GOD DEVELOPS us in Christlikeness through various stages:
The Seven Stages in the Development of Christlikeness
There are a few differences in some of these stages, depending upon whether one was spirit begotten or not. We will draw attention to those differences when discussing these stages:
(1.) Following consecration, God gave the begettal of the spirit, which was the act of implanting His spirit in one’s heart and mind, which took place as the creative act of God by means of the Word (James 1: 18) (1 Peter 1: 23). The non-spirit begotten, though not receiving the begettal of the spirit, receive spirit enlightenment. As part of this first stage, God, through Jesus, keeps one in the consecrated attitude, using His spirit, Word and providences (1 Peter 1: 5).
(2.) Sometime later, God quickens one into activity in His service (Romans 8: 11) (Ephesians 2: 5). This quickening is an energizing process that makes one mighty in word and deed for the Lord. Some are quickened sooner than others because of greater zeal.
(3.) After the quickening has made some progress, growth in grace and knowledge begins (2 Peter 3: 18). This growth is along the lines of the seven steps of the Christian walk – world and self denial, study, spread and practice of God’s word, watchfulness, prayer and patient endurance of trials, sufferings and persecutions.
(4.) After growth in various respects, the Lord strengthens the features of character that have grown by permitting a series of trials to operate upon the qualities and sentiments already grown. These trials at first are not severe, but continue to become more rigorous as one becomes stronger.
(5.) Later, God causes the balancing process to set in by seeking to adjust the various features of character harmoniously with one another. During this stage, He allows one to have experiences amid which a variety of contrary influences are allowed to operate at the same time on different capacities within one, so that one might be enabled by exercise to adjust these capacities harmoniously with one another.
(6.) Then, after balancing has progressed to some degree, a perfecting of that which is balanced within one is undertaken through crucial trials and suffering, until one develops the ability to maintain the balanced condition in one’s character under the severest kinds of suffering. God does not providentially permit the non-spirit begotten consecrated ones in this life to have the severest experiences that would be necessary to perfect Christlikeness, although they will experience them in the Little Season.
(7.) The last stage is the destruction of evil, which begins in this life (John 15: 2, 3). By His spirit, Word and providences, God enables one to detach his affections from, abhor, avoid and oppose evil, which destroys its power over one. For the spirit begotten, this stage was completed when they were born of the spirit. For the non-spirit begotten, this stage will be completed in the Little Season.
God’s Motives in our Development
Revelation 4: 11 states, “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We should not understand this to mean a selfish pleasure, as though God were looking out for Himself as the beneficiary of our development. Rather, knowing of God’s supreme character, we understand that His pleasure consists in His joy of heart in dispensing blessings. He desires to bless, to elevate and to honor us, and therefore puts us in the school of Christ, as pupils, for our spiritual education. This developing process is doubtless also prompted by His desires to use us to carry forward His designs in the Ages to come. A further pleasure that God has in developing us consists in His delight to bless the world of mankind in the Millennial Age (Genesis 22: 16-18).
Our Part to Perform in our Development
We also have a part to perform in our development. God does not treat us as robots, but as free moral agents, whose willing, joyous cooperation He is pleased to use; and without which He will not develop us in Christlikeness (Philippians 2: 12). We have for our use the same means that the Father uses – His spirit, Word and providences.
We must also enter the same sphere of activity that God uses for our development, which are the principles underlying God’s character – wisdom, justice, love and power. We must see to it that the contents of our acts, the motives of our acts and the manner in which our acts express themselves are in harmony with, flow from and are controlled by these four principles.
The Lord gives us three blessed motives to prompt us in this course: (1) faith in His glorious character and the outcome of His Plan; (2) hope for a blessed share in carrying forward that Plan; and (3) love to Him and others connected with that Plan. These will prompt us, in view of what God is doing for us, and in view of what He is, to do everything that we do to His glory, to do everything for Him, to do as unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 10: 31) (Colossians 3: 17).
V. ITS WORK
Three things must be done in cultivating Christlikeness: (1) removing defects; (2) supplying lacks; and (3) improving the good.
The farmer illustrates this in preparing a garden. He may have a piece of land that is sour and full of stones, and lacking in many of the elements required for the things which he is seeking to grow. His work, therefore, would be three-fold: (1) he must gather out the stones; (2) by fertilizing he must supply the elements lacking in the ground and cure its sourness; and (3) by working the ground bring it into the best state for fruitage. These three things illustrate the three things that we must do in developing Christlikeness.
If we were not fallen by nature through original sin, we would have no faults to remove, nor any lacks to supply. The only thing requiring our attention would be improving the good. But Christ’s righteousness compensates in the sight of God for our faults and lacks, which are due to weakness and ignorance. In fact, the wisdom of God works out many advantages from these untoward things that will aid us markedly in our ministering on behalf of the world in the next Age.
VI. ITS CIRCUMSTANCES
Christlikeness is developed amid two different circumstances – easy and hard circumstances. The easy circumstances take place during the first three stages of development – the spirit begettal or spirit enlightenment, the quickening and the growing periods. During this time the words of truth fill our hearts with joy and the fellowship of the brethren gladdens our hearts; and during later experiences we often look back longingly upon the joys and blessings of this period of our lives.
The cause of the easy circumstances is the protecting providences of God. He treats us after the manner in which the horticulturist treats his plants. He gives us evenness of temperature and abundance of fresh air and water, so as to bring us into quick development in the quickening and growing period. He, therefore, shields us from adverse experiences under which we would not be able to grow rapidly.
Later on the Lord gives us hard circumstances to endure. These take place during the strengthening, balancing and perfecting stages of our development. Contrarities, difficulties, oppositions, hardships and obstacles come into our lives; and the thought comes into our minds that the Lord has forsaken us, and we long for the easy time we had in our previous experiences. But God is still caring for us. He is treating us different because He recognizes that we are prepared to endure hard circumstances, which are necessary for our advanced development (2 Timothy 2: 3).
There are many causes of these hardships: the disadvantages that present conditions put in the way of those who would serve God; the opposition of the Devil, the world and the flesh; and the sufferings incidental to the consecrated life. Satan has permeated the present order of affairs with conditions disadvantageous to righteousness because he does not want righteousness to prevail. When these disadvantages cannot thwart those who are seeking to development Christlikeness, opposition is added by the adversary (1 Peter 5: 8, 9). He enlists the world as an ally to oppose us (John 15: 18, 19). These oppositions come from worldly friends, business associates, society, religion and even one’s family, though the opposition is usually done in ignorance. Then our flesh, which does not willingly undergo the rigors of the consecrated life, opposes our course in its endeavors to save itself (Galatians 5: 17).
Another series of obstacles include sufferings incidental to faithfulness to God’s cause, such as physical and mental exhaustion, sickness, pain, sorrow and persecution (2 Timothy 3: 12) (Acts 14: 22).
(to be continued)