You might have enjoyed the best human relationships ever known, but even they are inadequate preparation for comprehending the wonder and excitement and depth and intimacy of the relationship God wants with you. God’s uniqueness and the perfection of his goodness and selfless devotion to your lasting happiness leaves us flabbergasted. No one comes anywhere near the way he feels for you, sees the best in you, and has stupendous plans for you. He soars far beyond the proudest father cheering you on in the race of life; far beyond the most devoted mother tenderly helping you in every way; far beyond the most passionate lover feeling your every pain and thrilled to be in your presence; far beyond the most loyal brother; the most effective helper. Not even the intimacy with which you know yourself can compare with his depth of understanding of you. Even your patience with yourself is totally eclipsed by his tender concern and astounding patience toward you. And yet, as patient and understanding as he is, the mighty Lord is fiercely protective of you and determined for you to have the best and achieve the most. |
We acknowledge that God, being perfect, is utterly free from the character flaws we keep finding in humans. So when the Bible calls God as our Father, we know it is describing Someone far wiser and more loving than the best earthly father. Tragically, however, some of us have suffered such pain in our upbringing that even trying to imagine the ideal father leaves us cold. God also reveals himself in his Word as being like a perfect mother. (See a link at the end of this webpage.) Although still inadequate, some of us will find this an easier launching pad from which to begin to grasp how wonderful God is. Elsewhere, I have explored how much like a lover God is. Surprisingly, much of our yearning for a perfect lover is actually an unconscious yearning for God. Approaching an understanding of God’s love from this angle will help still other people. In fact, we can all benefit from each analogy because each reveals another facet of our glorious Lord. For simplicity’s sake we will limit ourselves here to the terms father and brother, but we must realize that we are referring to a Person incomparably superior to anyone we have ever met. Alongside him the best imaginable human parent or sibling or lover seems cold, selfish, heartless, fickle and frail.
Although understandable on an emotional level, it is both tragic and irrational that we tend to let poor human relationships taint our feelings towards the Perfect One. In reality, the more we lack a good father or brother or lover, the more we need our relationship with God to heal our pain and fill that void in our lives by letting the Lord be our perfect father, brother and lover.
There’s a way to transform the next moments from mere reading to a momentous experience, propelling you to new heights in God. The secret is prayer. I suggest something like this:
Normal, conservative Christian theology is almost incomprehensibly exciting, and yet words used to convey those truths often waft over us without the significance exploding in our minds. I’ve made it my mission to express time-honored biblical truth in a way that will help you see as you have never seen before. Nevertheless, your prayerfulness is still the key. Passionately seek the God of Truth and this time the truth might hit you as never before. And if it does, it will most likely shock you.
Because it describes an aspect of the enormity of what God has done for us, the Bible sometimes speaks of God adopting us as his very own children. Adoption by the King of kings opens to us wonders that will keep us dancing for all eternity. Through it we can enjoy God’s intimacy and inheritance and royal status. The full story, however, is even more astounding. When we were born of God we were not merely adopted into God’s family, we were born into his family. By this staggering act of God we received God’s genes, as it were. At that instant a fundamental change in our entire nature occurred. Suddenly, with God’s genes in us, we were not only new people, we had the potential to grow up to become very much like God.
Scripture is compelled to oscillate between calling God our natural and our adoptive father because what the majestic Lord has done is so mind-blowing that it is without human parallel. No human can become someone’s genetic father after that person has already been conceived by another man, and yet this is precisely what God had done. He has given us not merely his love and possessions, but, spiritually, his own genes. Through the miracle of spiritual rebirth, our spiritual DNA has been impregnated with the divine nature.
In what seems a bold reference to sperm, the Bible says:
1 John 3:9Whoever is born of God doesn’t commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can’t sin, because he is born of God.
For more on this Scripture, see God’s Seed.
God is now our natural father. Only because this has not always been so, is there a narrow, historical sense in which God could be thought of as our adoptive father. As dramatic as rebirth is, it is merely bringing us to the state that God has always intended us to be – his full children. I love the expression in James 1:18 that Father God ‘chose to give us birth.’ Unlike some human conceptions, God’s decision to become our father was a very deliberate act. He knew exactly what he was getting when he chose you.
