You Were Created to Become Like Christ
November 1, 2003 | Brian Bill
Note: This sermon is based on a message idea by Rick Warren and is used by permission as part of the 40 Days of Purpose Journey.
Friends, you and I will never become Jesus, but we can become like Him. After worship and fellowship, our third purpose is this: we have been created to become like Christ. Listen to Romans 8:29 in the Living Bible: “For from the very beginning God decided that those who came to Him – and He knew who would – should become like His Son.” Let me be clear, He’s not saying we’re going to be a god, but He does desire for us to become godly as he develops His character in our lives. God wants to make us just like Jesus as we grow in grace and develop in discipleship. Ephesians 4:15 puts it this way: “…We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
One of the best ways to become like Jesus is to look at how He handled the temptations, trials, and trespasses of life. He is our model of Christian maturity and our goal should be to become like Him. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 10:25: “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” This is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take the rest of our lives for God to build a Christlike character in us, but there are some tools we can use to help along the way. We’re going to focus on three unusual and surprising ways that God develops our discipleship.
God works all things for good to make us like Jesus. Does that include bad things? Painful things? Does it even include mistakes we make from sinning? Yes, it does. Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It doesn’t say all things are good because there’s a lot of bad in the world, but in all things God accomplishes His purposes.
We’re going to look at how the Master provides a model for our maturity from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus experienced temptation in the desert, He had trouble in the garden, and He dealt with trespasses on the cross. Friends, if we’re going to grow to be like Jesus Christ, we’re going to have to go through some similar experiences. But here’s the rub. These things don’t automatically help you grow. In fact, if your heart isn’t ready you’re going to become bitter rather than better.
Here’s a testimony someone wrote out on the green insert (I encourage you to do the same so we can celebrate God’s work in our lives): “…I realize now from the sermon that before the 40-Day promotion and even during most of it, I was not engaged with my heart. But, when I got to pass out that book and talk to my neighbors I was excited just like I was when I was first saved…now the problem is how to keep up with prayer and hope for our neighbors to have victory over some major mountains in their lives.”
Because of the possibility that I might be misunderstood, and because this message may bring up some old wounds, would you pray with me right now as we ask God to soften our hearts for what He wants us to hear?
1. GOD USES TEMPTATION TO TEACH US TO OBEY (Matthew 4:1-11).
Temptations are situations designed by Satan and they’re intended to harm us
The first surprising way that God makes us more like Jesus is to use our temptations to teach us to obey Him. Someone once said, “I can resist anything but temptation.” Let’s be real clear about the definition of temptation. Temptations are situations designed by Satan and they’re intended to harm us. As James 1:13 says, God never tempts us to do evil, but God is able, because of the greatness of His power and who He is, to use Satan’s temptations for good in our lives because temptation always provides us with a choice. When I choose for God rather than caving in, Satan’s plan is ruined and I start to grow in my life. And when we make the right choice our character becomes more like Christ.
Right after Jesus was baptized He went through an intense 40-day period of temptation out in the desert. Have you ever noticed how temptation almost always follows a spiritual victory? In fact, this week has probably been a week of struggle for the 36 people who were baptized last Sunday afternoon. Even with Jesus, the first thing He had to deal with after His baptism was temptation. Look at Matthew 4:1: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Notice that He was doing exactly what God wanted and He still faced temptation. The word for “devil” here is the word “diablos” which means, “slanderer or accuser.” Revelation 12:10 refers to the devil as accusing believers “day and night.” Now, if Jesus faced temptations, guess what? You and I are going to face them too. Let me clarify a few things.
- It’s not a sin to be tempted. Jesus never sinned, but He faced temptations. Martin Luther used to say, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
- Everyone is tempted. For some of you, these 40 Days of Purpose feel more like 40 Days of Perseverance. Remember that when you’re tempted, you’re not alone. Listen to the first part of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” One of the ways that Satan tricks us is to make us feel like our temptation is worse than anyone else’s. Having said that, the accuser does choose the temptation that has the biggest potential to trip us up because he knows where we are weakest. Since Jesus was hungry after fasting for 40 days, the first temptation he faced was one that involved food. Friends, you’ll be tempted not where you’re strong, but where you’re weak. He’ll keep firing at your fatal flaws.
- God will provide a way out. God promises to give us an escape route. We see this in the second half of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
- You’ll never outgrow temptation. You’ll never get to a point in your life where you become so spiritual that you’ll not be tempted anymore. When you think you’re beyond a particular sin, watch out because the accuser loves to ambush us when we least expect it. In Luke 4:13 we read that after Satan tempted Jesus, “he left him until an opportune time.”
