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To Be Like Him - A Study in Christlikeness
Published by Word of Life Baptist Church
by Fred G. Zaspel
copyright 1997

Introduction

"For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer for it, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth" (1 Pet. 2:20-22).

One of the things that strikes anyone who learns anything at all about Jesus Christ is that He is unique. That is true in many ways, but nowhere more true than in regards to His very person. The Scriptures emphasize that Jesus is both God and man. He is God in every way. Whatever it is to be God, Jesus is that. Every attribute that is essential to deity belongs to Jesus. He is God in every way. But He is also man, man in every way. Whatever it is to be man, Jesus is that. Jesus possesses every attribute of humanity. He is God, and He is man. And so there is no one else like Him. He is unique.

But although His humanity is the same as ours, still He is unique in that respect also. Yes, "He was tempted in all points like as we are" (Heb. 4:15). He felt same desires, the same passions, the same needs. When He was hungry, He could see the advantage, the pleasure and satisfaction that would come when Satan tempted Him to turn the stones into bread. It was real temptation. But what was unique about Him is that although He was tempted in all points like as we are, He was "without sin." He never gave in. He never wore out. He never reached breaking point. His temptation continued on and on, but He never broke under it. He never wore out. The temptation continued, we must suppose, until the tempter himself wore out, because Jesus did not wear out. He "committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth" (1 Pet. 2:22).

The Perfections of Jesus

In fact, this was something He Himself was able to claim without fear of contradiction. "Which of you convinces me of sin?" (Jn. 8:46), He could ask. That is, Who can point out a failure? Who can name one violation of God's law? Who can show that I have at any point either done what is forbidden or left undone what was required? And His question went unanswered. "I always do the things that please Him" (Jn. 8:29), He said, and those who knew Him knew it was true. When He warned His disciples of the coming opposition of Satan, He was able to add, "He has nothing in me" (Jn. 14:30). Satan had no foothold in the Lord Jesus, no ground of accusation, never any advantage.

When in prayer to Father, just prior to His death, Jesus could say, "I have finished the work which You gave me to do" (Jn. 17:4). That is, whatever God had wanted of Him, He had done. In fact, Jesus explained that this was His very purpose in coming, "to do the will of Him who sent me" (Jn. 6:38). "In the volume of the book it is written, 'I come to do your will, O God" (Heb. 10:7, 9). This was the whole of His life, in general, overall terms and in specifics. He was altogether given over to serving His Father.

Significantly, Jesus' very first recorded words expressed this notion exactly. As a boy only of age twelve He reminded His parents, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" (Lk. 2:49). That is to say, "I am here to serve my heavenly Father, and nothing will ever interfere with that."

When He went into the temple with a whip and drove greedy men out, John is careful to explain His motivation in it: "His zeal for God's house had eaten him up" (Jn. 2:17). So intense was His passion and affection for the glory of the Lord, that using the house of God for personal gain was repulsive and angering to Him. Nor was this a mere passing fancy, merely the emotion of the moment. No, this was the characteristic of His life. His zeal for the Lord "had eaten Him up." This was His driving passion. "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work" (Jn. 4:34), He said. This is what drove Him. This, the Father's glory and will, was His consuming passion. This was His whole purpose in life.

We often hear men loosely quoting Phil. 2:8, that Jesus was "obedient in death." And so He was, and that is marvelously true. But this is not what the apostle points out here. Paul's statement is that Jesus was "obedient until (mechri) death." His death was the climax of an entire life of obedience. And when He entered that awful "hour" of His suffering, the hour in which He would endure both the wrath of men and the awful wrath of God, even then His prayer was the same, "Father, not as I will but as you will" (Mat. 26:39).

Yes, Jesus shares with us our very same humanity, but He is unique in that, as Peter says, "He committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth."