To describe what has happened, I am particularly drawn to the term ‘gene therapy:’ inserting into cells new genes to replace defective genes. Spiritual rebirth is a replacing with the divine nature those parts of us that, through sin in our ancestry and sin of our own doing, had become hideously mutant.
At our spiritual rebirth our entire nature changed. We became a new species (see note); a new life-form so astoundingly different from the rest of humanity that Jesus put it this way: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:6). We’re talking not just in the order of the difference between giraffes and monkeys but the difference between flesh and spirit! Scientists have genetically modified pigs with DNA from a jellyfish. That staggering gene mix is child’s play, relative to the act of God Jesus is talking about.
Now that God is our Father, we bear the family likeness. At present we are mere embryos relative to what we will become, so our Godlike nature is not yet particularly apparent. Jesus put it this way: humanity is like a field of wheat interspersed with weeds that initially are nearly indistinguishable from wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). With the weeds Jesus had in mind, only an expert could tell which is the true wheat when the crop is young. As both species mature, however, the difference becomes pronounced.
The exciting news is that through the spiritual miracle made possible by the Son of God trading places with us on the cross, we can, as it were, undergo the gene manipulation that transforms us from weeds to wheat. Once this happens, though there may be little obvious change at first, a fundamental change is initiated. As effortlessly as a child’s nose begins to take on the shape of its father’s nose, so we will grow more and more like Father God, not merely because we try to model ourselves upon him but because God has transformed who we are by seeding his very own nature into our genetic blueprint.
No Longer Part of the Human Race
As astounding as it sounds, true Christians have been fathered by a Being from another world; a Life-form so totally different that he is the source of everything good. This fathering took place not when we were conceived but at some later time when we willingly allowed ourselves to be, in a spiritual sense, genetically interfered with by the God of selflessness and purity. Of course, this is the most wonderful thing we could ever experience, but it is clear why the God of compassion waits until we give our approval before transforming us. If done without our consent, it would be akin to spiritual rape; an act totally contrary to the gracious and holy ways of the Lord. Just as a man passionately in love can be expected to romance a woman but never to rape her, so God lovingly takes the initiative in doing all he can to win our trust and affection. Even if we push him away, he perseveres, doing all he can to coax us to change our minds, but there has to be a limit to how far he goes.
Ezekiel 36:26 uses a different lens with which to view this massive alteration of who we are, and his insight brings us to the same conclusion:
I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
By ‘heart,’ Ezekiel was referring to the seat of our thoughts, emotions and personality. Were he writing today, Ezekiel would probably have spoken of a near-total brain transplant. And note that the change is so profound that he likens it to the enormous difference between flesh and stone. Even imperfect modern medical ethics would not tolerate even a minor operation to be performed against a person’s will, let alone something that would change a person’s entire personality. Even if it were a lifesaving operation, medics would try hard to persuade the person and advise of the importance of the operation, but they would be forced to leave it there if the person refused them permission to operate. No wonder God – who always acts with the highest conceivable integrity – does not bring about spiritual rebirth without people’s conscious consent. Of course, God’s methods are too sophisticated to be physically invasive, but in terms of its affect upon our entire being, nothing – not even death – could be more invasive, because its effects last for all eternity. In fact, letting God take up residence in our lives ultimately affects every cell in our body because the end result will be a completely new body in the age to come. What else has such a massive impact on our personality and our destiny? This fundamental change is so appropriately called being born again because we have to go right back to our very conception to find anything so radically affecting who we are.
It’s said we can’t choose our parents, and yet God has bestowed on us such dignity that spiritually we can do just that.
We have seen that although it is only yet in embryonic form, this change of our essential nature renders us Christians aliens – a distinctly different species – to the rest of humanity. Many of us do not realize the extent of this and so do all sorts of perverse and unwise things under the delusion that we are essentially the same as unregenerate humanity. For instance, though I wish I could put it more gently, my study of Scripture drives me to the conclusion that in God’s eyes for a member of the other-worldly species to deliberately marry a non-Christian is a spiritual perversion, with distinct similarities to bestiality. When non-Christians marry and later one, but only one, partner becomes born again, an enormous spiritual dilemma arises. The implications of such diverse creatures being intimately related are so serious that God has to perform a special miracle to make possible the continuation of the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:14 – this is explained in Choosing a Partner).
