Christlike versus Like Christ

Like2If the goal of sanctification is for people to become more like Christ, what is the best way for our preaching to help people get there?  Perhaps the obvious way is not the most effective way . . .

The obvious way to nudge people toward Christlikeness is to preach about Christlikeness.  You take a passage and then what do you look for?  You might look to find any instructions, derive some applicational points, determine how Christ’s character is presented, identify some kind of divine demand, etc.  Essentially, the obvious way to promote Christlikeness is to present Christlikeness and encourage Christlikeness in your listeners.  Focus on character, focus on us.  Apply, exhort, encourage.

There is a better way.

Turn the words around.  Do your listeners like Christ?  Do you?  Christ did not come to the world merely to show us a new way to live.  He came to give us life in union with Him.  The life of the Trinity is given to us in Christ.  This means that Christlikeness will not flow primarily from Christlikeness explained and demanded.  Christlikeness will come  from liking Christ, from loving Him, from knowing and worshipping Him.

Preach so as to present Christ.  Offer the person of Christ rather than a programme for self-improvement.  Invite people to know Him and to love Him.  As the Spirit draws people to Christ, they will grow to like Him and to live like Him.  As the text you are preaching presents instruction, then offer that faithfully in the context of relationship with Christ.

Christlikeness isn’t the goal of preaching for sanctification, it is the fruit.  The goal must be to stir greater love for God that results in greater love for others, and love will be stirred not by demand, but by presentation of God’s love revealed in Christ.  Inasmuch as we like Christ, we will grow to live Christ-like lives.

9 thoughts on “Christlike versus Like Christ

  1. Peter, Lots of thoughts as I read this; my first visit to your site. I got here via Tim Challies’ site. I really love your book cover for your incarnation book. Beautiful, elegant, very well-done! My response to your post, like anyone else’s, comes from my own vantage. My faith journey started 37-years ago, as a first-year college student. Then speaking and teaching in churches, followed by seminary and some years entrenched in the “reformed” pocket of christendom. More than a dozen years ago I began to blanch at so much teaching about laws and duties and callings to obedience and–as per your post–“christlikeness”. What’s with the promises? Whatever happened to “no longer under the law, but under grace”? So, I swerved to Luther, who seemed like a needle in a haystack–knowing a good gospel and constantly wanting to elevate and preserve it. I believe that the phrase itself (christ-like) is misunderstood. It is assumed to be a synonym for moral improvement–like the unblemished lamb. But, if I were to become at all “like Christ,” I would become utterly selfless–not morally spotless. More like Paul’s point in Philippians: “we should have the same mind as Christ, who didn’t consider equality with God something that could be grasped, but took on the true nature of a servant.” (Ch. 2) Merely part of my concern with, what I’ll call the “progressive” view of sanctification–where we “grow” morally & spiritually–is that it makes us necessarily self-focused. And also, after 37-years of faith, I’m not improving. Sin is what’s in my heart, and it’s not going away in this life. This is not bad news, it’s a reality. And, it causes me to routinely realize I need rescuing. Rhetorically, who will rescue me? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus. (See Rom 7). I hope that you will not read this as a rant or fight-picking. This issue is everything to me. I truly want the gospel to be good. I want it only at face-value, i.e. completely unconditional. Thank you Peter. With tremendous respect, Dale

    • Thanks Dale, this is very encouraging to read. I know exactly what you mean about the self-orientation of a lot of sanctification teaching. I belief transformation and sanctification does occur in this life, but it comes the same way that we get saved in the first place – by looking to Christ and receiving the work of His Spirit by faith, not work.

    • Dale, I agree with you on the term “progressive sanctification.” The Bible refers to sanctification as something that has already been done in Christ, and the Holy Spirit conforms us to that image (Jesus) throughout our walk. I like to think of it as a progression in our belief that he has made us holy, and this greater faith enables us to walk as the children of light he has made us. The more we get to know God and grasp – or be grasped by – his grace, the more we love him and willingly serve him as Lord. And the Spirit will lead us into this truth. It won’t be our effort that produces any fruit worth keeping.

  2. Nifty play on words, really. But I can’t get past how much less meaningful it seems to say, “I like Christ” rather than “I love Christ.” While I do like my wife, I prefer to tell her that I “love” her. And at the same time, I like a lot of people, even other women who are friends, but I only love her.

    It seems to me that there is meaningful difference between the two.

    • Hi Chad. I am in no way diminishing the importance of loving Christ – 1 Cor.16:22 is a verse we need to ponder more (along with many others). The reason I chose to focus on “liking” Christ here is connected, but different. We are wired to like or dislike people. The waiter in the restaurant is liked or disliked before we have time to think about our brief interaction. And yet many who know correct answer to “do you love Christ?” seem to hesitate when asked if they like him, or why. The only reason I can come up with for this is that while the affirmative response to “do you love Christ?” is well taught and known, many seem unaware that Christ is a real person. I can be ambivalent about a set of truths, but I am never ambivalent about whether I am drawn to someone or repelled by them, even after the briefest encounter. Of course the Gospel invites us to love Christ above all else, with the covenant exclusivity of a marital relationship…but the key to our sanctification (the goal of this post), is personal encounter that stirs the response of our hearts, rather than instruction and pressure for self-change with our gaze remaining on self.

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