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Formed Together With Christ
by David A. DePra
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom 8:28-29)
What does the Bible mean when it says that we are to be, "conformed to the image of Jesus Christ?" This is an important question, because if you read the above passage, Paul says that it is THE PURPOSE – the good -- towards which God is working all things in the life of the Christian.
Some Greek helps here. "Conformed," is translated from a Greek word that means, "to shape together with; to form together with." "Image," means, "likeness." But my Greek sources state that a vital distinction about this word. It always carries with it the fact that it is drawn from the original, not just a copy of it.
Now, what this suggests is verified by the rest of scripture. The Truth it is getting at is not a product of Greek scholarship, but of Biblical revelation on many fronts. That Truth is this: When we are told that we are supposed to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, this means more than just acting like Jesus -- in the sense of doing. Much more. Rather, we are to BECOME -- "formed together WITH Him."
What this means is simply this: Being conformed to Jesus not simply a matter of becoming LIKE Jesus – in the sense of being a COPY of Jesus. No. Rather, it is a matter of becoming ONE with Him such that Jesus can live and move THROUGH US.
Perhaps here is a good way to illustrate this Truth. Let’s suppose we have a statue of a man, and then a separate, unformed piece of clay. If you took the piece of clay and formed it so that it looked like the statue of a man, then it could be said that this clay was formed into a COPY of the statue – formed in the image of that statue. But it could not be said that the clay has been, "formed together with," the statue of the man. No. It isn’t formed WITH it – it is formed separate from it. There is no union or oneness. But wait. Let’s try something else. Let’s take our clay and form it around the statue itself so that the clay begins to acquire the shape of the statue. What you end up with is a statue that is INSIDE of the clay, and the clay, which is on the outside, "formed together with," the statue, and accurately manifesting it’s image. Big difference.
Despite the limitations of using inanimate objects to illustrate spiritual life, this doesn’t do a bad job. Jesus isn’t merely a model God uses to form us. He isn’t merely a blueprint God follows to duplicate. No. Christ is IN US! We are ONE with Him. He is the Vine and we are the branches! Thus, we aren’t merely to become separate COPIES of Jesus. Rather, God’s goal is to form us TOGETHER WITH Christ, so that Christ might be seen through us.
This is not a petty distinction. For once we get this straight, it begins to redefine Christianity itself. It begins to reveal to us what God is doing and how He is doing it. Indeed, we are here talking about the very nature of the new birth.
Christ in Us
The continual NT revelation is that Christ is IN US. God wants to form us together with Him so that He will live through us. But you see, once we realize that, Christianity can no longer be described as a list of rules to follow – so that we will act like Jesus. It can no longer be limited to a legal position. All of a sudden, if Christ is in us, we are IMPARTED with His life. And His life will seek expression, not by, "working around us," but by working THROUGH US.
For Christ to live THROUGH us, it means that we are full participants. In other words, Christ doesn’t live through us -- independent of us. No. The Holy Spirit never, "takes us over," or forces us to do anything. Rather, Jesus lives through our free will, our faith, our works, our attitude, and everything else about us. In other words, the Holy Spirit will eventually produce a holy life. But this is not us being shaped to merely look like a copy of Jesus. No. It is us being formed together with Christ FROM WITHIN -- so that we reflect and witness to HIM on the outside.
All of this goes back to understanding that Christianity is not merely a LEGAL position. It is not merely an IMPUTATION of righteousness. It is not merely a theological or doctrinal list of beliefs or rules. Of course, Christianity INCLUDES all of those things – there is always a legal counterpart to the living, an imputation of that which is imparted, and the doctrinal statements of that which is of the Spirit. Yes. But you cannot capture a living relationship on paper. You cannot capture a ONENESS and UNION between God and man with words. No. The Bible says, "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit with Him." (I Cor. 6:17) And once we see that THIS is the essence of our life in Christ, things are taken to a whole new level.
