When one considers becoming a Christian, the thought that often persuades is the desire to be saved from the condemnation associated with sin. The thought of spending eternity in hell often drives one to repent, lest he face enduring punishment. Although this motivation certainly has its rightful place (Matthew 5:29-30), it was not intended to be the final motivation for the mature Christian (I John 4:17-18). Likewise, forgiveness of sins is not the final goal of Christianity. But, if forgiveness of sins is not the ultimate aim, what is?
Freedom from Sin
Being saved from our sins is certainly one of the chief blessings of salvation (Colossians 1:13-14). "Why is that so important?", some may ask. Well, all who recognize their own transgressions, feel and bear the guilt of their sins. Often they live in fear: They fear exposure. They fear retribution. They may even fear loss of continued carnal satisfaction. They fear untold consequences, which deprive them of peace. Ultimately, people should fear giving an account for their sins before their eternal Creator and Judge (Romans 14:10-12; I Peter 1:17; II Corinthians 5:10-11). Regardless of the exact reason, freedom from the consequences of sins appeals to all who have recognized and faced their own transgressions. Certainly, the promise of release from this fear is extended to all who would submit their lives to Christ:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)
However, is salvation from the consequences of our sins the end of being a Christian? No. While this is indeed a wonderful blessing given to Christians, it is not the culmination of our conversion. When one is freed from sin, he is not only released from the guilt, pain, and punishment associated with his sin, but he is emancipated from the bondage, which sustains his sinful desires, weaknesses, and fears, which lead him to further sin. He is freed from the chains that prolong his sinful ways! As Paul describes below, once we commit sin, we become entangled and enslaved by sin, brought under its bondage to only perpetrate more sin:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. ... But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. ... But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 6:14-23)
Sin defiles our body, mind, and conscience (Ephesians 4:17-24; I Timothy 4:1-2). As Paul describes above, once we yield to sin, we are weakened such that we will only sin more and more, spiraling downward and out of control, despite our best intentions and efforts. At such point, we are trapped and enslaved by sin, which captivity will only generate more lawlessness. Becoming a Christian frees us from the wicked master's rule of continuing in sin:
But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 6:17-19)
As regenerated saints, we are now free to work righteousness! Admittedly, it may seem strange that we are now privileged and freed to work righteousness. To those who are still drawn to the flashy ornaments and enticing lures of sin, it may seem onerous to keep oneself from sin. For such a one, it may feel as a burden to be godly. However, to those who are wearied by oft repeated and failed attempts to overcome sin, it is a long-awaited joy. It is the highest honor for those who seek ultimate meaning and purpose for their otherwise aimless lives. For those who long to build and create something of persistent good, this is a much welcomed relief that brings ultimate satisfaction. This stands in stark contrast to the ever present dread that one's life may unravel unexpectedly, suddenly, and finally. From such burdens we are set free, but more importantly, we are now set free to build something that will last into eternity!
Now when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. (Romans 6:20-22)
Therefore, forgiveness of sins stands not as the culmination of Christianity, rather it marks the beginning. It is the doorway to a new life. After receiving the remission of our sins by faith, we are able to dismiss the nagging guilt, worry, and misery of rebellion. Moreover, we able to enjoy a life full of hope, peace, fulfillment, and meaning. But, we may ask, "To what end?"
If we receive forgiveness of sins, but we turn around and repeat the offense, what is the point? God expects, desires, and hopes something more of us:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
The Greek word here for "be transformed" is one that is actually quite familiar to all of us (μεταμορφουσθε - metamorphouthse). When you look at the Greek, you can almost see our English word, "metamorphosis". However, we typically use this word when describing a caterpillar's transformation into a butterfly. It is hard to imagine a process that can change a slow, slinking worm into a beautiful, variegated creature - with wings! As difficult as that phenomenon is to imagine, the metamorphosis that God is working within us is far more amazing (Philippians 2:13).
"More Than Conquerors"
In contrast to the above described slavery to sin, one of the almost unimaginable goals of this new creation is mastery over sin. Notice what God intended Cain to do:
So the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." (Genesis 4:6-7)
God's dream for us, this dream to overcome sin and temptation, is finally realized through Christ.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Revelation 12:10-11)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
As fantastic as the thought of overcoming sin might be, God has dreamed something even more unimaginable for us.
