Imagine your life completely conformed to the image of Christ.
Sanctification has ceased. Glorification has arrived. There's perfect joy in Jesus at every moment. Your entire character — every thought and feeling and word and action — completely saturated with Jesus and the good news of what he has done. Imagine that.
And now remember that it won't happen in this life. It is not a reality we will attain in this world. Yet it is a reality that we should desire and strive toward. In other words, we earnestly aim at a target we will not hit, at least not now, not here. Not yet. That's how John Calvin explains it in Book III of The Institutes.
Conceding that Christians won't reach perfect conformity to Jesus's image in this age, Calvin says this doesn't mean we call it quits. Nor do we drop the bar. Explains the Reformer, "For it is not lawful for you to divide things with God in such a manner that you undertake part of those things which are enjoined upon you by his Word but omit part, according to your own judgment" (688).
Christlikeness, after all, is what we are after. More of Jesus's divine life in us is what we pursue. But this kind of conformity isn't graded on a bell curve.
It's not as if we can pick and choose the aspects of holiness we prefer. That's like saying as long as we're patient we don't have to be gentle. Or that we'll take Jesus's peace but leave his kindness. But it's all or nothing. He's one Jesus. The example before us — and the Image into which we are being conformed — is one person. Morally, Jesus is the total package, and our calling is no less.
Now this may feel discouraging. The distance between what we should be and what we are is so great, and our progress, Holy-Spirit helped as it is, is so slow. Calvin acknowledges that we waver. We limp and creep along the ground at a feeble rate.
Yet he adds, with a tender, solid enthusiasm:
Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him. (689)
A Little More Each Day
Christian, you will be like Jesus one day (1 John 3:2). The perishable will be overcome by the imperishable and you will bear his image with untarnished glory (1 Corinthians 15:53). He who began a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6). As sure as God is God, he will finish his work. And until that day comes we don't twiddle our thumbs and opt out of the journey. "Look," Calvin tells us, "toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal."
Every day the Father gives us another opportunity to make a little progress here, to have a little more of Jesus here. It is another day that he has created — and in which he has made us to exist — so that we will know what one more degree of glory is like in this world. He has reconciled us to himself in Christ and "in him has stamped for us the likeness to which we would have us conform" (686). Though he'll consummate this conformity in the future, we live now to this end — a little more Jesus today than yesterday. Then more tomorrow. And then more.
O God, give me a little more of your Son today.
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