Conformity to Whom?

One of the results of Adam's fall is that we have to live in the world as sinful people with sinful people because Adam's curse has affected each one of us equally. God created us as equal in essence as human beings, but has given us different personalities and gifts. As a result, the curse of sin will have different affects on each of us. We will be strong in some areas and weak in others because God built us and prepared us with different personalities, interests and gifts. Diversity is one of God's great gifts to humanity and it is has been tainted by the curse of sin. We now take the differences we have as human beings and demand that others become as we are in personality, gifting interest, capacity, etc. We now demand of others that God's gifts of diversity cease and we all become the same and be conformed to the image of ourselves, not conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Now this conformity doesn't mean that we all have to become Jewish carpenters. Part of bearing the image of God is to display the imago Dei as a musician, pastor, teacher, carpenter, accountant, etc. Being conformed into the image of Christ means that God is conforming us morally into the image Christ, our perfect righteousness. But our moral conformity to the image of Christ will be a moral conformity within our specific personalities, interests and gifts. 

At this point it would be profitable to state the obvious: conformity to the image of Christ means that Christ becomes more which will equal less of us in our flesh. His life is being lived through us. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." So if we are dying and He is living through us, then the sinful characteristics we have are being conformed to the image of Christ. 

A prime example of how we express our sinful moral deficiencies is that we often believe the characteristics of Jesus are within ourselves. We believe that we are morally sufficient and righteous. We don't believe we actually need Christ to conform us into his image. Christ isn't the conformer to us because we don't believe we need to be conformed to him, but merely his example. Our self righteousness tells us we are slightly off balance and need to restore ourselves to what we know we are within. So in this ways of thinking, Christ isn't the person we are being conformed to, but the example of what we actually are, only slightly off balance. We don't believe we need Christ's active work in our lives. We don't believe we need the Spirit to show us Christ, we need Him to show us what we are supposed to be. To say it plainly we don't believe Christ is the final goal. We believe we are the final goal. Jesus isn't the standard we are to live up to. I believe I am the standard to which I and consequentially everyone else is to live up to.

One of the consequences of this false idea is when we see sin manifested in others, we tend to compare their sin to ourselves. When I see something sinful in a friend, my desire for him is not that he flee his sin and be conformed to Christ's image, but to mine. I want them to trade in their sin for my righteousness. Oh, how Jeremiah 17:9 still stands true: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" 

Why don't I desire to see someone put on the righteousness of Christ? I believe it begins not with forgetting the righteousness of Christ, nor with acknowledging their unrighteousness, but by beginning with the lie that I have a righteousness in myself apart from Christ. For me to take the sanctification that God has granted me and to then use it as a means to puff up myself to look down upon others is a grievous sin that I must repent of. Left in my own righteousness, I am worse than all and deserving even more of the wrath of God. More so, if it were not for the grace of God in Christ to give me his righteousness, I would remain condemned under the wrath of God. But thanks be to Christ who endured the wrath of God for us!

How then should I think of myself? I should desire that whenever I see sin in another person that they would be sanctified and conformed into the image of Christ. Certainly it is right and proper for a Christian to desire sanctification in the lives of others where we have ourselves been sanctified. What we tend to fight against is how we want others to be sanctified in a specific way because we want them to be like us. It is right for me to desire a friend to sanctified as I have been because I should want them to experience the love and grace of Christ as I have. God has been gracious by allowing me to experience His grace in many different ways, so why shouldn't I want that for others? To not is to bring a false humility upon myself and to in fact reveal another part of my lack of sanctification: selfishness. To not want my friends to be sanctified as I have been in certain parts of my life is not humble, but selfish. I have no righteousness within myself. I am declared righteous by God through the death of Christ and am being made righteous through the life of Christ within me. This is good news for me and I should desire this for all people, regardless of their specific sins which I may not approve of. 

So let us rejoice in this: He who began the work is He who will complete the work. He begins this work in his people and he will finish this work in his people. Remember that we are a tool that the Holy Spirit uses to bring God's elect to himself and to then conform them to His image. We are made in the image of God, but we are not the image of God. We are not fully conformed to the image of Christ, but by His grace and in His time, we will be made righteous. And then we will see each other fully as we should now: in light of the image of God and conformity to the image of Christ. The only we can do this now or in the future is revealed to us in 2nd Corinthians 3:16-18: "But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." So until we all have faces, let us look into the face of the one to whom we owe everything.