(7/6) A few months back, as I was getting ready for church, I grabbed a pair of pants, from my closet, that I have worn for the last two years, and I could hardly get them on. Believing that Debbie had shrunk them in the dryer, I decided to make sure and stepped onto my bathroom scales. The tale of the scales is that I had gained 15 lbs. over the
winter. I was not at my all-time high, which is ten more lbs. more than that, but it was enough to make me stop and want to get back to where I was 1 year ago or maybe where I was 25 years ago. I believe it is possible to do that, but not by reading about losing weight, or by eating just one scoop of ice cream instead of two, or by attending meetings where they just talk
about losing weight. I have to want to achieve my goal, and I must being willing to do what it takes to drop the pounds and get back into shape. That means cutting way back on the carbs and sugars and increasing my veggies, and exercising. It means intentional effort and work. The end result will be that my health will be better, my cloths will fit better, and I can play with
my grandchildren longer.
Last week we saw that Godís goal, His pre-determined plan for our lives is that we morph or metamorphose into the image of Jesus. Our Father loves as we are, accepts us as we are, and adopts us as we are, but He has no intention of letting us stay as we are. His plan is to do all that He can without interfering in our free will to conform us to be like
Jesus. But that will take work and effort on our part. It will not happen by reading books about morphing, or by attending a weekly meetings where they just talk about morphing. It will take some holy sweat.
Letís look at 1 Timothy 4:7-87 But reject profane and old wivesí fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. 8 For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.
Here Paul is telling the young Pastor at Ephesus to stay true to Godís Word and to exercise yourself toward godliness. That word exercise is from the word for gymnasium, and it means to work out strenuously like you would in a gym. Paul tells Timothy that Godliness doesnít just happen, it is preceded by strenuous exercise; it takes intentional effort
on our part. We will return to these verses many times over the next few weeks.
When I was 20 years old, I was a bean pole. I am 75 lbs. heavier now than when I graduated from high school and that is entirely my wifeís fault. My aspiration at that time was to be a Md. State policeman. I knew that to qualify, I had to pass a physical test. That test included being able to do 20 perfect push-ups, 20 perfect sit-ups, 20 perfect squat
trusts, and 10 perfect pull-ups in a minute. A perfect pull-up, was full extension, pulling up to chin above the bar, and then back to full extension, stop, and then do another one. A police academy official would let you know if the one you did counted or not. My problem was that I had little upper body strength. I could do push-ups, sit-ups, squat-thrusts, and run long
distances with no problems, but I couldnít do more than 3 pull-ups.
My next door neighbor at the time was a body builder with a full weight station gym in his basement. He said that I could come over and work out every day and he showed me where the key was. He also showed me how to use the weights. Every other day, I would do upper body work-outs and every other day, I would do lower body work-outs. I was drinking a
dozen raw eggs a day with a scoop of ice cream, some milk and protein powder. And without steroids, I was getting stronger. I did the 10 perfect pull-ups on test day. But I was rejected because I did not have any college or military experience at that time. The point though, is that the goal was achievable but it took intentional effort and a lot of sweat to accomplish it.
Our Fatherís goal is that we reflect the image of Jesus. Thatís what Romans 8:28-29 tell us. But what did Jesus look like? Not physically. Isaiah reminds us that Jesus was not an exceptional looker. He was an ordinary looking guy (Isa. 53:2). However, His character and conduct were extraordinary, and that is what God wants to form in us. But again,
what did Jesus look like in His character and His conduct? Volumes have been written about this. And while this will not be exhaustive, if we have Christlikeness as our goal, we need to pause and consider what Jesus was like.
1. Full of Grace and Truth Ė When John writes his gospel, he begins by reminding us that Jesus is none other than the incarnation of God; that is, God came to us in a human body and His name is Jesus. John says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and
truthÖ.And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14; 16) This is similar to how our Lord described himself when Moses saw His glory on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 34:6-7, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,
7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sinÖ. John says Jesus was:
a. Full of Grace Ė Jesus was/is the epitome of grace. Remember grace is favor, it is a gift, it is receiving absolutely free something good that we do not deserve, did not earn, and have not merited. It often includes mercy as in the Exodus passage, implying that we do not receive the bad that we deserve or we receive far less bad than we deserve. For
Jesus it was giving the gift of attention, understanding, and forgiveness to everyone who wanted it. Jesus would touch people that the religious wouldnít touch like the lepers, prostitutes, tax-collectors, and plain ole ordinary sinful people. He invited them to come to Him, and find peace and rest for their souls. The law given by Moses was in essence condemning, because it
reveals our sinfulness and our self-serving desires in light of Godís holiness; but in Jesus we see God reaching out to lost, lonely and hurting people. Jesus saw value in every person. The New Commandment of loving as He loved flows from His grace.
