Thursday, January 31, 2008

Can We Grow To Be Like God ?

Christians often hear people telling us of the need to be more like God, perhaps through being more like Jesus, through whom we get our best impression of what God is like. But is it realistic to expect to grow to be like God? Does God actually expect us to become more like him?

Can We Share In God's Nature?Of course, spiritual growth is the process of growing in God. In fact, in Peter's Second Letter we are actually called into a process of sharing in the divine nature:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.(2 Peter 1.3, 4, NIV).

This scripture is at first extremely startling: being called to actually share in the divine nature. But it must be possible or Peter, first and pre-eminent among the Apostles of Jesus, would not call us into such a process.

Indeed, this growth of sharing is a process which involves all the divine nature: whatever we can imagine is part of God, we are called to share in that. An even more powerful way of expressing it is to talk of our increasing union with God.

Grasping The ConceptThat is a concept which most of us will have difficulty grasping because we do not even understand the real nature of God, let alone how to grow in union with it. We have greater difficulty in understanding what is involved in even much simpler concepts.

For instance, a husband and wife may pray for the oneness of marriage which is theirs by right of God's giving (Genesis 2. 21 - 24; Mark 10. 1 -9). Look at these scriptures. They are not talking about husband and wife becoming as if they were one. They quite clearly state that they are one. This is a difficult truth to grasp and cannot even be begun to be understood without entering into the actual living of it in faith.

But, as this begins to find deeper expression in their lives, its manifestation may come in ways which are entirely unexpected. For example, they may both have spiritual gifts of teachings, and these may have developed separately, in at least some degree. Even in a local church, it would be pointless for God to give more than one person identical expressions of a particular gift. Even more so in marriage: what would be the point of God exactly duplicating a gift? Any spiritual gift can take on a multitude of different characteristics, according as God recognises, and responds to, the uniqueness which he has given to each individual. What he might do, therefore, is to give different kinds of expressions of the same gift to different people who are associated together, such as husband and wife. The wife, say, may be the heart while the husband is the head: one may have the gift of receiving the basic essence of a teaching, indicating to the other, as it were, where he should be working; the other then has the gift of structuring and developing the teaching. And the teaching comes out as a single unity -- and from two observeably separate people who nonetheless do the work of one.

Living The ConceptAll of this sounds reasonable when put this way, but it is quite different while the situation is being worked out in people's lives -- and this is a very simple illustration!

Yet there will be many aspects of growing in union with God which will cause us difficulties and take us unaware, because we do not really know what we are talking about, let alone understand the process, and still less being able to anticipate how God will act in any given set of circumstances in order to further this process within us.

There are, however, certain aspects of our patterns of thought and behaviour which may need to be put in order. While these problems are quite simple and straightforward, the process may be a somewhat painful one. No-one likes change, especially if it means changing habits because, by definition, habits are patterns which have become ingrained in the way we think and behave. Some might even say they are part of our personality.

That depends on how we define personality. Many of these characteristics are not part of our genetic inheritance, but are, rather, responses which we have learned during various periods of our lifetime. Some of them are good, but we need not spend too much time on them (unless it is to cultivate them). We need to concentrate on the not-too-good.

But we need to start with the conviction that what God has called us to be can be accomplished. He just needs our co-operation.

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