Conformity to the Image of God
Thomas Charles, 1838
Do I find Christ indeed precious to me? Do I long to know more of him, and be filled more with his fullness? The Apostle says to the Galatians, that "he travailed for them in birth again until Christ was formed in them." Galatians 4.19. This was the end he had in view in all his labors and prayers. He was not willing that they should continue all their days as babes—but grow into manhood by having Christ formed in them, and living in them.
Paul says of himself that "Christ lived in him." He lived, though in a lesser degree, as Christ would have lived, had he been then on earth, being influenced and strengthened in all his actions by the same Spirit, which dwelt above measure in Christ. If Christ "lived in him"—then Christ was also formed in him, both as to his knowledge of him, and conformity to him.
The image of God in which man was at first created, consisted, as the Apostle says, "in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness." The mind of man took the exact form of God, according to its capacity; it had a just and true knowledge and comprehension of him, according to the revelation which God had made to man of himself. His love of God, trust in him, and obedience to him—were also proportioned to his clear and just knowledge of him. His moral character bore some distant resemblance to that of God himself. The law of God, which is a transcript of the divine mind, was in all its purity and extent written on his heart. Thus the true form or image of God was on his mind and on his heart.
By the fall man lost from his mind, the true knowledge of God; and from his heart, the inward conformity to God's moral character. The image of Satan followed in its stead, and he became "earthly, sensual, and devilish." "Ungodliness and worldly lusts "now constitute the very essence of his character. He is now conformed to the world in heart and mind. Romans 12.2. He is now "fashioned "according to the lusts in the heart, which he follows through the darkness of his mind, 1 Peter 1.14. His mind now sees no glory in God, and consequently loves him not. Satan now shows to his mind, as he did to Christ, "the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them." Earthly things now appear as the great image did to Nebuchadnezzar—full of glory, "a great image whose brightness was excellent." When things appear thus attractive to the mind—then the heart runs after them, and the heart cleaves to them and is conformed to them.
But to destroy the work of the devil, was the purpose of Christ's manifestation. And by the preaching of the Gospel, the work of the devil within us is destroyed, the heart is changed and Christ is formed in us.
Christ is the express image of the Father. He is so originally, as the Son of God. His Person is exactly the same in all the divine perfections, common to each of the three divine Persons. He is in the form of God, essentially considered, from all eternity. And he is as God-man and Mediator—God's image or exact representation to us. In the face or person of Christ alone—can we see the glory of God and of all the divine perfections. When we see his glory as held forth in the gospel, we see the glory and image of God. And by this believing sight, we are changed into the same image, we are "renewed after the image of him who created us"—and thus it is that Christ is formed in us.
He is first formed in our minds, and we have a just and exact knowledge of him, before we are transformed in our hearts. The Gospel is the glass that exactly represents him, and holds him forth to a guilty and ruined world. Those who have their understandings renewed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, see his glory in this mirror. Ephesians 1.18. And those who thus see him, are changed in heart, into the same image.
In the law we see the glory of God—but it is a dead letter, and will not change a sinful heart. As a covenant, though not as a rule, the law is even now formed in us. But thus formed, it exceedingly hinders, instead of promoting, this change. As a covenant it must be destroyed before Christ can be formed in us.
But the gospel represents the glory of God in Christ, not absolute. This representation is "spirit and life"—the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. Here we see the glory of Christ's Person, "as the only begotten of the Father"—equal with the Father in glory, eternity, and in all the divine perfections. The gospel sets him forth in ineffable majesty, and with more than all conceivable glory. In the constitution of his person as God-man, we have the fullest manifestation of divine wisdom and power that ever was, or, it may be, ever will be given.
Those in whom Christ is formed, have a glorious and just view by faith of his person as thus constituted, and in him they see the Father also. They have a just and exact knowledge also of the offices which he, as a Savior, has taken upon him, in order to redeem and deliver his people. They see him "made of God unto them—as wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1.30. And they see his person in each of his offices, adding worth, dignity, and efficacy, to all he has undertaken for sinners.
When as a priest he atones for sin, they see him making such an atoning sacrifice as is worthy the infinite God to give, and worthy to be accepted by the injured majesty of Heaven. It is with unspeakable satisfaction they see God glorified, and man saved, in a way which in its contrivance and execution will forever be the astonishment of the whole universe.
As a prophet and a king, also, they see him acting suitably to the dignity of his person. As a prophet, Christ is teaching—and as a King, Christ is ruling his people in a manner befitting himself, and in such a manner as none but himself could do.
This believing view of his glorious Person in all his offices, adding efficacy to all his undertakings, is the very joy, and comfort, and support of their souls! In his amazing condescension, in undertaking these offices, they see the fullest manifestation of divine love and mercy that their hearts can desire, or God can give. When Christ is thus in the glory of his person and offices, formed in their minds—their hearts and lives cannot be uninfluenced. No, but the glorious sight is most powerful and efficacious in proportion to its clearness, distinctness, and extensiveness.
"We are changed into the same image." The gospel thus believed is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. The glory of Christ as seen in the gospel, alone can produce this effect. Consideration of other truths, separately viewed, may restrain sin and somewhat keep it under control; but this only mortifies sin, renews the soul, and continually strengthens and enlivens all the graces of the Spirit within.
The same means which produce the change at first, must carry it on. It is impossible to grow in grace, without growing in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ. Christ in the glory of his person, must be kept in the enlightened mind, and all divine truths must be seen in and through him—otherwise they will lose all their efficacy and power.