Nor was this a matter of some difficulty which Jesus' friends had to argue. It was obvious to all who ever knew Him. This is what frustrated His enemies so. If only they could point to some instance of sin, only one violation of God's law, their cause would have been so much easier. But that is the one thing they could not do. No one could "convince Him of sin." Pilate's wife recognized this, and she warned her husband, "Have nothing to do with this just man" (Mat. 27:19). Pilate himself agreed and told the Jews when condemning Him that he was "innocent from the blood of this just man" (Mat. 27:24). However foolish he was and however wrong in thinking could remain neutral in reference to Jesus, he had to admit Jesus' innocence. The dying thief added his acknowledgement also. "This man has done nothing wrong" (Lk. 23:41). Indeed, Judas himself, whose conscience had found some way to permit him to betray our Lord, came back at him and forced him to admit that he had "betrayed innocent blood" (Mt. 27:4).

And as turn to Gospel records, what strikes us is that here is a man who was perfect in every way. In conduct, yes, but also in His very character, He was perfect. In one of his books J. Oswald Sanders pointed out that such was the uniqueness of Jesus' perfection that it is difficult to point out any strong points in character. Indeed, there were no strong points, simply because there were no weak points. We cannot find any inconsistencies which would make one virtue shine out beyond others. Jesus was a man of courage, but His courage never gave way to obstinacy. He was a man of compassion, but that never allowed Him to condone wrong doing, even in those whom He loved. For all His stern denunciation of sin, He never lost pity for the poor sinner held in Satan's grip. His careful and scrupulous piety never lead Him to snobbery. He was very high, the very highest, but never did that give way to highmindedness. Our Lord never spoke a word which needed to be retracted or corrected or modified in any way. He never exaggerated or misstated the facts in His own favor. A willingness to apologize is a virtue which we all recognize, but it is one virtue our Lord did not need. He never made apology for anything. He never needed to go to anyone to say He was sorry. He Himself taught us that Confession of sin is an essential part of prayer, but in all His praying He never once confessed sin.

Or we can view it from a more positive standpoint. Here is One Who as a boy really did know better than His parents, yet we read "He was subject to them" (Lk. 2:51). Here is a man who prayed enough, a man Who resisted temptation enough, Who sought the Glory of God enough, Who worshipped God enough, Who meditated on things of God enough, Who was selfless enough, Who was helpful enough, Who was humble enough, loving enough, joyful enough, peaceful enough, patient enough, gentle enough, good enough, meek enough, self controlled enough, faithful enough. He was everything God required of a man. No sin of commission. No sin of omission. In everything He ever did or said or thought, He neither exceeded nor fell short of God's requirements. Unlike all the rest of us, here is a man Whose conscience never bothered Him. "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." He was the essence, the very embodiment of moral perfection, the perfect measure of men.

Jesus Our Example

All this is what Peter says about the Lord Jesus in verse 22. But from verse 21 it is evident that His point has more to do with us. "He left you an example that you should follow in His steps who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." That is, in all His perfections, Jesus is the standard by which we are to measure our own lives. He is the model after which we are to pattern our lives. He is the example which we are to imitate. He is the measure of men.

This is not a new emphasis in the New Testament. Paul also emphasizes the importance of Christ as our Example. "Be imitators of us and of the Lord" (1Th. 1:6). "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ" (1Cor. 11:1). "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts" (Rom. 13:14). John joins in also. "He that abides in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 Jn. 2:6). In fact, Jesus Himself emphasized the same. Following that great expression of humility and service to His disciples, washing their feet, He said, "I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (Jn. 13: 15).

All through the New Testament, when we are exhorted in respect to Christian virtues or duty, Jesus is the model, the standard. Whether love or joy or prayer or humility or service to others or honesty and truthfulness or speech or whatever, Jesus is the standard. The counsel has come to us through long centuries of preaching. When you wonder if a given course of action is right or wrong, ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" That is good counsel. He is our example.

In fact this matter of Christlikeness is the very essence of Sanctification. When the New Testament writers command us to "come out of the world" or "walk worthy of our calling" "pursue holiness" or "walk circumspectly" or "keep yourselves pure" or "flee youthful lusts" or "present your bodies a living sacrifice" or "yield your members to God," it can all be summed up in this: We are called to be like Him, who did no sin neither was guile found in His mouth. Sanctification is nothing more and nothing less than this.

