or the Christian, heaven is not a goal; it is a destination. The goal is that “Christ be formed in you,” to use the words of the apostle Paul (Gal. 4:19; all passages quoted are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.) To the Romans, he declares, “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son” (8:29). And to the Corinthians, he says, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Cor. 3:18; emphasis added in all three). Thus the daring goal of the Christian life could be summarized as our being formed, conformed, and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. And the wonder in all this is that Jesus Christ has come among his people as our everliving Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend.
He who is the Way shows us the way to live so that we increasingly come to share his love, hope, feelings, and habits. He agrees to be yoked to us, as we are yoked to him, and to train us in how to live our lives as he would live them if he were in our place.
Now, we must insist that this way of life is reliably sustained in the context of a like-minded fellowship. Essential to our growth in grace is a community life where there is loving, nurturing accountability. Christlikeness is not merely the work of the individual; rather, it grows out of the matrix of a loving fellowship. We are the body of Christ together, called to watch over one another in love. Unfortunately, in our day there is an abysmal ignorance of how we as individuals and as a community of faith actually move forward into Christlikeness.
We today lack a theology of growth. And so we need to learn how we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). In particular, we need to learn how we cooperate with “the means of grace” that God has ordained for the transformation of the human personality. Our participation in these God-ordained “means” will enable us increasingly to take into ourselves Christ’s character and manner of life.
What are these “means of grace”? And how can disciples of Jesus Christ cooperate with them so they are changed into Christlikeness?
Formed by Experiential Means
God works first through the ordinary experiences of daily life to form the character of Christ in us. Through these experiences we come to know on the deepest levels that Jesus is with us always, that he never leaves us nor forsakes us, and that we can cast all our care upon him. In addition, we learn that ordinary life is sacramental, and that divine guidance is given primarily in these common junctures of life.
Work as sacrament. The most foundational of these character-formation experiences is found in our work. Work places us into the stream of divine action. We are “subcreators,” as J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us. In saying this, I am not referring to sharing our faith at work or praying throughout our work. Both of these are good, to be sure; but I am referring to the sacredness of the work itself. As you and I care for our daily tasks, we are glorifying God in the work itself. When Martin Luther gave us his revolutionary teaching about the priesthood of all believers, he was referring not just to the fact that the plowboy and the milkmaid could do priestly or liturgical work, but that the plowing and the milking themselves were priestly work.
If we are working to “the audience of One,” we will find Jesus to be our constant companion and friend—though our work be so mundane as picking up sticks. We will grow in intimacy with God and patience with others. And we will experience divine care and supernatural guidance in the most ordinary circumstances—like discovering the problem with the washing machine or finding the right words for a difficult conversation.
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