John Stott delivered his final public sermon at the Keswick Convention on 17 July 2007. In it, he reflected on this pivotal question: “What is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words - love God, love your neighbour. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is - God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.” In our Myanmar Outreach Programme last Sunday afternoon, we were teaching our participants to create their own personal mission statements. I wonder how many of us would have this as our personal mission in life – to become more like Christ.
What does it mean to become like Christ? It does not mean that we should look like Christ physically, although this is what our dominant culture does. Many people imitate and dress up to look like their celebrity idols or heroes. Some even have tattoos of their idols permanently imprinted on their body. However, this is not the Christian way. In our PCGM study on chapter 15 of Discipleship Essentials – Fruit of the Spirit, author Greg Ogden declares that “the fruit (of the Spirit) is the multifaceted character of one person, Jesus Christ”. Bishop Robert Solomon affirms this perspective in his book The Virtuous Life: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit where we find each of the virtues listed by Paul as perfectly found and displayed in Jesus Christ. So this fruit of the Spirit represents the character of Christ, primarily characterised by love with the remaining eight qualities being different expressions of this divine love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Love is the chief fruit characterised by Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross for our sins. Joy is love’s joyful song; peace is the depth of love where we find rest; patience points to love’s maturity and its ability to wait. Kindness is love in action while goodness is its purity. Faithfulness is the enduring nature of love and its persistence. Gentleness is the beauty of love while self-control is love that is willing to give up self and suffer. We are therefore to bear the fruit of the Spirit in order to become more like Christ.
How can we bear the Fruit of the Spirit? Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:24 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”. We should not make the same mistake like the Israelites after God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, still longing for their old lives in Egypt. We are to obey the Spirit of Christ by dying to our sins daily.
Paul further exhorts us to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), be “led by the Spirit” (v.18) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v.25). These verses imply direction and empowerment so that we make choices and decisions according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Walking is not a passive activity but is an active collaboration with the Spirit of Christ in all manner of conduct in every area of our lives. It is not by self-effort that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit but by yielding to the Spirit’s promptings in the daily choices we make.
Why is it then that Christians are not more like Christ? John Stott gave the example of a professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” Our message is not authentic if we do not reflect Christ whom we are proclaiming in our daily lives.
This week, we commemorated the centenary of the beginning of World War I, the war that was to end all wars. It reminds us that there is another war raging in our hearts – between our sinful desires and our regenerated self (Romans 7:15-25). The Danish theologian and philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, addressed the nub of the problem in a witty manner: “The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.” Obeying and yielding to the Holy Spirit are marks of grace and are the keys to becoming more like Christ.
Growing in Christlikeness as a faith community. In the developed world, there is a propensity towards growing in our faith as individuals. We need to rediscover the early church model of growing in Christlikeness as a community of disciples. As we consolidate our social outreach activities under one single Social Concern Ministry, let us use this opportunity to bear the fruit of the Spirit as a family of God serving the wider community of the lost, last and least in Singapore.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirits as we walk in step with the Spirit, being led by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus. Amen.