By Sonny Westbrook, UGM Director of Ministries
One of the core values we hold dear here within UGM is Christ-likeness. Christ-likeness is the standard for our attitudes and actions within our ministry community. We measure our words and deeds by whether or not they express the heart and the character of our Lord.
Why do we do this? Because this is the standard the Lord puts forth in His word for us. Our Lord Himself made this the standard when He issued the New Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). Earlier, He had just finished washing the disciples’ feet and He said: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you”.
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul also made it clear that Christ-likeness is the character goal to which God is moving us all. He’s working everything in our lives together for this purpose. “And we know,” writes the Apostle, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” So, God wants us to be like His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and He will work to get us there.
“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk just as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). The verb “walk” here actually means “conduct the whole of one’s life.” So, the Holy Spirit here through John makes it clear that we are to conduct the whole of our lives just as Jesus did. This is the meaning of Christ-likeness.
One might ask several questions in regards to this. First, why does God want us to pursue Christ-likeness in all we think, say and do? The answer is found in a couple of facts.
There is no more beautiful model that any human being could have than the Lord Jesus. The Scriptures reveal Him as the perfect man and as the One who, because of who He is, deserves all praise, honor, and glory. He is the One who was tempted in all points like we are, yet never thought, said or did even one thing that was contrary to the holy character of God. We can entertain no higher aspiration than to be like Him.
But there is another reason. Have you ever had anyone you would call a “kindred spirit” in your life? A “kindred spirit” is another person who thinks like you do, values what you value, pursues the very things you pursue. The more alike you are, the closer your intimacy and fellowship is.
Our Lord created us for intimacy with Him. As He transforms us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus, our intimacy and fellowship with Him deepens and becomes fuller and richer. This brings joy to Him and to us. Wow, we can become “kindred spirits” with Him.
Another question that can arise is this one: Christ is God, He is perfect, sinless, in what sense can we be like Him? It is true that Christ is God and has been so from eternity past. But the Bible teaches that He voluntarily laid aside His divine prerogatives and was born into this world, to live as man, as God intended man to live. See Philippians 2:6-11. He humbled Himself “being made in human likeness”. He lived in full dependence upon the Father, as we are to live in full dependence upon Him. He was fully divine and fully human. That’s why we learn that He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. We cannot be like Him in His divine attributes, such as omnipotence and omniscience, but we can grow into the likeness of what He demonstrated as a man on this earth. We can grow into His likeness in character qualities that He modeled and now shares with us by the presence of His Holy Spirit—qualities like all those listed as the fruit of His Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
We can be like Him in how He walked…in full dependence upon our Father, doing nothing of His own initiative, but only as the Father by the Spirit led Him. We can be like Him in adopting His values. Above all else, He valued doing the Father’s will no matter the consequences. He valued what is in the eternal best interest of every person on the planet.
Another question is: how can we strive for Christlikeness without falling into legalism? Legalism occurs when we try to establish our lives based on rules, on behavioral do’s and don’ts. Usually we also transfer these into judgments on others. We avoid this by embracing our Lord’s instructions to us.
All our growth into His likeness comes from a deepening, growing union and relationship with Him. He made this wonderfully clear. He likened us to branches and Himself to the main vine. And He taught us this truth: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The fruit that we bear is the fruit of Christ-likeness! But we only bear it by abiding in Him, by maintaining an attitude of total dependence upon Him while we enjoy our oneness of relationship with Him—just like the branch to the vine. For, as He made it so clear, apart from a close abiding relationship and fellowship with Him, we can do NOTHING. Legalism will never get us to genuine transformation. A growing relationship with Christ and dependence upon Christ will. This is the good news of the Gospel.
One final question: how do Christ-likeness and humility fit together? When we live in the reality that all growth into Christ-likeness comes from His saving work in our lives; when we know our own weakness and proneness to wander off like sheep, yet are assured that He will never leave us nor forsake us; when we realize that all our strength comes from our union with Him, a humility also grows out of the truth of these realities. We do not boast in ourselves, but only in Him and in what He is doing in our lives. All the credit goes to Him.
To Him be all the glory as He continues to transform us into His likeness, as we by faith keep letting Him produce this miracle in us! Praise the Lord!
One of the ways we can be like God is to love the people he loves. Download the free e-book below to learn more about God's love for the poor.