b. Full of Truth Ė Jesus was also the epitome of truth. Truth had been distorted by the religious elite and by the cultures that had captured and influenced Israel and the world at that time. Jesus revealed the truth about God and sin and salvation, and the ways of God. He revealed the truth about the Spirit of Godís laws. And He spoke the truth with
grace as He taught. The only people that Jesus got upset with were the religious hypocrites. For John, to recall the character and conduct of Jesus was to see that He was grace and truth.
2. Meek and Lowly Ė Gentle and Humble Ė There is only one place in the New Testament where our Lord describes His own character. In Matthew 11:28-29, He gives the great invitation: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will
find rest for your souls."
a. Meek or Gentle Ė Jesusís character was one of gentleness or meekness. Donít confuse that for weakness. The religious leaders of his day, placed heavy burdens of dietary laws and Sabbath keeping, and rules to obey. Satan had deceived people and trapped them in their sins. Society would just as soon throw away some of its sinful citizens, but not
Jesus. He blessed a prostitute, an adulteress, and called a tax collectors to be disciples. He could have crushed anyone with a word. Like a stallion that allows children to ride it, and a German shepherd dog that plays with children, Jesus is gentle. His strength was always under the control of the Fatherís will.
b. Humble or Lowly in heart. Jesusí goal was that the Father be glorified, He did not do anything for accolades or applause. He wasnít trying to gain the approval of the elite. He just wanted to help people and point them to the Father. He was willing to stoop to do things that were beneath Him simply because they needed to be done. He says, come to
me, I am not going to hurt you, I want to help you and show you how to have peace and rest for your souls, because I am gentle and humble. Grace and Truth and Gentle and Humble and:
3. A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief. When Isaiah describes Jesus this is what He says, "And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:2-3).
a. A Man of Sorrows Ė Jesus was conscious of the pain and suffering that was caused by the fall of man into sin and it broke his heart. We see at least two places where it brings Him to tears. First beside the grave of Lazarus in John 11, where He sees the emotional grief that sin and death has caused as well as the hypocrisy of those supposed to be
mourning with the family and his eyes fill with tears. He was not grieving Lazarusí death for two reasons. He knew where Lazarus was and He knew what He was about to do. But the painful results of our sinful nature breaks His heart as He watches people He loves grieving a death.
Second, in Luke 19:41, He literally cries uncontrollably over the city of Jerusalem because they have rejected Him and the grace of God. He wept knowing what their destiny would be both for time and eternity.
In both cases He is sorrowful because He could do nothing to change
the circumstances short of violating peopleís freedom of choice, and it
breaks His heart.
b. And Acquainted with Grief Ė The author of Hebrews reminds us in Chapter 2 that Jesus fully empathized with His people. Jesus felt compassion for the hungry, the hurting, the depressed, and He knew what it was like to lose a loved one. He identified with the people he came to redeem. He felt their heartaches, their pains, and knew their suffering
just to survive. Isaiah would also say in 63:9, "in all their affliction He was afflicted." Whatever hurts you hurts Him. He feels your pain. He was full of Grace and Truth, Meek and Humble, and a Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief.
4. Focused on the Will and Work of the Father
a. The Will of God. John would quote Jesus as saying, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38). With Jesus it was never I hope that God is okay with what I am doing but rather, I only want to do what I know God wants me to do. With Jesus it was, "not my will but yours be done." (Matt.
b. The Work of God Ė John 5:36 reminds us, "But I have a greater witness than Johnís; for the works which the Father has given Me to finishóthe very works that I doóbear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me." With Jesus it was clear. He was here to serve the Father by serving the people God loved and sacrificing Himself for them. He came to do
the Fatherís will and the Fatherís work. And he would be obedient to that will and work regardless of the personal costs.
