by Rick Warren
From the very beginning, God’s plan has been to make you like his Son, Jesus. God announced this intention at creation: “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image and likeness’” (Gen. 1:26 ncv).
In all of creation, only human beings are made “in God’s image.” This is a great privilege and gives us dignity. We don’t know all that this phrase covers, but we do know some of the aspects it includes: Like God, we are spiritual beings—our spirits are immortal and will outlast our earthly bodies; we are intellectual—we can think, reason and solve problems; like God, we are relational—we can give and receive real love; and we have a moral consciousness—we can discern right from wrong, which makes us accountable to God.
The Bible says that all people, not just believers, possess part of the image of God; that is why murder and abortion are wrong. But the image is incomplete and has been damaged and distorted by sin. So God sent Jesus on a mission to restore the full image we had lost. What does the full “image and likeness” of God look like? It looks like Jesus Christ!
People often use the phrase “like father, like son” to refer to family resemblance. When people see my likeness in my kids, it pleases me. God wants His children to bear His image and likeness, too.
Let me be absolutely clear: You will never become God, or even a god. That prideful lie is Satan’s oldest temptation. Satan promised Adam and Eve that if they followed his advice, “you shall be as gods.” Many religions and New Age philosophies still promote this old lie that we are divine or can become gods.
This desire to be a god shows up every time we try to control our circumstances, our future, and people around us. But as creatures, we will never be the Creator. God doesn’t want you to become a god; He wants you to become godly—taking on His values, attitudes and character. We are meant to “take on an entirely new way of life— a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Eph. 4:22 msg).
God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development. He wants you to grow up spiritually. Becoming like Christ does not mean losing your personality or becoming a mindless clone. God created your uniqueness, so He certainly doesn’t want to destroy it. Christ-likeness is all about transforming your character, not your personality.
God wants you to develop the kind of character described in the beatitudes of Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit, the Apostle Paul’s great chapter on love, and Peter’s list of the characteristics of an effective and productive life. Every time you forget that character is one of God’s purposes for your life, you will become frustrated by your circumstances. You’ll wonder, “Why is this happening to me? Why am I having such a difficult time?” One answer is that life is supposed to be difficult! It’s what enables us to grow. Remember, earth is not heaven!
Many Christians misinterpret Jesus’ promise of the “abundant life” to mean perfect health, a comfortable lifestyle, constant happiness, full realization of your dreams, and instant relief from problems through faith and prayer. In a word, they expect the Christian life to be easy. They expect heaven on earth.
This self-absorbed perspective treats God as a genie who simply exists to serve you in your selfish pursuit of personal fulfillment. But God is not your servant, and if you fall for the idea that life is supposed to be easy, either you will become severely disillusioned or you will live in denial of reality.
Never forget that life is not about you. You exist for God’s purposes, not vice versa. Why would God provide heaven on earth when He’s planned the real thing for you in eternity? God gives us our time on earth to build and strengthen our character for heaven.
Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth. Spiritual maturity is neither instant nor automatic; it is a gradual, progressive development that will take the rest of your life. Referring to this process, Paul said, “This will continue until we are ... mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him” (Eph. 4:13 cev). The Bible is clear that it takes the work of the Holy Spirit within us, using truth, troubles, time, and even temptation to make us like Christ.
You are a work in progress. Your spiritual transformation in developing the character of Jesus will take the rest of your life, and even then it won’t be completed here on earth. It will only be finished when you get to heaven or when Jesus returns.
Much confusion in the Christian life comes from ignoring the simple truth that God is far more interested in building your character than He is in anything else. We worry when God seems silent on specific issues such as, “What career should I choose?” The truth is, there are many different careers that could be in God’s will for your life. What God cares about most is that whatever you do, you do in a Christ-like manner.
God is far more interested in what you are than in what you do. We are human beings, not human doings. God is much more concerned about your character than your career, because you will take your character into eternity, but not your career.
The Bible warns, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.... Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Rom. 12:2 msg).
You must make a counter-culture decision to focus on becoming more like Jesus. Otherwise, other forces—like peers, parents, co-workers, and culture—will try to mold you into their image.
Sadly, a quick review of many popular Christian books reveals that many believers have abandoned living for God’s great purposes and settled for personal fulfillment and emotional stability. That is narcissism, not discipleship. Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like Himself before He takes us to heaven. This is our greatest privilege, our immediate responsibility, and our ultimate destiny.
More than 1,500 churches, in all 50 states, have been participating in a national pilot of a six-week “40 Days of Purpose” spiritual growth emphasis based on Rick Warren’s latest book, The Purpose Driven Life. Information on participating in the spring, 2003, worldwide campaign can be obtained by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.