As radically as light differs from darkness and the Holy One differs from evil, born again Christians differ from non-Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14). This biblical fact, however, most certainly does not mean we can look down on non-Christians. Not only was each of us once one of them, they have as much potential as any of us to join the new race. Christ passionately loves those who currently are non-Christians. He died for them as much as for us. There is, nevertheless, a vast spiritual gulf between Christians and non-Christians. The entire universe is at war, with one side fighting for Satan and the other siding with God. This war in the heavenlies has engulfed planet earth, splitting humanity in two. There are no neutral humans – only some who are barely aware that they are Satan’s pawns. We will later see some of the significance of this enormous difference between Christians and non-Christian.
To ensure you fully understand how to be born again, I urge you to read The Ultimate Love Affair.
The Miracle of Christlikeness
The potential to become like one’s father is so strong that the saying has entered our language, ‘Like father, like son.’ Nevertheless, a father contributes just one half of his children’s genes. The other half of our spiritual genetic makeup is our humanity. Even that comes from God (by a less direct route) and bears great similarity to him, because he created humanity in his own image. However, there are aspects of our humanity, such as our finiteness, that will forever keep us from being one hundred percent like God. And yet, in an astounding display of love for us, the eternal Son of God became human. Jesus resurrected with a perfected human body, which he took with him to heaven. It is staggering to realize that even now as he reigns at the right hand of the Father, our Lord’s body, although completely devoid of the defects associated with fallen humanity, is as human as the flawless bodies we will one day have.
As a consequence of Christ swapping places with us and becoming one with us spiritually, it is as though an exchange of genes occurred. Not only did the Son of God gain human genes though the reincarnation, we gained God’s genes. That means born again Christians bear, as it were, nearly the full genetic blueprint of the resurrected Lord – both the spiritual half contributed directly from Father God and the physical half that belongs to glorified humanity. We can never grow up to become infinite, but we can grow up to become like our big brother Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:49As we have borne the image of those made of dust, let’s also bear the image of the heavenly.
Physically and spiritually, and in how precious we are to God, we will be like the glorious Son of God. We won’t however, be Jesus clones. Any variation from everyone being exactly identical will be minor, but precious, because although we will all be Christlike, we will each have a uniqueness that will set us apart.
Here’s my attempt to express the truth of Romans 8:28-29:
For those who truly love God, everything touching them is working towards their highest good, which is, of course, that they become increasingly like God’s very own Son. The divine Artist intricately and lovingly manipulates everything touching them so that all life’s squalls and sunshine and even life’s humdrum are progressively sculpturing his loved ones into the very image of the Perfect One; beautifying them for all eternity with the divine likeness. Yes, for those of us who love him enough to let him, the Sovereign Sculptor sends life’s caresses to polish, and each of life’s blows – even things hurled in satanic malice – he deflects with divine precision to chip off only those parts that must go, so that every influence reaching us is etching into our lives the exquisite and eternal beauty of Christ. This is the destiny of all who yield their lives to him.
As many earthly parents long for their firstborn to have brothers and sisters, so it has been the Perfect Father’s intention since before creation that his eternal Son have many brothers and sisters so that he no longer be regarded as God’s only Son, but as the Firstborn. The divine plan is that we each end up beautifully unique and yet bearing with perfection the unmistakable family likeness; displaying the matchless beauty of the Glorious Victor and ruling in regal majesty with him for all eternity.
The inspired apostle continues his chapter to affirm that this is so locked into the divine purpose that no amount of suffering or disasters or demonic interference can ever foil God’s magnificent, love-filled plan for us to be radiant with the beauty and perfection of his Son.
We typically pluck Romans 8:28 out of context, dangling it in thin air under the illusion that it is proclaiming that every circumstance is working towards our happiness or prosperity. When viewed from eternity – not necessarily as seen on earth – this is indeed true, but if we only understood, we would realize that the most dazzling ecstasies of happiness and prosperity pale in the brilliance of the next promise.
Romans 8:28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Emphasis mine.)
Christlikeness is the treasure that renders all other pleasures and honors mere tinsel.
As exciting as it might be to be treated as if we were exceptionally intelligent and good-looking, it would fade to nothing relative to being able to transmute into someone who really is that intelligent and good-looking. Similarly, as much as would be wise, our gracious Lord treats us right now as if we were Christlike, but far more breathtaking is the honor and wonder of actually becoming Christlike.