Christlikeness Our Goal

God's Purpose in Redemption

And as you might expect, this is precisely what God has set out to accomplish in every one of us. "To this you were called" (v.21a). In context here Peter is speaking of these Christians and their suffering for the sake of Christ. They were suffering not because they had done wrong but because they hadn't! And to suffer so with patient endurance, Peter tells us, is nothing less than being Christlike. His point: we are "called" to be like Him in every way, in every area of life. God has brought us into salvation, and that salvation consists in conformity to His Son. This is its immediate and its ultimate goal.

What all this reminds us of, of course, is our natural unlikeness to Christ. Created in God's "image and likeness" we know something of right from wrong, good and evil; we have a sense of righteousness and morality. But with the entrance of sin, that image has been marred, defaced, and every man born since Adam is born with a basic unlikeness to Christ. But in salvation God has set out to restore us to our created purpose. In Christ, yes. Through Christ also. And unto Him. But also like Him.

In fact, this matter of Christlikeness is spoken of in relation to virtually every aspect of Salvation and the Christian life. God has set out in His eternal purposes to make us over in Christ. Rom. 8:29 speaks of this as the goal of our predestination. We are predestined "to be conformed to the image of His Son." Way back in eternity past God looked ahead in grace, and determined to take us, sinful rebels though we were, and so transform us that when He was finished we would look like His Son.

The same is true of God's providential care for His own; it has the same goal. The "good" to which God is "working all things together" in our lives (Rom. 8:28) is the good of conformity to His Son. Everything in our lives God directs to this end.

The same is true in terms of redemption. Redemption speaks of liberation, setting free, deliverance. And so on the one hand Paul can emphasize that we are "delivered from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4) with all its sin and "from the power of darkness" (Col. 1:13) with all its enslaving evil, and on the other hand emphasize more positively that we are "set free" in Christ. In Him and by Him we are now free to live "unto Him who died for us" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). We have died with Him and so live through Him in newness of life so that sin no longer rules us (Rom. 6:1-14). We are free! Free to live unto Him.

The same is true also of regeneration. Christians are men and women with new life, men and women made new, men and women "born again." But this new life which they possess is none other than the life of Christ. "We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). The "new man" is one that is "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created us" (Col. 3:10). Regeneration is spoken of graphically as "Christ formed in you" (Gal. 4:19). The new life which we have is nothing other than the life of Christ in us. The great privilege of the Christian life is that we are not left to live unto God on our own, but have Christ Himself living in us and through us. He is our new life.

The same is true of conversion. Paul describes conversion as "learning Christ, hearing Christ, and being taught by Christ" (Eph. 4:20-21). However imperfect has been our growth in godliness, however unsatisfied we are with our progress thus far, there is a real difference! And the difference is evident precisely because we have "learned Christ." He is the sole explanation for the change people have noticed in our lives. Christian living is nothing other than living in Christ, and living through Christ.

This same is true even in reference to our baptism. Baptism "into the name of Christ" means very little if it does not mean "so as to become the property of Christ." Our baptism is surely more but nothing less than our pledge of allegiance to Him.

Then of course there is this matter of sanctification, a term it seems used interchangeably with "conformity to Christ." The very essence and definition of holiness is Christlikeness. Progressive sanctification is nothing more and nothing less than increasing transformation into image of Christ. It is growth "unto the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).

And this is Peter's point exactly. We are to "follow in His steps." This is Paul's point also, when he exhorts us to care against sin he says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." This is sanctification.

Specific Applications

Now then the New Testament writers flesh this out in many ways. It is not that we are to be like Christ generally but in many specific ways. Peter's point here has to do with suffering and how to respond to it. He gives the example of Christ Who also suffered wrongfully but endured it patiently "committing Himself to Him Who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23). His point here is that we are to be like Christ and suffer with patient endurance. He reiterates this point in 3:17-18. And in 4:1 he exhorts us, "arm yourselves with the same mind." That is, take the mindset and thinking of the Lord Jesus, and wear it as your armor in suffering.