Notice the clear indication of this relationship between the believer and Jesus as described in scripture:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Col 1:27)
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Cor 4:7)
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Col 3:3-4)
God does give us a THING called eternal life. No. God gives us HIMSELF. And HE is life. Eternal life isn’t a, "bucket," of something God gives us for believing on Jesus. No. By faith, we surrender to Jesus and become ONE with Him. And because we are one with Jesus, we are one with LIFE. Indeed, His life is the ONLY LIFE we have if we are saved.
Now, the question becomes, "What is next?" In other words, once we have it settled that Christ is in us, what are the results? Well, God wants Christ to be made manifest through us – He wants us to BECOME witnesses unto Christ; formed together with Him.
This is obviously going to require a process. For as we have stated, Christ doesn’t live through us to the disregard of us. No. He lives through us by using every dimension of our being and makeup. But the problem is that NO part of us, to begin with, is constituted for Christ. Thus, we see a need a big, and continual, ADJUSTMENT of what we are over to who He is.
But what usually happens is that instead of submitting to the process of adjustment – which amounts to a work of the Cross – we usually try to live LIKE Christ through the efforts of religious flesh. Some of us think we have achieved this. We are the Pharisees. We think we have things under control. Others find out quick that we are doomed to failure if we try to live LIKE Christ – which is what God wants us to discover. But even then some of us take a long time to realize that our failure is GOOD – in that it is supposed to lead us to submission to the Cross. We are supposed to finally surrender to the grace of God, rather than keep trying to live under the power of religious flesh. So we become defeated and downtrodden.
If you think that living the Christian life is a snap, I’d worry. You are deceived. It is IMPOSSIBLE – and until you come to the place where you are totally convinced of that, you will not find the release God is after of Christ through you. Until you come to the place of total and complete DESPAIR over yourself, you have a ways to go. I said, "Despair over YOURSELF," – not over Jesus. For if you truly come to the place of despair over YOURSELF, it is a good thing, as long as you don’t STAY THERE. Despair over yourself is a realization of reality and Truth. But we must go on to put our whole faith in Christ – as a thing completely independent of anything about US.
Get that. Faith and rest in Christ is based on nothing about us. That is the whole point. We have to come to the place where we see that there is nothing about us that we can present to God – not even our ability to believe. No. True faith carries no sense of merit or credential or ability – rather, it is the outcome of seeing that I have NONE of these things. That is why faith is surrender. I live in full reliance upon Christ – not just as a one-time deal, but continually.
God wants to brings us to this place. He wants us to see that we cannot try to live LIKE Jesus, be LIKE Jesus, or act LIKE Jesus – and then congratulate ourselves for being good Christians. The Christian life is to be filled with good works, service, and a godly attitude. But unless the inward issue of FAITH is settled, and come to the end of our own efforts, the outward might look good, but it won’t be Christ living through us. It will be us, through religious flesh, trying to look and act like Christ. If only we could see the difference. Jesus continually harped on the fact that the inward needed to be cleansed, not just the outward. Paul continually taught that Christ needed to be formed in us before what is formed through us could be truly spiritual.
You see, what I am talking about here will cost you EVERYTHING about yourself. It will cost you every last ounce of your self-righteousness, all of your spiritual credentials, and will bring you to a complete despair over yourself. But it will result in you, as Paul said, "winning Christ." And then what your life produces will be HIM living through you, rather than you trying to live like Him.
Back to the example of the clay. The clay, to begin with, has no rational shape. That is sort of like we are in Adam. Yet in order for the clay to begin to be formed together with the statue, it has to be taken and molded and shaped according to the statue. Otherwise, it will never reflect the statue within. It is like this with us and Christ. If Christ is to live through us, then something has to happen to us – we have to be reshaped. But don’t think of this in terms of WORKS. No! That will come. I’m talking about our INNER being. THAT must be reshaped, away from the old, unto the new. The inner constitution of a person – those things we use to make ourselves righteous; our religious flesh -- THAT must be completely torn down and reshaped so that Christ can live through it.
Do you pray, "Thy kingdom come." Well, then expect YOUR kingdom to come down. It must, or His cannot come! Do you and I really believe we have a clue as to what this will really mean? As to what it will cost us? Everything about us – especially IN US – is structured upon our own kingdom. Believe it. We find this out once God begins to invade our kingdom with HIS.
