God has predestined all in Christ to become the sons of God and be conformed to the image of Jesus. This is the evidence of our spiritual authority in Christ, but it’s also our inheritance to accept responsibility to live the ministry of Jesus, which is to reveal the Father.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
I never read this verse without thinking of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. The image of limitless stars in the firmament is a powerful metaphor of the fulfilment of that promise – the body of believers in Christ the world over. We can look up at the night sky and see His faithfulness emblazoned by His glory for the entire world to witness. But it’s also a reminder that we are but one of many brethren. Few of us can really identify the different stars or call them by name. What we do know, however, is that they were placed there by the hand of God. They have a powerful message for us. As believers, we aren’t meant to be distinguished by our own individuality. We are destined to be conformed to the image of Jesus as firstborn and head of the church.
The image of Jesus is the manifestation of God.
Jesus came so that the Father could be seen. He was the embodiment for the full nature and character of God. Any characteristic of God can be found in His Son who lived and died to do and speak only the purposes and will of the Father. An image of something is its replica. It doesn’t suggest something but is a copy a visible image of the real thing. As the Son of God, Jesus is the image of God. In the same way, as sons of God, the brethren in Christ, we must also manifest the image of God. Of course, this is impossible for us to do. But He accomplishes it by conforming us to the image of Jesus who is the image of God. From an entirely practical analogy, it’s like God making ‘spiritual photocopies’ of Jesus so that He can be revealed by multiplication.
It’s important that we grasp that God wants to reveal Himself to the whole world. During His earthly ministry, Jesus manifested God to His people. It was only after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that the Holy Spirit came. His work is to effect the purposes of God, one of which is to conform us to the image of Jesus. Just as the stars collectively manifest the glory of God, so the brethren collectively manifest the image of God. We cannot reveal Him fully as individuals, but together, we make a complete picture. The process of transformation is slow in us, and it will take an entire lifetime to fully be fully conformed to His likeness, but the many brethren work together as the body of which Jesus, the perfect image of God, is the head. I’m always amazed at how practical the workings of God really are.
Foreknowing, predestination, and the image of Jesus.
Today’s voice mentions both foreknowing and predestination, issues which often create confusion and the erroneous assumption that only some are ‘destined’ to be saved. What this verse really means is that God knew in advance who would receive salvation. That is very different to deciding who would receive it and who would not. In the same way, predestination doesn’t mean we had no choice in being saved. It means that those He knew would receive Christ were predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We choose salvation, but God knew who would and who would not. Our predestination has nothing to do with being saved and everything to do with manifesting God through being conformed to the likeness of Christ. He started this work by determining that we would be in Christ, i.e. when God looks at us, He sees Jesus rather than our sinful selves.
It comes back to His identification with us and ours with Him. Our predestination is already in place. In Christ, we are already, in God’s eyes, conformed to the image of Jesus. The rest is the outworking of that so that the manifestation becomes visible to the world. We can be encouraged by the fact that predestination means that it will happen. Despite our weakness and frailties, this purpose of God will be fulfilled in us. Our assurance of this lies in the fact that He already sees us that way. We are no longer our old, sinful, fleshly selves but in Christ. We are the brethren of Jesus, resurrected in His image and clothed in His righteousness. The Son of God is perfect, a complete image of God. The sons of God are predestined to the same glory in Him. His image in us is our identity before God.
The image of Jesus is evidence of the brethren.
It’s an incredible privilege to be a son of God. As co-heirs in Christ, we have full access to the Father and all He makes available to His children. Our joy is to know that we can cry ‘Abba,’ – ‘Daddy’ – to the almighty God of the universe and be assured that He will gather us to Him in love and faithfulness. These are great blessings of grace that salvation brings for us as believers. But we are also co-heirs to the responsibilities of the firstborn, summed up in the single purpose of revealing the Father. God conforms us to the image of Jesus so that we can become His sons. But it is the image of Christ in us which confirms to the world that we are His sons. This is not so we stand out as ‘someone special’ but so that we continue the work of Christ.
If we truly desire to live as the brethren – the sons of God – we must accept these two things. First to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Second to live as Christ did to manifest God to the world. The first establishes our spiritual authority in Christ. When the world recognises the nature and character of God in us through Jesus, it will recognise that our message is of God. By the same token, unless we manifest the image of Christ, our message is of self and has no spiritual authority. There is no other way to live as sons of God. The brethren of Jesus must continue His ministry. As He laid down His glory as the Son of God to become the Son of Man, so we must lay down our human identity in order to become sons of God. Our inheritance is only in Christ.
Free will and the image of Jesus.
While we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus, this does not remove our free will. Choosing salvation will bring a measure of conformity. This is predestined. It is included in salvation which we have chosen freely. Thereafter, we exercise our free will throughout our Christian walk in choosing to surrender and allow ourselves to be further transformed into the likeness of Christ. Our salvation is never in question. In Christ, God will recognise us as the brethren. But He will never release the authority unless we first accept the responsibility. The degree to which we yield will determine the degree to which we walk as sons of God. Everything that belongs to the firstborn is available to us. But it is released to us as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ by the Spirit. Our choice defines the limitations of our inheritance.
Your ways, O Lord, are indeed much higher than ours. Thank You for the privilege of coming as sons rather than supplicants and for the joy of knowing You as Father as well as Lord. Empower us to yield ourselves to Your work in us so that we can rejoice in living Your purposes, conformed to the image of Your Son and revealing all that You are to the world. Remind us that we are part of Your promises to Abraham, the fulfilment of a covenant and called to continue the ministry of Jesus.