This week we will look at ‘personal growth’ and ‘priorities and purpose’.
Becoming Christlike is a pretty tall order. After all He always made the right choices and said the wisest words. His timing was always impeccable. He remained laser-focused on His primary life purpose, regardless of the temptations and challenges He faced. His heart was continually in the right place. He accomplished more in three years of ministry than any human being has ever achieved in a lifetime. Yet we have been called to Christlikeness. The apostle Paul got to the point when he exhorted the people of Ephesus to mimic the Savior: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]. After giving the Ephesians a detailed list of how to live so as to be a “pleasing aroma” to God…i.e. avoiding sexual immorality, greed, profanity, gossip, and idolatry, because such behavior has “no place among God’s people” [Ephesians 5:3]. Paul then completed his command to Jesus’ followers with: “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” [Ephesians 5:10-11].
Many of the great Christian thinkers and leaders throughout history have landed on the notion of imitating the life of Christ as the ultimate goal of life. Augustine described the imitation of Jesus as the most basic and meaningful purpose of human life. Francis of Assiai, the namesake of the current Catholic pope and a revered example of one whose life was devoted to Christlikeness, modeled his own life after that of Jesus in every dimension of his existence. Many Christian philosophers and disciple makers, very possibly starting with the seminal work of Thomas `a Kempis, have emphasized the importance of inner spiritual development that leads to more Christlike behavior. Ignatius of Loyola was so taken by the need to commit to Christlikeness that he developed his famous “spiritual exercises” to facilitate such a pursuit. Reformation icons Martin Luther and John Calvin prominently featured the concept of imitating the life of Christ in their teaching. Now, though, isn’t it interesting that Americans still embrace the notion of imitating people they respect, but rather than imitate Jesus, or even the likes of the apostle Paul, King David, or the prophet Daniel, they emulate entertainers and athletes who often do nothing beyond promoting themselves? As a nation, we need to set our standards higher. Based on research concerning American Christians, the state of the nation, and the potential of the Church, here are some thoughts on personal growth that we can certainly embrace and master.
We will start with ‘priorities and purpose’. Research shows that tens of millions of Americans are seeking a clear and compelling sense of purpose in life. This quest is every bit as common among Christians as non-Christians. [Barna Group, “OmniPoll 1-10”]. The statistics also point out that until people grasp that purpose, their life priorities are a mess…contradictory, unsatisfying, and incomplete. Fortunately faith can help address these matters. We were created by God for His purposes. In general terms our purpose is to experience life to the fullest by loving God and people, advancing the kingdom of God through our acts of love and responsibility. To do this requires that we involve Him in our thoughts, hopes, conversations, and activities. As we do this, we will discover that He has called and prepared us for specific works, and He has provided opportunities for us to serve Him in ways that make a difference and provide fulfillment. In my case I believe that the opportunity to write about a Christian’s responsibility as both a citizen of the kingdom of God and of the earth is one of those callings. A few years ago it would never have crossed my mind. To make the most of these opportunities, all it takes is following His guidance, obeying His commands and precepts, and using the gifts and resources He has entrusted to us. Maybe the appropriate starting place in this process is to get a clear sense of self. Many people struggle with the question of who they really are, because we usually start with ourselves rather than starting with God to understand His worldview and discern how we might fit into it. Understanding our true identity is easier than people make it. God has provided the answers we need to questions of identity and purpose. If we choose to live in Christ, embracing Him as our Savior and Master, we are given a new life and identity in Christ. That identity is comprised of an interrelated group of attributes.
Next week we will take a look at those attributes and how many describe themselves with attributes not at all related to God’s purpose.
– Bob Munsey