Now there may be much more, but here we have a glimpse of the image of Jesus that God wants to form you and me into. A Follower that shows grace and truth, gentleness and humility, sorrow and grief for the hurting and lost, and focused on the will and work of God.
Here are a few honest Questions.
Is this what the American Church looks like? Is this what this church looks like? Is this what you look like? Do you know that over 80 million Americans claim to be born again? Thatís more than 1 in every 4 Americans. If you took ľ lb. of salt and put it on a pound of steak would it affect the steak? I think it would be one salty steak. Well, we are
the salt, our Lord said, yet it doesnít appear that we are making a difference in our surroundings.
The truth is that most of our country do not see us looking like Jesus. What is it that Jesus said would be the undeniable evidence of being a disciple or a follower of His? Two things. Our Love for each other, and our unity. (John 13 and 17).
How does the country see us? Judgmental, hypocritical, self-righteous, & grace-less. John Ortberg, in his book, The Life You Always Wanted, says that rather than Christlikeness being our identification and goals, we have made boundaries, our goals. We know that we are supposed to be different than we were and different than the world is, but instead of
using the Greatest Commandment, the New Commandment, and the Great Commission as our goal, we have used markers to display our difference. This is much like what happened in Jesusí day. Rather than make the great commandments of loving God and loving people their aim. The religious leaders used circumcision, Sabbath Keeping, and dietary laws, to distinguish them from the
sinners. These were visible means of distinction. But they had little to do with an inner transformation of being a God-follower. They did little to attract people to Jehovah. Through the Gospel of Matthew Jesus constantly tells people to not model their lives after these religious leaders, but to display the inner qualities of grace and truth, meekness and humility, and love
and forgiveness. In Matthew 23, He berates the Pharisees for their legalism and hypocrisy and lives that are void of faith.
Someone has said that the greatest attraction to Jesus is Christians who are drawing their life from Jesus. The greatest repellent to Jesus is also Christians who are smug, self-righteous, and complacent. Dallas Willard writes in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, "How many people are radically and permanently repelled from the way by Christians
that are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, obsessive and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere, and what they are missing is the wholesome liveliness springing from a balanced vitality with the freedom of Godís loving ruleÖ.Spirituality wrongly understood or pursued is a major source of human misery and rebellion against God."
You may not like this but the truth is we have also established our Christian Boundaries. How long would I have a job, if after the service I went outside and lit a cigarette or cigar, or had a Budweiser? There are churches who wonít work with other churches because they donít read only from the King James Version of the Bible. Thou shalt not dance.
Thou shalt not listen to Rock or Contemporary Music. Thou shalt not use a deck of cards. Thou shalt not wear slacks, or pant suits, or Bermuda shorts to Church. Thou shalt not go to Movies, Thou shalt only use Piano and Organ music for Church, and only sing from a Hymn Book. Thou shalt not drink Caffeine (itís a drug), or eat pork or crabs. These and more have become our
boundaries and the means by which we declare to the world that we are different from them. Now, if this is your conviction for living a life honoring to God, than do it. But donít make these things the standard by which we identify the Christ-Followers from the lost. Does any of that look like Jesus? Why do you think the contemporary churches are the ones that the unchurched
are visiting? They are removing these artificial boundaries.
Yet, what is our Fatherís plan? To conform us, transform us, and morph us into the image of His Son. He wants us as individuals and as a Church to look like Jesus. At the top of our to-do list should be to look like Jesus today. But it will take intentional effort. It will take discipline and work. By the way, a disciple is one who is trained to be
like his or her teacher. A discipline is not designed to be a punishment but a training. The disciplines we will explore include, areas like worship, prayer, mediation, solitude, service, fasting, self-control, simplicity, letting the Holy Spirit guide you and confession or accountability.
But here are some disclaimers, Spiritual exercises:
- Are designed to make you more like Jesus and not to be a means to judge each other.
- Are not a means for measuring our own self-righteousness like the Pharisee of Jesusís story in Luke 18
- Are not a way to earn favor with God
- Are not necessarily unpleasant- You may very enjoy these exercises.
- Are exercises to help us to morph into the image of Jesus
Are you willing to work out? To do what it takes to achieve what you and God want to accomplish in your life?
Do you want to look like Jesus or like one who has established barriers to distinguish himself from the world? Paul says to exercise yourself to Godliness. Letís commit to working out and growing into the image of Jesus.
Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman