Summary: God wants to shape your soul to be just like Jesus. Will you cooperate?
John Ortberg tells of a man in a church he once pastored whom he called Denny. Denny was not a happy man. He had attended church his whole life, but he had never been happy. Even the expression on his face was perpetually negative – so much so that one day a deacon asked him, "Denny, are you happy?" Denny answered, "Yeah." The deacon replied, "Then tell your face."
Now, one of the MANY things Denny did not approve of was contemporary music in the church. He often complained that the music was too loud. But no one realized how far he would go until one day a man came to the church office, flashed his badge, and announced that he was from OSHA. He was under orders to investigate a complaint someone had made about the decibel levels at Church services. Of course, it was Denny who had registered the complaint. The staff could only laugh – and the agent could only join them.
But actually, Denny’s attitude is no laughing matter. Listen to John Ortberg’s observation as he looked back on this situation:
“Denny is not changing. He is a cranky guy. He has been cranky his whole life. Not just about church – he does not effectively know how to love his wife; his children cannot tolerate him; and he has no joy. He’s been going to church his whole life, sixty years. And nobody in the church is surprised that he stays cranky year after year. It is as if we expect a bad attitude – that’s just Denny. Nobody is expecting him to be more like Jesus year after year." (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve always Wanted)
For some reason, in the modern evangelical church, we’ve left the idea of spiritual formation as a nice option rather than an essential part of our faith. We focus on evangelism and personal conversion. After people make professions of faith we encourage them to be baptized, join the church, read their Bible, and pray. We may council them not to drink, smoke, cuss, or chew or go with girls that do, we may even tisk-tisk them if they mow their yard on Sunday, but we don’t talk much about being “conformed to the likeness of Christ” (Romans 8:29). Yet, this is just as much God’s revealed will as personal salvation:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification 1 Thessalonians 4:3
Someone once taught me that sanctification means “saint making.” God makes us into the saints He’s already pronounced us to be through our trust in Jesus. Obviously a saint would act, think, and speak like the Lord as He’s portrayed in the gospels.
After we come to faith in Christ, God begins the process of shaping our souls. He saved us, in part, to remake our character, so that we would once again reflect His purity and goodness. God renews His original image in us. Here’s the catch: on this side of eternity we’ve got to cooperate with the process. Cooperation or a lack thereof is the reason why some Christians look a lot like Jesus, while others (the majority) are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the world. The power of God is an absolute necessity for transformation, but we have a role to play as well.