Other exciting Scriptures confirming our glorious destiny include:
2 Corinthians 3:18But we all, with unveiled face seeing the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.
It has rightly been said that God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way.
The Joy of Having the World’s Best Brother
Though he lived in human history, Jesus is far more to us than merely a figure in history. He is like the closest and best brother a little kid could dream of. We will soon plunge into a heartwarming discussion of the feminine perspective on this, but for the moment think what it would be like to be a little boy growing up with the ideal older brother. He is your advisor, giving you all the benefits of his experience. He is your best friend, sharing secrets with you, teaching you how to fish, how to play games, how to tie your shoelaces, and helping you with your homework. He protects you from the school bully. When anyone makes fun of you, he sticks up for you. When you are in danger of getting lost or running in front of a car, he is looking out for you. He would give his life for you and he means so much to you that you would try to do the same for him. You idolize him and model your life on him. You daydream about becoming just like him and you fully expect to achieve that goal, as you get older. You have fun together, do chores together, and share experiences – like the time when Bitsie had pups and when the family went camping in the mountains, and when grandpa died, when Mom got real sick and when Dad lost his job.
Even in our pre-Christian days, when we were unaware of his presence, Jesus was with us. When you were conceived, he was there. When your mother had her first bout of morning sickness, he was there. When you cut your first tooth, took your first step, swallowed your first piece of solid food, he was there. When the scary darkness made you cry, when you skinned your knee, when you got lost, he was there. When you had your first kiss, your first heartbreak, your first pimple, he was there. All the while he was loving you, feeling your pain and longing for you to let him help.
I had exceptionally good parents but for some reason still a mystery to me I was very shy. Being the oldest child in my family proved a source of several insecurities for me. For example, I ached to have a girlfriend but this would involve suffering the excruciating embarrassment of my parent’s reaction. They most likely would have been supportive but I had way no of finding reassurance. I was too embarrassed to raise the matter and no one in my family had ever witnessed parental reaction to dating. I recall agonizing over how much easier life would have been had I had an older brother who had broken the ice with my parents on such matters.
Spiritually, we have numerous and enormous sources of insecurity relating to Father God. How does a human relate to the One who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15), who fills heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24) and whom even the New Testament says ‘no one has seen or can see’ (1 Timothy 6:16; John 1:18)? What a relief to spiritually have an older Brother! Our wonderful Brother has smoothed out every awkward moment we could ever have in relating to the Infinite, Eternal, Invisible Lord. The Bible uses several terms to describe this precious aspect of Jesus’ grace towards us. Jesus is our Intercessor, our Advocate, our Mediator (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5). He is our Pioneer who blazed the trail for us to follow (Hebrews 12:2-3).
The Feminine Perspective
If you are a woman, in terms of Jesus’ closeness and his understanding of you and his fostering your development as a woman, there are ways in which Jesus is, to you, more like an older sister. As ludicrous as it initially sounds, no woman understands your feminine needs and feelings and concerns as well as your Lord does. He made you, he knows you and, if you are born again, he lives in you every moment of every day.
It is through the Son of God that all things – including femininity – were created. Consider Genesis 1:27
God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.
It is my conviction that this reveals that humanity had to be made both male and female in order to more accurately portray the breadth of God’s nature. Looking at what is best about femininity or masculinity allows us to see with greater clarity a facet of the nature of our magnificent Lord.
For all eternity the Son of God has had infinite knowledge and understanding. There has never been a deficiency in his intellect that rendered him unable to know exactly how we humans feel. He became one of us, not because of an inability to understand us, but so that we might understand him, and so that by full identification with us he could rescue us from our hopeless predicament. Just as Jesus has had no need to experience a computer crash before he could know how I feel when I suffer one, nor must he become a husband in order to understand marital pressures, so the all-knowing Lord has no need to become a woman before he can fully understand women or be like a sister to them. You are a stranger to yourself, relative to the way he knows you. He knows every molecule in your body. He understands perfectly everything you have never understood about yourself.
It turns out that women have little reason for feeling disadvantaged by the Bible’s use of predominantly male imagery for the Godhead. It is not just women who have difficulty in relating to God as Father. In fact, although there are many serious exceptions, I suspect that even more men than women battle negative feelings towards their human father and that the average woman feels closer to her father than the average man. And for women, thinking of Jesus as their brother is a breeze, relative to men thinking of Jesus as the Bridegroom and themselves as belonging to the bride of Christ!
