“Transformed Into His Likeness” is the sixth chapter in the book The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, which we’re discussing every Thursday in the “Reading Classics Together” challenge at Challies‘ place.
When believers are first saved, the penalty for their sin is lifted, having been borne by Christ on the Christ, and His righteousness is put to their account. Yet they still have what the Bible calls their old nature or “old man” within them. Sanctification is the word for the process whereby Christians are gradually transformed from looking and acting like the “old man” to looking and acting more like Christ. It happens in fact at salvation, it happens progressively through life, and it culminates in our perfection when we get to heaven. Or, as Bridges explains it:
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us whereby our inner being is progressively changed, freeing us more and more from sinful traits and developing within us over time the virtues of Christlike character. However, though sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, it does involve our wholehearted obedience and the regular use of spiritual disciplines that are instruments of sanctification (p. 96).
It is “the carrying out of regeneration to its intended end” (p. 99).
You don’t hear this so much these days, but there used to be people who thought that their entire old nature was removed or changed when they became Christians and they could no longer sin. I don’t know how they missed the remaining sinful tendencies in their own hearts or the verses in the Bible that speak of our growth and change.
Today we have more of the opposite problem: people who say they have been regenerated (saved), yet do not display any evidence of a new life or any growth spiritually. Bridges says, “The solution for these people is not to change their conduct so that they might see some evidences of regeneration. The solution is to come to Jesus, renouncing any confidence in their own goodness, confessing themselves to be sinners in the sight of God, and trusting entirely in His atoning work” (p. 98).
After one becomes a Christian, the goal of our transformation is to become more like Christ. “To be like Jesus…is to always seek to do the will of the Father…Not only did Jesus do the will of the Father, not only was that His whole goal in life, but Psalm 40:8 tells us He delighted to do the will of the Father…What is our aim? Is it to please the Father in all we do, or is it just to get through life as comfortably as we can? (p. 102).
But it is not just in our actions and goals that we’re transformed into Jesus’ likeness, but in our character.
This process involves the Holy Spirit’s leading and enabling and our obedience and cooperation.
Our part, that is, our response to the Holy Spirit’s work and our cooperation with Him in His work is the pursuit of holiness…the pursuit of holiness, though requiring diligent effort on our part, is dependent on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit…It is difficult to grasp this principle of being responsible yet dependent. But it is absolutely vital that we grasp and live by it” (p. 100).
In my circles, the idea of progressive sanctification is taught often, but the emphasis tends to be more on our responsibility. It wasn’t an entirely new thought that Holy Spirit was the agent, the enabler, the One ultimately responsible for our transformation, but I had never heard this truth brought out as thoroughly as Bridges does it, and that was a great blessing to me. Among his comments on this aspect:
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we are being transformed by “the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The verb being transformed is passive, that is, something being done to us, not by us. This does not mean we have no responsibility in sanctification. It means that in the final analysis it is the Spirit of God who transforms us. He calls on us to cooperate and do the part He assigns us to do, but He is the one who works deep within our character to change us (p. 106).
Several passages of Scripture emphasize the fact that sanctification is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Paul said, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”…
Again, Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”(p. 107).
Finally, the writer of Hebrews prayed that God will “work in us what is pleasing to Him” (Hebrews 13:21) (p. 107).
The Spirit of God has indeed given us certain responsibilities in the sanctifying process. In fact, the Bible is filled with exhortations, challenges, and commands to obey, as well as spiritual disciplines to be practiced (p. 107).
I’ve often wondered what exactly is our part and what is His, where does one end and one begin, how does it all work together. Bridges says this is a mystery. It is never quite thoroughly explained in Scripture. But as we do our part, we trust Him for His enabling and transforming.
Bridges then goes on to discuss the various means that the Holy Spirit uses in our sanctification: adversities, exhortations and encouragement from others, Scripture, and prayer. But perhaps the most significant means is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” “The glory of the Lord denotes the presence of God and all that He is in all of His attributes — His infiniteness, eternalness, holiness, sovereignty, goodness, and so on…God is glorious in all of His being and all of His works” (p. 109). The more we seek Him and gaze on Him in Scripture, the more we are transformed into His likeness.