Revd Dr Evan McWilliams's November Message
You may recall last month’s Parish Magazine in which I suggested that progress isn’t always about moving forward but sometimes can be about going backwards. Sometimes if we are travelling in the wrong direction in our lives, what we need to do is stop, look around, and go back the way we came. True progress in the Christian life means being conformed to the image of Jesus. But what does being ‘conformed to the image of Jesus’ actually mean in practice? How do we become imitators of Jesus in such a way that it really changes who we are deep down? That’s what I’d like us to ponder a little bit this month.
I think a key to understanding what it means to ‘be like Jesus’ can be found by asking what motivated him. Why did he behave the way he did? To answer this question I’d like to take you to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Some of you may have heard the question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ The answer given is, ‘To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’ I think much of what motivated Jesus, in addition to his love for us, was the glory of God the Father.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it like this:
Jesus, ‘for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.’
To me, this suggests that an essential aspect of Jesus’ life was joy in fulfilling the Father’s will. Jesus rejoiced- even to go to the cross- because he knew that it would bring glory to the Father. As the writer to the Hebrews also says ‘consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.’ Directly linked to Jesus’ desire to honour the Father is a passion to provide us with the strength that comes from knowing that Jesus has already suffered with us and knows how we feel.
Throughout his earthly life, Jesus had as his dual aim the glory of the heavenly Father and the good of mankind. These should be our aims as well. Everything that we do should be grounded either in the worship with which we honour God or in the honouring of our neighbour. Never in the Scriptures do we find Christian behaviour to be grounded in ourselves, in our own desires, or in our own benefit. The good that we do towards others might come back to us as good, but this is not the reason for doing it. Fundamentally, being Christian is about unselfish, generous love poured out towards our heavenly Father and towards our neighbours.
If what matters for the Christian life are the motivations behind our actions, we can begin to see what being ‘conformed to the image of Jesus’ might look like. If he considered the glory of the Father and the good of mankind before he acted, so should we. In practical terms what this means is that we should reflect on why we choose to act as we do. We might want to ask ourselves questions like ‘Is the choice I am about to make pleasing to God?’, ‘Will what I’m about to do benefit my neighbour or loved one?’, ‘Am I doing this because I’ll get something out of it or because I know it’ll show someone else that I care about them?’
It isn’t easy to be reflective or considered in our thinking. Most of us probably weren’t brought up to question our own motivations (though perhaps we’re accustomed to questioning the motivations of others). And it can be difficult if we start to realise that sometimes we’re not living for the glory of God or because we love those around us but this kind of self-awareness is what separates Christian goodness from secular morality.
Societally, we tend to behave ‘correctly’ because we either fear consequence or desire reward. Those are fundamentally self-centred drivers of behaviour. Being ‘conformed to the image of Jesus’ means slowly ridding ourselves of the need to conform for these reasons. Being more like Jesus in our lives will lead us not to care what society expects us to do but to care deeply about what we know will bring glory to God and honour our neighbour who is made in the image of God. It may be that caring most about what God thinks makes us seem strange or ‘otherworldly’. And so it should, for ‘our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.’
Here's a link to Evan's earlier message - October 2020