Since there are two genders and only one Jesus, and no one can equal him, it is inevitable that both genders must make numerous mental adjustments in attempting an accurate conception of how perfectly he relates to us.
There are times in the lives of both men and women when we need Christ to have the feminine qualities of a sister or mother or girlfriend and other times when both genders need him to have masculine qualities. That is no problem for Christ, because there is nothing lacking in him. When it comes to satisfying our deepest needs, Jesus is all that either gender could ever hope for.
Merely Having the Best Brother is Not Enough
When we see Jesus face to face, those who are born of God will be like him. So we just put our feet up and wait for it to happen, right?
1 John 3:2-3Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (Emphasis mine)
In the same passage, Scripture is telling us both that we will be like Jesus in the age to come and that we must become like Jesus by purifying ourselves.
However, one’s inborn potential is just half of the equation. Note that Jesus said it is the disciple who is fully trained who will be like him. This implies our need to seek and apply Jesus’ training. A boy might have the same potential as his brother to become a top surgeon, but he will only achieve it if he mimics his brother’s work ethic.
Our potential to become like our brother must be matched by our efforts to follow in his footsteps.
It would seem that the mighty Lord has the power and right and necessity to invade our personality and make us all that he longs for us to become. After all, he owns us, having designed and fashioned us and created every molecule in our body. Moreover, we desperately need it, since justice demands that if we reject God’s pardon and rule, the only option is eternal banishment from God, the Source of everything good. Nevertheless, we have seen that the Gracious One restrains his explosive yearning to transform our nature against our will. To do otherwise would be a violation not only of ourselves but of God’s own personality. It would shatter the Holy One’s commitment to shower us with undeserved dignity by respecting our choices. God, in his infinite love, craves relationship with us, not to crush us into automatons. We know this applies to the new birth itself but the principle applies with equal force to each developmental consequence of the new birth. God is not a con artist who respects our wishes only before tricking us into signing on the dotted line and then transmutes into an evil tyrant. When we discover some of the implications of letting God into our lives he doesn’t say, ‘Too bad sucker! You were stupid enough not to read the fine print, now I’m going to force myself upon you.’
From the moment we invited the Perfect One into our lives we were impregnated with the divine nature. It is as if, like sperm, this miracle enters us in the form of a single cell that contains the divine genetic blueprint, and has the capacity to multiply and replace every sin-damaged part of our nature. Day by day, year after year the transforming power of the divine nature gradually spreads through our entire being. For God’s integrity to remain intact, this exciting but sometimes scary process requires not merely the fact that we once in the past yielded to God; it requires our daily consent.
Now that divine life has been seeded within us, it is like a tender shoot growing among such weeds as selfishness, fear, lust, laziness and bitterness. If our Christlike nature is to flourish, we must continually cooperate with God in killing these weeds that keep springing up.
In Ephesians 4:24 Paul speaks of his readers’ ‘new, in the likeness of God’. How thrilling! And yet he told them, ‘ . . . Put off your old self . . . and put on the new self. (NIV)’ One might expect this to be a once-and-for-all event occurring at the time of the new birth. This is clearly not the case because Paul was addressing people who had already been born again. He seems to be saying something close to what he meant when he wrote, ‘I die daily,’ (1 Corinthians 15:31, KJV) and what Jesus meant when he said, ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’ (Luke 9:23).
This ‘new self,’ as the great apostle calls the person you are destined to become, is indeed a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as each of a father’s children has unique characteristics, so the new you, conceived as a result of your union with Christ, is so special that in the entire universe no one is exactly identical to the person you will become. What makes your new self unique is that it is formed not merely from a joining of some general form of human nature with God himself, but the human contribution is your very own genes. Father God cherishes your contribution to the union.
When Scripture speaks of the death of self, it means the death of selfishness and the assassination of sin so that its tyrannical rule over your life is terminated. It involves killing off everything that twists and deforms the real you. God not only does not want to suppress you, he wants the real you to flourish so that you become the person of great dignity and beauty you were created to be.
As a child bears the image of both its parents, so for all eternity the new you will be in Christ’s image but will also bear your image. You will be perfect and unmistakably like Christ, and yet you will be unique. Both your Christlikeness and your uniqueness will forever make you special. Only by continual yielding to divine perfection can this happen.
