Life in the New Creation & The Imitation of Christ

Continued from Beholding and Becoming

Life in the New Creation

Paul describes the change believers have experienced as a new creation. In Ephesians 2:10, he says that we are the workmanship—the masterpieces!—of God “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Similarly, Paul reminds his readers that when they “learned Christ,” they were taught to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:20–24).26 A parallel passage in Colossians 3 says the new man, “is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (v.10). And 2 Corinthians 5:17 exults that, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (cf. Gal. 6:15). For all who are joined to Christ by faith, this inaugural and decisive renovation of the heart has already taken place. They have put off the old man and put on the new man; they have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 13:14). New creation has begun!

Perhaps you remember the lyrics from the children’s song, “Bullfrogs and Butterflies.” Both were born again. The curse of sin has been canceled and its bondage has been broken. As a tadpole is transformed into a frog, and as a caterpillar leaves its earthbound cocoon a beautiful, airborne butterfly, so we experience a dramatic metamorphosis through the power of Christ and his Spirit. We are transformed. As fallen inhabitants of the old creation, our native environment is sin. But as recipients of God’s new creation in Christ, holiness is no longer alien to us. We are born again for God!

The Imitation of Christ

Today, we live in the interval between the inauguration of the new creation and its consummation and completion when Jesus comes again. In this gap between what has already begun and what is yet to come, we taste the joy of living under God’s gracious reign as citizens of the new creation . . . even as we groan with the tension of living as residents in the world as it now is. We are truly new, but not completely new. The renovation has begun, but it is not finished. This is why Paul groaned as in the anguish of childbirth until Christ was formed in his fellow believers (Gal. 4:19).

Our transformation into the image of the Lord is progressive—it happens in stages (2 Cor. 3:18). And though spiritual change is a divine work of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives, it demands our participation. We must refuse to be shaped by this present age and instead be transformed by the renewal of our minds as we put sin to death and live in righteousness (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:25–32; Col. 3:5–14). This dynamic process lies at the heart of the Christian call to holiness.

The essence of this holiness is likeness to Jesus Christ—what some theologians call “Christiformity.”28 When we become like Jesus, our lives reflect God’s glory and we live in right relationship to God, other people, and the world. This is the goal God destined us for, the vocation he has called us to. This is why we are redeemed.

This also explains why Scripture calls us to imitate Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Ephesians 5:1–2, he writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” And in Philippians 2:5–11, he urges us to have the mind of Christ, expressed in humility and selfless service to others. The apostle John also exhorts us to follow Christ’s example, walking as he walked, practicing righteousness as he is righteous, purifying ourselves as he is pure, and loving others as he loved (1 John 2:6, 29; 3:3, 7, 16–18; 4:16–17).

Charles Wesley captured the heart of Christlikeness in these prayerful words:

O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels Thy blood
So freely shed for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.

A humble, lowly, contrite, heart,
Believing, true and clean,
Which neither life nor death can part
From Christ who dwells within.

A heart in every thought renewed
And full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good,
A copy, Lord, of Thine.

Christ Formed in You is about spiritual formation, the “grace-driven developmental process in which the soul grows in conformity to the image of Christ.” The acid test of all spiritual formation is this: Are you becoming more like Jesus? Are the contours of your character being shaped by his image, formed in his likeness? Do you increasingly hate sin and love righteousness, as he already does perfectly? Are you growing in humility and self-giving, which he has practiced flawlessly? Are you making progress in loving and serving others, as he has always done in perfection?

Ongoing transformation is possible for you. You can become more and more like Jesus Christ. But there is only one way: through your increasing understanding and application of the gospel.

Excerpted from Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change by Brian G. Hedges

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