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"Until Christ is Formed..."

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV)

The Bible is full of many paradoxes. Not contradictions, but paradoxes; both/ands. Black and white thinkers such as me can find this incredibly frustrating when reflecting on major themes in scripture. Predestination or free will? Yes. God’s mercy or God’s justice? Yes. The list goes on. Navigating any of these topics is fraught with peril, as drifting to one extreme or the other usually leads to neglect of a vital aspect of who God is, broken relationships with people or distraction from mission. All theology has some sort of practical outworking in the end. None of it is purely academic. One of the more treacherous topics is, of course, this month’s theme for Conversations With God: our uniqueness as creations of an infinitely creative God, as well as our convergence on the image of Christ, the Perfect Man, as we grow in maturity. Consider the risks of navigating these rapids. To over-emphasize our uniqueness is to neglect the importance of transformation and sanctification. Conversely, to zoom in on the fact that we are all becoming like Jesus is to downplay the clear fact that we are different parts of His Body. Consider, too, the temptation of believing that someone I am discipling to becoming like Jesus means that he must, therefore, become like me. After all, didn’t Paul say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”? But woe to the eye that rejects the ear because it’s not an eye. What exactly is it then, that we multiply and pass on to the next generation of believers? What were the core components of what was passed on to us by those who taught us how to be a disciple? Was it ministry methods? Organizational skills? How to talk to a crowd? How to run a small group? I know for me it wasn’t anything like these; it was simply the character of Christ. I would have a difficult time pigeonholing Jesus into a particular ministry style, but it would be easy to find the things that linked all the different types of ministry He did—love, joy, peace, patience, etc. Listening to His Father and working out of the power of the Spirit would also be on that list. See, Paul’s concern in the epistles was that Christ would be formed in his readers. He wasn’t fussed about whether they practiced mission with T4T or 3DM or Four Fields or Discovery Bible Studies or whatever else. He was after their hearts. A Christ-like character can be brought into any situation, any ministry style, and effectively spread the gospel because the gospel itself is the power of God, and the testimony of transformation the thing that overcomes the evil one. The seed of a tree is in its fruit, so when the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Christ, is hanging heavy on our branches, seeds will get out there and grow. And if Eden is any indication, God loves variety. So we are all unique, but we all have the same Christ growing in us. Whether we’re sharing the gospel with strangers in a mall or working behind a desk giving administrative support to a large missionary organization, we all need Christ formed in us to complete the good works God chose for us before the foundation of the world.

Warmly in Christ,

Fred Swartz

For Reflection:

“ little children, for whom I am again in anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19, ESV)

  1. What in you are the characteristics of Christ that must be multiplied into those you disciple?

  2. What in you is completely optional for those you disciple?

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