Just as at the moment of conception, only God can know how wonderful that embryo will become, so at the moment of your new birth the new you is barely detectable. For a while after a woman conceives, there is no obvious change in her, and careful examination by sophisticated means would reveal that the new life looks not even remotely like its parents. Gradually, however, it becomes obvious to everyone that marked changes are occurring within the woman, and closer inspection reveals that what is growing within her is beginning to look increasingly like its parents. Similarly, the Christlike nature should grow within us until it becomes obvious to everyone that the new life developing within us looks very much like Christ himself.
But things can go wrong.
Just as an embryo needs continual union with its mother, so our Christlike nature needs continual union with the One who seeded it within us. Anything we do that hinders our union with Christ has serious implications.
Paul spoke of Christ being formed within the Galatian Christians, and yet his alarm indicates that this process cannot be taken for granted. Rather than Paul being able to relax in the knowledge that it is inevitable that the Galatians will bear with increasing distinction the image of Christ, he had to plead with them, telling of the anguish he felt for them ‘until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19).
Similarly, 2 Peter 1:3-8 says that we can ‘become partakers of the divine nature’ but rather than that being the end of the matter, it immediately tells us to ‘make every effort to’ add to our faith the godly virtues of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.
Significantly, the list starts with faith and we are told to add to our faith – to build on that foundation – not to replace our faith. When the Bible speaks of faith it means the attitude that says, ‘I can’t, but God will, because of Jesus.’ We often mistake this for the attitude, ‘I can, because I’m a positive thinker,’ or, ‘I can, because I’m determined to succeed.’ That mistaken view of faith sends us hurtling towards spiritual disaster.
Our faith in God inspires us to trust his wisdom and goodness and selflessness. Faith in God compels us to obey him, because we know that God’s plans for us – being plans flowing from the Heart of infinite love, wisdom, and goodness – could not possibly be improved upon. Anything God ever asks of us is always the very best we could ever choose to do. No matter how much it costs, every alternative to doing things God’s way will end up costing us even more. So we obey because faith affirms that God, in his selfless devotion to us, only asks us to do what is in our own best interest. But our faith must always be in God; never in our obedience. We achieve spiritually, not because of our efforts, but because of the unfathomable love of God that continually moves him to flood us with blessings we do not deserve.
Spiritual growth comes the same way as did our first spark of spiritual life – through faith in God’s grace in sending Jesus to die in our place, and believing that his sacrifice opens to us every spiritual blessing. We can never move beyond total dependence upon God’s lavish generosity and our never-ending need to keep receiving from him, through faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
Faith remains the vital means whereby, as it were, God’s genetic material is impregnated into our inner being and from which spiritual growth takes place. For more about faith, see The Difference Between Faith in God and Faith in Self.
So Christlikeness begins with the new birth and then slowly grows within us. The entire process is supernatural, initiated by God, and made possible through Christ’s sacrifice, but it requires our continual yielding to God through faith in his ability and goodness. This yieldedness creates a flow of divine life that is daily transforming us into a closer and closer resemblance to our Lord, who through the new birth is our older brother whom we can aspire to be like and who helps us in every way.
One of my childhood worries was that one day puberty would hit. I’d go to bed with my usual boyish complexion and wake next morning with a face full of stubble, desperately needing a shave before going to school. My dilemma was that I didn’t expect Mom to know anything about shaving and Dad always left for work long before I woke up. I knew I lacked an older brother to help me shave, but I had no idea that not having an older brother also robbed me of the chance to observe his development and so discover ahead of time that facial hair comes only gradually. Oh, for an older brother to have shown me what to expect as I grew up!
I might have missed out in the physical, but spiritually I have in Christ the older Brother of my dreams. When I was a child, however, merely having an older brother would not have saved me from foolishness and needless worries about shaving. Having a brother would have only helped had I expected my development to mirror that of my brother. Likewise, for the benefits of having Jesus as our brother, much hinges on the extent to which we expect our life to be like his, and upon how much we make him our role model.
If our family is somehow different to other families – and as we have already discussed, our spiritual family is very different from the rest of humanity – observing how people treat our brother is a valuable clue as to how they are likely to treat us as we grow older. If, however, we think our development and the way people treat us will be different from his experience, much of the value of having an older brother will be lost. If we fail to see Jesus as our living example of the life we can expect, we will fall into foolishness, such as underestimating the cost of being a Christian.
