Pursuing Christlikeness (part 1)

Yesterday, we learned that to be conformed to Christ’s image means firstly that our bodies will someday be transformed to be like his glorious body. It’s equivalent therefore to “attaining the resurrection from the dead” which Paul talks about in Philippians chapter 3.

Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

What is it that Paul has not yet attained? Clearly, it is the resurrection from the dead (i.e., glorification) mentioned in verse 11. He must press on or make sure that he does obtain it because that’s the whole point why Christ saved him in the first place.

Colossians 1:21-22 ESV

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

Christlikeness, in the sense of glorification, is therefore something we must pursue so that we might attain or obtain it.

But why “press on” to attain it? Doesn’t it happen automatically? Isn’t glorification for the justified something predestined and therefore inevitable?

Romans 8:30 ESV

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

And what precisely does “press on” mean? Does it mean we have to earn eternal life by our efforts? And by the way, didn’t we already receive eternal life when we received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior? And isn’t salvation by grace through faith alone apart from works?

Too many questions! Let’s start with the first one. What does “pressing on” to attain glorification (or resurrection from the dead) mean? Col. 1:21-23 can give us some help here.

Colossians 1:21-23 ESV

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, [23] if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Yes, Christ saved us – died for for the forgiveness of our sins – with the end in view of glorifying us someday, i.e., presenting us holy and blameless before him. But there’s a condition attached: We must continue in the faith, remain steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel. In other words, to press on is to persevere in the faith, to remain in Christ until the very end. It’s the opposite of apostasy, which is the kind of backsliding that has forever turned its back on the possibility of repentance.

But isn’t this salvation by works? What happened to the doctrine of justification by faith alone?

I don’t think there’s any contradiction here. Were’ saved by faith alone (Eph. 2:8, 9), but if our faith is genuine it will last to the very end. Perseverance will be the fruit of true faith.

Romans 1:17 GNT

For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.”

Besides, faith is God’s gift. Jesus himself is the author of our faith and he will preserve our faith to the very end; which means, even though we might temporarily backslide at times, we will in the end persevere to the very end.

Ephesians 2:8 ESV

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Philippians 1:6 ESV

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 12:2 ESV

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Luke 22:32 ESV

but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

Hebrews 7:25 ESV

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Those whose faith is temporary, who don’t persevere, only show that they were never really saved in the first place.

Mark 4:16-17 ESV

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. [17] And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

To sum it all up: We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. But if our faith is genuine it will last because God is the author of it and Christ will preserve our faith to the very end by means of his intercession so that we might be saved to the uttermost! And when we reach the finish line (continuing in the faith up to the day of our death), God will confirm to the whole world the reality of our faith and our salvation by raising us from the dead and giving us glorified bodies when Christ returns.

There’s one more question I need to answer. Is this perseverance automatic? If what is meant by “automatic” is you just sit back, relax and wait for perseverance to take place, then the answer is “No”. You do exert effort in perseverance, but the strength to do so comes from God who works in and through you.

Philippians 2:12-13 ESV

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This is a bit mysterious. Someone put it this way: “Work as if everything depends on you. But pray as if everything depends on God.”

Glorification is the true believer’s destiny. It’s the heavenly goal God wants us to strive for. True, we’re saved by faith alone in Christ’s finished work on the cross. We are justified by faith and will no longer be condemned (Rom. 8:1 and 5:1). But true faith cannot but be active. It will produce good works (Gal. 5:6) and it will persevere in its loyalty to Christ (in spite of many lapses) until the day God completes the good work he has begun in us when he raises us from the dead pure, spotless, blameless, and glorified!

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