Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 32 The Image of Christ
We have reached the end of The Cost of Discipleship. After 32 chapters Bonhoeffer must sum up what he wishes to convey, and so must I. Over the last 9 months we have covered a lot of ground, and it can be difficult to remember what we talked about in February or in April. Next week I intend to give you my last thoughts about what we have covered. In a way, however, this weeks topic and chapter summarises everything that Bonhoeffer wants to tell us. It is less beautiful prose, perhaps, than the chapter about “Cheap Grace” and it is not as bitingly memorable as some of his earlier chapters. Still, I believe that what Bonhoeffer has to say in the last chapter of the book stands at the heart of his thinking.
Last week we talked about Bonhoeffer's progression of themes in discussing the Church. First we had “the Body”, then “the Visible Community”, and finally “the Saints”. Have you ever heard someone say that the Church shouldn't be referred to as Saints? I have. The logic of the argument was that we shouldn't be presenting ourselves to others as holy or as having arrived. To do so may turn people off or scare them away or confirm their suspicion that Christianity is first and foremost about being good. All that I understand, and can even sympathize with. I don't think Christians should present themselves as self-righteous and I agree that it is important that non-Christians understand that the Church is made up of sinners, saved by God's Grace.
But. (You could tell there was a “but” coming, couldn't you?) This depiction of Christianity while true is only a partial depiction. In fact, as Christians we are called to be holy, we are urged to pursue righteousness, we are told to be sanctified. Al l this we must do to follow the way. More to the point, however, is that we really have no choice.
Do you believe in predestination? I most certainly do. That may come as a surprise to any of you who have ever discussed Calvinism with me. Still, predestination is in most certainly in the scriptures. Romans 8:29 explains to us “Whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Did you follow that? “Whom he foreknew” thats us, that is the Church, those God knew before the founding of the earth would be his people. And we are predestined. My Bible concordance tells me that word simply means foreordained or predetermined. This, then, is not something we have a choice about in a certain sense (all though I believe God always desires to extend choice to humanity).
So what is it that we are foreordained to do? We are to be conformed to the image of his Son. We are to be like Jesus! This is the destiny of every Christian and meaning and content of Discipleship. Why are we called to be disciples? Not because being a disciple is in itself such a wonderful thing but because it is the way to learn how to be like Jesus. To be a Christian then, is hold up the image of Jesus in front of us in all that we do. It is to strive to follow his example and have trust in the work God does in us to sanctify us.
It is awesome to see God's purpose in our sanctification. Why are we to be conformed to the image of Christ? Is it to make us acceptable to God? No, that has been accomplished: we have been justified, declared not guilty despite our guilt. It is only through that decree that we can be acceptable to God and no human striving will make us more acceptable to him. Why then has he predestined us? So that we would be like Christ. God wants Jesus to be the firstborn of many Brethren. Isn't that an amazing thought? We who are not worthy to call Jesus Savior and Lord here on earth are destined to be called brothers of Jesus in heaven.
I want you to think a little bit about what it means to be conformed to Christ. I can think of three ways in which the New Testament encourages us to be like Christ: you may be able to think of more. First we are urged to imitate his actions. This is so common a motif that citing specific scriptures is almost superfluous: 1 John 2:6 tells us to “walk as he walked”, Ephesians 5:2 (and a host of other scriptures) tell us to “love as he loved”, Col 2:13 tells us to “forgive as he forgave” and in John 13 Jesus tells us that “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done”. Undoubtedly then, we are to enter into “The Imitation of Christ” as Thomas A'Kempis would have it.
Another New Testament theme of our imitation of Christ is our entering into his death and suffering. Paul shows us in Romans that are Justification can only occur when we enter into Jesus' death for us. Paul also tells us, however, that our sanctification is marked by imitating Christ's acceptance of his death: Paul said that it was necessary to crucify the flesh daily. Galatians tells us that to be a Christian is to be dead to the flesh, dead to sin, and dead to the world. Philippians 3 puts it best, however, where Paul says “I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness which is from God by Faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the the fellowship of his suffersing, being conformed to his death.” This, then, is another way we are to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Last, and most hopefully perhaps, we are to be conformed to the power of his life and resurrection. Again, I hardly need to cite scripture for this, you know them already. This is not just the future expectation of eternal life (“We shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is”), it is also the here and now! In Galatians Paul tells us “I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ, liveth in me”. This is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be a saint (one who is being sanctified). This morning as we our own lives we are not allowed to ask if we want to be conformed to the image of Christ or whether we wish to be sanctified. This is the will of God for us, and it should be our deepest desire: I want to be more like Jesus. May everything we say and do here this morning and throughout our week hold up this single goal.