Hebrews 12 speaks of this also. The writer here does not merely speak of the Christian life as a race that is to be run. He does note even merely say that we are to run that race with endurance. He exhorts us to run that race with endurance "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (v. 2). In the midst of suffering and difficulty, he says, "consider Him Who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (v. 3). We are to be like Christ even in suffering. We must follow His lead even there.

That is not all. We are to be like Christ in humility also. "Let this mind be in you, Paul demands (Phil. 2:5ff). This one Who had from eternity all the identifying marks of deity, took the identifying marks of man, "became obedient until death, even the death of the cross." Jesus Himself demands the same of us. His humble act of washing His disciples' feet was our example: "If I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you." We need this exhortation and example. We wouldn't it, but we often feel that, well, humility is easier for others! We have good sound reasons for pride! Reasons that sound good anyway. But how then can we explain our Lord? How can we account for His humility? This One Who higher, mightier, holier than all, yet He was more humble than any. We wouldn't expect such an One to be humble. But in that we see that pride was not made for likes of us. "Let this mind be in you."

There is still more. We are to be like Him in our love. "Walk in love as Christ has loved us and has given himself for us" (Eph. 5:2). "Hereby we perceive the love of Christ, because He laid down His life for us, and we ought lay down our life for the brethren" (1 Jn. 3:16). "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn. 13:34). Whatever degree of love we say we have for our brothers in Christ, we cannot be content with it until our love is like His love for us. That is a lot of love. We have much work to do here!

We must also be like Him in service. "Let every one of us please His neighbor to edification, for even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom. 15:2-3). James and John learned this lesson in an embarrassing way. They began the conversation by requesting greatness, the right and left hand positions in Christ's Kingdom. Jesus told them in reply that they were thinking like pagan kings, wanting to lord over others. "Whoever desires to be great, let him be a servant. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve" (Mk. 10:44-45). If we are like Him we will not seek to use others but to serve them.

Paul applies this even to the very mundane matter of our giving our monies to the Lord. What is the motivating consideration here, the example to follow? "You know the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, how that although He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). We are to be generous in our giving, and we do so following His lead.

Peter makes one sweeping generalization concerning the life of Christ which is helpful in this regard. "He went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). With that we are led to think in terms of patience, sympathy, giving, helpfulness, service, healing. And what a lesson He is for us here! We are naturally so selfish, so stuck on ourselves and our own small concerns. We are so afraid to do good to those who don't deserve it. We might be too generous to a freeloader! Or give our precious time and work and service to someone who will never appreciate it! But then, every last good deed our Lord ever performed was for those who never deserved it and who never would be able to fully appreciate it. He is our model in "doing good" for others.

He is our model in forgiveness also. This is always that very needful yet very difficult thing. It is so much more natural to hold grudge. But what do we learn from Him? "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving" (Eph. 4:32). "Forbearing one another, forgiving one another even as Christ forgave you" (Col. 3:13). Jesus spoke a parable to emphasize this very point (Mt. 18:21-35). We who have been forgiven such an enormous debt cannot but be forgiving to others. In forgiving the faults of others against us, we are like Christ.

These are the qualities which show us to be Christlike. Endurance, love, service, generosity, doing good, forgiveness. These virtues show us to be like Him.

Achieving Christlikeness

Now of course the question that arises is a very practical one: How? This is a high standard! How can we reach it? Peter does not elaborate on that here, but does allude to it in verse 24: Jesus "bore our sins . . . that we might live unto righteousness." He is no doubt pointing to the liberating effects of Christ's death. In salvation we are set free, given a new ability to live unto God. More generally stated, Peter is alluding to the New Covenant provisions of sanctification. We are not left on our own. God's law is "written on our hearts" (Jer. 31:33). Yes, we must choose and do as God has commanded, but "He works in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). And this is a very liberating truth! What God requires of you is within your reach! He provides fully for all that we need.

