WHAT YOU ARE TO BE YOU ARE NOW BECOMING
First Baptist Church Oakland, April 3, 2005
I would like to begin by two important questions: “Does one become a Christian by merely believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?” Or, “does it means to follow Jesus--his life, his teachings and become like Jesus?”
The second question is: “What does it mean to be a person, or to be a human being?”
To answer these two questions makes everyone of us a philosopher or a theologian. We have intelligence and we have a will. Our primary question is: “What is the Way of life?” “What is the truth of life?” “What is life itself?” The psychiatrist, Carl Rogers in his book On Becoming a Person examines his own life and concludes: “To be a person is to be the self one truly is” In other words, “Become what it means to be a person, or what we are meant to be.” Jesus makes the impossible challenge saying (Matthew 5:48): “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I. OUR CALLING IS TO BE PERFECT, AS GOD IS PERFECT
What an admonition! What an impossible goal! Who can be perfect as God is perfect? To become perfect means to reach our “full maturity”—fulfill our highest potential: or be “what we are meant to be.” In Christian theology we affirm that we are created in God’s image and likeness. We read in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.” To be human is to be able to think and to make decisions and this ability and freedom is essentially to be able to commune with our Creator and with others--actually, the ability to love or to relate with God and others. What then does it mean for us to be perfect as God is perfect? What does it mean to be fully mature—to realize our full potential, to become the person we are meant to be? For the Christian it is to become like Jesus, to follow Jesus. John the Gospel writer had a deep insight when he wrote (John 1:1-5, 14)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
This Word was the life and the light of men; this Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the historical Jesus we see the true Life, the true Light, the true Image of God.
The goal, the aim, the aspiration of the Christian, the meaning of true personhood is to become like Jesus. According the Carl Rogers: “It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more one’s potentiality. It involved the courage to be.”
For the Apostle Paul it meant: “For to me to live is Christ.” Christ in you the hope of glory.” “For I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, net not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Can there be a greater calling?
II. OUR CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A PROCESS TO BECOME LIKE JESUS
In answer to the first question to be a Christian is not just a belief; it is not just an intellectual assent; it is not merely a confession; but it is a process—a growing maturity to actually be as Christ.--what God intended, re-created in the image and likeness of God. This is what it means to be a person; this is our true and ultimate identity.
We can relate to the Apostle Paul’s aspiration: “That I may gain Christ . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. . . . but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what has ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:8c-16)
I personally believe that our simplistic, merely confessing Christianity, has done havoc to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our dogmatic, absolute, exclusive and “only believe” (as Bonhoeffer said “Cheap Grace”) Christianity will lead to the demise of our nation and to our true Christian witness.
The early disciples of Jesus were called “Christians” for the first time in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because they were “Christ-like”. They followed Jesus, not merely confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior.
A missionary named Murray asked his membership class: “What does it mean to be a Christian?” The young converts in one accord answered, “Mr Murray, you!” Missionary Murray personified Jesus. He was the definition of Christian to the young converts. Living among them they saw Jesus in his life.
III. EVANGELISM IS TO SEE THE IMAGE OF GOD IN OTHERS
The Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that God seeks Creation out of Chaos—the potential of every person as they are re-created in the image and likeness of God. The Good News (euaggelion) is that our Creator/God loves you and me and long for our wholeness (holiness). Jesus said, “I am come that you might have Life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10) The Parables of Jesus reveals a seeking God for His lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost prodigal son. We read of the prodigal coming to realize his true identity and what it means to be a person as we read, “he came to himself” and returned to his father. The Gospel is the Amazing Grace of God that causes us to sing: “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” We find our true identity; what it means to be a person; “for me to live is Christ—created in God’s image.”
Mother Teresa saw the image of God in everyone—especially in the sick and the dying. This is the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:45: “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
Florence and I just returned for our Poston III Concentration Camp Reunion where about 400 gathered together renewing our acquaintances and recalling our times together when we were incarcerated and considered “enemy aliens” because of our Japanese ancestry. As a young man, 23 years of age, I was escorted out of camp and ordained as an American Baptist minister, without seminary training, and was made the pastor of the Poston III Ecumenical Christian Church. As pastor, I was asked to be a parole officer of a young restless gang known as the Twenty-Squares. The 20 Squares crashed dances and caused a lot of trouble in the camp. The Chief of Police, a friend of mine, asked that the church be responsible to care for these restless troublemakers. Well, during our Poston III Reunion, there was one former member of the 20 Squares that approached me again and again filled with appreciation and gratitude. I only remembered him as “Toasty” as his real name was Futoshi Hirai. He is a fine Christian gentleman today. There were two boys whose names were “Akira” in the 20 Squares. We called them “Killers” in camp because they were causing trouble. The last I heard, one was a Sunday School teacher.
Evangelism is seeking the image of God—the potential in everyone: for we are all in the process of becoming. May we all aspire to be like Jesus, and become what we are meant to be—a real person in the image and likeness of God. What you are to be you are now becoming.