being instruments of righteousness as we submit our lives to him.
How do we become more Christ-like? It does not happen by accident, and it does not happen by force. God does not take away our free will and force us to change. Rather, we must turn to him and seek him. This is what the spiritual disciplines are designed to do. In prayer and study, worship and service, we make choices about what is a priority in our lives. We make choices each day about what god we will worship and serve.
Our desire is to be like Christ, to make decisions in the way he made them, to be fully dedicated to serving the true God. Paul told the Ephesians that our Christian goal is to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). What an astounding goal! How will we ever reach such an idealistic goal?
In this life, we will not fully reach the perfection that is Christ — and yet that remains our goal. The challenge does not dissuade us, does not make us give up. Rather, we run with patience the race set before us, for we know that if we continue faithfully, a crown of righteousness is assured for us. Even now, Paul says, we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). Even the Corinthian church, with its visible problems, was in the process of being shaped by the Holy Spirit into the glory of Jesus Christ.
Are we being transformed? Scripture says that we are. Perhaps it seems slow, but it is still real. There is much more to come, of course — we will be like Christ in his glory (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2) — but Paul’s point is that we are already being transformed into the likeness of Christ. He is already being formed in us. That is what salvation is all about: We give our lives to him on a daily basis, and he shapes us to become more like him. God is saving us for this very reason: that we become like his Son.
How is it done? Colossians 3:9-10 gives an answer: “You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Ephesians 4:22-24 gives a similar answer: “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Out with the old, and in with the new! Put off wrong ways, and put on the way of Christ. (Or rather, let him put it inside you, so it is in your heart and not just a pretense.)
This is the lifelong job that we Christians have, a daily duty, a daily joy as we experience our true identity in Christ. Our life is centered on Jesus, who not only shows us the Father, he also shows us what we can be like as we follow him.
As Christ-like people, we have a Christ-like job. Jesus told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). We are to teach the things he taught, to do the things he said to do, to believe the things he said to believe. That is our business, our job.
Our work begins at home, where we learn what Jesus taught and begin to obey him. And for most of us, we continue to work at home, in our families and in our neighborhoods. It is not possible for every Christian to go into the entire world, nor is it necessary for every believer to travel. Jesus’ point was that we are not to restrict our work by ethnic group, nor by social class or gender (Gal. 3:28).
Friends, work is being done! People’s lives are being transformed! The good news is being preached, and people are being baptized. People of all ages are coming to Christ, and in all this I rejoice.
Now, there is more work to do. We need to teach new believers what Jesus taught — not just in words, but also in our actions — actions of grace and compassion, actions of worship and service. A Christ-like person is the salt of the earth, the light of the world, ready to give an answer, ready to make disciples. A Christ-like person teaches and obeys Jesus’ commands, loving others, praying for others, helping others, and in doing so, will be living proof that we are following Jesus Christ (John 13:35). We will be like the Master.
But beware! When we are like Christ, we can be sure that trials will also come. Some of them will be the seemingly random circumstances that God allows. Some will be caused by persecutors. Some will even be from God himself, who disciplines every child that he loves (Heb. 12:6). Even Jesus had to endure difficulties, so we should not be surprised when we do, as well. At least we can be assured that God will turn it all for good (Rom. 8:28). It will eventually produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).
We can be confident that God will not abandon us. He went to the extreme of sending his only Son to die for us; we can be assured that he will not forget what he is doing in our lives. He is lifting us, changing us, transforming us to be more and more like Jesus. We are his children, too, being created anew through the Holy Spirit, destined for glory, like Christ eternally! We have a glorious future — and we have already begun to enter that glory. Christ is already being formed in us, and we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.
Let Christ be formed in you, and labor so that he may be formed in all the church. Let us be about our Father’s business, seeking his will, seeking him. Let him change us for his purpose, and our glory will be his glory.
Author: Joseph Tkach