We said above that the first “C” of Christlikeness is communion. Now the fruit of prolonged communion with Christ is first of all joy and then power. There is wild joy in his presence and he bestows unlimited power for godliness or Christlikeness and witness. Again, as we outlined above, God’s power is really his almighty, holy presence-to-us for Christlikeness and Christ-like service. Let’s explore the idea of Christ-like character now in a little more depth. Let’s talk about its root, the One who produces it, its real nature, and the need for perseverance so that it might be produced.
We need to say right up front that when we’re talking about growing as Christians or developing Christ-like character, we’re not talking about how we can earn God’s approval. We are no longer orphans attempting to secure a Father, since as those who have repented from sin and turned to Christ, God is already our Father. We have been forgiven, adopted as his children, and dearly loved. We cannot diminish this reality nor can we add to it; God’s love toward us cannot be blunted for it is grounded in his eternal pleasure and the cross-work of his son (Rom 5:8).
We are not talking about self-made character either. We made the point above that apart from Christ we can do nothing, i.e., we can nothing to become like Christ. We do not want to water our depravity and helplessness lest we move beyond the truth scripture sets for us regarding our native spiritual abilities (cf. Eph 2:1). Paul said, there is nothing good that lives in me, that is, in my flesh (cf. Rom 7:18). And even though we are no longer under the dominion of the flesh, we still struggle with the remainders of indwelling sin (Rom 7:21-23). As far as the gospel is concerned, self-made Christ-like character is not just an oxymoron, it’s a myth and repugnant to God.
The truth is, we are to work out our own salvation, not to work for our own salvation (Phil 2:12). We have already been saved by grace, not works (Eph 2:8-9). But, in the process of living out our faith, there are three things that we must always keep in mind. First, we have been declared righteous by God and permanently forgiven for all our sin—past, present, and future (Romans 4:1-5:2). We stand in a position of unshakeable grace, with the very righteousness of Christ imputed to us (2 Cor 5:21). This is precisely how God sees our account in respect to his holy law. We are no longer in a state of guilt before him as transgressors of his holiness; in our case the demands of the law have been totally met through Christ (Rom 8:4). Though we often experience the condition of guilt due to our lapses into sin, this in no way tarnishes or minimizes the justification declared over us. When we sin, God will deal with us as a wise Father, but this does not include casting us off (Heb 12:1-12; John 10:28-30). This, he has promised never to do. Second, we must always remember that all our good works, while pleasing to the Lord for a number of different reasons, are never perfect; there is never any room for boasting, only thanksgiving. Third, we must know and rely on the fact that God is always at work in us not only to help us in the willing of the good, but also in the doing of it (Phil 2:13). You are not alone; that which he demands, he graciously supplies!
So, in short, we are justified sinners, who cannot boast in any advances in holy character, for it is God who is at work in us to this very end. Left to our own devices…well, you know the outcome. The sure foundation of our relationship with God and pursuit of holiness is justification. Therefore, let us boast in the cross!
So the issue of our standing and guilt before God’s holy and unbending law has been permanently taken care of in the atonement. Through Christ’s work on the cross in our place, God freely justifies the ungodly by faith; he declares us righteous in his sight through our faith in Jesus.
But now he must “break the power of cancelled sin” in our daily experience if our lives are ever to please him. He does this by uniting us with Christ in his death to sin and his resurrection to new life. It is through our union with him that we are dead to sin and recipients of resurrection power and life: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the father we may walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). The root of our advances in holiness is our eternal union with the resurrected Christ. The goal of our union with Christ is so that we would no longer be slaves of sin, but rather alive to God and slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:6, 18). Now the end result of enslavement to righteousness—and make no mistake about it, everyone is a slave to whatever has mastered him/her—is holiness (and therefore real and lasting happiness [Rom 6:19]).
The Holy Spirit is the third, majestic member of the holy Trinity, possessing divine glory, infinite majesty, and unbounded splendor. In short, He possesses all the attributes of deity and is to be worshipped as God. He was involved in creation, now upholds the universe, and is intimately working out the Trinitarian plan of redemption/consummation in concert with the Father and the Son. He is our Life-giver whose sole, humble mission is to glorify the Father through glorifying the Son.
The Holy Spirit is the comforter/counselor who has come at the request of the Father and the Son to ensure that those whom the Father has chosen are not left as orphans. He makes the presence of Christ known to those who are His by taking from what belongs to Christ and making it known to them (John 16:13-14). He begins this revelational process by first bringing about spiritual renewal in the hearts of those to whom the Father directs Him. In other words, God saves us according to His mercy through the renewing ministry of His Spirit (Titus 3:5). The Spirit re-generates us; He brings light where there was darkness, peace where there was guilt, and hope where despair once dominated. Further, He convinces us of our adoption/sonship by enabling us to cry out, “Abba Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). He carries on an indefatigable ministry of testifying directly to our hearts concerning our sonship, i.e., that God loves us deeply and has brought us into his family forever.
The Holy Spirit transfers us out of the realm of Adam, law, sin, death, and condemnation and definitively ushers us into the realm of Christ, grace, righteousness, life, and freedom (Rom 8:1-11). So, to be without the Spirit of God is to be without Christ, to be in Adam, and to remain under the total dominion and darkness of sin (Rom 8:9). But Christians are now in the realm of the Spirit, brought about by the Spirit indwelling them, where Christ reigns and where love and holiness predominate. This is not something we did to ourselves, but something that has been done to us as believers in Christ. We operate in a new realm of existence, unknown to the world, for it is currently hidden from their sight, i.e., its complete glory is yet to be revealed (Rom 8:19; Col 3:1-2). In short, we are the temple of the living God, collectively (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19-20).