"Partakers of the Divine Nature"
Truly, we are the smallest soldiers on a vast spiritual battlefront, staging the ultimate showdown between good and evil (Ephesians 6:10-20; II Corinthians 10:3-5). However, God as reserved an even greater blessing for us than ultimate victory and triumph with Him over evil:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (II Peter 1:2-4)
Please notice the sequence of events described by the above verse:
- revelation - "given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him"
- preached and received - "who called us by glory and virtue" (see also II Thessalonians 2:13-14)
- conversion - "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust"
- blessing (forgiveness of sins, etc.) - "by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises"
- culmination - "that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature"
At least as described in this text, the fulfillment of these efforts is realized as we share in God's nature! Can you imagine it?! Now, before your carnal mind runs wild with delight or skepticism, erroneously imagining yourself possessing the power that formed the universe, please understand that this absolute power is not the fundamental, defining characteristic of God. Please recall that God's identity and nature was manifested in Christ's perfect, righteous life:
"If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him." Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:7-9)
God's most unique and divine characteristic is not His ability to wield power, but it His ability to be truly good (Luke 18:19). Back to our context and to further solidify this point, what skills does Peter instruct us to develop as part of nurturing our sharing in the divine nature?
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. (II Peter 1:5-7)
This is the very character that Christ manifested, that God exhibits, and that which we may share, as we take these qualities to be our own.
"Christ In You, The Hope of Glory"
In as much as we imbibe in Christ's character through the knowledge of Him (which implies the need for Bible study, prayer, and meditation), Christ is formed within us, and we share a spiritual relationship with Him.
The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 1:26-28)
Certainly, this is a goal worthy of our most earnest prayers!
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
What is the object of your prayers? Do you desire to be strengthened such that Christ will dwell in your heart, to know His love, such that you may be filled with God? Every time I read this prayer of Paul, my own prayers seem so small, so low-born, so immature. However, God is hoping for something more of me and you.
Clearly, this is a growth process. This is not something that occurs overnight, as evidenced by the dependent "adding" of II Peter 1:4-7 and the above concept of a "perfect", or mature man in Christ Jesus. Elsewhere, Paul describes this maturing and transformation process in this way:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (II Corinthians 3:18)
Incidentally, please notice that this transforming process ("are being transformed") is dependent upon one beholding the glory of the Lord in the mirror. James also describes God's Word as a "mirror" which additionally reflects our flaws and provides us opportunity to correct them, so we may become more like Christ (James 1:22-25). Therefore, if we do not consult the mirror, how will we be transformed?
Since this transformation is a growth process, it takes time; therefore, we may not mature as fast as we like. However, our growth rate is somewhat dependent upon our diligence, as seen above. If one fails to give diligence in study, prayer, and meditation, then he will not develop as he should (Hebrews 5:13-14; II Timothy 2:15; II Peter 1:5). Therefore, we must take heed to not let these things slip, but to give diligence to grow and further partake in the divine nature, whereby Christ will dwell within us. If we truly hope to partake completely in God's divine nature, then we will be busy growing to be like Christ:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I John 3:1-3)
Again please notice, as long as we inhabit these mortal tents, this will be an ongoing, never ceasing process (ongoing action, "purifies himself"). However, this process will be ultimately completed, because on that last day, "we shall be like Him". This not only has reference to our change in bodily form (I Corinthians 15:50-57), but it also indicates our final spiritual form, "just as He is pure".
Is this something that appeals to you? Do you wish to be set free from the bondage of not only your guilt and punishment associated with your sins - but also, the oppression that drives you to continue in sin? Do you hope to lead a life with aim and purpose, full of ultimate peace, joy, and satisfaction? Do you seek the high honor and nobility that is quintessentially embodied in Jesus Christ (Romans 2:6-11)? The very nature of God Himself? Then submit your life to God, because only He can set you free and conform you into the image of His Son, which will truly be a metamorphosed butterfly more surprising and beautiful than this world will ever know (John 8:32; 17:17; Romans 8:29).
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