But still the question remains: How? How can we be successful in our attempts to be like Christ? Paul elaborated on this in 2 Cor. 3:18: "But we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory." In this context Paul is describing the great ministry of the Holy Spirit. We are naturally so blind that we do not even recognize the glory of Christ when see Him. We do not see how He is so desirable and attractive, so glorious. It is as though a vail is over our eyes. But in grace and in power the Holy Spirit comes and makes us see Him in an entirely new light! It is as though tat vail is lifted, and all of a sudden we see Him as a glorious, mighty, attractive savior! And so we run to Him in faith.

And what is so wonderful about that is that He never stops doing that very thing. From then on the Holy Spirit continues to show us the glory of Christ in the pages of Scripture, and as He reveals to us the image of Christ there, He is mysteriously at work "changing us into same image, from glory to glory." Somehow Christlikeness becomes ours simply by seeing Him. As we see the great variety of His perfections, as we witness Him in suffering or in confrontation or in any of the many situations of His life or the many beautiful aspects of His person, we somehow become impressed and find ourselves wanting and striving to be more like Him. But more than wanting and striving, we find ourselves actually becoming more like Him! Watching Him, seeing Him, we are made to be like Him.

And this is the answer to our question exactly. How can we become more like Him? Answer: By paying more attention to Him. There is precisely no greater place to fix your attention than on Him. There is nothing so suited to your growth in grace than an increasing acquaintance with Him. This is the "stuff" that the Holy Spirit uses to make us like Him. He acquaints us with Him in the Scriptures, and mysteriously uses that acquaintance to mold us into the same image.

This is very important and has immense bearing on sanctification. Too often Christians struggle against some sin, wishing all the while they knew how gain victory over it. But the answer is the same answer you give those searching for salvation in the first place: Christ! Read the Scriptures, think, meditate on the lovely picture of Christ you see there, fill your mind with thoughts of Him. Think on these things, and I dare say, holiness will become more and more a realized goal.

You see, our problem is that we think too much like a legalist. We have a duty oriented mentality rather than a grace oriented mentality. And thinking in these terms we lose sight of Christ, and losing sight of Him, our love for Him begins to dwindle, and we begin to fail. When you are faced with some "besetting sin," the very best way for you to overcome it is not to concentrate on it, but to concentrate on Him. And concentrating on Him the Spirit makes us more like Him. There is no more "natural" way to defeat sin than this. Set your thoughts and affections again on Him. Think in terms of His loveliness and glory and desirability.

The Bible gives us such a wonderful presentation of Christ. Why? Answer: So that as we look to Him we will be saved, and so that continuing to look to Him, we will grow to be like Him.

Is it any wonder then, that as Peter closed his second epistle, he exhorted his readers, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). And is it any wonder that after some thirty years of serving Christ as His inspired apostle to the Gentiles, Paul's chief aim in life still was the same: "that I may know Him" (Phil. 3:10). If you would be like Him, you must meditate on Him. This is the means the Spirit uses in sanctification.

Christlikeness Achieved

But our study of Christlikeness does not end with the doctrine of sanctification. There's more. There is also glorification. Having predestined us to conformity to Christ, having redeemed us to Christ, having changed us into His likeness in some measure and then causing us to grow in it, God promises that this goal set for us in eternity past will finally and certainly be reached. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 Jn. 3:2).

Yes, there is coming a glorious day when all sin will be gone forever. Never again will the world, the flesh, or the devil have any allurement. We will be able then to say of Satan, as Jesus Himself said, "He has nothing in us." No more self-centeredness. No more lust. No more greed. No more bitterness. No more jealousy. No more unfaithfulness. Never again will we be forced to endure the humiliating experience of confession of sin. Never will we again finds selves searching for help to overcome sin. Never will we fear failure. Never again go to God to ask His forgiveness for that sin -- again. It will all be over. We will be like Him. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

The goal of our salvation is nothing other than Christlikeness. And the promise we have is that all who are saved by Christ will be made like Him. We are saved in Him and through Him and because of Him. We are now learning to live more and more unto Him. But one day we'll be with Him, and then at last we shall be like Him. Amen.