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by Jacob Ninan
God’s ultimate plan for His children is to make us like His Son Jesus Christ (Rom.8:28,29). If we see how unlike Jesus we are in ourselves, one of our greatest desires would be to become like Jesus. But some of us mistakenly assume, especially if we are taught that way, that once we are born again we will automatically become like Jesus in the long run. We are taught to believe that God is at work in us and He will complete what He has begun in us (Php.1:6). What we see in practical reality is that it is not so simple. Some others teach us that all we need to do is to study the Bible, and as we see Jesus in the Word we will be automatically changed into His image, quoting 2Cor.3:18. Again we find out that this is only a part of the story. This type of teaching certainly creates a hopeful expectancy but may give rise to disillusionment and discouragement in the end. Verses taken independently from here and there in the Bible and not together with the rest of the Bible can often be very misleading.
Jesus did not tell His apostles (envoys or messengers) to go and make converts but to make disciples and to teach them to obey all that He taught (Mt.28:19,20). A disciple is one who learns from his master with the intention of becoming like the master, and he becomes like his master in the end. The way to become like Jesus is to learn from Him. We have to first become a disciple, and then we have to learn from Him daily and follow Him.
This is an active process where we are consciously involved in observing Jesus, listening to Him and doing what He tells us. Like in any other learning process it goes step by step, because we need to complete lower level lessons before we can proceed to higher levels. This is a process in which Jesus is involved in training us, and we are to respond by obeying Him. In other words, it is not dependent on Jesus or us alone.
The School Of Discipleship
There is a narrow gate through which we must enter, and there is a narrow (hard - ESV) way we have to walk in (Mt.7:14). We make a fatal mistake if we think that the broad, unrestricted way in which many are walking must be the right way (v.13), and also if we think that once we have entered through the gate we would reach the destination whichever path we follow.
Jesus has clearly defined for us what He means by ‘the narrow gate’ and ‘the narrow way’. Entering through the narrow gate consists in recognising that Jesus is far too precious for us to trade Him for anybody or anything, and making a deliberate decision to love Him more than everyone and everything else (Lk.14:26,33;Mt.10:37). The narrow or ‘hard’ path is to follow up on that decision, denying ourselves daily in order to follow and obey Him (Lk.9:23;14:27).
Jesus wants us to be His disciples. When we make disciples, they are to be disciples of Jesus and not our disciples. Many have misused this process and made disciples to cling to them and become dependent on them and accountable to them, instead of pointing to Jesus and leading them to Him.
Motivated By Love
When we really love Jesus it will not be a burden for us to obey Him (1Jn.5:3), even though many times it would mean that we cannot do what our ‘flesh’ likes (Rom.8:8). We see how the love Jacob had for Rachel helped him to serve his father-in-law Laban for 7+7 years in order to marry her (Gen.29:20). Our love for Jesus will help us to see our goal of becoming like Him and pleasing and honouring Him more valuable for us than all the sinful pleasures we need to give up (Heb.11:25,26). We learn more and more about Him from His Word, and then we seek to obey Him in everything, and denying ourselves from going according to our own selfish desires. We meditate on the beauty of Jesus which the Holy Spirit reveals to us, and we seek to become like that with all our heart. We humbly ask God to show Himself and His ways to us and to transform us into His image. We also meet with other disciples to encourage and challenge one another on this way. That is how we will be transformed into His likeness in practical ways.
We are not going to be changed into the image of Jesus unless we are seeking for it with a conscious focus on it (Jer.29:13). Our flesh, the world and Satan are all working against us, and if we passively let things happen as they come, we are going to be drawn away from Jesus and not towards Him. This is why the Bible is full of warnings for us to be alert, to take heed to ourselves, not to believe every spirit, etc. But when we have seen ourselves as depraved and corrupted by sin and see Jesus as our Saviour, the gratitude and love that well up inside us will motivate us to press on to get closer to Jesus and to be changed into His character.
Jesus, Not The Cross, Our Aim
Carrying our cross is not the same as bearing with some difficulty or difficult people. Many people mistakenly think of this or that cross that they are forced to carry. But taking up the cross means to die to ourselves as we deny our desires that oppose the life of Jesus. We need to do this daily, all the time, in order to be able to do the will of God constantly in our lives. But denying ourselves is not our goal--which can only make us morose and depressed--but following Jesus is the goal that drives us. Also it is not that Jesus wants us to deny ourselves every form of pleasure that we might have, but only those that stand against His will at different times. As we seek to know and do God’s will, we need to put to death the desires that rise up to oppose this. When we feel at times that the cross is heavy, what we need to do is to think of the glory Jesus wants to give us (1Pet.1:6,7), and that will help us to endure and go on.
Separation From The World
Jesus was not of this world, and He came to save us from this world (1Jn.2:16,17). It is inevitable that as we get closer to Jesus we move farther away from the world, in our mind. This is because our mind gets transformed in its thinking (Rom.12:2), and we find ourselves in opposition many times to what the world thinks and values. There will be places and people we would need to keep away from, but at the same time we must not generalise and understand this separation to be of that form. It is essentially a separation in our mind and heart, while we still continue to be in the world, and take part in the ordinary activities of life along with all the other people. That is the way we get a part of our training as a disciple of Jesus, and that is also how we can serve as the salt and light of this world (Mt.5:13-16).
While receiving the forgiveness of our sins is the beginning of the Christian life, growing in grace and being transformed into the character of Jesus is the most exciting part. That is where we grow by facing the temptations of life, getting to know Jesus in a practical way, gaining in wisdom and becoming a blessing to others around us. This is the way Jesus will be glorified through our life.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, July 2011
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