While we will face temptation our entire lives, and God will provide a way out when it comes, it’s crucial to make the right choice. We can’t be passive, or just give in to it when it comes. We must decide to take the escape route by doing what Jesus did when he was tempted in Matthew 4:10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” He confronted Satan strongly and with Scripture. James 4:7 says: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Here’s the point. Temptation always tests whether you love God with all your heart, with all your head, and with all your hands. When I’m tempted by money, the real issue is this: “Do I love God more than money?” When I’m tempted by a wrong relationship, the question becomes: “Do I love that person more than I love God?” When we choose to say, “yes” to God, it’s a matter of love. It’s not a matter of duty. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
Here are a few practical ways to avoid being tripped up by temptation.
- Saturate yourself with Scripture. The devil came at Jesus from three different angles, and each time Jesus responded by saying, “It is written” as He quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy. If we really want to grow up spiritually, we’ve got to get into the Bible. Psalm 119:11: “ I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” We need to read it and study it and memorize it and meditate on it and think about it and apply it in our lives, because it takes truth to transform us. Perhaps you’re wondering how to even start reading the Bible. Let me suggest that you follow a plan. We’ve included a reading schedule in your bulletin that will enable you to read through the Bible in a year. If you need a Bible, let us know and we’ll make sure you get one.
- Focus on what is true. Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” Temptation always starts with getting your attention, and when it gets your attention, it gets you. You cannot keep the thought of succumbing to a temptation and the thought of obeying God at the same time in your mind. Once you focus your thoughts on what is true, the temptation will lose its power.
- Find a faithful friend. One of the best ways to defeat a temptation is to bring it into the light by talking to a spiritual partner. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” As we mentioned last week, we all need accountability.
Friend, what temptation are you facing right now? Will you choose to believe what is true so that you can grow in Christlikeness?
2. GOD USES TROUBLE TO TEACH US TO TRUST HIM (Matthew 26:36-39)
Trials and troubles are situations planned by God to draw us closer to Him. They’re not designed to hurt us; they’re designed to help us. When things go great in our lives, we don’t really even need to exercise our faith. So you know what God does? He uses trouble to teach us to trust Him. He stretches us so that we will grow in our reliance on Him. God wants to build character in us and He often does it through trials. We see this in Romans 5:3-4: “…because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” If you want to become more like the Savior, then get ready to face some suffering. If you want your character to be more like Jesus, then get ready for some chaos.
God is far more interested in what we are, than in what we do. We get worked up about location and God gets excited about our transformation. He is more interested in our character, than He is in our career. All kinds of problems are going to come into your life and you’ll want to say, “Why me Lord? Why is this happening to me?” as if your life is supposed to be a life of comfort. Well it’s not. The goal of life is not comfort. This is not heaven. If you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus for salvation, one day you’re going to be in a place with no problems. But this is not the place for comfort. This is the place for character development. Helen Keller once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened.”
Friends, don’t miss this truth. It can literally transform how you look at your trials: Every problem has a purpose. It doesn’t matter whether you caused it, somebody else caused it, or the devil caused it. Every problem has a purpose. And what is that purpose? It’s to make me like Jesus Christ as He builds His character in my life.
Jesus went through many troubles and trials in His life, but His greatest was the night before He was crucified. He knew what He was going to have to face the next day, and the intensity of that turmoil in His heart was enormous. He was going to take the sin of the world on Him. He was going to die a horrible death by crucifixion, and the real question became, “Would He trust His Father?”
Jesus took His disciples to a garden called Gethsemane, and under the stress of carrying the weight of the world, in Matthew 26:36, “…he said to them, ‘sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Did you catch that even Jesus needed friends when He went through trouble? That’s why you need a small group. That’s why you need fellowship. Nobody is supposed to go through the troubles of life alone.
Then stress and anguish came over Jesus, and He said in verse 38: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Now this is major trouble. Jesus is basically saying, “I am almost crushed when I think of what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Notice how Jesus responded to trouble in the next verse: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” In Mark 14:36, we read that Jesus inserted the word “Abba” before “Father,” which literally means, “Daddy,” and speaks of intimacy, trust and total surrender.
Now friends, if we’re going to become like Jesus, then it’s OK to say, “God I don’t like this, please take it away…but if you don’t, I want your will to be done. Do whatever fulfills your purpose in my life.” If you’re going to become like Jesus Christ, you’ve got to learn to trust God completely, even when things look terrible and everything is falling apart. Follow the model of the Master and pour out your heart but then submit to God’s purposes. That’s precisely how Jesus had taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Friends, submission is the only way to find your mission.
