In our culture there is a stigma against conforming. We praise those who go against the flow and refuse to conform to others’ expectations. This rebellious nature goes back to the very founding of our country. We are a country of rebels. A people who stand for justice in the face of tyranny. This is why it can be very difficult to hear the words of Paul when he states that he desires to be conformed to the image of Christ (Phil. 3:10).
“Conforming to Christ” sounds good to our Christianized ears, but when we stop and considered what this means it grinds against our American independence. Paul is stating that the a full Christian life is a life of death. To be clear, it is a life of dying to ourselves. It is a life of dying to our plans, hopes, dreams and desires so that we can live for Christ’s plans, hopes, dreams and desires for us.
This is what Paul means when he says that he desires to be like Christ in his death. Jesus gave up all that his life could have been to die for us. Are we willing to do the same. Are we willing to give up all that our life could be for the sake of Christ and his kingdom? It is a hard question for me to answer. It is easy to merely say yes, but difficult to discern what it means to live it out in day to day decisions.
First, to give up our life requires us being willing to lay aside our desires. This is not always easy to do. It is hard to trust when we don’t know the outcome. It is hard to humble ourselves and set aside our own opinion of what is best for us. But being like Christ is not just about giving up on anything that we want. The second step is to replace what we sacrifice with God’s purpose. We are not called to merely live impoverished and destitute, denying any form of comfort and enjoyment. We sacrifice so that we are free to live for God. It is vitally important to have a deep relationship with God, so that you know his voice. We must walk in the Spirit so that we know the part that God is calling us to play in the kingdom.
Some are called to live lives of poverty to minister to the impoverished. In the 18th century, Johann Leonard Dober sold himself into slavery so that he might bring the gospel to slaves on the island of St. Thomas. However, others he has called to a life which the world views as lucrative and wealthy. This wealth is not used for personal gain. bus for a kingdom investment. R.G. LeTourneau was an industrialist in the early 1900’s. With nearly 300 inventions as well as hundreds of patents, Letourneau gave away 90% of his income for the Lord’s work, and founded a college to train other engineers to live with a Christian purpose. He once stated, “I shovel out the money, and God shovels it back – but God has a bigger shovel.”
To conform to the image of Christ and be like him in his death, we must not only be willing to forgo our own desires, but we must be willing to walk where he leads. We must know him intimately so we are able to hear when he calls. Conforming to Christ in his death is not a hopeless endeavor. His death was not the end, but only the beginning to true and genuine life. To this we have been called.