First of all, I pray that you would have a blessed Christmas season, not only in your home, but also in your heart. I pray that you would experience the Love of God in a deeper and more real way and that you would be able to share that fullness of Love with your family, friends and neighbors. That’s what Christmas is really all about—sharing the gift of His Love.
What a perfect opportunity to be a reflection of His Image.
Over the last couple of months, we have been talking about the importance of bearing His likeness in all we do. As 1 John 4:17 puts it, “Herein is our love made perfect [or complete], that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world.” Manifesting His image and not our own is the purpose of our lives as Christians. If we truly live this, people everywhere would want what we have! We wouldn’t have to say much; our lives alone would shout the message!
In Genesis, it tells us that we were created in the image and glory of God (Genesis 1:26; 1 Corinthians 11:7), but through Adam and Eve’s sin, that image was lost and we fell short of our destiny. (Romans 3:23) Jesus, however, came to restore that destiny for us. (Hebrews 2:6-8) At our new birth—when we ask God’s Spirit to come in and dwell in us—we are once again endowed with the nature of God in our hearts. But, bear in mind, this does not guarantee our being able to manifest that image of Christ out in our lives. Being “born of the Spirit” is not the same thing as “walking in the Spirit.” There is a whole process of inner change that needs to take place before this transformation can happen.
First of all, by receiving His Spirit into our hearts, Christ wants to lift us to union with Himself. And then, through that union, He wants us to learn “how” to follow the Spirit’s leading, be cleansed by the Spirit, worship in the Spirit, abide in the Spirit, and finally, walk in the Spirit so that others might see His reflection in us.
The object of the “church,” then, is to be such a powerful reflection of Christ that the world not only would acknowledge the glory which is God’s, but also that it would want to personally possess that glory.
A Perfect Example
Let me give you a great example. There was a woman on our recent trip to Israel who was such a powerful reflection of Christ that not only did people acknowledge her life as totally supernatural, but you could see that many of them yearned to have just a small portion of the joy and enthusiasm that she possessed.
Christine suffers from a debilitating disease (which she was born with) that stunts her growth. It’s a form of child osteoporosis where the skeletal bones are unable to sustain weight. They constantly fracture and break. So, Christine is obviously very small (she is about 3 ft. tall) and permanently confined to a wheel chair.
But, no matter. This incredible woman has been married for 25 years. She has been a missionary in India and won several scholarships for her artwork (one to the Louvre in Paris). She scuba dives, parasails and is a gymnast who works out on the trampoline daily. No self-pity here. Just a striving to be all that God wants her to be!
When you talk to Christine, the light of Jesus absolutely exudes from her face. The joy of the Lord and His exuberance radiates. And, her enthusiasm is totally contagious. She truly is a living example of Christ. Others are not only drawn to her, they want what she has! Here is a beautiful woman who not only has been born of the Spirit, but she is also (metaphorically speaking) “walking in the Spirit.”
Unfortunately, all too often just the opposite occurs. We’re born of the Spirit (God’s Spirit lives in our hearts), but we don’t walk in the Spirit. Here’s a tragic example.
An Example: Born in the Spirit Only
I recently received a heart-wrenching letter from John, a delightful prisoner I have been corresponding with. He stated that his Dad was a preacher when he was growing up, but showed him absolutely no love at all, constantly abused him verbally and rejected every idea he had. As a result John transferred his feelings of resentment and bitterness towards God the Father. And, of course, one thing led to another and he ended up committing the crime that landed him in prison.
Reconciling the loveless behavior of his father with the truth of how God really sees him has been the challenge of his life. He is just now learning how to break through the strongholds that were erected so many years ago as a result of his father’s un-Christlike actions.
You have no idea how common the above story is. And, you have no idea how many thousands have been turned off by the hypocrisy that these kinds of stories portray. One woman said to me recently after her own pastor fell, “Well, if he as a pastor can’t make it, I surely can’t!”
Our words and our life actions must match, otherwise we are no different than the secular world and it matters not that we say we are Christians.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscious
Ron Sider, a professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a book about this type of hypocrisy. It’s called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscious. Here are some of his comments:
“The heart of the matter is the scandalous failure to live what we preach. The tragedy is that poll after poll by Gallup and Barna show that evangelicals live just like the world. Contrast that with what the New Testament says about what happens when people come to living faith in Christ. There’s supposed to be radical transformation in the power of the Holy Spirit. The disconnect between our Biblical beliefs and our practice is just heart-rending.”
He continues, “I’m a deeply committed evangelical. I’ve been committed to evangelical beliefs and to renewing the evangelical church all my life. And the stats just break my heart. They make me weep. And somehow we must face that reality and change it.
“Evangelical Christians and born-again Christians get divorced just as often, if not a little more, than the general population. And Barna has discovered the 90% of the born-again Christians who are divorced got divorced after they accepted Christ...Several studies find that physical and sexual abuse in theologically conservative homes is about the same as elsewhere. [These] statistics show that they don’t live what they’re talking about. And sure, I’m afraid that’s hypocrisy.”
And he continues, “Cheap grace is right at the core of the problem. Cheap grace results when we reduce the gospel for forgiveness of sins only; when we limit salvation to personal fire insurance against hell; when we misunderstand persons as primarily souls; when we at best grasp only half of what the Bible says about sin; when we embrace the individualism and materialism and relativism of our current culture....Embracing Jesus means not just getting fire insurance so that one doesn’t go to hell, but it means embracing Jesus as Lord as well as our Savior... Salvation means a new transformed life through the power of the Holy Spirit...It’s a new, transformed lifestyle that you see visibly in the body of believers...Where people would say, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’”
In other words, people would want what we have!
“As He is, so are we (to be) in this world.” 1 John 4:17
Again, what a perfect time of the year to portray a genuine “reflection of Christ.” Give the gift of real Love!
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To be continued next month: “What Does Glorifying God Mean?” This article has been excerpted in part from Nan’s new book Reflections of His Image: God’s Purpose for Your Life.