As earlier stated, Christ isn’t going to, "take us over." Nonsense. He is going to want to be released through us by our voluntary free choice. Can we see that we are talking about a major adjustment here? A catastrophic upheaval of our kingdom, thinking, will, motivation, and center of spiritual gravity? Sure. It is a process. But as it occurs, we will discover what it really means to have Christ live through us, instead of us merely trying to religiously live like Christ.
Now again -- if you think that all you really need for this adjustment is information, theology, or some good teaching, you will find out differently if you yield to Christ. Those things are valuable because they tell you what to expect and what is going on. But they alone cannot FORM you. The need here is CHARACTER. Change from what you are, over to someone compatible with Christ. The need is to BECOME.
Obviously, everything we are talking about here is nothing more complicated than coming into a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ. A relationship – rather than conflict, incompatibility, or ignorance. To be, "formed together with Christ," means that there is a surrender and a faith in me, so that I can be used as a vessel through whom He can live and move.
The work of the Cross is to crucify everything about us which hinders the life of Christ. But not just sin. Also self – especially RELIGIOUS self. The Cross, in other words, gets rid of all the bad stuff – the flesh, self, etc. The Cross doesn’t ADD Christ. No. He is already in us. The Cross subtracts US.
The Cross is the instrument of death. The Cross doesn’t gender life. The Cross gets rid of the old, so that life might emerge. That is why the work of the Cross is necessary if Jesus is to be made manifest through us.
But the work of the Cross will do NOTHING to me unless I pick the Cross up. I must choose, and keep choosing. God isn’t going to force this on us. So if you and I do not want to grow, we can spend life – yes, even as a Christian – being comfortable. But if you want to formed together with Christ, you have to pick up your Cross.
Many Christians, even leaders, have no frame of reference for the work of the Cross. For them, the Cross is what made it possible for them to be legally saved. But that is only the beginning of the Truth about the Cross. And until we see the full Truth, we aren’t going to get far in Christian growth.
Jesus said, "Pick up your Cross." What does that really mean? It really means to surrender to God. You are going to encounter issues in life wherein you KNOW you must relinquish control of your life into God’s hands. To do so will be a death to you. But it will be a work that rids you of hindrances in your makeup that is keeping Christ from living through you.
The Cross is the instrument of death. But death only to everything that does not belong to the kingdom of God – that is not of new life in Christ. Indeed, you cannot have a real experience of new life in Christ unless there comes a death to the counterpart of the flesh.
Paul described the work of the Cross, and the result of HIS LIFE being made manifest through us perfectly:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor 4:7-11)
The work of the Cross, as described here, is not a matter of being saved over and over again. No. It is a matter of your salvation being WORKED OUT in you – so that the life of Christ which you ALREADY HAVE might be manifest through you.
But why the need for a process? Why isn’t all of this possible the moment we are saved? It comes back to what we saw about Christ living through us. He cannot do this without our free will. He does not take us over. He lives through us by using what we are. Thus, the Cross must do a work to put to death what hinders that, so that we can live in Christ. The Cross is used to bring down our thinking, self-will, and religious flesh. As we voluntarily submit to this work, what eventually emerges is the life of Christ – works, holiness, and Truth. But this time it is of Him, and not of religious flesh. There is simply no other way this can work.
What does Jesus Christ look like as He is seen in a human being? Well, He is not seen to the disregard of that person’s human personality. Again – Jesus doesn’t take us over, nor does He somehow appear through us separate from us. No. He manifests through us. But how does that look?
Well, what we see are obviously spiritual characteristics and dimensions. Probably the two most fundamental ones are DEVOTION to God, and DEPENDENCE upon Him. Those cover so very much. You will find that those two things stand at the basis of everything – and I suppose you could even say that DEPENDENCE is the outcome of DEVOTION. But once these are established, everything else -- works, the fruits of the Spirit, attitudes, and gifts -- all emerge. It is easy to see why: These two things speak of a oneness with God based on relationship.
Dependence and devotion are earmarks of someone who has been born again in Christ. We have an illumination as to who Christ is and as to His purpose. And then the process beings wherein God wants to form us together with Christ, so that we might be conformed to His image.
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