OUR TEXT explains that God predestinated, not individuals, but the characteristics of the class whom He designed to be glorified with His Son. Foreseeing the entrance of sin into the world, God’s wisdom saw the possibility of great good resulting. Among other things, He foresaw that there would be a class of the human race, who, in spite of the depravity of the fall, would be glad to devote themselves to serving God, and who would trust Him where they could not trace Him. Accordingly, He determined to make these a kind of first fruits of His creatures, intending for them to attain the Divine nature, and a very special field of activity in His future arrangements. But such a high honor could not be entrusted with safety to any but those who possess characters fully in harmony with His will. He foresaw that His Firstborn Son, Jesus, would, after a hard experience of suffering, develop a character that in every way could be depended upon to do God’s will. He decided to use His Firstborn Son’s character as a sample or copy, after which the characters of all the others in this class should be patterned.
Our subject, “The Development of Christlikeness,” is a broad one. We will first discuss:
I. ITS NATURE
In speaking of the nature of Christlikeness or of a Christlike character, let us first consider what is meant by the word character. We may define it as the mental, moral and religious quality of one’s cultivated disposition. We are born with dispositions, but characters are developed. Character is developed by one’s taking a personal stand in the various scenes and circumstances of life through the operation of his will along the lines of certain principles, as these apply to the questions that confront him from the mental, moral and religious standpoint. For example, those who take a personal stand favorable to good principles, and seek to subject themselves in their thoughts, words and acts to these principles, develop good characters; those who subject themselves in their thoughts, words and acts to evil principles, develop wicked characters; while those who make no effort to take a personal stand for good or bad principles, develop indifferent characters.
Having seen what character in general is, let us now look particularly at the character of Jesus, the copy that according to which God’s people must pattern themselves. Jesus’ character may be defined as the mental, moral and religious quality of His cultivated disposition as a new creature. We are not here referring to His perfect character as a human being, which was developed during the first thirty years of His life, but of the character that He as a new creature developed during the three and one-half years of His ministry under the crucial test of suffering. In the various activities of His life, Jesus took a stand in perfect harmony with, and subjection to, the principles underlying God’s own character. As we analyze the elements that constitute His character, we find that they are sevenfold:
(1.) Abhorrence for Evil
The Scriptures state that Jesus abhorred evil. Hebrews 1: 9: “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.” To Him, evil was repulsive. Every sentiment of His heart and mind revolted against it, and accordingly, His stand toward it was one of abhorrence.
(2.) Avoidance of Evil
Naturally what one abhors, he avoids. The human mind is such, that it seeks to get away from what it abhors. Jesus avoided evil. For example, in the temptation scene, He refused to throw Himself from the pinnacle, realizing that He would forfeit God’s favor by such a useless, dangerous and uncalled-for act.
(3.) Opposition to Evil
Jesus’ whole course during His ministry was more or less marked by opposition to evil. He attacked it, as well as repulsed its attacks. An example is the temptation scene where He drove the adversary from Him with the statement: “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
(4.) The Spiritual Sentiments
As a new creature, our Lord had to have spiritual sentiments, and He succeeded in developing His character in this respect by thoroughly attaching His affections to spiritual things. This is shown in Hebrews 12: 2: “Who for the joy that was set before him [the spiritual exultation and the opportunities coming from it] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus also indicates this to be His attitude in His prayer, John 17: 1: “Glorify thy Son.” He prayed for spiritual blessings, indicating that His affections were set on them.
(5.) Using His Sentiments as Servants of Righteousness and Holiness
By His consecration to the Heavenly Father, He laid down His own will and accepted the Father’s will as His own; and thus put at the Father’s disposal all that He was and had for the Father’s use in the spread of God’s cause. Consequently, in this activity He used up all that He was, to advance the cause of righteousness and holiness. Matthew 20: 28 proves this point: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
(6.) The Graces
All the graces were found in Jesus’ character. We read in John 1: 14: “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” This doubtless was the reason why He had such an attractive personality.
(7.) Balance of Character
This was the final element of our Lord’s character, and was developed unto perfection. He was thereby able to maintain perfect poise in every feature of His character, putting into dominance wisdom, power, justice and love, combined with one another in orderly arrangement. This is shown in the following passages: “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “Full of grace and truth.”
The Psalmist spoke appropriately of Him in Psalm 45: 2: “Thou art fairer than the children of men.” Such a character is certainly worthy of all imitation.
II. ITS REQUIREMENTS
Certain requirements are necessary to form a character like His. As a human being, Jesus had religious, selfish and worldly sentiments. But when Jesus became a spirit-begotten new creature, it was possible for Him to attain a cultivated spiritual quality in His mental, moral and religious faculties. And all who became spirit-begotten new creatures had the possibility of developing a character like His.
Adam, Eve and our Lord Jesus are the only ones who possessed perfect religious, selfish and worldly faculties. But the fall has wrought a depravity in all others. Nevertheless, everyone possesses some vestiges of the image of God which have survived the ravages of the fall, and which God uses as the basis for the development of our characters. There are four powers that seek to dominate our faculties: God on the one hand; and Satan, self and the world on the other hand. The ideal is to have the religious, selfish and worldly sentiments under God’s rule, which makes developing Christlikeness possible.
A second requirement necessary for developing Christlikeness is faith-justification. At the present time God does not actually justify us. He causes our Lord’s human merit to be imputed to us and thus we are reckoned, though not actually, perfect. Without faith-justification God will have no dealings with us; but with it we are acceptable in His sight, and thus He can deal with us in developing Christlikeness.
A third requirement necessary for developing Christlikeness is consecration, the immersing of our wills into the will of Christ. Nobody can become Christlike unless Christ becomes his head, and in consecration we take Christ as our head, that is, we take His thoughts as our thoughts; we take the things to which He aspired as the things to which we aspire; and His heart and mind become our heart and mind in consecration.
A fourth requirement was necessary for developing Christlikeness during the time when the High Calling was open – spirit begettal. Spirit begettal implies the impartation of a spiritual quality to every organ of the brain, enabling each organ to project itself beyond the natural things to which alone before the begettal it was adapted; unto corresponding spiritual things, to which it receives adaptation by the implantation of this spiritual quality.
Since the High Calling is now closed, and there are no longer any spirit begettals, those who take the steps of repentance, faith in Christ and consecration have the privilege of developing a Christlike character. The only difference is that they develop Christlikeness on the human and not the spiritual plane.
(to be continued)