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Archive for December 1st, 2017

Being Conformed into Christ’s Image —  is how we come to Spiritual Maturity in our Walk with Christ

scroll2“Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:23-29)

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “abba! Father! (Gal. 4:6)

”My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you… (Gal. 4 :19)

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Rom. 8:29)

My Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Galatian community begins with the statement indicating that, “ … in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God”, yet in the next part of his letter he indicates he is perplexed by their current behavior and that because of that behavior they indicate to him that, although sons, they are not yet fully formed into Christ. So much so that he is still in travailing prayer for them – for they are essentially still in the womb as far as understanding the graces, freedom and responsibility we have in Christ Jesus.

About the Transformation Process

This problem of a delay in maturing in Christ is still with us today. I know because was just like the Galatians. I was a baptized, confirmed and a compliant cradle Christian. But like the Galatians, was still in the spiritual womb of “mother” Church. I had not yet awakened to who I, as a person, was in Jesus Christ and had not yet come out of the womb crying “daddy” or “abba” to my Father in Heaven. And, I had not yet met with my brother, Jesus, although I knew about Him. I also did not know that it was the Father’s purpose in conceiving me in Christ to conform me into His image! It was just beyond my imagination!

Are you being Conformed to Christ's Image?

Are you being Conformed to Christ’s Image?

I now, by His Grace, understand it is the Father’s clearly stated purpose that all those who are baptized into Christ be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). I now believe, in consequence, that our maturity in Christ and subsequent spiritual growth also needs be assessed in accordance to the progress we are making, after submitting our will to His, and in cooperating with His Transforming Spirit in us.

It should be expressly noted that our transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit in us – as Jesus says, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Our only contribution to God’s work in us and through us is our cooperation, in faith, for He will not violate our free will. The Father always gives us the opportunity to yield ourselves to His will and purpose before He initiates any creative work of the Spirit in us.

Listen to how the Virgin Mary responded to the Angel Gabriel when told that she had been selected to conceive and bear a son by the Holy Spirit – a son that was to be the Father’s anointed Messiah, not only for Israel but also for the all humankind!

”And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1: 38)

That, my brothers and sisters is the manner in which He expects us to respond when the Good News of salvation is presented to us. The Good News that the Father not only wishes to save us but that He also wishes to birth His Son in us and conform us to His image us so that He might be the firstborn of many brethren. (Rom. 8:29)

Yes, the appropriate response, is an act of our will, inspired by faith, to repent, believe, and to open the door to our heart to His Person as Our Lord and Savior saying to Him, “Lord save me, let your Spirit, be born in me … be it done to me according to your Word”. It is only such a response that will bring us to a true spiritual birth in Jesus and subsequent transformation into His Image. Praised be His Holy Name!

With this said, let us, then, discuss this transforming process for this Conformation. For, indeed, it is through that process which we have initiated with our declaration whereby we begin to grow in spiritual maturity by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

We are all aware of the demarcation points in our physical lives in this world, namely, our birth, our entering school, our graduations, our military service (if any), our wedding day, the birth of our children, our profession, etc. . As important as these events in our earthly lives are in indicating our maturity and progress in our earthly lives, we need to ask ourselves: what are the similar key events in our religious/spiritual lives and what is their value to us in assessing our growth and maturity in living for God?

Of course, our first attempt at listing these stages in our religious lives these events could possibly be like this: our birth, our baptism and confirmation, our first communion, our marriage, our ordination, our entry into service to the church, etc.

Today I am proposing that we take a distinct and more mystical view at assessing our progress in the spiritual life. I am thinking that maybe we should look at the metaphors used in the New Testament used by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament as a more spiritual way of understanding the stages of our spiritual growth to maturity in Christ Jesus. Some of these metaphors include, spiritual travail, spiritual rebirth, being as babes in Christ, and the subsequent process in coming to maturity in spiritual wisdom an knowledge in Him.

From Conception to a New Life

Let us consider, for instance, that when we are spiritually conceived in Christ at baptism we are held within a spiritual womb, within our parents and the church. While in this womb we are taught, nurtured and fed spiritual milk from the Word and Sacraments. Eventually, as our spiritual fetus matures on the Word, we act on that Word declaring Jesus as our Savior and thus reach out to the eternal life and relationship with Jesus that He offers us as a gift.

This act of cooperation with God’s grace brings us out of the womb and into a new awareness, a spiritual awareness of the presence on the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus in us! An awareness that tells us that we are out of the womb and that we are now Living Children of the Living God here in this world and we KNOW it, not theologically, but experientially, because the Holy Spirit confirms it in our spirits. This, being an awareness that we are a new Creation or, a re-born man as the Apostle Peter expresses it when he states:

“Forasmuch as ye KNOW that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides for ever.“   (1 Peter 1:18-23)

Some call our coming to this stage where we know, that we know that we have a “daddy’ and have personally encountered our brother, Jesus, as an “encounter” with the Divine or as a “conversion”. The terms are somewhat irrelevant to those of us who enter into a new spiritual awareness of life in Christ, because, for us, there is NO DOUBT in our souls that we have entered into a new stage in our spiritual lives and it doesn’t matter to us what you call it! Now, we are able to live in this new life and are made aware by the Holy Spirit that we are, indeed, Sons of the Most High and able to commune with Him in the Spirit! Praised Be His Holy Name!

