We conclude now with three practical consequences of the basis and examples for Christlikeness that we have considered.
Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering
Of course suffering is a huge subject in itself, and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. But one stands out, and that is that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether it is a disappointment or a frustration, we need to try to see it in the light of Romans 8:28 and 29.
According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good purpose of his people, and according to Romans 8:29 this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism
Why is it that our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given, and I must not oversimplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we proclaim.
John Poulton has written about this in his perceptive little book, A Today Sort of Evangelism:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message … Christians … need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas … Authenticity … gets across from deep down inside people … A momentary insincerity can cast doubt on all that has made for communication up to that point … What communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
Similarly, a Hindu professor, identifying one of his students as a Christian, once said, ‘If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.’
Another example is of the Rev. Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, who has said, ‘If all Christians were Christians there would be no more Islam today.’
I don’t know the authors of these sayings personally but I believe them to be genuine.
Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit
I have spoken much about Christlikeness, but how is it possible for us? In our own strength, it is clearly not, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to fulfil his purpose.
William Temple used to illustrate the point from Shakespeare in this way:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can’t.
And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it; I can’t.
But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like his.
And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like his.
God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit.
John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2010), 19–21.
I have just completed a series of lessons based on John Stott’s book, The Radical Disciple. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines as well as the International Standard Series. In addition, you get access to lessons like The Radical Disciple