“Living a life conformed to Christ’s life”
On this spiritual journey that is Lent, we look forward to Easter, and to the victory of Christ’s resurrection in our lives. For any form of self-discipline that we exercise in Lent has as its purpose our spiritual training, that we may conform our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ’s life and character more fully. The goal of being conformed to Christ, St. Paul expressed in this passage:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11, KJV)
Lent helps us in this process of prioritizing the excellence of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and setting in their proper place all those other things we tend to think are important. How many of us can claim, as St. Paul did, to “have suffered the loss of all things” in order to be found in Christ and to receive the righteousness that comes by faith in him? This journey towards God’s eternal kingdom entails knowing Christ more and more, and knowing the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and being conformed to his death on the cross. Our eventual goal is to attain to the resurrection of the dead through “walking in the blessed steps of his most holy life” (Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter, p. 171, Book of Common Prayer, 1928).
If we have suffered the loss of all things, we have died to pride and to the sins of selfishness and all the worldly ambitions we might have cherished, if we had not ever come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All the things we would count as grounds for our own righteousness or source of pride, we must count worthless, compared to the excellence of knowing Christ. We might be proud of what we have achieved in life, whether it be managing a company, graduating with university or college degrees, or working many years in a responsible position for a company. In themselves, they are reasons for gratitude to God, but in contrast to the joy of knowing Christ, and the excellence of knowing him, they are negligible. In putting our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in receiving by faith the gift of his righteousness, we have far more! We have come into God’s kingdom, and been adopted as his dear children!
But in receiving Christ’s righteousness through faith, we have not ended our spiritual journey, but continue on it, growing in our knowledge of the Lord as we seek to do his will in all areas of our lives, and knowing the power of his resurrection even now in our lives. For St. Paul, in the passage above, distinguished between knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection (Phil. 3:10) and attaining to the resurrection of the dead (Phil. 3:11). The latter is experienced on the day of the resurrection of the dead, while the former is experienced now in this life.
In the same sentence in which he emphasizes knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, St. Paul declares another purpose of winning Christ and being found in him: to know “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” and to be made “conformable to his death” (Phil. 3:10). To “know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” is to share in the sufferings of Christ by enduring persecutions and suffering for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Passages in which St. Paul lists his sufferings for the Gospel are 1 Corinthians 4:8-13; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 and 11:23-27. Not only does St. Paul set an example of sharing in the sufferings of Christ by enduring patiently persecution, opposition, trials and tribulations on account of the Gospel and his call to preach it, but he also commands his fellow-workers to take their share of suffering for the sake of the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:8).
Finally, in this life, we must be conformable to Christ’s death. This does not mean that each Christian dies the same death that Christ died, nor that every Christian dies a martyr’s death. Rather, just as Christ died on the cross, we face our own life with the determination to do God’s will, and at the last our own death with the same persevering faith. This means that we live our lives with such love for God that all else fades into insignificance, since if we are conforming to Christ’s death in this way, personal ambition and pride have died, as have the claims of any priorities to take the Jesus Christ’s place as Lord. At any point we can test whether we are living the Christian way of life by asking, “Am I still living my life to please God and do his perfect will?”
The goal of such a life lived for Christ is to attain to the resurrection of the dead, which is the Easter hope, based as it is on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. As we prepare for Easter, let us do as St. Paul urges the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 13:5a (KJV): “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”