Conformed to Christ


When believers receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are His, not the world's. As fallen creatures, all men and women are spiritual orphans, cast out of God's presence (the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:23). When a person believes in the Son and receives His free gift of salvation, that person is returned to the presence of the Father. An orphan no more.

Jesus said in John Chapter 12:

31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.
The believer is delivered from Fallen Man's condition of spiritual abandonment and is adopted as a son or daughter into the Kingdom of God. One of the most oft-quoted passages in the Bible is Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). A young man leaves his father for a far away land, whereupon he squanders his inheritance. He regrets his decision and resolves to return home. To his great surprise, the son is welcomed home by his father with open arms. The parable of the lost son neither suggests so-called "free grace" (or antinomianism) nor denies the plenary guarantee of eternal salvation. Rather, it illustrates the believer's justification by grace through faith. The key point is that the prodigal son repented: he "came to his senses" (Luke 13:17), turned around, and came back home. Repentance (from the Greek metanoeo, meaning "to turn back") is the action that brings the lost son back into the loving arms of his father. His inheritance remains. The gift of salvation is God's to give, but the believer's stewardship of that gift has very high stakes indeed. Had not the son repented, he would've been lost forever.

Christian stewardship involves making choices that fly against the natural tendencies of sinful man. The Apostle Paul wrote most pointedly, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin." (Romans 7:14) Lot from Genesis Chapter 19 was an example of the carnal believer, very much attached to his city but nonetheless righteous before the Lord (2 Peter 7-8). Though God delivers Lot from destruction, He does not spare the man the horrifying consequences of his worldly life (Genesis 19:26, 33). A repentant King David suffers great personal loss as a result of his sinful episode with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11-12), but the Lord keeps His promise of securing the throne in the line of David. Because of passages like these and the story of the prodigal son, the following question frequently arises: can the believer stray willy-nilly from God, then come back whenever he pleases and still freely receive salvation? It's a leading question. Although pretending otherwise, it expects an answer which presupposes that man is party to his salvation and that there exists an insecurity, however small, to the Lord's eternally secured plan for believers. Man has tried for centuries to reformulate or change Bible-based Christian soteriology.

Paul wrote in Philippians Chapter 3:
9 And be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.
To be found in Christ -- that is is the goal of the believer. Or: to glorify God, to walk with the Lord, to be conformed to His image. In the preceding verse, Paul specifically states that this goal is achieved not from self-righteousness but from faith in Christ. Paul is not talking about any old kind of faith. Fallen man waxes poetic about "faith" all the time, yet he has no capacity for true faith. Sure, he has faith in himself, in fellow man, in the works of man -- but not faith in God. Upon receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, the believer receives the imprimatur of Christ, the Holy Counselor (Holy Spirit). Jesus refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in John 15:26: "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." The capacity for true faith, that is, submission to Christ, cannot exist without the Holy Spirit.

God substantiates faith. Man must believe, but he is led to faith by the Holy Spirit. Man must submit his will to Christ, but he is called by the Holy Spirit. The believer may leave the house of the Father, but the Father does not ever leave the believer. The believer must return to claim his inheritance, but he would not return were God's Truth not written in his heart (Jeremiah 31:33). That is the "grace" component of justification by grace through faith. Grace is not for man to gain or lose; it is for the Lord to give. God calls his children home, as the "hen gathers her chicks" (Matthew 23:37) If an individual is willing to submit to Christ, he will hear the call, and that is the "faith" component. That kind of faith (in and from God) will lead to righteousness, but righteousness in and of itself cannot lead to faith. Consequently, authentic good works are always an expression of faith rather than a working toward faith.

On the subject of believers, Paul wrote in Romans Chapter 8:
28 And we know that in all good things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Faith conforms the believer to Christ's image. Every individual is faced with dozens of choices each day, many small but of no less importance than the big ones. That is because making a choice can be boiled down to whether one puts their faith in Christ...or puts their faith in something else. And because faith can often be expressed in small, less visible ways or in ways not appreciated by man ("The Lord does not look at the things man looks at," 1 Samuel 16:7), we are instructed to not judge other men's hearts, no matter how desperately we may want to. (Judging action is a far different thing, though even there, Christians must remember that motive is far more indicative of faith than the action itself.) Christ daily conforms the believer via these many life moments and decisions; hence, Christians often refer to themselves as "works in progress." Family, friends, even strangers each play a part (willed by God) in setting a believer on his or her way, at different moments in life. The rate and manner of every believer's progress will vary; so long as we put our complete trust in Christ, the goal will be achieved.

Inherent in questions regarding carnal believers, the security of salvation, and "whether they can or cannot get away with it" is a perceptible, if slight, crisis of faith. To believe upon the Lord is to believe in His total power alone to change men. And it happens in His time as He sees fit. Overnight change is uncommon because there is a spiritual war going on in every believer's heart. A believer has two natures: the Holy Spirit and the sinful nature. The Lord draws us near Him as we reject the sinful nature. But when we lock things away from Him -- anything, including our own sense of righteousness or good works -- we are refusing to submit that part of ourselves to Christ. Even the most lily-white thing we possess in nature or action, we must let go of for Christ. Only He can give us a true eternal righteousness. We stray, but He fights for us more than we fight for Him. And that unconditional love is what should turn us around (as with the prodigal son) before it is too late and death closes in on us (we don't know when) and we are truly lost. We must make choices like that, to varying degrees, each day as we live our lives (2 Corinthians 7:10). The gift of salvation is freely given, but not without heavy accountability on the part of the believer.

Referring to Christ in John Chapter 3 (KJV), John the Baptist said:
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.