God is working to a plan: Part 2
[The following article was originally published in the Banner of Truth Magazine, June 2020]
God is working to a plan (2)
To make us like Jesus
Like house-builders building a house or ship-builders building a ship or road-makers making a road God in saving sinners is working to a plan. Paul gives us a glimpse of it in Romans 8:29: ‘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’. In the first article we did three things. We looked at the special word that tells us there is a plan, namely, the word predestined. We took a quick overview of the plan itself. And then we placed the spotlight on the foreknowledge, or love from eternity, that moved God to make the plan.
In this second article we begin to zero-in on the plan itself. There are two parts to it. The first has to do with us, the second with Christ. God’s purpose for us who are Christians is to conform us to the likeness of his Son. But that is not his ultimate purpose. In making us like his Son God is looking beyond us to the Son himself and to the position he will one day occupy as the firstborn among many brothers. In the final article, God-willing, we will take up the plan as it touches on him. In this one, the plan as it touches on us.
We’re gathering our thoughts around the finished product. Every believer reading this is a work in progress. What will we be like when God’s plan comes to full fruition? In what respects will be like his Son? Certainly not in his deity! The Son’s possession of the divine nature, his place in the Trinity, and his participation in the life of God are all unique to him. So in what ways will we resemble him? The answer is twofold.
We will be like him in heart
Think about Christ in his humanity – as he was when he was here. What can we say about his heart? Space allows for only a few things. It was a holy heart, a heart without sin. That, in turn, was why he lived a holy life. It is out of our so dreadfully sinful hearts that all our evil words and deeds proceed (Mark 7:20-23). His heart, by contrast, was like a fountain of pure of water. So too to this day.
Again, it was a loving heart. No more loving heart ever beat. How he loved the world, loved his people, loved his enemies, and, above all, loved God! So still. We may think of it too as a believing heart. Christ was a man of faith. He trusted in God. He trusts him today. No-one more persuaded than he that God will keep his word! Once more, it was a happy heart. On earth he delighted in all good things, supremely in God himself. So too now in God’s presence where his joy is full.
Think now about yourself. Are you a Christian? God’s plan in salvation is to give you just such a heart – a heart that is holy, loving, believing, and happy like Jesus’ heart. A heart in fact like his heart in every possible way.
Expanding on this a little we note that it’s something God has begun. In fulfilment of his new covenant promise, for example, God has put his law within us and written it on our hearts (Jer.31:33). It’s the language of inward transformation. He has put his Spirit within us and causes us to walk in his statutes (Ezek.36:27). So too to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23). In all kinds of ways we are becoming like Christ in heart. And therefore in life as well.
It’s a work he will one day complete. Hebrews describes the saints in heaven as ‘the spirits of the righteous made perfect’ (Ch.12:23). God will make us inwardly perfect at the moment of death. Then, when Jesus returns, the believer’s holy heart will beat in a glorified body. It is at that point that our likeness to him inwardly will be complete. For then we will have a heart like his in union with a body like his.
Which brings us to the second part of our answer:
We will be like him in body
According to verse 23 believers are waiting for the redemption of their bodies. One day these too are to be freed from all the effects of sin. And when they are, here is what they will be like: Jesus’ body. ‘Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Phil.3:20-21). The body with which Jesus rose from the grave, which he took with him to heaven, in and through which he reigns at God’s right hand, and with which he will return – that will be the template. What is it like? Two great words sum it up: imperishable and immortal (1 Cor.15:53). It is now two thousand years old and just as strong, as healthy, as full of life, and as free from the seeds of death as when it emerged from the tomb. So one day our own bodies.
We note in passing a sharp divergence. With regard to our hearts God is already at work. Not so with regard to our bodies. The two parts of our humanity are moving, as it were, in different directions. While our inner self is being renewed day by day our outer self is wasting away (2 Cor.4:16). Death, too, will eventually take us in its grip. And when it does, though the inward man will be enjoying the bliss of heavenly life, the outward man will be reduced to dust.
But only for a time. When our Saviour returns and raises us from the dead our conformity to his image will be complete. Outwardly as well as inwardly, in body as well as in heart, we will be perfectly like him.
A few thoughts in closing on the effects of this transformation.
In relation to ourselves. A single word sums it up and that is freedom. Freedom from sin and the struggle we have with it. Freedom from the pain it brings as it limits, defeats, and defiles us. Freedom from the way it hinders Christian service, clouds our communion with God, and damages our relationship with one another. Freedom from all its effects on our bodies.
In relation to God. What the Son is in relation to God as a man we also will be. Like him we shall love God with purest love, trust him with unwavering faith, and always do what pleases him.
In relation to one another. How Christlike we will be to our fellow believers when we are living together in the new world! Won’t that be a change! We are not always very Christlike in our behaviour now; certainly not in our hearts. But when God makes us perfectly like his Son it will all be so different.
In relation to the world to come. Christ will be lord of that world. Psalm 8 will receive its ultimate fulfilment. All things will be under his feet. And we shall share in his rule. But how differently from how we exercise rule now! The sinfulness, greed, folly, carelessness, wastefulness, and cruelty that have stained our dominion over creation will be entirely absent. We will govern the world in closest fellowship with its divine Lord. And everything we do will bear the stamp of his likeness.