Aiming to Christ-likeness

[Note: this is a continuing part of a series reproducing a sermon. An explanation can be found here.]

Obedience begins with Jesus, and it ends with him. It begins with love for him and it aims at his likeness.

B. Obedience aims at Christ-likeness.

If the moral law is really moral because it reflects the holy character of God, then conformity to the law will reflect the attributes of God, that is, the character of Jesus. Obedience ultimately is conformity to the character of God as we live out our lives in the world. The obedient Christian is one who in love to Jesus is becoming more like him.

That would be an overwhelming thought, and impossible to conceive, were not these things developed in the context of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who is developing these attributes within us.

Jesus in our text promises the Holy Spirit:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth… (16, 17)

Among those many works which the Spirit will do is to develop within us qualities which reflect Jesus. Paul alludes to this in his letter to the Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23)

These qualities of the Spirit’s work are really the qualities which defined Jesus. While we are struggling over what it means to obey, quietly the Spirit is building Christ-like character into us. And that is what we should covet.

I may miss exactly how to pray with my family or I may vote for the wrong person. I may dress wrongly and I may speak when I should be quiet. I will certainly stumble and fall and fail and wilt. But I have confidence that as my heart is holding on to Christ and aimed toward him, that God through his Spirit is building within me his character. The aim of obedience is Christ-likeness. And to this end the Holy Spirit is leading us.

The Southern Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell was the founding president of the University of South Carolina, and founding professor of Columbia Theological Seminary. He was known for his fierce intellect with which he would devastate in argument those opposed to him. He was strict with his outward obedience, and ruthless in his public argument.

But what stood out for me as I read his biography a few years ago was that these qualities changed. To the end of his life, he maintained a strict outward obedience. But his interaction with others grew softer, his public discourse more gentle and patient. Jesus was building his heart in him. The goal of obedience was being formed in him by the Holy Spirit.

That is the goal we seek. Outward obedience is important, of course. But the goal, and that for which we long, is the inner trans-formation of our spirit which reflects Jesus to those around us.

Quoted last week on the internet was this sentence from CS Lewis:

“A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness, and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride.” —C.S Lewis

It’s not much good for me if I’m keeping the Sabbath religiously, and so strict about truthfulness that I won’t even stretch the truth to make a good surprise birthday party, if I’m lacking contentment, peace, patience, and joy.

These are the things I covet.

Obedience is motivated by love aiming to Christ-likeness.