Looking More Like Jesus, Step by Step
By Pastor Scott Roberts
Have you ever wanted to look more like Jesus, but didn’t know where to begin? Have you ever talked with a friend who was seeking advice about how to change an aspect of their character, but were unsure of what to tell them? This month, we will look briefly at the doctrine of progressive sanctification and outline a few steps to consider when seeking to put on the character of Christ.
It is good to define our terms. Exactly what are we talking about? Sanctification is the process of being made more and more into the likeness of Christ. It is about putting to death old habits that were formed by sinfulness, and instead, living more and more as the new person that you were created to be in Christ. But it is unlike justification and glorification, which take place in an instant. Sanctification is a process – a lifelong process of fighting against the old ways and putting on the new ways. It is a slow process at some points, and a fast one at others. In an instant God can remove sinful longings, and sometimes he does. But frequently, he calls us to “a long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson once put it.
It is important to note that sanctification requires a living relationship with Christ. It is his Spirit working in cooperation with our mind, will, body, emotions and desires that brings forth transformation. Without the Spirit working, what is left is simply self-effort, which always falls short and disappoints.
What steps can we take in cooperation with the Spirit to see the character of Christ formed in our lives and the lives of others? To start, we must remember that change begins in the heart. Proverbs 4:23 says everything we do flows from the heart. Luke 6:44-45 remind us that the fruit we bear in life is a result of what we treasure in our heart. Therefore, one must reflect upon his/her heart and pray for God to search it; to bring forth the dross and replace it with purity and godliness.
As we pray and examine our hearts, we are likely to find that there are many areas needing transformation. Likely it will involve some combination of all these areas: words; behavior; thoughts; motivations; and beliefs we have about God, ourselves and the world. (See Eph 4:25-32, Col 3:1-17, Phil 4:8-9, James 4:1-2).
Once the specific sinful areas are recognized, then we must come to God in repentance. This means we admit to the Lord the faulty areas of our lives. We don’t try to hide them or explain them away. We tell God that we see these broken shards in our life and we admit that this is not what God wants for us. Next comes the tricky part. Are we willing to admit that we don’t want these broken areas in our lives any longer? Many people can admit that they are broken, but they like their brokenness. They don’t want to give it up. But for real change to come, we must be willing to give up illness to gain health. If we are ready, then we invite God to come and remove the trash and replace it with beauty. We ask God to replace the broken areas with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). If we aren’t ready to give up the nuclear waste that is poisoning our witness, then we must admit that to God and beg Him to give us his perception of our situation.
Finally, we must take concrete steps to replace the old ways with new ways. The Spiritual Disciplines* are excellent ways of working with God to replace evil for good in our lives. If, for instance, our struggle is greed or selfishness, then the discipline of generosity may be what is needed. We could begin by studying the Word to see what God says about greed and generosity. As we learn, our minds will be transformed. Next, we would plan ways to be generous and deny ourselves in the process. Maybe we could choose to meet the need of another person, or volunteer at a local ministry, or find a similar task that would slowly begin replacing the greediness in our life. This is a transformation of our actions. All along the way, we ought to praise God and thank Him for the growth He is working in and through us.
These steps: examining the heart; confession and repentance; and learning to live and think anew, will bring about change and transformation in our character to become more like Jesus. These are the steps to sanctification that have most often been practiced in the history of the church.
*If you would like some resources on the Spiritual Disciplines, consider one of these works:
- Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook
- Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (or his other works)
- Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms