For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
What is a normal Christian? What should a normal Christian be like? If we were to look at those who profess to be Christians in modern day America, we might be able to come up with what an "average" Christian is, but what is a "normal" Christian? There have been many great Christians in the past which we sometimes refer to as "giants of the faith" such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and R.A. Torrey, or even the great Apostle Paul. Were these men "normal" Christians?
It seems reasonable that we should want to be a normal Christian. This is not that we should like to be considered as average, but that we be what a Christian ought to be - normal. So, we begin this series of Sunday School lessons with the purpose of studying and learning what a normal Christian is.
If we could summarize, in a single word, what a normal Christian is, what would that word be? Notice the word conformed in our text, Romans 8:29. God's plan for every Christian is to be conformed to the image or likeness of Christ. In other words, Christ is the template or mold for what a Christian ought to be. In the coming lessons, we shall consider more closely what it is to be like Christ; but in this lesson, let us consider this word conformed. This one word says a whole lot about the normal Christian.
The definition of "normal" is not determined by what we think it should be, nor is it based upon popular vote. It's not determined by what culture you live in. It's not even determined by what the Sunday School teacher says. God settled the issue long before we were ever around to voice our opinion - He predestinated that we should conformed to the image Christ. Before Adam had ever fallen into sin, God had already set the standard for normality.
This means that we shouldn't use the average Christian in America as our model. We don't need to look around and compare ourselves with other Christians that surround us (see 2 Corinthians 10:12). We don't need to be like the Israelite who "did that which was right in his own eyes." God has set the standard already and if there are any questions that should arise, we need to seek what God has to say. The normal Christian looks to God for what he ought to be and what he ought to do!
Paul told the Christians at Corinth, "ye are yet carnal" (1 Corinthians 3:3). Paul's own testimony was this: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect … I press toward the mark" (Philippians 3:12-14). The normal Christian is in a process of being conformed to the image of Christ. Peter exhorts us in 2 Peter 3:18 to "grow in grace". Young Christians are referred to as "babes" (1 Peter 2:2). Christians in general are often referred to as disciples or soldiers. What disciple does not grow in knowledge and what soldier does not grow in skill? The normal Christian experience is one of growth.
So often older Christians expect the younger to have all the character, standards, and knowledge that they do. Those who have been saved a while need to remember that they were not all that they are presently when they first got saved. No, the normal Christian grows toward being like Christ. The apostle Paul is often considered to be the greatest Christian ever, but he did not start out that way did he? Paul was just a normal Christian - he grew more and more like Christ.
The normal Christian does not become conformed over night. In fact, it often takes multiple exposures to the truth before a believer makes the decision to obey. As Isaiah said, "precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). There are probably some precepts that God has planned for you tomorrow, but you are not ready for them until you learn the precepts that He has for you today. The normal Christian grows precept upon precept.
Now, if a baby does not grow at all during the first year, we would have to conclude that something was abnormal. Likewise, if a Christian fails to grow, we would have to say something is wrong. Lets perform a little check-up on ourselves as we consider some implications of growth:
First of all, for there to be growth there must be life. Dead things do not grow. That's why a Christian must be born again because we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). One sure sign of life is the desire for food. John Newton put it this way, "Take a toy away from a child and give him another, and he is satisfied. But if he is hungry, no toy will do. As newborn babes, true believers desire the sincere milk of the Word, and the desire of grace in this way is grace." There is something wrong with a Christian who experiences no hunger for God.
How can there be growth without change? Spiritually, if you are the same now as you were last year, something must be wrong. No change means no growth. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul lists several sins to which he adds in verse 11, "And such were some of you" (see also 2 Corinthians 5:17). This change does not stop at salvation but continues throughout the entire life of the Christian. We should never think that we have arrived - Paul was still pressing onward. The normal Christian should therefore expect changes to occur throughout their whole life. There is something wrong with a Christian that stops changing!
When a child grows up looking absolutely nothing like their parents, what kind of thoughts arise in our heart? Growth that is "normal" should make us more and more like Christ. If you are spiritually alive and changing, but you are becoming less and less like Christ, there is something wrong.
We have a goal to strive toward. Peter exhorts us to follow in the steps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21) and John says that we ought to walk like Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). These all point to the same objective - to be just like Christ. In the book "In His Steps", a Pastor asked his congregation to ask the question "What would Jesus do" in every situation they came across. This is precisely our goal, that we would be so much like Christ that we would do just as He would do. Some Christians may be seeking for wealth, fame, or worldly pleasures; but the normal Christian seeks to be more and more like Jesus.
What should we expect as we become more and more conformed to the image of Christ? Let's consider a few observations:
As a Christian becomes more and more like Christ, it is normal to become more and more aware of their own true nature. The normal Christian may find that they have problems that they never realized they had. Was this not Paul's experience in Romans 7:14-25. As we become more like Christ, there will be a more obvious difference between what we are and what we were. The difference between black and white is more obvious than between shades of gray.
As we become more aware of self, it is also normal for us to abhor our old sinful nature. Paul cried out "O wretched man that I am", Isaiah said "Woe is me", and Job said "I abhor myself". This is all part of the normal Christian experience, for when we become more like Christ we begin to hate sin like God does.
Think about the meaning of the word "conformed". What does this suggest about the part we play in being made like Christ? We have already discussed the fact that we do not start out immediately in the image of Christ. Our text says that we must be conformed to this state. This implies the following conclusions:
First, let us remember that we still have that old sin nature present with us (Romans 7:18-23) and it is contrary to what God would have us to be (Galatians 5:17). Thus, God is conforming us into something that our sin nature does not want to be conformed to. It is normal then to expect our old nature to resist this progress toward becoming Christ-like. It is a common part of human nature to resist change anyway. When God tugs at your heart to do this thing or to quit doing that other thing, you can count on the flesh not being too happy about it - that's normal!
It is not us that does the conforming is it? God has to do it because we have not the strength alone. It is a work involving the grace of God, that is His divine, enabling power that allows us to become more like Him. The testimony of the great Apostle Paul was, "by the grace of God I am what I am." John Newton was moved by this testimony and made this comment, "I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to that which is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be , nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!" The normal Christian puts no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3) but depends upon the grace of God.