God uses trouble to teach us to trust Him. It’s easy to trust God when everything is going great in your life. The real test is learning to hang out with God when things are heading south and going bad and you feel like crying all the time because of the pain. Or maybe you just feel numb. God often takes away our feelings in order to teach us to have faith. I loved the reading on Day 14 from the “Purpose Driven Life” book: “God is real, no matter how you feel…He’s more concerned that you trust Him than that you feel Him. Faith, not feelings, pleases God…The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of pain, thanking God during a trial…surrendering while suffering” (Pages 107-110).
So, the next time you get into some troubles and you wonder why everything is falling apart, remember that God is teaching you to trust Him. He’s giving you the opportunity to adore Him in the midst of your anxiety. Will you make the choice and say, “Yet not as I will, but as you will?” And when you surrender, God will support you. That’s what happened to Jesus in the garden after He gave in to the Father. Luke 22:43: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”
Let me mention a couple ideas that will help you tackle your troubles.
- Keep a written record. God told Moses to write things down when His people spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. In the New Living Translation Numbers 33:2 says, “At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress.” When I’ve kept a journal, I’ve simply used it as way to write out my prayers to God, incorporating what I’ve learned from a verse or an experience of the day. A journal can help us see our progress. Most of us don’t realize how much we’ve changed, and we forget what we used to be like. We can go back and see that while we’re not who we’re going to be, we’re not who we used to be either.
- Remember the reward. 2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us that our character development will be compensated in eternity: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Brothers and sisters, what you’re going through right now is terrible, but it isn’t going to last, and even if it lasts for your lifetime, that’s nothing compared to the number of years you’re going to spend in eternity. I love this verse in the Message paraphrase: “These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times and the lavish celebration prepared for us.
God uses temptation to teach us to obey and He uses trouble to teach us to trust. Let’s look at the third tool…
3. GOD USES TRESPASSES TO TEACH US TO FORGIVE (Matthew 27:39-44).
If temptations are designed by the devil to draw us away from God, and trials are designed by God to draw us closer to Him, then trespasses are designed by other people to hurt us. We all know that there are people in life who want to hurt us intentionally, and there are others who hurt us without even knowing it. It’s one thing to handle trouble and it’s another thing to handle temptation. But bearing the bruises from other people without retaliation is, without a doubt, the most important and the most difficult step in becoming like Jesus Christ, because it often involves being misunderstood, criticized, and judged.
Now let me be real clear. These are evil things, and God is not the author of evil. But He didn’t protect His own Son when He was misunderstood and hurt and judged and abused. What makes us think that we’re going to be let off the hook? You see, on the cross Jesus Christ not only carried our sins, He also endured enormous abuse. Matthew 27:39-41: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads… In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him…In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
I can’t believe how Jesus responded to this in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He yielded His right to get even. He absorbed the hurt. He put up with the pain. He responded to evil with good. And he set people free by forgiving them. 1 Peter 2:23 captures the magnitude of His forgiveness: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus could have rightly prayed, “Father, consume them and wipe them out.” There was certainly on Old Testament precedent for this kind of prayer. What happened at Golgotha was unforgivable. They had crucified the Son of God. What could be worse than that?
When the first red drops of blood spurted on his hands and splashed on the soldier’s hammer, the blessed mouth of Jesus formed the words to a prayer for pardon. His request was not for Himself but for “them” – and us. His first thought is to plead in prayer for those who are in desperate need of forgiveness. When man had done his worst, Jesus prayed, not for justice, but for mercy.
To forgive is to cancel the debt of someone so that they never have to pay us back for what they’ve done to us and it involves giving grace to those who don’t deserve it
The word “forgive” is borrowed from the world of commerce and banking. It means to cancel a debt or to pardon a loan. Another word for “forgive” means to bestow favor freely or unconditionally. To forgive is to cancel the debt of someone so that they never have to pay us back for what they’ve done to us and it involves giving grace to those who don’t deserve it. If we’re going to grow up spiritually and become like Jesus Christ, we’re going to have to learn the same thing. We’re going to be hurt. People are going to sin against us because this is a fallen world. And guess what? I sin against people and people sin against me, intentionally and unintentionally. If we’re going to become like Christ, we have to learn, as an act of the will, to forgive.
Our church staff has been studying a very challenging book called, The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande. This is part of what we read this week: “Forgiveness is a costly activity. When you cancel a debt, it does not simply disappear. Instead, you absorb a liability someone else deserves to pay. Forgiveness requires that you absorb certain effects of another person’s sins and release the person from liability to punishment” (Pages 188-89). Sande then suggests that forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:
- “I will not think about this incident.”
