“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
– Proverbs 4:18 (ESV)
If there is one life that I think serves as a great example of living life towards the light that person would be Paul. Paul got a literal light that turned his life around and from that moment onwards he lived his life growing closer and closer to that light. One of my favourite portions of scripture is from Philippians 3:10-14 where Paul explains his motivation and purpose in life. I’m going to post it here from the Amplified version because the extra clarification of certain terms really gives a good insight into what Paul is saying.
For my determined purpose is that I may know Him – that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly – and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection which it exerts over believers, and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed in spirit into His likeness even to His death, in the hope that if possible I may attain to the spiritual and moral resurrection that lifts me out from among the dead even while in the body.
– Philippians 3:10-11 (AMP*)
What an amazing passage. It’s a fantastic insight not only into Paul’s perspective on life but into what our own lives should be doing. This is what it is to be a follower of Christ; to know Him more deeply and intimately, to understand Him more clearly, and to know the power that flows from Him with the end goal that we become transformed into His likeness. The devil doesn’t give a rip about one more Jack or Jill attending a church, what panics him is the fact that when someone follows Christ they are not one more Jack or Jill they are another Jesus.
How do we grow into what He intends and what He has called us to be? We strive with our whole being to know him better and to turn that knowledge into becoming like Him. Ephesians chapter five starts, quite simply, with the words ‘therefore be imitators of God’. And that is the way that Paul lived his life. As we follow his journey from conversion we see that in everything Paul strives to become more like Jesus.
So what steps did Paul take in becoming an imitator of God that we can learn from?
- He made Jesus his clear focus. If you look at any one who sets out to imitate someone the first thing that they do is look at them, they study them. Paul absorbed himself completely in Christ. The letters of Paul show a man entirely confident in the one whom he follows. Now Paul received the gospel straight from the Messiah himself, but was that all of his development? No, he ran a race. He states so many times that his purpose was to know Him more. His spiritual journey did not stop at conversion, it started at conversion. We need to grow more like Him and how do we do that if we don’t show interest in Him? To grow like Him we need to study Him, read about Him, get to know Him. Our life should reflect a growing likeness to Jesus.
- He modelled his personality on Jesus. This one is both an effect of encounter with Jesus but also an active life choice. It’s a mix of the two in the same way that the week after you first make your decision to follow Christ you’re walking on cloud nine and not even thinking about your personality but then a little down the line you realise that your personality is still a part of you and you choose to live contrary to your bad traits and to grow in Him instead. Saul was not a nice guy, and I don’t mean in the sense that he was persecuting the faithful – he did that because he felt it was what God wanted – I just mean that he was not a nice guy. It’s clear that his personality was angry, confrontational, aggressive. What we see and are told in the epistles is that he crucifies his flesh. He strives not to give in to his faults but to show love, compassion, patience. In Galatians 5:16-24 he talks about all of the things that are the fruit of the spirit in our lives. Relate the personality points from Galatians 5:22-23 to Saul and you’ll see the extent of the change that occurred. So how did this happen? It’s a result of his encounter and his personal revelation of Jesus, it’s powered by the Holy Spirit living in him, but it still takes Paul to dedicate and submit his life to do it.
- He submitted himself to the Holy Spirit. In Paul we see an honest example of submission to the Holy Spirit. I love how frank Paul is about the fact that his flesh fought against the spirit. He admits that he struggles, he admits that sometimes the more he tries the more he seems to fail. But yet we know from his life that he was an amazing man of God. He recognised that he could not do what was needed in his own strength so he relied on the Holy Spirit’s strength. He recognised that there were times his flesh wanted the opposite and chose to go with the Spirit.
- He did not shy from the tough choices. A vital part of growing more Christ like is the fact that the resolve to do so shouldn’t change when the journey gets tough. That’s often when you find that the most character defining growth occurs if you choose to keep going towards Jesus. This resolve ran right through Paul. He chose that when it got tough he was going to stand firm, that when he was in prison he was going to worship, that when he was before Festus he was going to say “I appeal to Caesar” knowing full well what doing so would entail.
Now, I know Paul’s life is pretty spectacular. It’s quite possible we won’t go on dramatic missionary journeys, be imprisoned for the gospel, escape from cities in baskets, or end up prosecuted for our faith and having our case heard before Obama or Putin. Chance are we will have a life in which we operate in a much more localised sphere. That doesn’t make the lessons from Paul’s life any less relevant though, it just means we need to apply the same principles of growing more like Jesus into our own lives.
We will most likely never heal anyone with our shadow, but do we reach out and help the sick that we know in day to day life? We may not have an opportunity to stand before Caesar and discuss our faith, but how are we with the old lady next door who actually would just like to know about a God she’s heard of but never experienced? We may not speak to the gathered philosophers and thinkers at Mars Hill but how about the sceptics we work with who have thought about life, reached different conclusions, but what to know how we came to believe as we do? You see the bible tells us that the power that made Jesus conquer death is the same power that lived in Paul and lives in us.
We can impact our worlds hugely by growing more Christ like in this way, it’s the very central core of our faith. Everything else flows from that growing relationship with Him. This isn’t about some cheesy mantra where we go around saying “WWJD?” in showy fashion, this is about deep seated change in our lives so that we become in our very being more and more like him. That is what Paul describes in the passage from Philippians, and I’ll leave you with the rest of that passage in which Paul states his continuing commitment to growing more like Christ.
Not that I have now attained this ideal, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own. I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own yet; but one thing I do, it is my one aspiration: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the supreme and heavenly prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.
– Philippians 3:12-14 (AMP*)
Next week I’m going to look at how this effects our relationship with people in our worlds.
* When quoting the Amplified bible I removed some of the square brackets to make the text flow readably online. Anyone familiar with this translation will be aware that explanatory sections come in square brackets for clarification. Removing these doesn’t alter the meaning, it’s a syntax distinction so the reader can tell what is explanatory content.