In this new realm of existence, also known as the kingdom of God, we are indwelt, encouraged, lead, taught, gifted, and strengthened by the Spirit of God. We are enabled by the Holy Spirit in three distinct, yet related areas. First, He orients, empowers, and leads us in our relationship with God. Without Him we would continue to stumble aimlessly in thickest blackness, without a redeeming clue as to who God really is. Here the Spirit works in us to bring about deep love for God, profound enjoyment of Him, willing obedience to Him, and a faithful walk with Him. In short, he admits us access into the exhilarating presence of Almighty God. He also alerts us and equips us for battle against and victory over the spiritual forces of darkness. He has designed that we triumph over them through our Spirit orchestrated union with the resurrected and all-victorious Christ (Rom 16:20; James 4:8)!
Second, the Holy Spirit baptizes us (i.e., fellow Christians) at conversion into one spiritual body and strengthens us in our relationships with each other. He promotes unity in God’s family, in the midst of God-honoring diversity, always seeking to create churches where worship, holiness, love, wisdom and service reign. Thus He is forever about His work of transforming us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). For our part we are to cooperate with this great work and by the help of the Spirit, to seek the fruit of Spirit, all the while putting sin to death (Rom 8:13; Gal 5:23; 6:7-8). Having been declared righteous, we have to be made righteous so that we might truly enjoy our new Father and life in his family (cf. Heb 12:14).
In the loving and care-giving ambience of our local churches, we are to let the gifts—manifestations of the Spirit—flourish for the common good (1 Cor 12-14). When exercised in Spirit sponsored love and affection, spiritual gifts are an enormous source of strength to others in God’s family, revealing as they do, the encouraging nearness, multifaceted glory, and magnificent power of the Spirit. This is all for the one grand purpose that the Father be glorified and His children know and enjoy Him.
Third, the Spirit also helps us in our relationships in the world. He teaches us to walk circumspectly in the world, day by day enabling us to love people and hate sin and systems that stand opposed to God and his redemptive purposes. He freely gives us power to walk in honorable paths and to appropriately announce the good news of Christ to those around us. He creates powerful desires in us to go the extra mile in an effort to see our family members or friends come to know Christ as Savior and Lord. He moves us along to pray without ceasing for the furtherance of the gospel—prayer which we gladly do for we know that wherever the gospel is received in power and understanding all people in that society/culture are blessed.
We said above that the Spirit of God is constantly leading us into deeper personal and corporate holiness and love. In other words, he is developing Christlikeness in His people. The only meaningful expression of Spirit wrought power is worship, holy and loving lives, meaningful witness, and works/miracles done in Christ’s name. Christians seeking ecstatic experiences, simply for the experience, are immature and misdirected. They need to return to a wholehearted, scripturally oriented devotion to Christ, willingly cooperating with the Holy Spirit who seeks to draw them into deeper fellowship with the Father and to simultaneously engender spiritual wisdom, power, love, and purity in their lives. Listen carefully; our culture has no hermeneutic for the gospel except the church from whom she hears and sees it. Therefore, do not violate the fruit of the Spirit to share His message, lest the message be reduced to garble along the way! Miracles are useless if not accompanied by a faithful interpretation of God’s intended meaning, which can only be had if the gospel is rightly believed, preached, and lived. Remember what happened in Acts 2! God came among the people in power and with visible signs, yet many concluded that the people were drunk.
So how does the Spirit of God produce holiness and love in the people of God? The primary way involves powerfully attracting our hearts away from sin to a vision of the beauty and love of Christ. In other words, he nurtures strong desires in us for God and then fulfills them by bringing us into God’s presence! This is what he did for Abraham, Moses, David, prophets like Isaiah, Jesus (though he was sinless), Paul, and what he still does for us today. He accomplishes this most powerfully in Spirit-filled, corporate gatherings, where people are rooted in love for one another and where the Living and Ever-present Christ is being highly exalted through heartfelt praise, adoration, scripturally anchored preaching/testimony, songs sung directly to Him (not just about Him), and where genuine repentance and faith are highly valued. He also accomplishes this during our private devotions and daily walk with the Lord—a walk that prepares us to receive from the Lord during our corporate gatherings.
We are to continue or persevere in the word of Christ to show ourselves true disciples. But, obedience to Christ’s word does not save us, rather, obedience flows from a saving relationship with Him (John 8:31-32). In other words, we are saved through faith in Christ apart from works, but not a faith that produces no works. Such a faith cannot save anyone and is only mental assent (James 2:14-26). Like a body without the spirit is dead and a tree without fruit is dead, so faith without works is dead; it cannot save.
But in all our persevering, and sowing to please the Spirit (Gal 6:7-8) it is necessary to know that the Holy Spirit is firstly persevering with and in us. In fact, Paul says that He will perfect His good work in us until the day of Christ (Phil 1:6). To be even more specific, it is He and not we ourselves, who produces the desire to obey. Indeed, the Spirit not only gives us the desire to obey, He also brings that desire to fruition in actual acts obedience (Phil 2:12-13). God has predestined us to glory and has sent His Spirit to indwell us in order to continually strengthen our faith and bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom:
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 8:29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.