Blessed are those who keep their eyes fixed on the sun of righteousness! They cannot but feel its enlivening warmth and quickening power. It is not sufficient that we have seen his glory formerly, a month or a year ago—no—but he must be, in the glory of his person and offices, always immediately present with us. He is the only food of the new man, the only object faith deals with, and is conversant about. We must still continually behold his glory dwelling among us, full of grace and truth—that we may receive grace upon grace out of his fullness.
If he is formed in us, he continually abides with us wherever we are. He is in us as a Spirit of divine consolation, under the continual sense of sin in its guilt and power. He is in us and with us, as full of grace and truth. Blessed commodities—and most needed! He has come from Heaven full of them, that by distributing his grace and truth—he might fill his people with them! When they are thus filled with his fullness, he is formed in their minds and dwells there; and he will and must be formed in the heart also—the heart will be changed into the same image. His character is stamped upon them; his spirit dwells in them; and those graces which so eminently adorned his whole life, appear in a smaller degree in all his believing people.
The same mind is produced in them, which was also in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2.5. They are humble as he was, seeking not glory to themselves—but to God—seeking not their own good, but the good of others. Those who come to Christ aright and to the saving of their souls, "learn of him who is meek and lowly." And though to the flesh it is a hard lesson—yet that grace which brings salvation, effectually and daily teaches them. Though perhaps they may have made no great advancement—yet are they willing, yes desirous, of still continuing in this school, under the teaching of grace.
They love and admire Christ's example, and endeavor faithfully to tread in his steps. Under all their sufferings, they keep him in view, and consider him daily, who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that their patience may be strengthened, that they faint not in their minds. Hebrews 12.2.
He is formed in them also as to his love to God and man. Christ's love to God and his glory, to man and his salvation, which brought him down from Heaven—carried him through all he did and suffered here on earth. What an amazing instance of both do we see here! How perfectly was the divine law written on his heart! Nothing could destroy, nothing could abate his love!
He loved God and his glory, not only when God smiled upon him—but also under his frowns, under his greatest wrath and displeasure.
He loved man when an enemy, when yet wallowing in sin and every abomination. Yes, even when man hated and persecuted him to death.
While under the wrath of God, his heart was still burning with unabating fervor of love for sinful man; while sinners reviled him—he prays for them. O what a pattern is here! Lord, help me to contemplate by faith the glory of his person and character, until I am changed into the same image!
What glory did his divine conduct reflect upon the holy and righteous God! With what conviction did he prove God's right to punish sin in the face of the whole universe! And what an idea must it give to all created beings, of God's amiableness and loveliness, to see Christ love the Father, even while he feels his wrath!
Were we to contrast this conduct with that of the devils and the followers of antichrist, all of whom justly suffer for their own sins—how amazing would be the difference! Rev. 16.21. The one gives glory to God by loving him still with the whole heart, because God always in everything deserves it—deserves to be loved, when he punishes, as well as when he pardons sin.
The other, under the just judgment of God, blasphemes the divine Majesty, and is filled with the bitterest enmity against him.
Here is as much difference as there is between Heaven and Hell, between God and the devil.
In this respect Christ is also formed in every one of his people—grace is the same in them as in him, though in a lower degree. Their love to God and man, is of the same nature—according to its degree. They cannot but love him, because in the face of Christ, they have seen his glory—even under his rod, when he chastises them, yes, when he hides his face from them. As Jesus did—so do they also love their enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use them.
It is only in proportion as they do so, that Christ is formed in them, and that the law of God is written on their hearts. What the law requires—we see to the life exemplified in Christ. He yielded perfectly all that love to God and man which it demanded—and we see what the law in its spirituality demanded—universal, perfect love, on all occasions, in all circumstances whatever. It admits of no excuse for the breach of it. Under the wrath of God, and the enmity and hatred of man—the law still, with equal force, demands love, because God at all times and in everything, equally deserves it.
O how comfortable to ourselves, how honorable to God—to have Christ thus formed in us, and the law thus written in our hearts! How much have I still to learn here! How far am I from the perfect pattern before me! But through mercy I can say that I desire to be as he is. I see such glory in God, in all he does, as infinitely deserves to be thus loved.
God is as glorious in punishing sin—as He is in pardoning sin. He is glorious and amiable when he afflicts—as well as when he comforts. Never did God appear more glorious, than when He was pouring out His wrath on the Son of His love, for our sins. Justice and mercy, holiness and love--there shone with united and transcendent splendor.
The same glory of God which shines in punishing sin in Hell, appeared in His punishing it on the cross, though not in the same degree. And does not God deserve to be loved for the one as well as for the other? Does he not deserve to be loved wherever and in whatever manner he causes his glorious justice to appear? I believe we may safely conclude that that man never had true grace, who does not love God for punishing sin, as well as for pardoning it—for chastening, as well as for comforting. Nor does he in truth, and in a gospel sense, ever love his brother, who does not also love his enemy.
Thus love showed itself in Christ, and if Christ is formed in us, the same love must operate in the same manner, according to its degree, in us.
May this truth sink deep into my heart, and deeply humble me before God for my lack of conformity to Christ! And let me always remember to cast away all excuses for lack of conformity to God's law, however plausible they may appear, and artfully dressed by the Devil or the flesh. How necessary to look unto Jesus by faith, that Christ may be formed in my heart!