Jesus warned against our tendency to expect our lives to be different from that of our wonderful Brother. ‘Remember the word that I said to you:’ emphasized Jesus, ‘‘A servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’ (John 15:20). ‘It is enough for the disciple that he be like his teacher, and the servant like his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household!’ (Matthew 10:25).
When it comes to believing such Scriptures, many of us western Christians don’t fare too well. We might pride ourselves on our faith and on modeling ourselves on Jesus, but the problem that dogs us is our great tendency to be selective as to what we choose to believe. ‘ou will be hated by all men for my name’s sake’ (Matthew 10:22) ‘through many afflictions we must enter into God’s Kingdom’ (Acts 14:22) and ‘. . . . all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2 Timothy 3:12) are among the many Bible promises few of us claim. ‘Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake’ (Matthew 5:11) is one of Jesus’ blessings that few us want.
Jesus’ life was so extraordinary that he left us with a vast range of challenging things we could focus on when modeling our lives on his. Every aspect of Jesus’ example is important, but to help us prioritize, our Lord told us what aspects of his life to particularly concentrate on when following his example.
Matthew 10:38He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me.
Luke 9:23 He said to all, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
Of all the Christlike qualities we should foster, this is top priority. ‘What about love?’ asks someone.
1 John 3:16By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
John 15:12-13 This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Matthew 20:27-28 Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bondservant, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
During the last supper, Jesus again told us what to focus on in remembering him. We are to remember his body sacrificially broken and his lifeblood poured out for us. We are to focus on his martyrdom.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the New Testament locks into this emphasis.
Ephesians 5:2 Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.(Emphasis mine.)
Philippians 2:5-9 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who . . . emptied himself . . . becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him . . .
1 Peter 2:20-21 . . . if, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable with God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps
1 Peter 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind . . .
1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy.
A perfect big brother is a little kid’s hero and example; his buddy and protector; his advisor and at times even his go-between in relationships with his parents. Spiritually, Jesus is the big brother we need when we are bullied, or scared or needing advice or needing a role model. He also shows us how we can expect others to treat members of God’s family.
The One we adore will forever be exalted above us. In the age to come, we couldn’t bear the thought of it being any other way because we will know how truly worthy of the highest honor he is. Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to be treated as if we were as sinlessly perfect as he has always been. Despite him being exalted above us, however, we will become exceedingly like him. As a little boy might idolize his brother, modeling his life on him and fully expecting to one day be like him, so should we regard our majestic Lord.
Here’s my attempt at expressing the message of Hebrews 2:10-18:
In the process of exalting many people as his very own sons and daughters, it was fitting that God should make their Savior, perfect through suffering. God caused both Jesus, the sin offering, and us, the sinners whom he made holy, to be members of the same family, so that Jesus is not ashamed to be called our brother. As he prayed in the Messianic Psalm (Psalm 22:22), ‘I will declare your name to my brothers.’ And again in Isaiah 8:18 (NIV) he refers to the family tie with the words, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.’ Since the children have flesh and blood, he, too, shared in their humanity so that he could suffer death and thereby destroy the one who holds the power of death –the devil – and so free humanity from the torment of death. It is not angels that Christ came to deliver, but people who would trust God like Abraham did. So it was not enough for Christ to lower himself to become an angel. He had to go all the way, being made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful intermediary between God and humanity, and that he might make atonement for their sins. As a human priest understands human frailty and identifies with humanity, so as a human, Christ suffered when he was tempted, in order to help those who are being tempted.
Now let’s leap to other parts of Hebrews:
Hebrews 10:32-37But remember the former days, in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great struggle with sufferings; partly, being exposed to both reproaches and oppressions; and partly, becoming partakers with those who were treated so. For you both had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an enduring one in the heavens. Therefore don’t throw away your boldness, which has a great reward. For you need endurance so that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. “In a very little while, he who comes will come, and will not wait. . . .”
Hebrews 12:1-4 Therefore let us . . . lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls. You have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin (Emphasis mine.)
If we are to follow in our Brother’s footsteps, we are headed for the same destiny – rejection, pain, suffering, shame, heroism, triumph, authority, eternal glory. Jesus has shown us what to expect from earthly life and how to react to life’s pressures, and enjoy eternal fulfillment.
Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2001.
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Bible Versions Used
King James Version
King James Version