- “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
- “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
- “I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our relationship.
If you’re struggling to forgive, force yourself to remember these two theological truths:
- God has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” God will never ask you to forgive anybody more than He has already forgiven you. Just as Jesus forgave the unforgivable, so can we, and so must we. Jesus established a religion of forgiveness and wants the church to be an oasis of forgiveness. Since we are the most forgiven people in the world, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. You might want to say something like this to the person who has hurt you: “We both know that what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you.”
- God is in control. When somebody else hurts you they may mean it for bad, but God will use it for good in your life. I love Genesis 50:20. Joseph had been sinned against big time and yet he was able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God loves to take “bad” problems and turn them into His “good” purposes.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, your greatest testimony as a believer is how you handle hurt and whether you try to settle the score when someone sins against you. If we choose to not forgive we can end up letting our anger and resentment metastasize into bitterness.
Remember that you are most like Christ when you suffer in order to serve others. Who do you need to set free? Have you been withholding forgiveness from someone?
God’s third purpose for your life is to make you like Jesus Christ. And if that’s true, then He’s going to take you through what Jesus went through.
- You’re going to go through a desert where you’ll experience temptation so that you will learn to obey Him and do the right thing.
- You’re going to go through a Gethsemane of trouble, where you will learn to trust His love.
- And He’ll take you to the cross, where you’ll deal with trespasses so that you will learn to forgive.
God uses temptation to teach us to obey, trouble to teach us to trust, and trespasses to teach us to forgive, because we can’t become like Jesus without learning to obey and trust and forgive. I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but I do know that God wants you to rightly respond to it. He wants you to react like Jesus because He wants to make you like Him. Let’s read this week’s memory verse together from Philippians 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
Carry Your Cross
Two weeks ago on Friday, I was getting ready to go home when I received a phone call from a church member. She told me to look out my window because there was a guy walking down the highway carrying a cross. Sure enough, I saw a man walking slowly with a heavy cross on his shoulders. I decided to go out and talk to him. As I walked across the parking lot, my first thought was, “That guy’s a little wacky. He doesn’t need to carry a cross. Jesus already did all that needs to be done.”
As I crossed the road and came toward him, he put the cross down and we began to talk. My next thought was, “This guy’s really wacky. I’ll just chat for a little while.” As I listened to his story, I became fascinated by what he told me. He and his family have “cross-walked” through most of the United States and even Mexico. He told me that he even walked from Texas to Mexico City, a distance of 700 miles. They planned to take about a month and half, but it ended up taking them 5 months because so many people wanted to talk to them. My feelings toward this man changed drastically as I realized I was judging him for being strange, when in fact, he was living out what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
As we stood on the shoulder of the highway, I noticed all the cars zipping by. Some people stared at us and sneered, others slowed down and observed, while others flew by without even noticing the cross. What a picture of people today. There are some who sneer, others who are seeking, and some who seem so set in their ways that they can’t even see the cross.
I then looked at the rough-hewn wood and noticed the words, “God Loves You” painted on the intersection of the horizontal and vertical beams. As my eyes began to fill with tears, the “cross-walker” placed his hand on my shoulder and began to pray for me. I felt both honored and a little ashamed as I wondered what people in cars thought of me as they sped by. After his prayer, he hefted the timber up on his shoulders and headed back down the highway. As I said “goodbye,” he looked back at me with a big smile and said, “I’ll see you in heaven, brother Brian.”
As I gazed at the guy ramble down the road with his old rugged cross, God brought Mark 8:34 to mind: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, he is calling us to commitment. Actually, he demands death to self. Deitrich Bonhoeffer summarized the call of the cross when he said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to die…salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” Or, as someone has said, “If you want to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood.”
Are you ready to follow Jesus? That’s the essence of discipleship. Because He carried our sins with Him to the Cross, you and I have been forgiven and set free. Since He died for us, how can we not live for Him? C.T. Studd used to say, “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Friend, it’s time to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel. It’s only when we die to our rights to live a comfortable life that we can live a committed life as we take up our cross and follow Him.
As we prepare to celebrate the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross through communion, let’s pray together.
“Lord, life makes so much more sense when I realize that it’s not about my career, it’s not about my comfort, it’s all about my character and becoming like Christ. Help me to use life for the reason You gave it to me. I want to grow in character. I want to become who You made me to be. I want to become more like Jesus in the way I think and the way I feel and the way I act. And if that means going through a wilderness of temptation, please give me the strength to make the right choices. And if that means taking me through troubled times, then I say, “I want Your will for my life.” And if that means I must endure the hurts of other people, then teach me to forgive as much as You have forgiven me.”