From Conversion to Putting On the New Man

After this first stage in our transformation, the Holy Spirit leads us deeper into the Word, teaching us , Not in our minds but in our spirits, so that we might be led of the Spirit as Jesus was led. The events and circumstances of each day being provided our hearts and our spirits are brought into alignment with the thoughts and desires of Jesus Himself. We learn to pray as Jesus prayed, to Love as Jesus Loved, to as a means of testing the principles and spirit of faith that the Holy Spirit is infusing in us as we grow more and more closer to Christ!

We also pass through a phase of growth where we are essentially babes in Christ. Paul refers to this phase when writing to some of his early communities, such as the Corinthians to whom he exhorts as follows … Brothers, I couldn’t speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you weren’t yet ready. Indeed, not even now are you ready, for you are still fleshly. For insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions among you, aren’t you fleshly, and don’t you walk in the ways of men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul’, and another, ‘I follow Apollos’, aren’t you fleshly? (1 Cor. 3:1-4)

In this phase of growth we can barely find evidence of spiritual growth, yet with continued persistence and teaching from the word we begin to produce fruit, and it is by this fruit that others will assess your progress. In his epistle to the Galatians Paul lists the characteristic fruit of living in divine, “agape”, Love. He clearly says … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). Our growth in this area is gradual but constant as long as we maintain our fellowship with Christ.

If we do stumble and fall (as we all do), the results will also be plainly evident. “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God”. (Gal. 5:19-21)

In exhorting the Galatians on this matter, Paul tells them “…. [Although,] you were called to freedom, brethren; … do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal.5: 13-18)

Remember, that acknowledging and repenting of our sin is extremely important in maintaining our fellowship with Him, and, as the Apostle John tells us:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

“… write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”     

( 1 John 1:5-10; 2:1-2)

In entering the more mature stage, the Holy Spirit uses the circumstances of our lives to bring us the point where we dedicate ourselves to the Lord totally, renouncing the flesh and seeking only that God’s will and purpose be accomplished in our lives through the “New Man”, that is the “New Spiritual Nature” we have in Christ.

By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith’ (CCC 143).” Obedience of faith is a willed act of love for God who loved us first.

Paul puts it in this way:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”

(Col. 3:1-10).

Putting on the New Man Until our Conformance to Christ Is Complete

Now, putting to death our Old Man, that is, our old nature, is not something we accomplish by ourselves. Again, it is something we must do in cooperation with God’s Grace and the Holy Spirit. It begins when we place our old self on the altar as a living sacrifice. Here again we turn to Paul to explain it to us…

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.”

(Rom 12:1-3)

Yes, brethren, when we make a decision to dedicate ourselves totally to the service of God and we present our old self a s a sacrifice, the Lord Himself will work in our lives to burn out the old nature and begin the renewal of our minds so that all that we say, and do, and think will be renewed by the Spirit of Christ in us.

Do not think this will be easy. It will be painful because we are, in fact crucifying our old nature and severing our old attachments and desires will be difficult. But the Lord will help us in our weakness so that the nature of his Son may be manifested in us – not for our glory, but for His. Praised be His Holy Name!

This process will last a lifetime and will not be completed until we receive our new spiritual bodies at the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, our King! Again, Paul summarizes this process with Spirit-inspired words …

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose [i.e., to become His adopted Sons]. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified”

(Rom. 8:18-29).

Our “glorification” comes at Jesus’ Return when we receive our glorified bodies as the concluding act of God in conforming us to the image of His Son.

But even while we are here in this world, as incomplete as our conformation may be we still share in the inheritance of Christ and in the anointing He received to accomplish His appointed Role in bringing forth the Kingdom. For, after all we are not only His brethren, but also His chosen disciples to carry on His work.

What I am saying, brethren, is that our conformance to Christ also includes our share in His empowerment with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. For Just as we are baptized in water as He was, so also we need to be anointed with the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as He was. For, in order to be like Him and minister the Gifts like Him, we also need to have the Holy Spirit come upon us so we can truly minister to the body of Christ in His Name.

Listen to what Jesus said about His empowerment …

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

(Luke 4: 18-19)

In like manner it must be understood that we cannot truly carry out our roles of the “Great Commission” to “proclaim the gospel to the whole world” and “make disciples” without a commensurate anointing of God’s Spirit on us who believe.

That is why he said to his disciples to wait at Jerusalem before going out minster so they would also be anointed by the Holy Spirit, whom He termed … “The Promise” of the Father”. This “promise” is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Peter also preached to the crowds at Pentecost saying …

Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and [then] ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For [this] the “promise” is [also] unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.”

(Acts 2:38-39)

In continuing our walk to maturity in Christ in this world it is important that we also receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”. If we are to take our part in building up the body of Christ we need to be empowered by the Spirit because this is the way He has chosen to manifest himself through us is in spiritual service to His Body the Church. In the wisdom of God that come with your maturity, therefore, ask for the impartation of the Gifts that you need to partner with Him in bringing forth His Kingdom.

As we go forth to serve the Lord, my brothers and sisters, let us take to heart the words that St. Ignatius of Loyola gave to his disciples, namely ….

“There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace”.

St. Ignatius’ Prayer Yielding Himself to the Lord 

(from Spiritual Exercises No. 234)

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory,

my understanding,

and my entire will,

all that I have and possess.

You gave it all to me;

to you, Lord, I give it all back.

All is yours,

dispose of it entirely according to your will.

Give me the grace to love you,

for that is enough for me.

May the Lord, in His Name, work in you and through you as you proceed onward to spiritual maturity, so that all that you think and say and do in this world may be for His Glory and NOT for yours. Amen

Your brother in Christ … Bartimaeus

© B.R.Timeo and Bartimaeus’ Quiet Place, [2008-2017])

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