His Without Reserve

 Turning from the counter, head down and eyes welling up with tears, Carmen made her way to the door. She had come to the university registrar's office to complete the papers for graduation. She left with these crushing words reverberating in her head: "You haven't completed all your requirements."

Carmen and her advisor's goal was her graduation. They had guidelines and instructions on reaching their goal. But they did not fulfill all the requirements. Their preparation was not complete. In the matter of developing a Christlike character, a graduation is not the goal. The goal for us is to be complete in Christ. That means to learn the attitudes that Christ has. It means to know how to incorporate them into our thinking patterns and in our everyday life. Even our daydreaming is to be holy, separate from worldly thinking. Our purpose is to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to reproduce Christ's character in us.

From Carmen's woeful experience we learn that having instructions is not the same as following them. The Scriptures give us instructions for growing in Christ. But having such instructions in hand is not the same as being "mature in Christ" (Col. 1:28). A loving attitude toward all others is one aspect of being mature or complete (NASB) in Christ. However, our daily experience teaches us that wanting to be more loving does not give us a loving manner. We need to examine this thought carefully.

Choosing to Enroll in the School of Christ

It bears repeating that spiritual growth is the cooperative work of each Christian and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the teacher, we may say, and we are the students. A teacher succeeds when he has students. Students succeed when they have a teacher. Working together the teacher and the students reach their objectives. In the school of Christ our textbook, the Bible, uses forceful imperative language to motivate us to learn and to apply what we learn. It states clearly that we are to make every effort to add the Christlike virtues to our mind's operating system by our choice and our intent. If we do choose not to enroll in the school of Christ, we will not grow. Because we are often dilatory students, we ask our essential Teacher, the Holy Spirit, to discipline us and train us (Heb. 12:7-11).

Those who have received the salvation gifts of God in Christ (justification by faith) are invited by the Holy Spirit to enter into the higher life, that is, to present themselves as a gift of gratitude to Him in holiness (sanctification). They will choose to enroll in the school of Christ, where they will be taught how to become like their Savior.

Paul holds out to us the possibility, the importance, of growing into the "full stature of Christ" and "the fullness of God" (Eph. 4:13; 3:19). And so does Peter when he says that we may be "participants of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

How are we to understand these astounding words? Can it be possible for you and me to engage in this elevated relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? Paul answers "Yes" by stating the aim of his ministry: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ" (Col. 1:28, NASB).

We cannot pass over these descriptions without asking, "What do these phrases mean?" "What shall we do about them?" "How do we sinful beings enter in?" "What do they mean to God?"

They mean growth, development, and progress. A mature Christian is a full-strength person. No wavering, no indecision. Instead, confidence, assurance, fulfillment, and joy. In addition, every mature Christian brings glory to the Divine Three.

Our Preparation for Growth

One day I was at the Glidden paint store. As I waited for my gallon to be mixed, a homeowner came in and fell into conversation with the professional painters who were also waiting. From the comments he made and the questions he asked, we could see that as he thought about his job, he was not taking preparation time into account. When he learned that proper preparation and thorough clean-up take more time than the painting itself, he was visibly crest-fallen.

Perhaps many of us growing Christians don't realize that beginning each day well prepared is required for building a Christian character. In painting, a key aspect of preparation is having a clean surface. For us it's the prayer of submission asking the Holy Spirit to continue pointing out where contamination has crept into our inner sanctuary. (See Chapters 4 and 5.) Then there's dedication, that is, setting oneself apart from worldly ways. As we study this matter further, let's watch for references to the preparation work of purity and of the holiness of separation from evil.

Just as having a complete set of kitchen utensils means having several items, so being complete in Christ means having several characteristics. "We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:15, NASB). For an understanding of these "aspects," we turn to 2 Peter 1:3-11, NKJV:

His [our Lord's] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue (vs. 3).

Through the righteousness of Christ (vs. 1) and our knowledge of Him who called us, our heavenly Father has granted to us everything we need for an inner life (and outward life) of godliness. God's high goal for us-to have Christ's character reproduced in us-is assured because He has promised it, as we learn in verse 4:

by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (vs. 4).

These "exceedingly great and precious promises" are often couched in imperative language. An example is this command: "As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" 1 Peter 1:14-16 (NKJV).

We stated above that dealing with impurity is required as we are becoming complete in Christ. Peter puts it this way: to become "partakers of the divine nature" we are to separate ourselves from "the corruption that is in the world."

Discovering the Aspects of Heart Religion

Peter continues by listing the aspects of heart religion that produce a complete, a mature, character:

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things ["these qualities" (NASB)] is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins (vss. 5-9).

These "qualities" will be illuminated in a future chapter.

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do ["practice" (NASB)] these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (vss. 10, 11).

Underlining the importance of these qualities, Peter indicates that our response to God's exceeding great and precious promises is not "going with the flow." No! He uses a vigorous idea associated with goals and achievements: "giving all diligence." Earlier we read about "perseverance" Now we add "diligence" to our growing-in-Christ vocabulary.

Are these vigorous directions a contradiction to the teaching that salvation is a gift? No. Salvation is all of faith, but character building requires moral effort as well as faith. We find this in a respected commentary: "In the church we are to strive for the holiness (purification, sanctification) without which no one will see the Lord. . . . This is one of the many paradoxes of the gospel that can be resolved only in the life of faith. We strive, yet we receive. All is of grace, therefore strive." (1)

What benefit does such diligence bring? If "vital signs" are a measure of the body's wellness, then these Christlike qualities are a measure of the wellness of the inner self. How healthy will we be? "You will never stumble." How will we be rewarded? "An entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom."

What Does "Fullness in Him" Mean?

In the second chapter of Colossians Paul is passionately endeavoring to steer the believers away from the dangerous teachers of "philosophy and empty deceit" (v. 8). In that context, he upholds Christ, saying, "In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (v. 9). In the midst of this eloquent description of Christ and the Father, Paul says to his weak and stumbling converts: "You have come to fullness in him" (vs. 10), or "in Him you have been made complete" (NASB).

This takes our breath away! Our minds whirl, turning from a glimpse of the Almighty's perfection to the woeful condition of Paul's struggling Christian hearers. Then our ears hear these encouraging words: "You have come to fullness in him"! This completeness is not because of us but because of Christ. It is not because we elevate ourselves, but because Christ demeaned Himself for our sakes. It is His doing, not ours.

The pathway from conversion to this completeness is described in verses 6 and 7: "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." Every element for completeness is here in a nutshell: (a) receiving Jesus, (b) living in Him, (c) putting down one's roots, (d) becoming established in the faith, and (e) abounding in thanksgiving.

We have learned that proceeding along the Highway of Holiness makes us eligible to "see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). And here Peter reveals that when the Christlike qualities he lists are active in our hearts and lives, an entrance will be supplied to us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Is completeness in Christ worth while? It certainly is!